Pardhi women offered the chance of self-determination

About one third of the Pardhi tribe has obtained official identity papers, thanks to SWISSAID’s assistance. This gives them access to state support. Now, a targeted campaign is under way to help women assert their own identity in India’s patriarchal society.

Without an identity – backed up by a relevant ID card – you are a nobody. And a nobody is hardly eligible for Indian state support offered to those in need: that includes food coupons, accommodation, drinking water or schools. The Pardhi tribe, an indigenous minority, were deemed under the law as non-existent for quite some time. Driven from their homeland in the forest regions of Central India and moving cross-country working for daily wages, they were not legally recognised by village communities or the state. Hence, they were unable to register anywhere. Without an ID card, they had no citizens’ rights and no support.

2,000 members of the Pardhi tribe living in the Beed district in Maharashtra already have an “identity”. This is thanks to the support of SWISSAID’s partner organisation Yuvagram Vikas Mandal (Yuvagram).

The NGO supports the Pardhi, one of India’s poorest indigenous peoples, to assert their civil rights. This is not easy, since not one of them has a birth certificate.

Economic change

After four years of hard fighting, 400 families have not only received ID cards but also food coupons and voting cards. The changes will take time, as the Pardhi are a very traditional community. What was good enough for the father or the grandfather’s generation should also be right for a younger son.

The economic status of the Pardhi – in total, about 7,000 live in Maharashtra – has significantly changed thanks to SWISSAID’s support. But socially, many things have remained as they were. According to patriarchal tradition, men are in control of women’s lives whether relating to work, income or even their sexuality.

This is why Yuvagram targets women’s rights, especially for girls, who are deprived of the chance to lead a life exercising the right to self-determination. In Indian culture, daughters are often regarded as a burden on the family: when they marry, they leave the family, thus no longer being a labour source. Additionally, there are the enormous costs of the wedding.

9 years old and already married

The earlier they leave the parental home, the less costs are incurred. Pardhi girls are therefore often married while still children, aged just eight or nine years old. The statutory minimum age of marriage is 18 years, but this law is generally not adhered to in rural areas. The new family is pleased to gain additional assistance in the household, and only rarely sends daughters-in-law to school.


Mothers’ reactions to Yuvagram’s sensitising campaign tend to be positive, since they do not wish on their own daughters the same experiences they went through. In other words, being sent to a strange family as a child, without schooling and already having their own children as teenagers. In villages where Yuvagram is active, the average age of marriage is now 13 to 14. That’s a success story, even if there is still a long way to go to reach the main goal.

Loans and specialist training for small companies

At the same time, Yuvagram backs up women’s economic situation by forming about 100 self-help groups. In these groups, the women learn how to earn an independent income by weaving mats or breeding goats.  In such cases, a rotation fund supports the women, enabling loans to be issued to set up micro companies. Those women opting for this approach also qualify for advanced training in accountancy and transparent management practices.

There’s still a lot to do before women stop being subjected to discrimination or being beaten and married off at an early age. But some of the men folk, who are open to Yuvagram’s cause and practise their values, are also helping out in their local neighbourhood. 


Project IN 2/10/08
Project costs 46,740.- Swiss francs;
Beneficiaries: 7,000 Pardhi.
Duration: Until 2012

The project was set up ten years ago and the fifth phase of the project runs to 2012.
Yuvagram Vikas Mandal is the partner organisation.