‘The Kerala Way: An experiment in collective action for poverty alleviation’
Dr. Anuradha Kalhan Siddiqui,
This paper is a third in a series that traces the implementation of Swarna Jayanti Shahari Rozgar Yojna (SJSRY, a ‘Sustainable Livelihood’ oriented poverty alleviation scheme for women in urban centres, now subsumed as National Urban Livelihood Mission) across three cities Mumbai, Delhi and Kochi. Methodologically, it does so through field work using probability sampling and juxtaposing the non-beneficiaries (control group) and beneficiaries of (SJSRY). It uses the primary, quantitative and qualitative data obtained to analyse the impact of the policy. The Kochi sample has 269 women in NHGs. The paper begins with the findings of the survey in Kochi and goes on to outline the history, evolution, structure, processes, problems of Kudumbashree (KS), Kerala’s Poverty Eradication Mission. While doing so it describes its achievements in forming a state wide network of women’s SHGs called Neighbourhood Groups (NHGs), linking them with banks, formation of micro enterprises and mitigation of poverty through collective action. According to recent estimates Kerala has 2.59 lakh NHGs, over 41 lakh members, a corpus of Rs 2,262 crores as their accumulated savings in banks and some 35,000 micro enterprises that have grown out of the NHGs. In contemporary India KS is distinctive in its cascading approach to training and voluntarism for the mission. Voluntarism, that is driven by enlightened self-interest and a historical capacity for collective action. KS was also backed by political commitment and has developed linkages of NHGs through local governments to participatory local planning. The paper discusses the mobilisation and ensuing politicisation of a large number of women in Kerala. KS is therefore often called a movement rather than an organisation. It has become a movement of the vulnerable women that has enveloped them in participation and brought them commensurate gains through a process, often painful, of learning by doing and institutionalising the learning process simultaneously. Despite political tensions over the control of these networks, no ruling dispensation has been able to dislocate KS since its inception in 1998. In 2002 UNDP recognized it as one among the 15 best practices in India. In 2009 the Planning Commission sponsored a large sample study of KS and highlighted its achievements and problems. KS has also been recognised as a National Resource Organisation for training other such organisations in Indian states.
Dr. Anuradha Kalhan Siddiqui has taught main stream Economics in Mumbai for three decades has been elected member of the senate in the University of Mumbai. She has also published in academic journals and edited volumes. Her research interests over the last ten years have focused on the impact of economic policy on livelihoods leading up to the current emphasis on the effectiveness of poverty alleviation policy in generating sustainable livelihoods.