A decade on, India’s first solar park has many promises left to fulfil

March 19, 2022

10 years after the project came up, the villagers of Charanka, the project site, are still waiting for clean drinking water, free electricity, and irrigation. Against the promise of 1,000 permanent jobs, only 60 people in the village have been employed as security guards, grass cutters and for washing panels, with no scope for jobs for women, making families who did not have land or sons the worst victims of the solar park.

Afforestation, invasive species make Gaddi pastoralists more vulnerable

September 30, 2021

Beginning in the 1990s, the forest department shifted away from commercial production toward a greater emphasis on joint-forest management, which resulted in a shift toward an array of broad-leaved (but still not palatable) species being planted, especially in lower altitudes. However, Gaddis were largely left out of many joint forest management schemes mainly because of their migratory practice and were consulted in a “token fashion” for compensatory afforestation for hydroelectric projects in high altitudes. 

Harvest of Hope: Women reap rich dividends through group farming

April 13, 2022

The states of Kerala and Telangana have created cooperatives of women farmers which has not only reaped financial benefits but also ensured better social status for the members. The women got familiar with farm practices, government institutes and private agencies, market negotiations and fund management, all of which helped them overcome gender, caste and class barriers

Lockdown Woes: 91% workers didn't get ration, no wages for 84%

November 10, 2020
Stranded workers during lockdown. Image: Sumita Roy Dutta/Wikimedia Commons

While the lockdown did not contain the spread of the virus as expected, it did spawn a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. India’s lockdown has been cited as one of the most ‘stringent’ and ‘stingy’ lockdowns in the world shutting down the economy and movement with a meagre fiscal package for the vulnerable. In the first half of the lockdown, migrant workers were stranded with no food and money. In the second, their woes were compounded due to chaotic travel orders

A Generation in Peril. How Climate Crisis is Impacting Childhood

January 11, 2021

The impact of climate crisis on people across the world is highly disproportionate but no other group is as vulnerable as children in low income families of developing countries. Children are not emotionally and physically capable of understanding the dangers during extreme weather events and are dependent on adults for their survival. They are more susceptible to water and vector borne diseases, malnutrition and they are forced into labour due to economic challenges induced by climate crisis. 

Camel milk inspires hope for herders

November 7, 2020
Fresh camel milk in Kutch region of Gujarat. Photo from Sahjeevan.

India’s camel population has declined by 37 percent over the last seven years because it’s no longer needed for transport or farming. Camel milk, found to be a healthier option for people with diabetes and those with food allergies, can be the source of sustenance for camel rearers. Several small dairies and Amul are selling camel milk and its products to city clientele, but low awareness, lack of bulk milk coolers and shrinking pastures for grazing are the limitations that need to be addressed for this dairy segment to flourish

ऊँट का चमड़ा बन सकता है इसे बचाने का ज़रिया

October 16, 2020
ऊँट के चमड़े के खिलौने भी बनते हैं. चित्र: Pikist

आज ऊँट पालक एवं ऊँट दोनों अपने अस्तित्व की लड़ाई लड़ रहे हैं। वर्तमान परिवेश में ऊँट पालन आर्थिक रूप से फायदेमंद नहीं है। आधुनिक युग में नई संभावनाएँ दूध एवं उसके उत्पाद, खाल, चमड़े, पर्यटन, हड्डी इत्यादि के रूप में पैदा हुई है। अगर इसमें सही निवेश किया जाए तथा परंपरागत तरीकों में कुछ नवीन तरीकों को भी समाहित किया जाए तो ऊँट पालक एवं ऊँट दोनों अपने अस्तित्व को क़ायम रख सकेंगे

Covid 19: Pastoralism under shadows of fear

September 23, 2020
Herders faced hardships during lockdown. Pic: Anu Verma and Biren Nayak

Nomadic herders, whose livelihood depends on livestock, travel in search of pasture land. There are communities whose journeys start every year and pass through traditional routes through different regions. They stop at fixed places where people accept them and allow their herds to camp on their farms in exchange of manure. The lockdown disturbed everything. They had to divert routes and spend more time and energy working out where they could move

In Pics: Suffering in the town powering India’s nuclear dreams

September 8, 2020
Haradhan Gope (20) helping his father in a paddy field, suffers from a facial deformity. Photo by Subhrajit Sen.

