(The writer can be reached at Rilanjana.firstname.lastname@example.org)
'Atma' refers to the 'Eternal-self or consciousness' while 'Nirbhar' means 'depend'. With the ongoing roaring mantra of 'Atma Nirbhar Bharat', the current government is conveying us to free our intellect and thought process from the dependence on short-term material gain or loss and focus on the long-term advancement of the nation. Self-sufficiency means non-emotional dependency or in other words our inner happiness not dependent on our external achievements.
The government introduced the "Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan" to revive every sphere of the economy from demand, supply to manufacturing, and make India self-reliant to sustain and tackle any black swan event in the future. The world's biggest lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 has severely impacted the domestic economic activities as it brought nearly 70% of economic activity, investment, exports, and discretionary consumption to a standstill. So, to improve the prevailing turbulent economic environment and to provide a boost to the ailing economy the current government announced the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, a financial package of Rs 20 lakh crore equaling to 10% of the national GDP.
Basically, the focal point behind this concept is to make Bharat self-reliant with more focus on local manufacturers and service providers which will strengthen the economy, improve the standard of living and most importantly improve the trade deficit and the exchequer balance of the country. However today, 'Aatma Nirbhar Bharat' is no longer merely a word but has become a mantra for everyone.
And now coming to the so-called Goddess Lakshmi- the female power of Indian Society if becoming fully empowered can make the nation self-reliant to a great extent. Empowering women can help the society to grow and develop at a faster pace. Today's women are re-designing the world. Woman is no longer a mere object or a person in servitude but an equal partner. Women have always been able to seamlessly manage multiple responsibilities and challenges and worked effectively to keep their homes, families, communities and society well-integrated and well-organized. The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of their political, social, economic and health status is a highly important end in itself. In addition, it is essential for the achievement of sustainable development. Women are the backbone of the society and have always played a positive role in shaping our society. Economic empowerment of women is the most viable solution to integrate women to the developmental goals of the nation and Atma Nirbhar Bharat. The unseen foe (COVID-19) has really hit us hard, touching every section of the society and especially the poor, daily wagers and women at large. The concept of 'Vocal for Local' is possible only when women, whose population is almost half of the total, are made to be the part of the programme and participate equally in terms of economic activities. It's the reality of today that a big migrant population (inter as well as intra state) has returned to their villages and small towns; and are facing the issues of unemployment and livelihood. So, Atma Nirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India) has a major role play in women's life and vice versa. Hence, for the inclusion of women, it is mandatory to understand the current situations and challenges facing women; and accordingly take appropriate actions, recommendations and solutions to reach every woman at the grassroots level. In fact true self-reliance won't come from relentless industrialization, but only from localization and decentralization, as being demonstrated by certain on remarkable stories of empowered rural communities.
Earlier Dalit women farmers in Telangana used to face hunger and deprivation. Today, they have contributed food grains for pandemic relief. Farmers on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border have been sending organic produce to Bengaluru even during the lockdown. And Adivasi villages in central India are using community funds to take care of migrant workers who have returned home.They are part of the Deccan Development Society, whose women's sanghas are active in 75 villages in Telengana, and have helped thousands of women from a casteist, patriarchal society to revive dry land, millet-centred farming and thus gaining control over land, seeds, water and knowledge. Having achieved anna swaraj (food sovereignty) and self-sufficiency, the women are now feeding others.
In Bundeli district a few women have sown seeds of self-reliance through neem tree. Most of us associate neem as an acrid after taste but for the women in Bundelkhand it has become the flavour of success and self-reliance now. Aided by the Banda district administration, over 1,000 self-help groups are growing neem trees for commercial purpose. A full-grown neem produces 30-40 kg fruits in a season and sold at Rs 15 per kg and self-help group can make up to Rs 600 a season. Not just the fruit, every part of the neem tree its leaves, bark, fruits can be used to prepare extracts such as oil, pastes powders that are essential in healthcare products and as an animal feed in the farming sector. Neem is the mother of all trees. According to Hindu mythology it emerged from the drops of Amrit (elixir) that accidently poured from the heavens.
Another example in lockdown, 40 women planting success set to reap '30 lakh' in Gonda. For the women in Gonda the period of lockdown was a period of constructive thinking and collective effort. A group of 40 women was involved in growing and nurturing saplings and now has more than 5 lakh saplings ready in 10 nurseries. Now this green wealth created by them will be used by the rural development part for plantations along canals and ponds under MGNREGS. Under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, they were trained to raise a nursery. When the lockdown was enforced many of the women lost their jobs and they decided to invest their time in nurseries.
Another women self-help group in tribal Bastarin Raipur began trying to discover pearls in their backyard two years ago. AJagdalpur-based NGO started pearl culture in Chhattisgarh and taught the art to a tribal women self-help group who are now practising small-scale pearl culture for the-last two years.
Another success story of Adivasi women in Chhattisgarh is also one of the many examples of a self-reliant India. As COVID-19 spread globally resulting in the shortage of hand sanitizers amongst other products, women from Chhattisgarh are steering contribution to India's collective fight against the coronavirus. 'Madhukam' is a brand of herbal hand sanitizer developed by these women with guidance from Samarth Jain, a scientist, researcher, and a consultant. He paved the way for developing the hand sanitizer from the base of the traditional mahua brew, which is an integral part of Adivasi life and culture. Earlier, the mahua brew prepared by the women would be used for making alcohol at home using traditional methods.
These inspiring stories show the potential of empowered rural communities to cope with crisis. The global pandemic shows us the benefits of 'Be Indian and Buy Indian'. We have now become critically aware of our own supply chain. We know that relying on other countries for critical items will ultimately put you at their mercy. To avoid such adversity for ourselves, it is more important than ever that we become self-reliant and reduce our dependence on other countries. The pandemic has taught the importance of local manufacturing, local market and local supply chain. Emphasis of 'vocal for local' asserts that it is all about 'made in India' and is to increase to push Indian products to become large enough to become international brands.