grassroots

A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting reportage on the human condition
Rs 15 D e c e mb e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2 - Vo l u me 4 Is s u e 1 2

Indeed, work doesn’t have to wait for money
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Bharat dogra, New Delhi

Goonj started off by collecting clothes from people in cities and sending them on a regular basis to remote villages and areas affected by disaster. Today, it uses material as a tool to bring ignored issues to light, to talk about basic needs, to bring communities together, to make them aware of their power, to increase people’s participation, to change mindsets as well as the present rural infrastructure. It has proved that reusable material is an invaluable resource
nshu Gupta, the founder of Goonj, had to initially struggle hard to find new donors. Today, Goonj is able to send in a month 80 tonnes of material to 21 network of partner organisations in rural areas was needed to help with the proper distribution of clothes. And willy-nilly, a system evolved. The clothes (mostly used or old) For all that, distribution is not easy work. After the products are classified and cleaned, material has to be matched with the needs of people. Experience and feedback have helped. Now Gupta and his team know exactly which regions need saris, where the salwar-kameez is more in demand and where gowns are most welcome. So, before a truck takes off for a cluster of villages in, say, a flood-affected part of Bihar, care has already been taken to see that only ‘culturally compatible’ clothes are sent. However, mistakes do occur; packers of goods are not always aware of such things. And here, the role of the partner organisation working in a cluster of villages that will receive the truckload of clothes and other material is important. It usually pays the transport cost, sees how best the stock can be matched with people’s requirements, and trains staff to distribute the material the right way. improving community assets (work relating to minor irrigation, water harvesting, building a platform or road, making the surroundings cleaner, plant saplings, etc). They do

grassroots
Removing garbage and cleaning the 60-metre-long road in Village Bhusandpur in Khordha District in Odisha.
not get paid for their efforts in cash, they are given clothes. Emphasising the importance of the ‘clothes for work’ approach, Meenakshi says, “Giving old clothes as charity is an age-old concept but the flaw in it is that while it helps address a person’s physical need to some extent, it goes against the grain of the bigger emotional need of dignity of a person. What one gets as charity hurts the deeper need of dignity which clothes are meant to fulfil. The concept empowers communities to address their own problems, and often the quality of life becomes better when even small issues are resolved, when villagers have the right to set their own priorities.” For Goonj, the emphasis is not on the donor’s pride, but on the receiver’s dignity. Explains Gupta: “We are not in the business of collecting and distributing old clothes. We use material as a tool to bring ignored issues to light, to talk about basic needs, to bring communities together, to make them aware of their own power, to increase people’s participation, to change mindsets and change the present rural infrastructure.” < were first collected, classified into categories such as saris, salwarkameez, trousers, shirts, children's clothes, gowns, woollens, etc. These are washed and stitched if necessary before being packed into sacks (each sack was suitably labelled), loaded on to trucks and carried to villages far away. Torn clothes not fit for distribution were not discarded, but repaired by expert hands (mostly trained women from poor urban families) so that every usable rag could be put to use. One set of rags was washed carefully, cleaned and then used to make sanitary napkins, which were then sold cheaply in rural areas. The second set of rags was used innovatively to make bags, purses, mobile phone covers, etc and such products were sold in exhibitions to raise funds for Goonj’s work. Over time, other articles arrived for use –footwear, books, notebooks, pens, pencils, toys, furniture, umbrellas, spectacles, sewing machines, utensils, newspapers, magazines and plain used paper; monetary contributions were also accepted.

INSIDE

How she stepped on to the political stage

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Value her, and Mother Nature takes care of you 3

Photos: Bharat Dogra

Sixty days of a wellrounded education, and a metamorphosis 4

A processing centre where paper bags are made.
states in India through a nationwide network of grassroots organisations, pachayats and social activists. Its largest such unit operates from Madanpur Khadar in Delhi, near the organisation’s modest office in Sarita Vihar. There are similar units in many cities of India. For Gupta, it basically started as the work of the ‘boy next door’ who is keen to do something good for society but has little to back him except his determination. Gupta’s wife, Meenakshi, was also associated with the efforts from the start. In 1998-99, the couple approach as many people in Delhi as they could and asked them to donate old clothes. The clothes would be washed, cleaned, classified and then despatched to areas affected by earthquakes, flood or cyclones. Gradually, with experience and as its network of volunteers grew, a regular pattern emerged. It became clear that even a normal winter season was tough for people who didn’t have warm clothes. Arrangements were then made to send clothes, particularly woollens, in winter. A

Short end of the stick for street traders?

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Women open up on the taboo subject of sanitary pads.
Goonj staffers are trained to bring dignity to work; they often travel to areas where clothes are sent to ensure that a sense of decorum prevails at the point where it matters the most – during distribution. There is also the ‘clothes for work’ concept that has seen more than 900 development activities initiated in the past two years, 62 per cent focused on water and sanitation. In a project implemented by a partner organisation, villagers are motivated to contribute labour for creating or

Women learn to manage money, break the cycle of poverty 6

They too need food

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grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Dc e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

Focus

grassroots

How an abandoned Musahar girl stepped on to the political stage
A marginalised lot, the Musahar women owe their improved health and incomes in large measure to Jyoti, a member of their community. Among many things, Jyoti’s success in turning vast barren lands into green belts led her to victory in the 2010 Bihar Assembly polls. But she is not your regular MLA. She fights against injustice and practises what she believes in. Jyoti’s work in Fatehpur Block in Gaya has been quite remarkable: starting classes under a tree for children, getting the government to set up a primary school and anganwadi, and introducing the concept of self-help groups for women

