Empowering Dalits and Women

  • Empowering Dalits and Women

Working in a region with entrenched beliefs and practices of subjugation of low castes and women had convinced SURE that empowering them was necessary for meaningful development in the region. This meant a focus and concerted effort on public advocacy. This role of being a facilitator of change with participation of different village and community forums got a formal sanction from the Governing Board of SURE in 2001.

The Resource Centres at Chohtan and Sata have been playing an important role by disseminating with selected representatives from 18 villages of the Chohtan tehsil. Now the forum has spread to 150 villages of Barmer district. The forum is the collective voice of dalits, women and youth aiming at strengthening processes of collective dialogue at the block and district level for effectively dealing with problems and issues relating to rural development. Some of the key issues that the Manch has been dealing with concern atrocities on dalits and women, agricultural land related problems of small and marginal farmers, provision of basic amenities in villages, fighting corruption and inefficiency in the government machinery at the block and district level, ensuring transparency and accountability in development works of Govt. as well as NGOs, proper important information regarding Panchayat, holding regular orientation for PRI representatives for effective participation in community governance, accessing entitlements and development schemes. Efforts by SURE have been acknowledged at the state level. Indira Gandhi Panchayati Raj Sansthan (IGPRS) state nodal agency invites SURE staff as trainers on different aspects of PRIs.

The best expression of this new stance on advocacy through community institutions was the formation of a community forum, Thar Jagruk Manch in 2002 functioning of the Public Distribution System efficient implementation of the Nutrition Schemes in schools.

In 2005 SURE could start consistent work with dalits in the Bhakhasar region, an insular region where the caste based exploitation and subjugation persists even now. The dalits of this region lived an inhuman existence, most of them having little or no land, livestock or stable avenues for livelihood. Most of them have been traditionally bonded to and still dependent on whims and mercies of upper castes, mostly Rajputs. Lack of awareness, no education facility or access to health services was how SURE staff encountered them few years back. Kolis, Bheels and Meghwals of these villages have been able to form village level groups and federate into a network of more than 450 members of the Dalit Jagruk Samiti. Intervention to secure dignity at an everyday level meant that water security had to be ensured. Water sources have been and are sites where the stigma of untouchabiity still played out. The interventions to ensure water security in the Bakhasar region have to be seen in this context.

To keep on with the task of empowering dalits in the region, programme experience and learning had pointed that it was critical to respond to the paucity of livelihood opportunities for marginal. Initiated in 50 villages of Chohtan block of Barmer District, the PPA project started in 2011 with an aim to improve livelihood and increase yearly income of small and marginalized farmers, most poor and excluded rural communities, especially women. The programme seeks to achieve this through facilitating costef fect ive, eco- f r iendly communi ty based technologies, institution building, value addition in farm produce and proper linkage with MNREGS scheme.
Through community awareness and outreach programmes, the programme team could contact more than two thousand people initially and to around four thousand last year for effective participation in MGNREGA. Sustained work with dalits in Bakhasar region has been made possible with support from Christian Aid.
Apart from collective forums for SC and ST, community forums for widows (Ekal Nari Sangathan) and adolescent girls (Kishori Manch) give these alienated social groups an opportunity to share and identify appropriate solutions for their problems.