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Even eyes can reveal a lot: When village women read the intent of lustful man

By Gagan Sethi*  This was my first experience in sexual harassment at workplace. It happened in 1983 at Golana, which shot into prominence in 1986 because of the brutal attack on our Dalit colleagues leading to the death of four. The issues were getting land for housing, minimum wages, and refusal to accept insult and humiliation suffered by them for generations. But more about this later. In 1983 we set up a cooperative in Golana. Situated in the Bhal region of Anand district in Central Gujarat, it is here that river Sabarmati meets the Gulf of Khambhat. The land allocated to us for running the cooperative was along the river. It was part saline and part productive. We decided to grow vegetables, and also some fodder, and get women to take control of the initiative . The target group was Dalits of the village. After much discussion, we agreed that women were more capable in growing and taking care of vegetables. It was a difficult challenge for us to bring in substantial number of D

Higher marginalization of Gujarat Dalit rural households compared to other sections

By Rajiv Shah  The National Sample Survey Organization’s (NSSO’s) report, “Key Indicators of Situation of Agricultural Households in India”, released in December 2014, has indicated that there is much incidence of marginalization of the scheduled caste (SC) households in rural Gujarat in comparison to other social groups – scheduled tribes (STs), other backward classes (OBCs), and those falling under the “Others” category. The data put out by the NSSO show that there are in all 4,55,300 SC households in Gujarat, out of which 1,52,700, or 33.54 per cent, are involved agricultural activities. This is compared to 66.9 per cent of out of a total 58,71,900 Gujarat all rural households involved in agricultural activities. A social category-wise breakup, interestingly, reveals that there are 68.07 per cent of 28,73,800 OBC households and 71.15 per cent of 14,48,000 ST households who are involved in agriculture. As for whose falling in the “Others” category, mainly upper castes, there are 72.3

Indebted in Gujarat: Rural households depend more on moneylenders than other states

By Rajiv Shah The new National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) report, released in December 2014, has suggested that Gujarat has one of the highest proportions rural households reporting outstanding cash loan at a very high interest rate compared to most Indian states. Titled “Key Indicators of Debt and Investment in India”, the report, based on NSSO’s 70th survey round, has suggested that, in all, there are 260 rural households in Gujarat out of every 1000 which reported outstanding cash loans. A large majority of these households, around 64.6 per cent — 30.8 per cent at the interest rate between 25 to 30 per cent, and per 33.8 per cent at the interest rate 30 per cent and above — have taken loan at more than 25 per cent rate of interest. There is just one state out of the 21 major ones, selected for the sake of analysis, which has a higher proportion of rural households reporting cash loans at the high rate of 25 per cent or more than Gujarat – Jammu & Kashmir (69.3 per cent).

NSSO suggests Gujarat cultivators’ income is worse than national average

By Rajiv Shah  There have been loud claims, which continue to be made till date, that agricultural growth in Gujarat has been a “success story”, which other states must follow. It is also suggested that Gujarat’s agricultural growth rose from 3.3 per cent per annum in the 1990s to nearly 9 per cent over the last one decade. The argument goes on: Gujarat has written the success story despite facing challenges like depletion of water tables, deterioration of soil and water conditions due to salinity ingress along the sea coast, irregularity of rainfall, and recurrent drought. However, few have sought to see what impact has it made on the actual income of the agriculturists of Gujarat, and how much they have gained vis-à-vis other states. Now, new figures released in December 2014 by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in its report, “Key Indicators of Situation of Agricultural Households in India”, suggest that, notwithstanding claims of “big” agricultural growth (something wh

Spirit of leadership vs bondage: Of empowered chairman of 100-acre social forestry coop

By Gagan Sethi*  This is about Khoda Sava, a young Dalit belonging to the Vankar sub-caste, who worked as a bonded labourer in a village near Vadgam in Banskantha district of North Gujarat. The year was 1982. Khoda had taken a loan of Rs 7,000 from the village sarpanch, a powerful landlord doing money-lending as his side business. Khoda, who had taken the loan for marriage, was landless. Normally, villagers would mortgage their land if they took loan from the sarpanch. But Khoda had no land. He had no option but to enter into a bondage agreement with the sarpanch in order to repay the loan. Working in bondage on the sarpanch’s field meant that he would be paid Rs 1,200 per annum, from which his loan amount with interest would be deducted. He was also obliged not to leave the sarpanch’s field and work as daily wager somewhere else. At the same time, Khoda was offered meal once a day, and his wife job as agricultural worker on a “priority basis”. That year, I was working as secretary of

A war won & a battle lost… When police treated complaint as dispute, not criminal act

