Holding on to Hope

Widowed and mother to an infant while she was still in her teens, Ramapati Meena from Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan struggled to provide for her child, till Reliance Foundation reached out to her village and helped her use her 3.5 hectares of land to unfetter herself from a life of poverty.

Ramapati Meena from Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan

Like many other girls in her village, Ramapati Meena – a resident of Balaria in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan – got married when she was just 18. In less than a year, she conceived, and was preparing for a happy life with her growing family, when fate dealt her a crushing blow – her husband, who had been struggling with mental illness, took his life.

Reeling from the loss, Meena was inconsolable at first, and even contemplated ending her own life. But for the sake of the child she was expecting in just three months, she fiercely clung on to hope. Her in-laws encouraged her to remarry, but Meena refused to even entertain the idea: she was determined to keep her husband’s memory alive – by bringing up his child.

While Meena got by initially with help from her in-laws, a subsequent separation in the family left her alone and the sole provider for her son. She received her husband’s share of the familial property in the form of scattered patches of land. Without a support system, Meena found it increasingly difficult to manage her home, as well as her land – the largest 1.5 hectare plot was a two-kilometre walk away from her home. She settled for ‘batai,’ allowing other farmers to cultivate on the land and share the profits with her. This, however, meant that she had little control over the land or the produce that came from it.

Kharif and rabi crops of wheat, mustard and bajra were grown on Meena’s lands, and sharing the 43 quintals of produce fetched her a gross annual income of Rs 53,000 – barely sufficient to make ends meet. As her son grew up, his educational expenses also rose. To augment her income, Meena worked as a labourer earning Rs 12,000-15,000 every year. In case of any emergencies, she had to turn to her brother’s family for help.

Having struggled for more than a decade, Meena finally saw light at the end of the tunnel four years ago, when Reliance Foundation reached out to her village, and facilitated the formation of the Bajrangbali Krishak Samiti Village Association (VA). Sensing that the VA would help steer her life away from grinding poverty, Meena became a member and started participating in the meetings.

The RF-supported VA first drew up a plan for the development of her land. Gradually, the VA gave Meena tangible support on her farm – helping her fence it, giving her high-quality wheat and blackgram seeds, setting up an irrigation pipeline, and improving soil quality through farm bunding. The VA also help her set up a Reliance Nutrition Garden (RNG).

Encouraged by the VA, Meena approached her farm with renewed interest and energy. She soon saw signs of change. Changes in the cropping pattern helped her grow a variety of crops across the seasons. In addition to the crops she was growing, she could now cultivate blackgram, linseed, jawar and gram. When a bad monsoon made her wheat crop dwindle, she could rely on the other crops for both revenue and nutrition. The total production on her farm doubled, touching 88 quintals and yielding an annual gross return of Rs 2,78,475. She could gradually bring down the area under batai, and assert greater control over her lands. The RNG made sure she and her son had fresh vegetables on their plate every day, such as okra, tomatoes, cluster beans, brinjals and cucurbits.

Today, Meena’s new-found prosperity has helped her repay the Rs 1 lakh she had taken as loan. She has also secured herself and her son with life insurance coverage, and even contributed Rs 16,400 to the Village Development Fund, hoping to be a part of her village’s growth story. Always on the lookout for ways to improve her farming knowledge and capacity, she is gradually stepping up to the challenges of being the proprietor of her lands. She hopes that her son – who studies at a polytechnic institute in Ajmer – will help her soar to greater heights.