Uranium is a vital mineral for India’s ambitious nuclear power programme. Out of the seven states with uranium reserves, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh have currently operating mines. In Jharkhand’s Jaduguda region, which has India’s oldest uranium mines, local communities narrate stories of suffering due to degrading health and the environment. The government, however, denies any ill-impact of uranium mining on people. The Indian government is aiming to increase uranium exploration and mining. This photo essay features images of residents of villages around uranium mines

Covid-19: Sex workers battle stigma, hunger

August 16, 2020
Kareena Kapoor played a sex worker in movie Chameli.

Sexual interactions run contrary to physical distancing norms required to avoid contracting coronavirus thus unconditionally stalling source of livelihood of sex workers. In India, sex work is criminalised and stigmatised putting these workers in the most vulnerable category, thus left behind in response to the pandemic by the government. They lack documents and bank accounts to avail of social welfare schemes and are also denied medical facilities

दुनिया का खेला: अनुपम मिश्र की ज़ुबानी

नाट्य शास्त्र हमारे हाथ आया कोई 17 सौ बरस पहले

नाटक में नौ रस हैं, दुनिया के खेला में भी नौ रस तो हैं ही भाई पर इनमें नाटकों के अतिरक्ति एक रस और जुड़ गया है। आप सब भी हैरान होंगे कि नौ के दस कैसे हो गए। इस रस का नाम है - गन्ना रस! गन्ने का रस भी मिल जाता है। कैसे? आपने गन्ने का रस ठेले पर सामने खड़े होकर पिया ही होगा। पहले साबुत गन्ना डालते हैं। फिर एक बार रस निकल आया तो उसी गन्ने को दो बार मोड़ कर फिर रस निकाला जाता है। फिर तीसरी बार दो के बदले तीन-चार बार मोड़ कर अदरक, नींबू लगा कर फिर निचोड़ा जाता है। जब तक इन सारे छिलकों का रस न निकल जाए- दुकान वाला रुकता ही नहीं। इस खेले की दुकान वाला भी हम सब का रस कभी-कभी इसी शैली में निकालता है। इतना समय तो आपका बर्बाद नहीं करना है। पर दो-चार रसों में गन्ना रस देख ही लें हम।

Women herders lose authority as pastoralism grows roots

March 10, 2022

Conversion of common lands for solar parks, industrial zones and plantations have undermined the productivity of pastoralists. Even though many nomadic pastoralists have taken to settled livestock rearing, they continue to face challenges in accessing local village grazing lands. Settled living also leads to young men migrating to cities to seek alternate jobs or to pursue higher education leaving women with additional responsibilities, including grazing, lopping and finding new sources of fodder and water.

The promised land that never was

February 3, 2022

There are 56 percent households in rural India which do not own any farm. On the other hand, around 7.18 percent households own more than 46.71 percent of total agricultural land thus signifying that few people continue to hold on to large resources. Land reforms failed in their main task of empowering the poor who continue to suffer due to current market-led reforms. Average availability of common land, which is best bet for landless for fodder or farming, has also been declining.

Why sanitation workers continue to carry our filth

January 16, 2020
Kaverappa being lifted out of a pit by Muniraju in Bengaluru. By: Water Aid / CS Sharada Prasad

Manual scavenging is a hereditary occupation that predominantly involves forced labour and is mostly done by Dalits. It is estimated that 1-3 sanitation workers die cleaning sewers every five days in India.  A recent report identified 1,686 workers in 12 districts of four states who were engaged in different kinds of manual scavenging. Inadequate government schemes, poor social and financial status and lack of livelihood options restrict these families to their hereditary occupations.

