Almost as well-known as Pune’s red light district was the one in Pusad in rural Maharashtra. A team of three men decided to intervene and help these women escape this trade.
Now, three out of five women previously working in the Pusad red light area lead new, independent lives.
Samagra Gram Vikas Sanstha (Sagras) was founded in August 1998 by Madhukar Bhange, a Nagpur native. With the support of the Ratan Tata Trust, he formed joint-liability groups (JLG) and with the support from National Alliance of Banks for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), his organisation has also worked on water development.
But their main focus has always been on women empowerment in the villages of Pusad and Digras.
Nearly 15% of all Rang De loans have been disbursed by Sagras since we began our partnership with them in February 2009.
What initially started as an empowerment program for 100 women has now made an impact in the lives of 10,000 individuals.
Working on this cause with a single minded focus for the past 18 years, Bhange Ji and his team has made a tangible difference.
“The life of women before this empowerment program cannot be put into words. They faced exploitation and indiscrimination on a daily basis. Women had no say in their own lives,” Bhange Ji, an extremely passionate and dedicated social worker, told us.
Initially, they faced stiff resistance. Men in the house refused to let the women work.
“We knew the women wanted to work and support their families. We could sense their willingness to work and knew that tackling the men in the village was the first step we had to take.”
They held meetings with the heads of the households and convinced them. After seeing the growth in family incomes, many others started approaching Sagras on their own.
Sagras has now managed to reach out to most women in Pusad & Digras and they also plan to expand their operations to nearby villages as well.
A team of three has now expanded to 18 reaching people in need on a daily basis and providing mentoring services to women.
In an area where farmer suicides due to indebtedness are high, Sagras has linked them with fair credit sources like Rang De, helping people fight exploitation by money lenders.
Transforming lives from red light district areas
It took them over a year but Sagras is proud to have dramatically changed the landscape of the red light industry in Pusad.
Initially, the Sagras team members approached just a few women at a time and introduced them to other sources of livelihoods. In time, they even enrolled the children of these women into school covering their educational expenditure entirely.
They held AIDS awareness programmes and health campaigns to educate these women and also provided checkups and necessary medicine.
“Women in red light areas are often abandoned by their families. They have nowhere else to go to and later in life are drawn into depression. Their children do not receive education and take to drinking at a young age,” Bhange Ji told us.
“We did not want these women to suffer.”
Rang De and Sagras working together
What really makes Sagras successful as an Impact partner is their keen involvement in the success of these women.
Women who take loans from Rang De are trained for a month prior to receiving the amount so that they can utilise the loan appropriately for their businesses. Even after disbursing the money, they check with these women to ensure the money has been put to proper use.
Sagras team members have a very close relationship with the women they work with as well. They help them in problems apart from education and livelihood.
Bhange Ji told us about a milk seller who borrowed from Rang De that recently had to undergo a Caesarian birth. The medical expenditure was a lot more than what her family could afford — Sagras lent the money from an emergency fund at an extremely low rate of interest so that she could bear the medical expenses.
Ushashri Madan Rathod is a fine example of a woman who has been helped by Sagras. A businesswoman, she sells artificial jewellery from her home and is now looking for a new place to shift her ever expanding business. Her husband Madan, is extremely supportive of her and the couple have now enrolled their sons in a convent school.
Sagras has helped us disburse 7747 loans to marginalised women in Digras and Pusad. We hope to continue this partnership and help more women lead independent lives.
Please do consider investing in the 190+ women associated with Sagras who currently seek your help through Rang De loans.
To learn more about our excellent partnership network across India, please do read our many feature stories on our 40+ partners.