Laxmi Dagdu Mukne, Soni Bhika Mukne and Dhavli Mukne of Thane district have an unusual address. These three widows, members of the Katkari tribe, reside under a tree. Eking out a existence through begging, they say they are just waiting to die.
The laws of the land guarantee them a humble home through the Indira Awas Yojana, food security through the Public Distribution System (PDS), and some financial security through widow pension and old age pension schemes. But they cannot access these because they have no energy and resources to procure the necessary papers and surpass the frustrating labyrinth of bureaucratic hurdles.
They are not alone. Hundreds of such single women and single women-headed households lead lives of extreme deprivation in many adivasi-dominated districts of Maharashtra. Several of them recounted their futile efforts in the great paper chase at a public hearing held in Jawahar on March 15 in the presence of Dr Sayeeda Hamid, member of the Planning Commission.
Some 5,000 women (comprising mainly widows and the abandoned) from Thane, Raigad, Nandurbar, Nashik and Pune districts attended the hearing organised by the Kashtakari Sanghatan of Dahanu and other organisations.
Many testified how the targeted system of welfare in the PDS or in other schemes has not worked because, although as single women they are the neediest sections of society, they are kept out of the loop thanks to an insensitive, apathetic and corrupt administration that gives them the runaround but does not process their applications.
Women like Sangita Bangar of Poshera Pawar Pada in Mokhada taluka, complained that they are forced to go hungry on several days simply because they cannot gather all the documents needed for an application that would get them the necessary ration card.
One of the case studies prepared by Kashtakari Sanghatan shows how a young widow, Vimal Raoji Tumbada of Karhe Chunyachapada, Vikramgarh taluka in Thane district managed to procure all relevant documents including certificates from the police patil, house tax receipt, proof of residence, BPL card, husband’s death certificate and so on before preparing an application for financial assistance under the Rashtriya Kutumbh Arthasahayya Yojana. In two months she made nine trips to the talathi’s (village authority) office but he was never there. She met the tehsildar of Vikramgarh who directed the concerned talathi to process the documents but he did not do so. He has since been transferred. It is over a year since the death of her husband and she has now been told that the time frame for filing has lapsed.
Another major problem that these single women face is the patriarchal system of keeping records whereby land documents or ration cards are in the possession of the in-laws or with their brother. In some cases although the law entitles the woman to cultivate her share of her mother’s land, her name is not recorded.
Shiraz Bulsara of the Kashtkari Sanghatan says the problem is the attitude of the concerned officials and administrative staff. They do not view these women as individuals demanding their rights but see the matter as a way of asserting their own control over the system. She adds that a clear indication of this indifferent attitude is that although Dr Syeeda Hamid had told the Collector to follow up and take action in processing applications, not a single tehsildar was present at the hearing.
“In the past three months, over 600 applications for widow pensions or old-age pensions have been filed but nothing has been done to sanction them,” she says.
It is significant that the talukas of Jawhar, Mokhada in Thane district, Nandurbar district and other adivasi dominated districts that single women came from, are also those that have recorded malnutrition deaths among children.
Source: Jharkhand Forum, www.jharkhand.org.in/forum