Organic way to deal with disability

August 3, 2015
New set of smaller and lighter farm tools for those with functional disabilities have also been made.

In Madhya Pradesh, a unique experiment with organic farming is mainstreaming persons with disabilities. Currently 165.76 hectare is under organic farming in the area through over 327 farmers. Of these, 81 are women and 161 are persons with disabilities or their family members. There are 74 trainers, mostly persons with disabilities who act as peer educators providing information on preparation of natural compost, pest control, farm maintenance, livestock management, and government schemes.

In Pics: From Tripura to Gulf via Chennai

December 5, 2018
Tripura migrants in Chennai.

SLUMS OF Chennai are becoming the testing ground for young men from Tripura who want to go to Gulf countries in search of better, richer lives. Each one of these young men has a plan — they know what they will be doing in five,10, 20 years. Life is a game of hopscotch; the moves have been charted for them by those who have gone before. Tripura has the highest unemployment rate in India and the second highest number of emigrant households, after Sikkim, among north-eastern states.

These people-managed forests are setting new examples in conservation and economy

June 10, 2018
Villages in Gondia district of Maharashtra got community rights to sell Tendu leaves.

After 12 years of the implementation of the FRA, many of the forest-dependent communities are already deriving benefits in different pockets and several localised factors have in turn influenced the objectives of community forest resources. Gram sabhas have received more remunerative prices for custard apples, bamboo, siali leaves and tamarind compared to the pre-CFR scenario. Bamboo alone fetches the gram sabhas huge economic returns with the annual turnover more than Rs 50 lakh for some of them. Employment opportunities have also increased manifold under FRA.

Paralegals: When people learn to use environmental law

April 16, 2018
A paralegal enables people to be the change agents. Source: CPR, Namati

These are people from villages and towns trained in basic law, legal procedures and in skills like case documentation, negotiation, mediation and advocacy. They act as a crucial link between justice delivery system and people facing the negative consequences of development projects. The paralegals thus enable the people to move from being mere victims to become change agents. This action is essential in the face of consistent violation of environmental laws.

The Adivasi will not Dance and Santhal Identity

March 27, 2018
Jharkhand govt has banned this book claiming misrepresentation of Santhal women.

The Adivasi Will Not Dance, a book of short stories by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, has been banned by the Jharkhand government with claims that it is hostile to the nobility of Santhal ladies. Some additionally affirm that it is obscene. The characters of the novel are largely Santhali, and this follows from the fact that the writer belongs to the same community. Set on Chotanagpur plateau, the stories portray the agrarian lifestyle of the tribe with each one having a central human character.

Shodhgram: Where science meets compassion

February 25, 2018
The in-patient ward and rooms for patients, all on the pattern of traditional hutments

Founded by doctor couple, Abhay Bang and Rani Bang, and run on Gandhian philosophy of Gram Swaraj (self governance), Shodhgram offers affordable and compassionate services to the people, especially tribals of the region. It has also devised unique solutions to the most pressing community health issues. For instance, Indian government replicated Shodhgram’s concept of home-based mother and newborn care through ASHA. 

Farmers unite to rescue their land from Lantana

January 25, 2018
Women harvesting a small millet from the farm which was earlier infested with Lantana

Lantana was introduced as an ornamental plant to India in 1800s but has since infested the forests, grazing grounds and farms taking over 13 million hectare, which is around 4 per cent of the total land area of the country. Removal of Lantana is problematic as the traditional methods of cutting, burning or haphazard uprooting leads to recurrence. Collective action and good science, however, can do wonders as shown by villagers in Madhya Pradesh and in Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

How distressed rural migrants shelter in cities

November 16, 2017
In a roadside ghetto, Akila Bibi and others after a day’s hard work, separating white paper shreds from the colored ones for recycling. Earning Rs 3 a kg, they manage 30 kg to 50 kg a day. (Photo by Manipadma Jena)

Flood and drought often drive the rural poor to cities. Those who are landless often stay on. Risking lives under the open sky, they hope a city’s many work opportunities will help them survive somehow. At least 1% of every Indian city and town population is homeless. India’s urban population is 377 million, which means 218,750 shelters are needed across the country.