By Gagan Sethi* The ingenious means of exploitation in tradition-bound villages of Bhal of Cambay taluka could well remind you of the feudal system. One such tradition was of members of so-called upper caste in the area — the Durbars— paying money to members of another caste — Bharwads —to steal bullock carts of any Vankar who had acquired this asset (also a sign of economic and social mobility). After the initial shock, he would get the message via community elders (called mahetars) that if he needed his cart back, he should visit the durbar who would ask him to pay Rs1,500 to Rs3,000 in return for the cart. We heard of such an incident on one of our visits to Pandad village where we were to train a youth group in 1980. We told the group they should file a police complaint. The nearest police station being Cambay (now Khambhat), we asked if there isn’t a rule of law. There is, we were told. One has to seek permission of the durbar to go to the police station. After a lot of cajoling a

In search of a doctor: No ambulance in Adivasi area, and the woman died

By Gagan Sethi*  In the adivasi-dominated villages of South Gujarat, Operation Flood of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and the Jesuits’ social work centres have been in existence for long. In 1979, buffalos were sought to be promoted in that region as an alternative to local cows, which were found to “less productive”. The Jesuits would organize doodh mandalis, and banks would reluctantly give loans. It was a long saga in the development of intensive dairy development. It all started with milk being collected by doodh mandalis. They then started taking it to chilling plants. Over time, dairies came up in Surat and Bharuch in the 1980s. Our brief was to train village veterinarians, who could help provide first-level support to animal husbandry programme. We tried an experiment of a joint dairy farming cooperative in the remote village of Bal, near Malsamot in Bharuch district. Though it was ultimately a failure, the idea was romantic. It was based on the understanding that

Victim of sexual harassment, Vasanti Vasava’s death highlights police behaviour

By Rajiv Shah  The mysterious death of the lady tribal police constable from Rajpipla — Vasanti Vasava — between November 24 and 26, 2014, has evidently exposed the indifference on the part of the police establishment, which becomes particularly glaring if the victim is a woman and is from a vulnerable community. Significantly, this came to light when the Gujarat Women Rights Council and the Navsarjan Trust were still busy in Vadodara district with their campaign against violence against women, which had begun on November 25, declared by the United Nations as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The campaign was to continue for nearly one full month, and activists, led by Manjula Pradeep, were moving around different villages of the district. On November 26 late night, news came about the death of Vasanti, a 28-year-old police constable, which was sought to be projected as death due to suicide because of hanging with a thick nylon thread tied to a ceiling fa

Survey of sanitation facilities in Ahmedabad slum areas shows open defecation in city

By Jitendra Rathod*  Manav Garima, in collaboration with Human Development and Research Centre, conducted a survey on current status of the sanitation system of individual households in two slum settlements of Ahmedabad – Shankarbhuvan and Nagorivad. After scrutinizing the current status of the sanitation system in both the areas, following aspects were taken into account for further action: Status of individual toilets, status of drainage facility, availability of electricity, and usage of individual toilets.  As seen in Table 1, there are in all 1,447 individual households in the two slum settlements, with a population of 7,493. A further breakup suggests that Nagorivad has a population of 1,677 and 317 households, while Shankarbhuvan has a population of 5,816 and 1,130 households. Individual Toilets Table 2 depicts number of households that have individual toilets, and number of households that do not have them. In the two slum settlements surveyed, 916 households do not have indivi

The power of drama: Of money lending, forced labour, keeping Dalits out of voting booths

By Gagan Sethi*  The power of television reaching rural Gujarat was envisioned way back in late 1970s and early 1980s. At the Behavioural Science Centre (BSC) in Ahmedabad, I was involved in bringing about awareness on issues of discrimination and untouchabilty with the help of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Pij village of Kheda district. This project came to be identified as ISRO-Pij experiment. BSC and ISRO seemed strange bedfellows to me, but there I was, working with ISRO. A dynamic producer K Vishwanath, a leftist at heart, wanted us to get real life stories, which would be enacted and shown across the Kheda district. For organisations aiming at social change using Paulo Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” as a frame, this seemed to be a dream come true. Several stories were collected from the field, and professional writers like Chinu Modi and a few theatre actors were roped in. But the result was half-baked version of urban actors mouthing rural dialogues. Not qui

Who taught them compassion even amid adversity? I haven’t yet been able to figure it out

By Gagan Sethi*  One of the early laws on rural livelihood, based on land and labour, was regarding schedule caste cooperatives being given priority over all others in the allocation of government wasteland. Today, a similar status and privilege is accorded to the likes of Adanis and Ambanis. Under the present scheme of things, they “need” land more than the rural landless in the name of ambitious projects. It was 1978. It took us a year to get 90 acres of saline land on yearly lease off the Gulf of Khambhat. It was jointly given to 60 Dalit Vankar families, who registered themselves as cooperative in a village called Vadgam. Since no food crop would grow there, we saw the possibility of growing prosopis juliflora, better known in Gujarat as gando baval – or mad babool. It was a livelihood generation project, in which the gando baval wood was to be used to make charcoal. It was a challenge to manage it professionally. It was one hour walk to the site of the project through a marshy zon

