Skip to main content

Wisdom of the illiterate: Working with Dalits keeping in view community interests

By Gagan Sethi*

Is there a place for city-bred architects and planners in rural housing? Both poor and rich in villages have been building houses for centuries in accordance with their needs. Obviously, if these city-bred experts chip in for such projects like Indira (IAY), there would be issues.
The year was 1988. As many as 108 houses were to be built for the Dalits who had faced the wrath of the dominant caste Darbars in Golana in Kheda district two years earlier. Four Dalits were gunned down because they had demanded the land that was meant for them but was encroached upon by the Darbars.
As social workers, we were worried about the type of houses these Dalits would be given. It was a “mega project”. But to Golana’s Dalit Vankars, for whom the project was meant, it wasn’t a big deal. They seemed to know the type of houses they should have. They told us, they could illiterate, but they knew what they wanted– “ame bhanela nathi pan abhyas karelun che”, they would tell us confidently.
Fortunately, a young architect from Chandigarh, who was looking for internship as part of his studies,, joined Janvikas, the NGO we had just founded. Janvikas was the new avatar for the work that we were doing at the Behavioural Science Centre in Ahmedabad. We were committed to see the Golana housing project through.
Sandeep Virmani, young and enthusiastic, began living in the village, immersed in their reality, looked at their environment, ecology, and made himself available for running around with the Dalits to choose and procure material, so that the costs remained low. The aim was to build double the size permitted under the IAY, even as keeping the costs low.
Traditionally, Dalit villagers are familiar with a row house-type concept. In their Vankar Vas, they would live in a row, with common side walls – they generally had a room inside, and an Osri or courtyard serving as living room.
But armed with his knowledge as architect, Sandeep ncreated a new model and went to the village to discuss the layout. The option he offered was a unit of four houses, with common walls on the backside, plus a front courtyard. They were square shaped units, each house enjoying complete privacy.
Sandeep tried to explain the privacy concept to the Dalit villagers, which he said was the need for a normal city-based home. Men and women together rejected it outright. The elders, who don’t go to work, said this wouldn’t do. After all, they were used to sitting in the Osri together.
I distinctly remember how one of the elders – called mahetars– guffawed at me and said, “In our Vas anybody’s business is everybody’s business, and don’t mess around with our community”.
More recently, during a high-level discussion with experts and policy-makers on Unique Identification (UID) number, I recalled this experience, and wondered if privacy wasn’t a western concept. Should communitarian rights automatically get transferred to the state? I asked the participants.
Following discussions with the Dalits, Sandeep worked out a new design, which kept in view the interests of the community.
Ever since, Sandeep has travelled a long distance. He is known to have created innovative housing designs sensitive to women, wherein he makes sure to incorporate a bathroom anda kitchen, from where the smoke from the chulha could easily move out of the housetop.
Sandeep’s ideas as an architect have been published as a monograph. They have been a handbook for many technical personnel who wanted to learn the appropriateness of embedding modern science to rural needs.
Indeed, Sandeep is an example of how an urban bred young person ably declassed himself, of how he has developed to respect of the “abhyas” or wisdom of those whom many consider as illiterate.
Based on his ideas, Sandeep began working as head of Janvikas Ecology Cell in Kutch,which later became independent organisation called Sahjeevan (http://www.sahjeevan.org/),a resource centre meant to address community needs, which later on set up one the finest schools of rural barefoot architects, Hunnarshala (http://www.hunnarshala.org/).
Sandeep is an example of how Janvikas began becoming the hub to train youngsters who wanted to explore themselves and rural reality, and find meaning in the vocation of developmental work.