When forest guards wield the camera

September 6, 2017
A still from one of the trap cameras in Pakke Tiger Reserve. Source: Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department

The short documentary shifts the gaze of an adventure tourist to that of someone who lives the jungle. Shot by two forest guards of Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, it offers the exquisite close ups of the magic called nature, including 3 months of trap camera footage of various animals in action. But more than that it shows us the people who monitor our protected areas. 

Dalits embracing Buddhism need to go beyond politics 

July 16, 2017
A Buddhist shrine with Ambedkar's portrait. Source: Akuppa John Wigwam/Flickr

The Dalits in modern India use initiation into Buddhism as a symbolic protest. Recently, around 180 families immersed the idols of Hindu deities and took to Buddhism after a violent clash with members of upper caste in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Last year, over 300 Dalits took deeksha in Gujarat after seven Dalits were flogged for skinning a dead cow. But does this action achieves its goal of social equality?

‘Maruti case highlights the deep rot in the system’

April 14, 2017
Maruti Suzuki made gross mistakes in negotiating with workers.

Around 20,000 workers of Maruti Suzuki India Limited and its vendor companies went on a tool down strike in Haryana’s Gurugram district on March 18. This was to express solidarity with 13 former workers of Maruti Suzuki who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the death of a manager during rioting at the plant in 2012. Film maker Rahul Roy, who has made a documentary, ‘The Factory’, feels it’s an iconic case not just because of the workers’ struggle but also because of the way the court proceedings went. As many as 147 workers on trial for four years without bail is just one of the glaring anomalies. 

‘तवायफें उच्च शिक्षित महिलाएं थीं जिन्हें नई नैतिकता ने सामाजिक परिदृश्य से हटा दिया’ 

October 30, 2015
 रसूलन बाई अपनी ठुमरी के लिए प्रसिद्ध थी 

तवायफों ने उस युग में संगीत और साहित्यिक परिदृश्य में अपना योगदान दिया जब ज्यादातर महिलाएं पर्दे में रहती थीं। ‘द अदर सॉन्ग’ ऐसी फिल्म है जो कि इस बात की पड़ताल करती है कि कैसे इन कलाकारों का दमन किया गया, जिसके परिणामस्वरूप उनका पेशा विलुप्त होता चला गया। हमने बात की फ़िल्मकार सबा दीवान से इस कठिन विषय को पर्दे पर उतारने के अनुभव के बारे में

नर्मदा बचाओ आंदोलनः सच्चाई से साक्षात्कार

December 3, 2013
नाविक और मछुआरे सरदार सरोवर में अपने पानी और मछली पर हक के लिए प्रदर्शन करते हुए। सौजन्य: नर्मदा बचाओ आन्दोलन

नर्मदा बचाओ आंदोलन के साथ काम करने के मेरे निर्णय से बहुत से लोग आश्चर्यचकित थे। मध्य भारत के ग्रामीण इलाके में काम करके गर्मियों की छुट्टियां बिताने के मेरे फैसले पर  दोस्तों और परिजनों ने सवाल उठाए। लेकिन आंदोलन को लेकर मेरे मन में जो जिज्ञासा थी, मैं उसे शांत करना चाहती थी। 90 के दशक में पैदा होने के चलते मैं और मेरे जैसे बहुत से लोग देश के उन पलों के साक्षी नहीं बन सके जब कार्यकर्ता पूरे साहस के साथ आंदोलन के साथ खड़े थे। हम जब पैदा हुए तब तक बांध बन चुका था। और हां, एक तरह से, लगातार दोहराया जा रहा यह सवाल जायज था कि ‘बांध तो बन गया, लेकिन अब क्या’? 

