A region in rural Odisha, which was severely affected by Maoist unrest, a group of people came together to transform the lives of those living in acute poverty and threat. Read the tale of how one organization made a place in the heart of people who never trusted an outsider or the government.
Apart from nature, Daringbari in Odisha has always remained synonymous with the Maoist unrest making headlines many times. The media has often adjoined this to be a part of the socio-cultural aspect of this quaint hill station.
While on one hand, tourists rush in here to escape the burning heat of summer, on the other, an internal lava remains deposited in the core sockets of Daringbari.
Amidst this rage, Jagruti took birth on 15th November 1982 under the able direction of Alber Joseph. Back in the 80’s Daringbari was completely disconnected from the rest of the country and was stricken with acute poverty. The natives went without food for days where the call of death seemed far more promising than the baseless life.
Albert, during those days, was working with the CRS and he witnessed this situation first hand. Moved by the plight of the people, he launched Jagruti with 30 team members. Their primary focus was on elementary education, community health, people’s organization, and livelihood.
It has been more than three decades and Jagruti still holds strong in its fundamental determinants. However, the Government suspected this organization to be a Maoist supporting club.
When Jagruti shifted its special focus at Bhramarbadi, its workers were repeatedly questioned why they chose this worst-affected Maoist den.
Working in one of the Worst-Affected Maoist regions
The Kandamal district in Odisha is the hub of Maoist association. A total of seven insurrections have flared-up in that area alone.
The “Kandamal riot” of 2008 made media headlines. Jagruti performed thorough research to understand the reason behind the agitation and got to the conclusion that 87 percent of the people involved in the riot were youths completely deranged by the ideology of Communism distorted and indoctrinated by the profit groups.
The Maoists assumed Jagruti to be a government talk show attempting to disintegrate the groups. After months of awareness programs and individual consultations, a platform entitled “Antaranga” was channelized by Jagruti coalescing 340 youth unions comprising of 14,000 young lads.
When “Wadi” (orchard), felicitated by NABARD, encouraged 697 tribal beneficiaries to utilisetheir wastelands and generate mango orchards out of it, the Maoists in the adjoining areas considered this to be a form of contract farming and destroyed about five acres of booming land.
Despite the heating violence, Jagruti came into the scene and organized group discussions explaining the motives of “Wadi” and tribal development. Right about the same time, with the help of the Odisha Government, 100 school buildings were built for the mass education.
The fact that Daringbari has a very low school drop-out rate itself is a mark of success for Jagruti. They were fruitful in creating awareness regarding the importance of education irrespective of gender.
Bringing the Women Together
Also, a survey conducted by Jagruti in 1987 showed that about 43 percent of the household income was wasted in the purchase of alcoholic beverages. The women Self Help Groups came forward with this challenge and with the constant assistance of Jagruti an “Anti-Liquor” movement began.
Within a year, all the liquor shops were closed down. However, after the government amendment in liquor production, 22 districts in Odisha were given license to brew alcohol.
On Women’s Day, a large number of women came together to revoke this act. The women were so enraged with their several years of efforts going to waste, that the two liquor shops that opened thereafter were shattered to pieces. Although this was a form of brawl the rich merchants of alcohol learned their lessons well.
Providing livelihood options
In 1995 Jagruti started giving training to the women to make dishes and other cutleries using “Siali” leaves to make them self-employed and economically independent.
Jagruti made a plea to the government to transfer the procurement of this production to a cooperative sector, AMC, from the hands of political goons.
AMC has magnificently expanded this business house where the women, who are the labourers get 24 percent of the entire profit and the remaining is used for community development.
It is startling that the entire Kandamal district does not have a single chimney, mine or industry. It takes pride in having the highest forest coverage in the whole of Odisha.
The overwhelming impact
The farmers are self-sufficient, without one case of suicide. Jagruti runs about 120 “Jungle Suraksha Samhitis”. Initially, the tribals had to be made attentive about the impact of wildlife destruction but now they are experts enough to conserve their own forests and biodiversity.
The value of Jagruti in the lives of the local people of Daringbari can be felt through their gestures alone. They contribute to a very positive mindset.
In fact, every woman comes to the community meeting with Rs 20 and gives it as a contribution to the development attempts. This system was not generated by Jagruti but the leaders of various Self Help Groups voluntarily.
The culture of alter-benefit is well-maintained where the trainers are served with meals whenever meetings are held.
Rupali Pradhan, the leader of Grace SHG says that she understood the meaning of savings through the sessions of Jagruti. She leads a group of 12 members where they process and sell “Amla” to an organization called Kasam.
“I try to teach the women what I have learned from Jagruti. Savings is a lifetime of security,” Rupali said.
Similarly, the women of “Shaktimayee”, “Shantimaye” and “Jeevanjyoti”, SHGs have involved themselves in various enterprises such as dairy, rive processing, farming and so on.
“In my Aanganwadi, pregnant women and small children get shelter and nutritional food,” shared Sunita, an anganwadi leader.
This small organization stood by the people of Daringbari when the whole nation was in the reign of oblivion. It took years for them to adjust with both the government and the Maoist groups often putting their lives at stake.
Photos: Moumita Bhattacharjee