Beyond Trafficking and Slavery

‘Even my husband envies my freedom’

A small basic income transformed the lives of these women in rural India. Imagine what it could do on a national scale.

Radha Davar and Manguben
17 October 2019, 7.00am
Radha Davar and Manguben
Photo by Beyond Trafficking and Slavery. All rights reserved.

Radha Davar and Manguben are villagers in rural India. Both were recipients of a basic income in the trials conducted by the Self Employed Women's Association. Beyond Trafficking and Slavery caught up with them at the 19th Global Basic Income Congress in Hyderabad, India, to discuss how basic income changed their lives and enhanced their freedom.

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: What did it mean to you to participate in the Self Employed Women’s Association’s basic income pilot?

Manguben: All together, our family received around 5,000 rupees. We have a farm, so with that money we saved for three months and bought water for irrigation. The basic income meant we didn’t have to borrow money to get water, so having this kind of cash in hand has been extremely important for us. Many families were not cultivating their land at all, but basic income enabled them to start to do so.

Others opened up small shops to sell groceries and small items. One such shop, a small grocery store, is run by a couple who are both physically challenged. They saved for six months and bought a refrigerator, so that they could stock more things to sell in the village.

Another important thing that happened during the eighteen months of the pilot was that my daughter, after she completed the tenth class, was able to continue her schooling. She had to go to another village to continue her studies. We bought her a bicycle and she was able to go to the other village every day. She has now completed her twelfth class as well.

To be able to remove that veil, to be anywhere outside, and not to fear anybody – that for me is freedom.

Radha Davar: Our village is around 60 kilometres from the nearest town. All of us have land, but because it is so expensive to buy seeds and fertiliser many of us could not actually cultivate that land. To buy such things you had to go to the money lender, which only loaned at a very high interest rate. So instead our family lived and worked on a brick kiln, some fifteen hours a day. Once this cash started coming to our house, we started really thinking about whether we should continue that kind of work or not. First I came away. Then my children came away. Within a year even my husband didn't want to continue that work.

Our entire family received about 1200 rupees, and by saving that money we were able to buy two buffaloes and five goats. We condensed the female buffalo’s milk to sell at the market and rented out the male buffalo to other people in the village, giving ourselves a small income.

Having that cash in hand actually changed our life. We hope that in future, this kind of policy will come in our country.

What does the word freedom mean to you?

Manguben: For me, freedom means not just getting restricted to my village, but also being able to go out anywhere that I would like to. I was trained to completely veil my face and remain in the village. Just to be able to remove that veil, to be anywhere outside, and not to fear anybody – that for me is freedom. My husband says, 'You're are a very lucky woman. You have gotten the freedom to go out and learn so many new things.' I am now very free, and even my husband envies my freedom. I even got to fly in an airplane.

Radha Davar: For me, freedom means not being restricted to my household, which I was and my mother was. Freedom for me is to be able to come out of the household and to meet people in the world. My husband told me that your courage can only increase if you go out. That’s what I’ve done in my own life. I came out of my household and started coming to places like this [the 19th World Basic Income Congress in Hyderabad]. I feel that I now have more courage and that I'm stronger. My children say that even they want to be like the way I am now.

How did the UBI help this freedom?

Manguben: This process only began after we started to receive basic income. I was able to reduce my wage labour work and my husband and I started up and now run a shop of our own. That has allowed me to meet so many people.

Radha Davar: Receiving a basic income and also coming into contact with the Self Employed Women’s Association was quite something. Now that I had this money I was able to reduce my wage labour, and now I am able to even talk to the government officials with so much courage and strength.

Translated on site by Sarath Davala.

This feature on universal basic income was financially supported by a grant from Humanity United.

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