समावेश की खेती

August 3, 2015
जैविक खेती में विकलांगों का योगदान हैरानी उत्पन्न करता है

हमारे देश में विकलांग व्यक्तियों को ज्यादातर निरुपयोगी और आश्रित समझा जाता है। गाँव में यह हालात और भी बदतर हो जाते हैं जहां पर बुनियादी सुविधाओं की कमी और सहायक उपकरणों का आभाव विकलांगों को अपनी क्षमता पहचाने से रोकते हैं। ऐसी स्थिति में जैविक खेती में विकलांगों का योगदान हैरानी ही उत्पन्न करेगा। लेकिन बैतूल, मध्य प्रदेश, में  एक नई धारणा स्थापित हो रही हैं

अकाल अच्छे कामों का भी

तालाब ऊपर से सूख जाने के बाद रेत में समा गई नमी को हमारे पुरखे न जाने कब से बेरी, कुंई नाम का एक सुंदर ढांचा बना कर उपयोग में ले आते हैं

आपके यहां कितना पानी गिरता है, आप ही जानें। हमारे यहां पिछले दो साल में कुल हुई बरसात की जानकारी हम आप तक पहुंचाना चाहते हैं। सन् 2014 में जुलाई में 4 एम.एम. और फिर अगस्त में 7 एम.एम. यानी कुल 11 एम.एम. पानी गिरा था। तब भी हमारा यह रामगढ़ क्षेत्र अकाल की खबरों में नहीं आया। हमने खबरों में आने की नौबत ही नहीं आने दी। फिर पिछले साल सन् 2015 में 23 जुलाई को 35 एम.एम., 11 अगस्त को 7 एम.एम. और फिर 21 सितंबर को 6 एम.एम. बरसात हुई। इतनी कम बरसात में भी हमने हमारे पांच सौ बरस पुराने विप्रासर नाम के तालाब को भर लिया था । यह बहुत विशेष तालाब है। लाखों वर्षों पहले प्रकृति में हुई भारी उथल-पुथल के कारण इस तालाब के नीचे खडि़या मिट्टी की, मेट की या जिप्सम की एक तह जम गई थी

बेघर विक्षिप्तों को समाज से जोड़ रहा ‘हाई’ क्लीनिक

बेघर लोगों में गंभीर मानसिक रोग ज्यादा अनुपात में मिलता है, बजाय उनके जो सुरक्षित रूप से बसे हैं। चित्र:  टोमस कास्तेल्जो

दिल्ली में एक मोबाइल क्लिनिक विशेष रूप से मानसिक रूप से बीमार लोगों को समाज से जोड़ने का कम कर रहा हैं। यह लोग हमारे समाज के सबसे कमजोर तबके से होने के कारण हमेशा कतार के आखिर में खड़े रह जाते हैं । कोई स्थाई घर न होने के चलते यह संवैधानिक अधिकार और निवारण तंत्र के तहत मिलने वाले उन लाभों से भी वंचित रह जाते हैं जिनसे वे अपनी जिदंगी बेहतर बना सकें। इस बात के पुख्ता प्रमाण मिले हैं कि बेघर लोगों में गंभीर मानसिक रोग ज्यादा अनुपात में मिलता है, बजाय उनके जो सुरक्षित रूप से बसे हैं। इन सब के बीच यह शिविर एक उम्मीद जगाता है । हालांकि इस राह पर बाधाएं हैं, परन्तु इस पहल के पीछे लोगों का दृढ़ संकल्प कभी खत्म नहीं होता 

‘When we have money they call us by our names, not our disabilities’

January 31, 2016
People with disability and their families are at core of this microfinance initiative

What can microfinancing scale up to is evident from a cooperative bank being run in Madhya Pradesh which caters to those with disabilities and their families. From modest people who saved Rs 20 every month, the members are now the stakeholders in a ooperative bank. Persons with a disability are the entry point to gain access to unprivileged neighbourhoods because they tend to be poorest of the poor. These families have the greatest need for economic support for which they turn to informal lenders who charge exorbitant interest rates thus prolonging the poverty status. 

