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Delwara: Governance and Women in Society

Delwara is a qasba or semi-urbanised settlement, some 30 km north-east of Udaipur city. It boasts a remarkable wealth of heritage sites, with many beautiful temples, traditional step-wells and a 16th-18th-century fort which is now a luxury hotel.  Delwara was originally known as devkul paton nagri, the town of gods, and, true to its name, boasted about 1,000 temples. Delwara was one of the 16 rajwadas (districts) into which the kingdom of Mewar was originally divided.

Today, Delwara is part of the Delwara panchayat of Rajsamand district. It is a small town with a commercial hub and a bustling marketplace. It has a population of about 1,000 families, consisting of various social groups, including Hindu, Muslim, Jain and tribal communities, with multiple caste

groups within each. These different groups did not tend to mix easily, and the tribal and other marginalised people have faced discrimination. The population faces the challenges of both rural and urban areas, including problems related to water and sanitation, young people, livelihoods, heritage, infrastructure and community organisation. Economically, the town does not provide enough opportunities for work and many people are unemployed or struggle to make a living. Gender divisions continue to disadvantage women. With aspirations increasing and population density growing, unsustainable pressures are put on the infrastructure, leading to a deteriorating quality of life.


Governance

Seva Mandir has worked to develop new institutional spaces to encourage citizens to participate in governance and the development of Delwara as a whole. It has created a platform where citizens can work together, irrespective of caste, creed and gender biases - the Citizens’ Development Forum or Nagrik Vikas Manch  (NVM). Neighbourhood committees have been created in 18 mohallas (neighbourhoods). The Forum and committees are democratically elected by the residents every three years. They have brought about improvements in water supply and sanitation, livelihoods, cleanliness and heritage sites. Significant efforts have been made to work with the local panchayat to improve governance and local conditions in different sectors.

Seva Mandir’s experience in Delwara has contributed to the public understanding of how constructive work in peri-urban areas can lead to self-governance. The lives of Delwara’s citizens have improved significantly as a result of the governance initiative and there has been greater social cooperation as citizens work together on development issues. There is a greater commitment amongst the citizens themselves to uphold norms of fairness, justice and responsibility, and a strong belief among citizens that they are now participants in the development and management of their town, and that they have a role in defining a vision for their town.


Women in Delwara

Traditionally, women from almost all the different caste groups in Delwara faced restrictions on their work and mobility. Unlike their tribal counterparts, the women of scheduled caste minorities were not able to seek work as casual labourers, even when, as often, their husbands were out of work and could not support their families. Community decision-making was usually dominated by men, and women had very little say in any of the processes.

In addressing the governance challenges in Delwara, Seva Mandir encouraged women’s participation in public meetings. The Citizens’ Forum ensures an equal number of male and female representatives. Women began to participate more and more in governance, and they started to raise issues on the public platform. Women’s participation in panchayat meetings has also increased, with the result that women’s issues have been aired publicly much more than in the past.

Seva Mandir has helped women form 20 Self-Help Groups (See Empowering Women) to improve savings and credit facilities, which has helped provide loans for women’s day-to-day needs.


Sadhna

In 1989, Seva Mandir started a small income-generation activity by training women in patchwork. From a modest beginning, Sadhna has today become a successful enterprise owned by the women artisans.  About 300 women from Delwara are today part of Sadhna. This has become a major support enabling women from backward castes to enhance their income.

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