Three Women, Three Ways of Livelihoods

Today I shall like to tell the stories in brief of three individuals: Lal Muni, Kiran, and Sarvatia. The common link between them is that all the three are from near around Patna. You are to draw your own conclusions from them.

Bihar may be the poorest state till date, but its people are wonderfully talented since ages. Some of the stories of individual successes perplex one raising obvious question, ‘why is then the state so poorly placed on the development index?’

Lal Muni Devi: Lal Muni Devi the poor, uneducated woman from Azad Nagar village in Patna district used her dank, thatched house to grow mushrooms. A photograph of Lal Muni and the story of her achievement have been put on the website of CIMMYT, a well-known Mexican institute engaged in research for improvement of maize and wheat crop. Lal Muni Devi finds mention as an inspirational farmer among 25 from seven Asian countries. Till four years back, Lal Muni used to work for other farmers as a daily labourer. It so happened that the instructors from Indian Institute for Agricultural Research (ICAR) brought together 25 women from the village and taught them how to grow mushrooms. Lal Muni took the initiative with zeal. She did not need any land to grow mushrooms, a plant she had never even heard of till the ICRA training. Fortunately, market was easily available for the produce in nearby Patna city. Today, Lal Muni is entrepreneur and pretty well off. Others can emulate her.

Kiran Devi: Kiran is another woman with the manly guts. She came from a poor background. Kiran started with a teashop, but today Kiran is in business of junk selling in Patna. As usual, the profession requires guts to deal with the people with whom she is to deal. The business flourished and now Kiran also owns a number of rickshaws too and get them plied on rental. This business also requires tough handling, but Kiran has plenty of that. Kiran has now found a place in the new Class IV maths textbook from National Council of Educational Research and training (NCERT) that is all about maths and real life.

But let this feature end with the anticlimax- the story of Sarvatia Devi.

Sarvatia Devi: Sarvatia Devi, in her early 40s, has been a beggar ever since she became a widow about 25 years ago. But she is no small-time beggar. Sarvatia is neither destitute nor homeless. As Sarvatia confesses, “On Tuesdays and Saturdays when people throng the Kalibari, I earn between Rs 300 and Rs 400. Other beggars of the locality do not generally encroach on my territory.” On other weekdays, however, Sarvatia sells vegetables both in the morning and evening. Sarvatia boasts of having a ”comfortable home” behind Ashok Cinema besides a well-settled married daughter.
According to her insurance agent, Sarvatia has purchased two short-term policies worth Rs 3 lakh and Rs 1 lakh for which she pays an annual premium of Rs 31,000 and Rs 5,000 respectively. She also has a bank account with a hefty amount to boot. Interestingly, she has traveled across the country and even been on pilgrimage to many holy places – all while begging. According to her, she does it free, ”It’s fun traveling on trains free of cost. I board any train and beg till I reach my destination.”

I don’t know how we rate Sarvatia’s accomplishments in life. She might have gone for a profession that may not be a respected one, but many go that route, as they all can’t be Lal Muni or Kiran.

Alas! There are more of Sarvatias. Can’t we all help to create an ambience that produces more of Lal Munis and Kirans?

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