Till about a few months ago, the future looked bleak to 13 year old Kalpana, who lives with her parents in Silkuribose village, in the Coochbehar district.
Leaving home and family behind, she was to travel to the commercial city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, in the search of a livelihood. Her father, Hakim Barman was unable to support his family of seven, on his meagre and unpredictable income as a rickshaw van puller and a seasonal agricultural labourer. Kalpana seemed destined to waste her childhood as a labourer; just like her elder sister Arpana who worked as a domestic help, and brother Sujit, who was a construction worker.
Fortunately though, fate had other plans. And in the last one year, it has bought the Barman family far away from the time they lived as dependents with Hakim Barman’s father-in law, amid much societal ridicule.
The first promising event occurred in November, 2010. The Barman family was granted ownership to a homestead plot, as part of the government’s Chas-O-Basobaser Janya Bhumidan Prakalpa.
RDI partners with the state government in the implementation of the scheme.
Initially, Hakim Barman, the only one in the family with some agricultural knowledge began developing a kitchen garden on the plot, as a source of supplemental income. He cultivated vegetables like bottle-gourd, eggplant, and other leafy vegetables, partly for his family’s consumption and partly for sale.
But then he found an able helping hand in Kalpana, who was being trained in growing a kitchen garden, as part of another key RDI initiative in Bengal called, “Security for Girls through Land.”
“Security for Girls through Land”, takes an innovative approach towards securing a girl child’s future, and position within her own family. By imparting land based livelihoods skills training, by encouraging asset creation in the name of the daughters of the family, and by encouraging community conversations that highlight the overall value that women create for the society; this programme attacks gender discrimination simultaneously on several fronts.
In Kalpana’s case, what she learnt as part of her training, she was able to translate into a thriving and profitable kitchen garden. She can prepare seedbeds, prepare liquid manure, plant trees in the appropriate manner and nurture them to life. This has freed up her father’s time to continue his outside work as a rickshaw van puller, without having to lose out on the supplemental income from the kitchen garden. Strengthened family finances have meant that Kalpana no longer has to leave home and go to Jaipur to make money; she is doing it right from her backyard.
More importantly perhaps, it has made her parents realise how a little skills training, some knowledge imparted to the girl child, can take her and her family a long way. They no longer want her to quit school. In fact, Barman and his wife now hope to ensure that all their daughters are able to complete basic schooling. “Kalpana is a very sharp and attentive girl. She always did well in school. I am really happy that I can now help her continue in her studies. Maybe she will get a regular job on completing her schooling or maybe she will teach local children. Either way, I want to ensure she will break this cycle of menial work that generations of my family have been forced into, due to our landlessness.”
On most days now, after school ends and before the sun goes down, you will find Kalpana in her beloved garden. “I am happy that I can support my family,” she says quietly. “But I am happier that I don’t have to quit school to do so.”