‘केवल भूमि सुधार गरीबी और भ्रष्टाचार को रोक सकता है’

पर्दर्शनकारी 2007 में दिल्ली की तरफ पद यात्रा करते हुए । सौजन्य: एकता परिषद्

भूमि सुधार कानून स्वतंत्रता के बाद बनी सरकार की मुख्य प्राथमिकता थी जिसके तहत जमीन को अमीरों से लेकर गरीबों में बांट कर परंपरावादी जमींदारी प्रथा को समाप्त करना था। लेकिन आज किसी भी पार्टी के घोषणा-पत्र में यह नजर नहीं आता।  वर्ष 2012 में एकता परिषद् ने भूमि सुधार की मांग को लेकर ग्वालियर से दिल्ली तक पद यात्रा की थी। एकता परिषद् के अध्यक्ष पीवी राजगोपाल बता रहें हैं कि क्यों यह भूमि सुधार के लिए कठिन समय है और कैसे इससे निपटने के लिए अपनी जड़ों की ओर लौटने की जरूरत है 

'Tawaifs were highly educated women erased from social scene by new morality'

October 30, 2015
Rasoolan Bai was a courtesan famous for her thumri.

Courtesans contributed to music and literary scene of an era when most women were in purdah. 'The Other Song' is a film that examines how we stigmatised these performers resulting in annihilation of their profession which could not meet the new moral standards of independent India.  Their whole existence was termed immoral both by the British colonialists and also ironically by the nationalists who themselves were English educated and probably inspired by Colonial ideas.We talk to the film maker Saba Dewan on what she went through while projecting such a difficult subject on screen 

Rural-urban shift is more fluid than we believe

September 11, 2015
There is great fluidity of occupations in rural India.

Census 2011 brought in a revelation that the population of urban India increased much more than the rural population, for the first time in 90 years. If urban population shows greater increase, does that necessarily imply rural to urban migration, where the migrants have given up on agriculture? And when we say migration, is it only about rural to urban migration for better work opportunities? Is this an inevitably one sided transition? A paper by the Centre for Policy Research, ‘Farm to Non-Farm: Are India’s Villages “Rurbanising”?’, compares different data sets to show us deeper meanings of trends. 

Organic way to deal with disability

August 3, 2015
A new set of smaller and lighter farm tools for those with functional disabilities have also been developed.

People with disabilities are often seen as unproductive beings requiring assistance from family members and community at large. This perception is starker in rural India where lack of varied work options, good public infrastructure and assistive devices leave little scope for those with disabilities to realise their potentials. An experiment in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh is challenging the old concepts by dovetailing orgnaic farming with mainstreaming of persons with disabilities and the results are promising.

Last man in the queue

May 15, 2015
Mental illness is more common among homeless than securely domiciled. Source: Tomas Castelazo

This mobile clinic in Delhi is especially aimed at mentally ill who live on streets of the capital. That they represent the most vulnerable of our society is a known fact. There is strong evidence to suggest that severe mental illness is more common among the homeless than the securely domiciled. An outreach camp, which helps these people regain their sense of belonging through innovative strategies, is thus more than welcome. Though there are obstacles on the way, the determination of people behind this initiative is never ending

Small & Sustainable: Power to Pico

May 1, 2015

The devastating impacts of big hydel projects, including submergence of habitats, alteration of river ecosystem, and displacements, are well known. Alternatively, India has been harnessing hydropower through small, community-based set ups which range from traditional water flour mills of the hills called gharats to the modern projects which generate power between 0-100 kw. These plants, being decentralised and community controlled, offer a viable option to habitations which are off the conventional grid system.

Movement in the woods

March 11, 2015
FRA gives powers back to the people.