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swapna majumdar, Gaya
in Bapu Gram. Although their salaries were meagre – her husband received Rs 110 while she got a princely Rs 90 – they were content, for they saw this as an opportunity to give back to their Musahar community. After the birth of their son, though, the couple realised they needed more money. to open one so that more children from the Musahar community could be educated – even today the literacy level of the community is below 10 per cent. Classes began under a tree until the village gifted the school some land. The community pitched in by donating labour for the for the job was proved when Jyoti inspired women of the community to bring their children to the anganwadi, thus helping to increase awareness about child care. “When I gave birth to my first child, there were no health facilities. The dai (midwife) used a sickle to cut the cord and sewed it with a needle. But women are not really aware of the hygiene aspects. I encourage them to go for institutional deliveries accompanied by a dai. Midwives are very important because they know the mother and can stay with her in the hospital. Also, if there is any complication, she will know about it and take care after she is discharged from the hospital,” feels the first-time MLA. During her anganwadi days, Jyoti was also able to debunk several myths related to maternal and child health including those about recording the weight of their babies and the importance of immediate breastfeeding. “Women did not have access to information. So they believed in and followed old customs. There was a need to change all these misconceptions. They were also afraid of immunisation. So I got my children immunised and then asked other women to follow my example,” she recalls. Jyoti also introduced the women to the concept of self help groups (SHGs). Realising that women’s empowerment was the key to improving maternal and infant health, she began organising them into SHGs. From 10 groups in 1997, the number increased to 100 in 2002 and 350 in 2007. But it was not just the number of SHGs that were increasing here; a quiet change was also taking place simultaneously. As women stepped out of their homes to discuss their SHG activities, they started to meet government block development officers and bank officials to ask for loans and demand development. This gave them confidence and a feeling of self worth. So when a member of their group was beaten by her husband, all the groups got together and demonstrated in front of his house until he apologised. Jyoti has advised all SHG women that if anyone, including their husbands, uses violence, they are not to take it lying down. “I have told them that if anyone beats you, hit them back. I strongly believe women must be given dignity and respect. I want to secure their right to education and health,” she contends. That she is not your regular MLA is clear. Even when it comes to the tradition of women eating last and the least, her views are not at all politically correct. “How can women work if they don’t eat? I feel women must eat first after cooking if they are hungry. They should not wait for the whole family to eat before them. I, too, don’t wait. After all, we are working for ours families and need to be healthy,” says Jyoti. To a large extent, the Musahar women owe their improved health and incomes to Jyoti and her husband. A new farming technique, system of rice intensification or SRI, that the duo introduced to the marginalised community, having learnt about it from Pradan, a Gaya-based NGO, is responsible for the prosperity. When the community, comprising about 300 Musahar families, saw that the rice yield on one katha of land (1 katha = 66.9 sq metres) increased from 30 to 150 kilograms through the new technique, they adopted it immediately. It was Jyoti’s success in turning vast barren lands into green belts with the SRI technique and other indigenous methods that caught the attention of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. And it was these efforts that have contributed to her victory in the polls – she defeated her opponent by a margin of over 24000 votes. Says Jyoti, “My life is an open book. I have always wanted to work for the people and I have done that in the past 25 years. The only difference now is that, as an MLA, I have more power and authority to help people.”

hen her parents left her in a residential school for poor children, she was just five. But Jyoti, one of seven siblings, didn’t cry over being ‘abandoned’. Even when many other girls her age ran away from the ‘home’, unable to adjust to the rigours of a spartan life there, Jyoti hung on. For she had realised that the school was her only chance to gain an education that would lead her to a better future. And it has. Today, her resilience and wisdom – traits she developed early in life – have opened doors to immense opportunities and catapulted her on to the political centre stage. In Bapu Gram, a remote village in Gaya District, members of the Musahar Community, to which Jyoti and her husband Baleshwar Bhuyian belong, were not surprised when the 45-year-old mother-of-five received a call from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s office to set up a meeting with him. Neither were they astounded when she was made the Janata Dal (U) candidate from Barachatti in Gaya for the assembly polls. After having seen her from close quarters since 1981, when she and her husband began working in Bapu Gram, they were witness to the change she had brought into their lives by fighting for their rights. Now they expect big things from her in the state assembly – in the 2010 Bihar elections Jyoti was elected as a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from Barachatti. Raising her voice against injustice comes naturally to Jyoti. Even while she was living at the home, when the quality of food and clothing given to them suddenly dropped, it was she who got other girls together to complain. “All of us there were adopted. I knew that my stay was being paid for by an Indian couple. So there were no financial hitches in providing us with new clothes or edible food. I also knew that if I protested alone, it may not have the right impact. So I talked to the other girls and we went as a group to demand better services. This strategy worked and the quality of both food and clothing did improve,” she remembers. In 1980, Jyoti married Baleshwar, her senior at the home. The couple went off to teach at the home’s branch

Photo: Swapna Majumdar/WFS

Jyoti is a first-time MLA in the Bihar State Assembly. She belongs to the severely marginalised Musahar community - better known as the community that feeds on rodents for want of proper food.
Fortunately, Jyoti’s sewing skills learnt at the home came in handy, as did the sewing machine given as wedding gift by the institution. She even taught her husband who pitched in by stitching garments for men. “He was quite good and it helped in improving our finances,” says a smiling Jyoti. When they moved to a more backward block, Fatehpur, in the same district subsequently and found there were no schools, they decided construction of a modest building. Since then, all children go to school. In fact, 10 neighbouring villages were so inspired by the community effort that they too got together to do the same. In 1986, the state government opened a primary school and an anganwadi (nursery) in Fatehpur Block in Gaya. Being the only active woman around, Jyoti was the natural choice for becoming an anganwadi worker. That she was the right person