Poor rural IMR is reason behind Gujarat’s failure to achieve UN goal

By Rajiv Shah  Latest data of the Sample Registration System (SRS), operating under the Census of India, suggest that Gujarat suffers from a huge rural-urban divide in infant mortality rate (IMR) rate compared to most other Indian states. Statistics offered by the SRS Bulletin, finalized in September 2014, show that Gujarat’s rural IMR is 43 per 1000, as against the urban IMR of 22 per 1000, suggesting a whopping gap of 21, higher than 20 major Indian states, with the exception of Assam. Interestingly, the gap remains high despite the fact that well-known experts have been pointing towards poor state of rural infrastructure in Gujarat for the last several years. Apparently, their voice is not being heard. The CEPT University’s Prof Darshini Mahadevia, pointed towards this in 2007, when she wrote that the main problem with Gujarat’s IMR was a very high rural IMR compared to urban IMR. “Other states have shown far better improvement in rural healthcare than Gujarat. This neglect of rur

Paralegals' role in offering affordable, quality legal services to vulnerable sections

A public event in Delhi, National Meet on Social Lawyering — organized by the Centre for Social Justice and Lawyers for Change — saw release the book , “Nyayika – Making Professional Legal Services Accessible” , which deals with how Nyayika carried out its unique experiment over the last one year of its existence as a private non-profit company. Prof Madhava Menon, chancellor, Guru Ghasidas Central University, Chhattisgarh, who released the book, said the Nayika model of community lawyering offering affordable legal services with sensitivity to the poor and the vulnerable should focus more on people and communities rather than courts. He added, there was a need to move away from court-centric lawyering towards a process of bringing justice to the people by using administrative and other mechanisms outside the courts to enable people to claim their rights and entitlements, and live with dignity. Among those who took part in the event included founding directors of Nyayika Rajendra Josh

Needed, honest clerks to free India of pangs of hunger: Food for work, NREGA

By Gagan Sethi*  It’s been 37 years since I started out as a raw hand with a master’s degree in social work from MS University of Baroda. I had refused a job with a four-figure salary. I joined an organisation, then euphemistically called a ‘voluntary organisation’; there were a few of them which prided in being professional and in the business of social change. Many others were all about charity fostering dependencies. Today we are called NGOs (non-government organisations), a word which describes itself as what it is not — a term coined by World Bank which, in a sense, charts the 37 years of change from social work being a vocation to a profession to a job opportunity! In 1977, I remember supervising food for work, that is, wheat bulgur given in lieu of work to the poor. The work involved either building community assets or remodeling their own fields for paddy so that the incomes of the dalit households could be increased. This was to also provide food security to the poor, especial

Gujarat ranks 10th out of 20 states in household power consumption

By Rajiv Shah*  The Gujarat government has long claimed that one of the major reasons for the state’s economic progress has been its “excellent” power sector performance. The state’s policy makers have argued, on the basis of Government of India data, that Gujarat’s power consumption, in per capita terms, is one of the highest in India. Gujarat’s new chief secretary D Jagatheesa Pandian, for instance, said in an interview in 2013, quoting Central Electricity Commission figures, when he headed the state energy department, that the per capita consumption of electricity in Gujarat in 2012 was around 1,516 units as against the national average of 879 units. He insisted, “This figure indicates the progress and growth happening in the state. In Gujarat, state utilities are providing an uninterrupted supply of electricity, quality and reliable power to all consumers.” While this may be showcased to prove that Gujarat is at the top in the power sector, it does not tell the full story. No dou

Concentration of large holdings in fewer hands, marginalization of Gujarat farmers

Average large land holdings in selected states (hectares) By Rajiv Shah  A recent Government of India report, giving complete details of the state of agriculture in India, has suggested that while Gujarat may have seen around 9 plus per cent of agricultural growth in the last decade, this has happened alongside a simultaneous marginalization of the state’s farming community. The data put out in “Agriculture Census 2010-11”, finalized this year, have found that large farmers, who form just one per cent of the total farmers in Gujarat, each with an average holding of 20.91 hectares (ha), own 10.30 per cent of the total operational holdings in the state. By sharp contrast, marginal farmers, forming 37.16 per cent of the total farmers – and each with an average holding of 0.49 ha– own 7.7 per cent of the total operational holdings. What is equally disturbing in that, while there was a sharp rise in the number of marginal farmers in Gujarat from 15.85 lakh to 18.16 lakh between 2005-6 and