Forest Rights Act proposes to do away with historical injustices done to those living in and around forests. It might be a tribal sourcing out forest foods and cultivating the land or a non-tribal using the wood for building own house, the Act gives powers back to the people not only for using the resources but also for conservation and protection. But there's still a lot of ground to be covered and we should not miss trees for the wood. Here's the data and voices from the ground that tell us more about this.

Deceived: The water carriers of Kangra

December 24, 2014
The distance between community and its resource leads to disaster in the long run.

Man has always been on quest of building new things. Even when there were no big machines and qualified engineers, the world had expert builders who shaped the earth into various forms to meet needs of the society. Kuhls of Himachal Pradesh are one such example of engineering brilliance. Kuhl is name given to a channel which carries glacial melt through gravity from nearby streams to the fields thus making irrigation possible even on steep hills. Kangra valley has the most extensive network of kuhls dating as far back as 17th century.

From field to CFL , how biomass energy is lighting up India

December 18, 2014
Biomass resource can overcome energy deficit. Source: Ramjar/WikimediaCommons

Around a thousand families of Thalangi tribal hamlet in Coimbatore district received free television sets from the Tamil Nadu government in 2006. But these were of no use as the houses had no electricity supply. Kerosene was the main source of lighting. Today, it is interesting to see how the hamlet has met all its energy needs and also attained complete sanitation through a biodigester. Though biodigesters have conventionally been used to generate biogas for cooking fuel, examples are cropping up across India to use the same gas for electricity generation, especially in far flung areas.

Nature at my doorstep

November 9, 2014
Home strengthens the man-nature bond.

From climate-friendly homes of yore to monotonous concrete and glass structures of today, we are losing out on aesthetics and warmth. Stone and timber houses of Himachal Pradesh, circular bhungas of Kutch, stone buildings of Rajasthan or bamboo houses of north east, all are examples of architecture developed in context of local climate and culture. If we looked at our roots for inspiration, we would be evolving our own unique forms of architecture instead of blindly aping others.

Forests have got enough food for us

November 6, 2014
Villagers packing Sitaphal (sweet apple) in Udaipur district, Rajasthan.

Forests have been serving as food basket of several communities across India. Tribals have been traditionally sourcing their diet from forests. The cultivated lands, on the other hand, face starvation deaths in times of drought or flood as there’s no natural resource to fall back upon. But we rarely recognise forest as an able ally in the fight against hunger and food insecurity. In fact, the mainstream media looks at consumption of uncultivated foods mostly as a sign of backwardness and poverty. Year after year, stories of deaths of tribals after consuming mango kernel soup are reported.

‘Leprosy is still a stigma in India’

June 26, 2014
Gandhiji giving massage,to a leper patient, the Sanskrit scholar Parchure Shastri, at Sevagram Ashram in 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons

How can access to education and good healthcare change somebody's life is evident from Suresh Dhongde's success. At one point of time he was staring at possibility of a life wasted. Today, the 35-year-old is a proud recipient of the national award for being a role model in overcoming leprosy. Not only is he helping other leprosy-affected people join mainstream, but also trying to break well-entrenched stereotypes related to the disease. He is fighting against several laws and rules which discriminate against leprosy patients.


Grass is always greener on the women’s side

April 29, 2014
Women take turns to protect pastures from illegal tree felling.

When Kesi Bai became the Sarpanch of Chitamba panchayat in Bhilwara district, fortunately the going was not as tough as it is presumed to be for women in Rajasthan. She had support of her people, even if not total, and she made an efficient use of it. The first decision that Kesi Bai took was to revive the pasture land of her village Sanjadi Ka Badiya to ensure that everybody gets enough fodder and fuelwood from local sources. Reviving the pasture that had been degraded over years because of wood cutting and drought involved discussion and meetings 