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(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

D e ce m ber 15, 2012

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

3

grassroots

Value her, and Mother Nature takes care of you
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marianne de naZareth, Bengaluru
per tanker load. For a number of years, large areas of Bangalore and its outskirts have been in the hands of the ‘water mafia’. Then like a miracle waiting to happen, an old concept of rainwater harvesting, floated way back in the 1970s by a Jesuit scientist priest in Bangalore, became a clever way of learning to cope with the waterless situation. Indeed, today, In Hennur, another suburb of Bangalore, there has never been any regular water supply. To live there, Ramsy Pinto and his small family used to buy 10 tankers of freshwater costing Rs 250 each a month. “After fitting the rainwater harvesting mechanism, the rainwater run-off goes straight into my sump after filtration and is used for everything from cooking to cleaning. Now I do not have to buy water for five months in the year and so the savings has helped pay back my investment in the first month itself,” Ramsy says. In Hoskote Taluk, the farmers have realised they need to help themselves, too. So, along with some support from the government, they have got together and built a number of bundhs (tiny dams) and dredged man-made ponds, enabling the rainwater to be collected rather than being wasted as run-off. The water has been channelised to flow into areas where a bundh holds it back and instead of being wasted as run-off, it slowly percolates back into the soil, raising the water table. Already, borewells which were dug to depths of 900 metres and more, now fetch water at resh water has turned into a scarce commodity in Karnataka. Many parts of Bangalore City do not get a daily supply of corporation water and residents depend on buying tankers of water. Several layouts in the city’s outskirts such as Sarjapur are not connected to regular corporation water supplies. The government cannot supply so much water as they

Overcoming odds to make a mark
Who says that women win elections only from reserved constituencies? Radha Devi has won three times as head of the Meethiberi Panchayat (Dehradun District in Uttrakhand), and other women have got elected to wards and panchayats with or without reservation. Who says that women cannot function independently? In dacoit-infested Girduha Panchayat in Chitrakoot District in Uttar Pradesh, Sanjo Kol was elected as the representative of the most marginalised and exploited Kol Tribe. She bravely faced opposition from feudal landlords, manipulations of corrupt officials and terror from dacoits and was reelected. And who says that women cannot handle the nitty-gritty of (Dehradun District), Usha, a Dalit who had studied up to Standard 8, taught herself English, learned how to operate a computer and visited China for a conference on women leaders. Leela Sharma, elected from Galjwari Panchayat in the some district, confronted the mining mafia to save her village ecology. Prajwini Naik, president of the Katlei Panchayat in Uttarakannada District, Karnataka, worked to establish communitybased tourism in her panchayat. Janvu Bai Janu Gavada in the same district organised people against displacement. The common thread running through these women panchayat leaders is their dedication to work

Photos: Marianne de Nazareth

Stone bundhs built with the help of the local panchayat to hold back rainwater run-off in Kurubalahalli Village, Hoskote.
do not have it to give. In order to live in the layouts, people sank borewells and those have become popular over the years through the 1980s till today. However, mismanagement and overexploitation of the borewells have caused them to dry out and since the layouts have been built up with apartment blocks, there is no way the bore wells can be deepened to tap lower water resources. Similar issues have cropped up in the little villages on the periphery of Bangalore City. Hoskote, one of the taluks (geographical area), has extremely fertile soil and for generations farmers have grown root vegetables such as potato and beetroot. It was in the early part of this century that the farmers switched to rose cultivation as it made more economic sense and fetched them higher returns. However, since the government offers free electricity to farmers in India, they would switch on their pumps all day and night letting the water flow through the canals between the plants and this dried up the borewells. To help themselves, the farmers bought tankers of water from a group that cashed in on a wonderful opportunity. The clever bunch who have sunk borewells in their private plots of land sell each tanker of water for anywhere between Rs 250 to 500 the Karnataka Government has made rainwater harvesting mandatory in Bangalore City. So, when it rains the pure water is ‘harvested’ by collecting the runoff via pipes along the roof and led through a filter to a collection tank, or to an existing sump or shallow openmouthed well. “The excess run-off is also directed to rejuvenate old and dry borewells,” says Jeff D’Lemos, the ‘rain man’ of Bangalore who has been instrumental in putting up rainwater harvesting devices in a number of large institutions in the city and in residential localities as well. A doctor living in Sarjapur was having a hard time managing with buying tankers of water once his borewell dried. He called Jeff to help two years ago and Jeff installed guttering and collection pipes across the whole of the massive roof. The rainwater was channelised into the sump after filtration and the excess was then guided into the borewell area, to rejuvenate the water table. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Dr Shetty says, “I have become a rainwater harvesting advocate ever since my problems have been solved by Jeff. We all need to take small steps to help ourselves rather than waiting for the government to supply us non-existent water.”

