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Ela R Bhatt – Founder of SEWA spoke to Purba Kalita

How have the riots affected SEWA Members?


There are total of 1 lac and 20,000 members in Ahmedabad. They belong to the informal sector of the city’s economy. They are self employed, poor, home-based producers, tiny entrepreneurs, providers of services who sell their manual labour like rag-piuckers, loaders, unloaders, bidi and agarbatti makers, vendors, larri and kioskwalas. All of them have been economically affected and 40,000 of them have been directly affected and staying in relief camps. Many people have either themselves left to their villages or have transported most of the members of the family there.

What is loss of income among the informal sector workers in the city?
Some 77% income is generated from the informal sector and the riots during period from February 28th to April 8th, the loss of income have been estimated at Rs.179 crores.

What has been SEWA’s role in rehabilitating the riot affected?

We are functional in five relief camps both the Hindus and Muslims. Since March 4th we have been helping people resume links with their traders so they can work from the camps. We have set up child care centres where children in various age groups are being taken care of. Our health unit co-ordinates with the Municipal Corporation and the State Health Services to conduct routine check-ups. We also help to maintain hygiene and provide mobile toilets. The literacy team of SEWA Academy conducts classes for young people.

What about their housing?

Most people are restless about going back to their homes. Some of them have also started spending a few hours during the day in their homes for cooking and bathing purposes before retiring to their camps. We also visited their neighbourhoods to talk to the people there and get asssurance that they will not be beaten again. Those who want to go back are gathering their courage and SEWA is helping them in the process. But people who don’t want to go back should not be rushed into that.
What about those who have lost their houses?

The government has already started the assessment of the losses. Local representatives have to taken along while it is carried out. The packages have to delivered effectively and ver fast. One room house can be made available in no time if raw materials are available. Because the people themselves can help to build them.

When do you see things coming back to normality?

It will take time. There is a total mistrust in the society. It can come only by living and working together. At SEWA people are known only by their occupations. We have a Gandhi Prarthana which talks about ‘Sarvo Dharma’ and teaches values that help in working towards peace everyday. One-third of our total membership are muslims. The president and secretary of SEWA are muslims, out of the 25 executive council members, 7 are muslims, 2 christians and many of them are dalits.

What else needs to be done?

The most important thing will be providing people with security. The governement will have to provide with more police points. Policy makers will have to look at not just urban economy, but also household economy because 77% of the city’s employment comes from that. Most importantly the significance of women should not be lost. Their role in peace keeping should not be neglected. Last but not the least, people from informal sector should be covered under General Insurance.
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