Barter by the beel

March 29, 2014
Eatables laid out for exchange at Jon beel mela

This was my first time here. I had heard of this festival, perhaps the only existing one in India, where barter takes place at such a scale. Jon Beel mela in Jon Beel, Jagiroad Assam- a historic festival where people from the hills and plains come together for a unique exchange of goods and agricultural produce near a moon-shaped wetland. A place of extremes, of new and old, rustic and modern. The annual three-day festival has been celebrated since the 15th century at the end of Magh Bihu.First held under the aegis of the King of the erstwhile Gova kingdom, 

Money savers of rural India

Around 3 crore women are members of various SHGs. Source: MoRD

In a country where savings of poor families are meagre and banks not ready to risk giving loans, how do you fund local business plans? You let the poor be the bankers themselves. That’s what 2.5 million aptly named self-help groups (SHGs) do across India. The core belief behind SHGs is that poor can help each other by pooling in their savings and lending the money to the members in need. Linkage with banks also gets them easy credit for group entrepreneurial activities. Perfect at concept level, the scheme has done well in states like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Bihar. But there’s still a lot of ground to be covered.

‘Only land reforms can tackle poverty, corruption’

April 8, 2014
Women protesters under the banner of Ekta Parishad in 2007. Source: Ekta Parishad/Wikicommons

Land reforms were meant to right the wrongs of traditional zamindari system through redistribution of land from rich to the poor. On top priority of the government at the time of independence, land reforms don’t feature in any party manifesto now. In 2012, Ekta Parishad took out a foot march from Gwalior to Delhi demanding the same.The government agreed to the demands and drafted a homestead law which never got tabled in the Parliament. Ekta Parishad’s president, P V Rajagopal, says this is the toughest time for land reforms 

Echoes of Narmada

December 2, 2013
Fishworkers and boatmen assert their right to water and fisheries in Sardar Sarovar. Source: NBA

I walked down the weather-beaten road of Jhanda Chowk in the direction that, I was told, would lead me to the office of Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in Khandwa town of Madhya Pradesh. Trudging along under the 47 degree sun, I couldn’t help but muse over the glorious images of intrepid activism, sweeping support and pandemic influence that the name NBA invokes. Undeniably, I entered the office expecting to walk into a maelstrom of hustle bustle, the least you’d expect at the epicenter of a movement that shook the nation. 

A school that doesn't teach

November 21, 2013
There's no imparting of education. Girls learn what they practice. Source: Surendra Bansal

Constant giggles, playful pulling of plaits and teasing is common in girls' schools. Though the Baba Aya Singh Riarki College in Gurdaspur is different in many ways, it is filled with similar scenes. This school is an exceptional experiment in education for rural girls of Gurdaspur and Amritsar. It dates back to 1934 when a social worker called Baba Aya Singh established a small ‘putri pathshala’ (girls’ school). He also set up the SKD High School in 1939. Since then it has pioneered women education and empowerment in the state.

Reclaiming the lost glory of step wells

November 24, 2013
Baniyon Ki Bawdi near Ram Deora at Pratapgarh town. Source: GOI Monitor

In Rajasthan, water binds the society. The absence of abundant resources led to people perfecting the science of working along with nature to conserve every drop of that fell on this land. Respect for water is evident from the colourful monuments, gardens and temples built around traditional reservoirs, whether large ponds or deep wells. Beautiful bawdis (step wells) spread over the cities, villages and old trading routes of the state also underscore the sustainability of traditional systems. From hosting social gatherings of the village to providing

From herd to house

May 12, 2013
Cattle herds are increasingly vanishing from Nokha. Source: GOI Monitor

Nokha town in Bikaner district of Rajasthan has an air of urgency. Large number of jeeps vying for road space with big trucks and lorries while trains, both long distance and local, hurtle past the barrier at regular interval. From the largest agriculture-based market established by erstwhile king of Bikaner, Maharaja Gangasingh, Nokha has transformed itself to a place known for a fledgling cement industry and small scale units manufacturing blankets and electrical items among other products.

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