Photo: Bharat Dogra

Woman power to the fore: at a function organised by the Institute of Social Sciences to honour panchayat leaders in Delhi.
complicated development work? Rukmani Devi, the Dalit sarpanch (head) of Vijaypura Panchayat (in Rajsamand District of Rajasthan) has implemented the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and other development works so well that the panchayat is often cited as a model panchayat with transparent systems well in place. Rajjo, a Dalit woman, used to help her husband, a cobbler, so that the family could eke out a living in Sultanpur Chilkana, a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur District. Her hard work and commitment to helping others attracted attention. She fought and won the election for the post of vice chair-person in the local area committee. She teamed up well with Suraiya Begum, the chair-person to bring relief and development to the people of the fast urbanising rural belt. There are other striking examples. All her life Geeta Bai had worked as a sweeper in Faagi Block (Jaipur District), so when she decided to fight panchayat elections she told the villagers, “Earlier I came to you only for roti (as payment), but today I've came for a vote.” Geeta won the election. After getting elected as head of the Mohbewala Panchayat for the welfare of their communities. During visits to the villages, I was impressed by the extraordinary support and goodwill they enjoyed. Radha, Sanjo and Rukmani are recipients of the Outstanding Women Panchayat Leader Award given yearly by the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi. They and other panchayat leaders represent the true face of India’s grassroots democracy. Despite corruption and bureaucratic hurdles, they have overcome. The earthy wisdom of the women contributed much to solving problems. For example, some of their development plans were threatened when the electricity department sent them a huge bill for pending payments. The women held a meeting and then sent a reply: yes, they would pay, but only after the department paid for the entire village land it had occupied. Befuddled, the officials quickly reached a settlement and the pending electricity bills were written off. < Bharat Dogra, New Delhi

Kurubalahalli has man-made tanks filled with rainwater that help raise the ground water table and fill the underground aquifers.
500 metres. “The farmers are seeing the efficacy of rainwater harvesting,” says Chandra Prabhu the village head. “The precious water is saved and by going back into the ground we are able to replenish our borewells which were drying up.” < (With inputs from Prof Nagarathinam, Madurai.)

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grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

De c e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

Sixty days of a well-rounded education, and a metamorphosis
Life in the tribal belt of Rajasthan’s Udaipur District is very rough. For many tribal families there is not enough food to last even five months. In the midst of migration, homelessness and destitution, there is disruption and stress. And bearing the brunt are children. It’s a dismal picture. But bringing sunlight into the children’s lives and restoring some of the joys of childhood, with education backed by nutrition and sanitation in Kaya Village, is the Dr Mohan Sinha Mehta Training Centre

grassroots

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pamela philipose, Udaipur
hrinking forests and pasture lands, on the one hand, and small, unproductive farm holdings, on the other, are squeezing life out of many a home in Udaipur District, with the adult occupants forced to bundle up their few belongings and migrate in search of a livelihood. The grain – maize or wheat, sometimes both – tribal families scratch out from their rain-fed plots typically last for five months in the year. For the rest of the time, the community is dependent on small income from minor forest produce and through rearing goats. But with the forests under stress, this support base, too, is getting eroded. It’s the children, badly off in the best of times, who are paying the highest price for the disruption and destitution. Imagine the life of a seven-yearold tribal Bhil or Garasiya child in Jhadol or Kotra Block with some help from Narendra Pal Dhamor, a teacher from Kherwara and a longtime observer of people living in the undulating stretches of rural Udaipur, “Technically, families here may not be landless, but the couple of bighas (one bigha is about 0.4 hectares) they own is insufficient to keep body and soul together. So people migrate and children often get left behind to the indifferent care of some member of the larger family or older siblings. They should be in school, but have either not been enrolled or have dropped out. As for food, they may be given a maize roti or two in the morning and then left largely to their own devices. So they roam around, graze cattle, play in the dust, fall sick, and over time grow into malnourished adults. Such is the cycle of existence in these parts.” It is against this backdrop that the Dr Mohan Sinha Mehta Training Centre, run by the Udaipur-based organisation Seva Mandir, in Kaya Village, has been working to suggest another future for these young lives. Situated on an 80-bigha campus some 25 kilometres from the picturesque lake city, the centre has for over a decade run three annual residential camps of around 60 days each – from January to March; May to June, and November to December – for about 180 to 200 children at a time, most of who come from impoverished tribal backgrounds. Explains Angela Jacob of Seva Mandir, who supervises the Kaya programme, “A majority of kids here have either not attended school or have dropped out. Once a child completes three camps of 60 days at the Kaya centre, she or he will be able to do some basic reading, writing and Madhya Pradesh-based Eklavya or developed at the Kaya Centre itself. A close relationship between the teacher and the taught – at a ratio of school with its standard format that is followed blindly, we try to make learning fun. For instance, counting is taught using local material like stones or sticks.” Between 5 to 6 pm, games are played in the courtyard; there could also be cultural activities like music and dance. Dinner is served around 8 and it’s ‘lights out’ by 9.30 pm. But learning, while important, is only half the story. What is striking about this intervention is its emphasis on nutritious meals and sanitation. It is this two-pronged approach of healthy eating and effective learning that brings about a metamorphosis in the children. When they arrive, many children bear the marks of malnutrition, even starvation – bloated bellies, dry, reddish hair, stunted growth. They don’t know how to use a toilet or even wash their hands properly. Says Dalpath Singh Parmar, a supervisor at the Kaya Centre: “It’s sad, but when they first come in they find it difficult to digest even our simple fare. Since most of them have almost been starving, regular food initially upsets their system and it takes a while for the normal appetite of childhood to assert itself. Once that happens, the kids look forward to the meals, after washing their hands and waiting semolina, either sweetened or salted. Lunch consists of freshly made dal, vegetables, rice and rotis. A similar fare is served for dinner. Fruit is often made available depending on the season. The children love bananas and mangoes. Every summer, the fruit-laden old mango trees in the Kaya Centre campus never fails to thrill them. While most of the food served is traditional Rajasthani fare, an interesting innovation is a soya unit run at the campus, which provides the children with soya milk once in two days. Laxman Singh, who operates it, is also adept at making tofu by splitting the milk and passing it through a cloth sieve. But protein rich tofu is not a favourite – and needs to be disguised by being mixed with dal or vegetables. Angela Jacob smiles, “In fact, these children, like children everywhere, resist food they are not familiar with, like rajma or chole (legumes). Palak (spinach) too is disliked. What they do enjoy is the special Sunday meal when the favourite Rajasthani dish, ‘dal baati’, makes an appearance, or mithi lapsi – a sweet porridge made out of broken wheat.” The Kaya Centre demonstrates how children, who fall between the cracks of a ruthless rural order, can be given back their childhood. Educational camps cannot, of course, replace a proper school, but as M.S. Agwani, former vice-chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, now based in Udaipur, observes, “An intervention like this can prove valuable when government schools don’t run well or when parents don’t see any value in sending children to them.” Ravinder Kaur, professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Delhi, who has personally visited the centre puts it this way, “For children who exist outside the school system, a few months of regular care, in the company of other children like themselves, do amazing things. What struck me when I was there was the enthusiasm they displayed, their sheer peppiness. Their imagination had been given free play, they were encouraged to express themselves. They also have the energy to participate in all activities because they got good food. That, after all, is the central concern, isn’t it?” <
(Courtesy: Women's Feature Service)

Photos: WFS

Making learning fun - children playing elephant-elephant at Kaya Centre, situated on an 80-bigha campus some 25 kilometres from the picturesque lake city of Udaipur.
counting in Hindi. We then try and place them in regular school.” The first thing that strikes you about the Kaya Centre is its airy, sunlit classrooms alive with the voices of children. They double up as dormitories at night, as indicated by the neatly folded mattresses and blankets piled up in one corner. The children, mostly in the 6-14 year age group, have been divided into three categories: kids with no experience of education are placed in the C Category; those with a basic understanding of letters and numbers make up the B Category, while those with higher skills comprise Category A – or graduate to that level during their days at the camp. Within a month of camp life, most of them will be able to read from their worksheets and write on the blackboard with felicity. Not vowels or consonants but words signifying familiar objects – matka (pot), nal (tap), aam (mango), or the ubiquitous billi (cat) – are the basic building blocks of their learning. A lot of information is conveyed through stories and play acting, all of which is closely supervised by trained teachers adept at using learning material like flashcards conceptualised by educational organisations such as the roughly one teacher for ten students – is what makes the teaching pay dividends. Says Manju Parmar, a

Using flash cards for learning at Kaya Centre. A lot of information is conveyed through stories and play acting, all of which is closely supervised by trained teachers adept at using learning material such as flashcards.
teacher, “We don’t beat kids. We try and explain things, even if it takes more time. The children don’t live in fear and, unlike in a government patiently for their turn to be served.” Breakfast could be poha (a dish of beaten rice), sprouted moong (lentil) or dalia - a porridge made of

D e ce m ber 15, 20 12

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

5

Short end of the stick for street traders?
We can’t do without them for small eats and treats, for fruits, vegetables, accessories, knick-knacks… and their products are largely affordable. Small wonder then that they form an integral part of life in many towns and cities worldwide. In Bangalore and Mysore, however, many street vendors have been displaced and their source of livelihood impacted adversely. Most people in India still prefer going to the local kirana store or to buy from the hawker in the street rather than making trips to shopping mall or supermarket. At a time when the debate over FDI in retail is raging, the hawker willy-nilly comes under the spotlight
Pushpa achanta, Bengaluru
n Shivaji Nagar and Gandhi Bazar that are popular commercial hubs in Central Bangalore or in the century-old Halasuru Market, mobile and stationary hawkers are minimal.

grassroots

The ‘bare’ Shivaji Nagar footpath makes for quite an unusual sight .
street vendors to enable them to earn their livelihood through hawking. Mysore, too, has witnessed action against street vendors. Following an outbreak of cholera and swine flu, the Mysore Municipal Corporation (MCC) banned persons who sell food on the streets in April 2012, citing unhygienic conditions of sale. The civic body claimed that it had begun to inspect standards of hygiene and overall quality of food in restaurants and eateries of all sizes in Mysore and was penalising violators. Until now, many of the food hawkers have not been provided the licences required to resume their business; the situation is identical to their counterparts in Bangalore. Then there are hawkers such as Yellamma who experience the burden of poverty, age and loneliness. Aged more than sixty years, she lives alone in a tiny tin shed in Vasant Nagar, a neighbourhood near the Cantonment Railway Station in Bangalore. Some mornings every week, she sets out by foot to sell a few dozen bananas and peanuts placed in a bamboo basket atop her head. For the frail woman who has to walk at least 5 km if she has to earn a living, the ability to buy even the basics – food, clothing and medicine – has become a growing problem. If the issue was about pedestrian safety and convenience, BBMP, MCC and the police should not have permitted vendors to set up shops on footpaths, street corners, near bus and railway stations or alongside roads. Instead, like in some urban parts of Odisha and West Bengal, certain areas could have been earmarked as hawking zones after considering aspects such as number

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flowers outside a place of worship close to the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation bus station in Shivaji Nagar. “We moved from neighbouring Tamil Nadu long ago

Evicted vendors make a show of protest with placards.
Because the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (Bangalore Municipality or BBMP), the Muzrai Department (that had reportedly collected rent from the hawkers until then) and the local police, which suddenly realised in July 2010 that footpaths were for pedestrians, evicted more than 400 street vendors without prior notice, alternatives or compensation. The government's unanticipated action and its refusal to restore the hawkers have affected their lives drastically. Many vendors hail from lowincome families and are barely literate, such as Madamma, age around 45. She and her husband Samy migrated over 20 years ago from Anekal Taluk in Bangalore Urban District, situated about 35 km to the south of the city. Says Madamma, “Samy and I sell plastic cutlery, boxes, cloth clips and nylon ropes for a living. We lack other skills or experience. Further, we cannot easily relocate to new areas due to space constraints, competition and unfamiliarity.” A number of vendors who were uprooted face increasing financial challenges. Saroja used to sell as we could not find work there. I am now struggling to pay the rent for my house and to send my four children to school. Educating them in a government institution also costs a bit. I was a construction labourer earlier but had to discontinue as I was injured more than once during my work and did not receive necessary medical assistance. My husband does not have regular employment and is an alcoholic. Our landlord has been threatening to evacuate us as we owe him money. Sometimes, I do not go home as the cost of travelling by public transport has also risen. On such occasions I fear for the safety of my kids and am anxious if they have had a proper meal,” she explains. The hawkers who were forcibly removed from different parts of Bangalore have united under the Beedhi Vyaaparigala Hakkotaya Andolana (Street Vendors Rights Campaign or BVHA). Since October 2010, they have met and submitted petitions on the issue to the BBMP mayor, the deputy commissioners and various government officials. The BVHA has been requesting the BBMP to allot the street vendors

permanent space for selling their goods. Various non-governmental and non-profit organisations such as Maraa (a community media and arts collective based in Bangalore), the Alternate Law Forum, the Slum Janara Samanvaya Samiti and individuals in the city have also lent vendors support by bringing focus to their struggle through the news media and human rights advocacy. “Representatives of the BBMP and the state government had promised to protect our rights while ensuring that pedestrians experienced no inconvenience. However, none of these assurances have translated into action. Further, the BBMP has not communicated anything formally, that is there is nothing on paper for street vendors like me,” says a BVHA member. According to BVHA, actions of BBMP are not just illegal and unconstitutional but also contravene the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009 issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India. The Policy recognises street vendors as an integral and legitimate part of the urban retail trade and distribution system. It also accepts that street vendors provide valuable services to the urban masses while eking out a living through their own enterprise, limited resources and labour. After the policy was passed, the prime minister is said to have sent a letter to all chief ministers seeking that the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors 2009 be implemented and legislation enacted taking into account the model bill, which is part of the policy to “enable street vendors to ply their trade without harassment”. Importantly, the Supreme Court of India has recognised street vending as a fundamental right under the Constitution. In the Mahrashtra Ekta Hawkers’ Union and Another versus Municipal Corporation, Greater Mumbai and Others case, the Supreme Court in its order dated 12th February 2007 observed that any steps taken with regard to street vendors should be in consonance with the aims and objects of the national policy to render some sort of succour to urban

Photos: Pushpa Achanta

Peanuts anyone?
of pedestrians, vehicular density, security and comfort of sellers and buyers, environment and health.
Note: Some names have been changed.

<

Shift to e-journal
Dear Reader, With increasing printing costs, the Press Institute of India, a non-profit trust, is compelled to stop publication of the printed edition of Grassroots with effect from January. Grassroots will, however, be published as an e-journal from January 2013, and select content will be hosted on our Web site (www.pressinstitute.in). The annual subscription to the e-journal (which can be accessed by clicking the Grassroots logo on the home page) will be Rs 300 and payment (in the form of DD favouring Press Institute of India) can be sent to the Director, PII-RIND, RIND Premises, Second Main Road, Taramani CPT Campus, Chennai 600 113. Existing subscribers will receive either a PDF version or a password to log into the e-version. Please send your email ID to murali@ pressinstitute.in so that we can reach the e-version to you. We look forward to your support always. Director and Publisher

6

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

De c e m b e r 1 5 , 2 0 1 2

Women learn to manage money, break the cycle of poverty
The cycle of poverty cannot be broken with the help of a few small loans. Knowing to read and write as well as how to manage money matters. The Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank which operates in Maharashtra and Karnataka is entirely managed by rural women. The bank has thousands of customers and a sizeable deposit base but what is significant is that the bank ploughs its earnings back into the community in a variety of ways. It sustains self-help groups among low-income female borrowers. Here is a bank that is scrupulous about accountability, encourages thrift and even has a pension scheme
gagandeep kaur, Mhaswad (Maharashtra)
ot long after Chetna Gala Sinha came to a droughtstricken region in western Maharashtra to marry a farmer and prominent local social activist, she began putting her university degree

grassroots

N

and at the office the women boasted that they could calculate the interest of any principal amount without calculator and challenged the officer to do the same." The experience forged what has turned out to be the

The Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank has 140360 women as clients today, many of them pictured here at a meeting.
in finance into action. Local women, she had observed, were wearing themselves out in subsistence livelihoods such as growing grapes or selling vegetables. In 1992, Sinha, who grew up in a middle-class family in Mumbai, began organising the women into selfhelp and savings groups that helped them share technical knowledge, lower their costs through bulk buying and learn the rudiments of managing their money. But she quickly realised that the women also needed business loans, even though their low incomes didn't qualify them to procure them from conventional banks. So in 1994 she applied for a licence to run a bank on behalf of 500 rural women. But the Reserve Bank of India, the country's top regulator, rejected the application. Reason: except for Sinha, all the women identified themselves with a thumb print and, according to an official at the central bank, directors of a bank had to know how to read and write. Not to be discouraged, Sinha, who is in her 40s, set up literacy classes that wound up going beyond simple word recognition. "Thanks to their keen interest they were also taught how to calculate interest on principal," she recalls, "We gave the proposal again three years later all-women-run bank's underlying premise: if rural women with littleto-no education are to break the cycle of poverty they need more than a few small loans. The Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank – the Mann Land Women's Cooperative Bank –started with 500 women and $15000 in investments savings to form their credit pool. There was no outside funding and it took three years to make the institution totally sustainable and a profit making bank. Today, they have 140360 clients and deposits of over Rs 378 lakh. Entirely managed by rural women, the bank is operating at seven branches in the districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Although it charges an interest rate – depending on the duration of the loan – not only is that far lower than the rates charged by local loan sharks but the bank ploughs its earnings back into the community in a variety of ways, including a low-fee trade school and low-cost insurance programmes. Moreover, it even sustains the same kind of self-help groups among lowincome female borrowers in related enterprises – dairy vending, tailoring and grape growing – that led to the bank's formation. One of the bank's major functions is to act as a buyers' collective for these groups, in order to help lower costs.

Bank employees or members of the voluntary board of directors monitor the groups and help them get projects – such as dairies for milk vendors that guarantee members a better price – off the ground. Mann Deshi started a school in January 2007 that caters to rural illiterate women by offering courses in their areas of work. Students, who are usually vegetable vendors, milk vendors and casual labourers, are eligible for loans from the bank and have used the money to establish or expand their businesses. The average loan size of the bank is between one to one and a half lakh rupees and is repaid over five years in weekly or monthly installments. Some loans, however, are as small as Rs 250 and get repaid in a day. A woman might go to the bank to finance the purchase of an umbrella to shelter her wares at market or foodstorage containers. While some microfinance institutions in India have run into scandal for mismanagement and fraud, Sinha says the bank is scrupulous about accountability, with internal audits every three months, a yearly audit by the government's cooperative department and an inspection by

the central bank every four years. Other than loans and a savings account – the bank requires all of its borrowers to open savings accounts and save regularly – there are other services provided as well. There’s

The recipient used a loan to start a tiny paper-cup-making business that today supports her family of 19. In addition to running her own business she now helps train other female entrepreneurs.

Photos:Mann Deshl Mahila Bank

A one-of-its-kind 'e-card' was launched by the bank last year.
a pension scheme where clients between the ages of 18 and 55 can save on a weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly schedule. When they reach the age of 58, these women will receive a monthly payment based on accumulated savings and compound interest. Then, last year, a one-ofits-kind ‘e-card’ programme was launched. It was because most women associated with the bank were doing well and were apprehensive about sharing their account information with their husbands lest it be used without their knowledge, that the novel initiative was undertaken. The plastic card displays the woman’s names and photograph, while a micro-chip stores all her financial information. The cards instantly allow the bank’s field agents and clients to view savings account balance, loan account status, and repayment history. Eventually, the use of e-cards is expected to increase the efficiency and business capacity of the bank and provide clients with enhanced security and service. For all the innovative approaches that enable rural women to increase their financial capabilities, the bank routinely earns official commendations. One depositor has also received the equivalent of its 2006 ‘Woman of the Year’ award from the prime minister. One of the bank's clients, Aruna Gaikwad, shows how a small loan from the bank can take a borrower a long way. Three years ago, as a labourer in other people's fields, Gaikwad used to earn less than Rs 25 a day. Then she arranged a loan of about a lakh to start her own vegetable retail business. Her daily income doubled immediately and today she makes almost Rs 450 a day. Gaikwad says she had tried to get a loan from conventional banks but they turned her down because she had no property to serve as collateral. "When I finally got the loan, it was the first time that I had ever seen such a big amount and I haven't spent a single rupee unproductively." In 2005, Gaikwad began to serve as a co-guarantor on Mann Deshi loans for 15 other vegetable vendors and has taken responsibility for collecting and delivering their weekly payments. Now she looks to the future of her 13year-old daughter. "I would like my daughter to get a job where she can sit on a chair," she says, "and not squat on the road, vending stuff." <
(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service/ By arrangement with Women’s eNews)

Chetna Gala Sinha (right) has set up the Mann Deshl Mahila Bank in Satara, a drought-stricken region in western Maharashtra.

The bank conducts door-to-door services to encourage savings.

D e ce m ber 15, 2012

grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

7

They cannot just live on ‘anything’, they do need food

grassroots grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

A Journal of the Press Institute of India
Registered with The Registrar of Newspapers for India under TNENG/2009/27557

grassroots

In Odisha’s Kandhamal where forests constitute almost two-thirds of the land area, food scarcity is driving people to desperation. It’s not surprising that the district tops the Indian list on two counts – maternal mortality ratio and infant mortality rate. For every 1000 children born here, 145 die before the age of five. Shocking statistics indeed! It’s the lack of adequate nutrition and access to safe drinking water that has proved to be a decisive factor in such tragedies. Food distribution is so poor that the tribes are forced to depend on the forest for daily needs
saadia aZim, Kandhamal (Odisha)
bhinandh Pradhan, 36, was hoping to welcome a healthy baby into his home but that was not to be. Today, his small hut in Dhanekbadi Village, located in Daringbadi Block of Odisha’s

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Arpita Pradhan of Dhanekbadi Village in Daringbadi Block of Kandhamal District had three miscarriages before she gave birth to a low-weight baby.
Kandhamal District, is filled with a deafening silence. Five months ago, Pradhan’s wife, Nanda, died during childbirth. She was very frail and during her first antenatal check-up she was advised to “eat better” and take iron and calcium supplements. The grief-stricken husband recalls that piece of advice and shakes his head, “What can we poor people do about the food we eat? We eat what we get, what else?” Families like his subsist largely on a gruel made from mandia, a jungle millet, which is a staple in these parts and is known for its hunger-stemming properties. Meanwhile, Nanda’s health kept declining until one day she died – “just like that”, as her husband puts it. While Nanda did not survive her pregnancy, Arpita Pradhan, also from Dhanekbadi Village, managed to overcome three miscarriages to give birth to a baby with extremely low birth weight and respiratory problems. In the face of severe food scarcity and the lack of medical care, these days she is not only struggling

to keep her baby alive but is yet to recover her own strength after her many episodes of child bearing. There are hundreds of Nandas and Arpitas in the communally-sensitive district of Kandhamal, with a tribal population of over 50 per cent, and with forests constituting almost twothirds of its land area. The district, incidentally, tops the national table in terms of its maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and infant mortality rate (IMR). According to the Government of India’s Annual Health Survey (2010-11), for every 1000 children born here, 145 die before the age of five, making it the district with the highest under-five child mortality rate in India, with Daringbadi and Phiringia Blocks having seen the maximum number of child deaths in the district. What hardly helps in such a situation is the lack of trained medical personnel. Kandhamal has 50 government-run hospitals and healthcare centres – on paper – but the few doctors working here find it an extremely arduous business to reach out to the impoverished tribal communities living high up in the hills. Although the Annual Health Survey does not highlight the link between high IMR/ MMR levels and malnutrition, clearly the lack of adequate nutrition is a decisive

to face the physical challenge of child bearing. In 2008, the Institute of Human Development came up with the Food Security Atlas of Rural Odisha

Photos: Saadia Azim/WFS

Michel Pradhan, 24, of Dhanekbadi Village managed to keep her son – now two years old – alive with the help of the local church that provided her with supplements of milk and protein biscuits.
on behalf of the UN World Food Programme (WFP). The Atlas identified Kandhamal as one of the most vulnerable districts in the state’s “geography of hunger” and highlighted poor rural connectivity, lack of food and nutritional security and access to safe drinking water as central concerns. Today, the governmentrun public distribution system (PDS) – that makes subsidised food grain and non-food items available to the poor through a widespread and established network of fair price shops – still does not reach many parts of Kandhamal. The authorities have also been sluggish about issuing BPL (below poverty line) cards that entitles holders to 25 kilos of rice at Rs 2 per kilo. Observes Srimanta Kumar Khuntia, who works for nongovernment organisation Care India in Phulbani, the district headquarters of Kandhamal, “Serious infrastructural lags and administrative indifference marks the food supply system in these small remote villages.” This observation is echoed by Somjit Pradhan, a resident of Dhanekbadi Village, “Since we get no government supply here, procuring food becomes the most difficult job for us. In our homes, food is always short. People assume that since tribal communities do not actively demand food, we are content on living on forest produce. In fact, it is because the food distribution is so poor that we are forced to depend on the forest for our daily needs.”

Mandia, a jungle millet grown by rural tribal people in Daringbadi Block of Kandhamal District is their staple diet. Mandia, however, doesn't provide adequate nutrition.
factor in such tragedies, as we saw in Nanda’s case. Wholly dependent for her nutritional requirement on the gruel made out of mandia, a millet that is grown in limited quantities either within the forest or in small clearings near people’s homes, she was clearly ill-prepared nutritionally

But the store of food that the forest yields – whether it is bamboo shoots, honey, wild fruits, turmeric or sweet tubers – dries up once the cold winds blow through these hills that constitute the North Eastern Ghats. During winters and the monsoons, ensuring food security in Daringbadi Block gets even more difficult. Explains Trinath Sahu, a coordinator with a local church here, “This block has a mountainous terrain and it even snows in some parts during the winters. When weather conditions turn rough, tribal people here don’t even know what to eat. Many households don’t have adequate stores of food and they also unable to gather forest produce because of the weather. Things can turn extremely dire in such circumstances.” Only 24-year-old Michel Pradhan of Dhanekbadi Village knows how she managed to keep her baby alive to celebrate his second birthday through the cold season. Some visiting doctors from the local church helped out by providing her with a milk supplement and protein biscuits. Of course, now that her stock of supplements is over, she and her baby are back to their dependence on mandia gruel. Every now and then, stories of deaths from “food poisoning” of people in the region trickle into the media in Bhubaneswar or Delhi. Last October, for instance, sources in Kandhamal’s District Health Department revealed that at least eight people, including four children of a family, who were located in Gudrigaon Village in a remote corner of Daringbadi Block, had died of food poisoning. But such incidents are usually dismissed in one line of a newspaper report and quickly forgotten. According to Trinath Sahu, such a callous approach is driven by a view that “tribals can live on anything”. Says he, “The fact that tribal communities have been subsisting on a meagre diet for generations, that many tribal children die before they reach the age of five, that tribal mothers are more likely to die in childbirth than women from other communities, should disturb us deeply. Instead, it is accepted as reality and provokes no action. Surely it is time to change such a mindset?” <
(Courtesy: Women’s Feature Service)

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grassroots
A journal of the Press Institute of India promoting the human condition

Registered with The Registrar of Newspapers for India under TNENG/2009/27557

grassroots

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