*Founder of Janvikas and Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedabad. First published in DNA

Comments

TRENDING

देशव्यापी ग्रामीण भारत बंध में उतरे मध्य प्रदेश के आदिवासी, किया केंद्र सरकार का विरोध

- हरसिंग जमरे, भिखला सोलंकी, रतन अलावे*  15 और 16 फरवरी को निमाड के बड़वानी, खरगोन और बुरहानपुर में जागृत आदिवासी दलित संगठन के नेतृत्व में आदिवासी महिला-पुरुषों ग्रामीण भारत बंद में रैली एवं विरोध प्रदर्शन किया । प्रधान मंत्री द्वारा 2014 में फसलों की लागत का डेढ़ गुना भाव देने का वादा किया गया था, 2016 में किसानों की आय दुगना करने का वादा किया गया था । आज, फसलों का दाम नहीं बढ़ रहा है, लेकिन खेती में खर्च बढ़ता जा रहा है! खाद, बीज और दवाइयों का दाम, तीन-चार गुना बढ़ चुका है! किसानों को लागत का डेढ़ गुना भाव देने के बजाए, खेती को कंपनियों के हवाले करने के लिए 3 काले कृषि कानून लाए गए । 3 काले कानून वापस लेते समय प्रधान मंत्री ने फिर वादा किया था कि फसलों की लागत का डेढ़ गुना भाव की कानूनी गारंटी के लिए कानून बनाएँगे, लेकिन वो भी झूठ निकला! आज जब देश के किसान दिल्ली में आपको अपना वादा याद दिलाने आए है, तब आप उनका रास्ता रोक रहें है, उनके साथ मारपीट कर उन पर आँसू गैस फेंक रहें हैं, उन पर छर्रों से फायरिंग कर रहें है! देश को खिलाने वाला किसान खुद भूखा रहे, क्या यही विकास है?

Only 15% businesses provide employees real-time sustainability dashboards: Study

Kyndryl in collaboration with Microsoft has released the findings of The Global Sustainability Barometer study. The study, conducted by Ecosystm, finds that while 85% of organizations place a high strategic level of importance on achieving their sustainability goals, only 16% have integrated sustainability into their strategies and data. A Kyndryl note: *** Kyndryl (NYSE: KD), the world’s largest IT infrastructure services provider, in collaboration with Microsoft , today released the findings of The Global Sustainability Barometer study. The study, conducted by Ecosystm , finds that while 85% of organizations place a high strategic level of importance on achieving their sustainability goals, only 16% have integrated sustainability into their strategies and data.

Tamil Nadu brahmins are at cross roads, their future scenario remains uncertain

By NS Venkataraman*  For over 70 years now, brahmin community in Tamil Nadu have been abused, insulted and even physically attacked on some occasions by those who claimed that they were part of the so called dravidian movement. However, brahmin community silently and helplessly ducked under pressure and showed no signs of resistance or fight back.

How the slogan Jai Bhim gained momentum as movement of popularity and revolution

By Dr Kapilendra Das*  India is an incomprehensible plural country loaded with diversities of religions, castes, cultures, languages, dialects, tribes, societies, costumes, etc. The Indians have good manners/etiquette (decent social conduct, gesture, courtesy, politeness) that build healthy relationships and take them ahead to life. In many parts of India, in many situations, and on formal occasions, it is common for people of India to express and exchange respect, greetings, and salutation for which we people usually use words and phrases like- Namaskar, Namaste, Pranam, Ram Ram, Jai Ram ji, Jai Sriram, Good morning, shubha sakal, Radhe Radhe, Jai Bajarangabali, Jai Gopal, Jai Jai, Supravat, Good night, Shuvaratri, Jai Bhole, Salaam walekam, Walekam salaam, Radhaswami, Namo Buddhaya, Jai Bhim, Hello, and so on.

Violent incidents in Haldwani: CPDRS on dubious role of Uttarakhand government

By DN Rath  Center for Democratic Rights and Secularism (CPDRS) unequivocally condemns the dubious role of Uttarakhand Government and its administration in the incidents that happened in Haldwani of Nanital district of the state.

नफरती बातें: मुसलमानों में असुरक्षा का भाव बढ़ रहा है, वे अपने मोहल्लों में सिमट रहे हैं

- राम पुनियानी*  भारत पर पिछले 10 सालों से हिन्दू राष्ट्रवादी भारतीय जनता पार्टी (भाजपा) राज कर रही है. भाजपा आरएसएस परिवार की सदस्य है और आरएसएस का लक्ष्य है हिन्दू राष्ट्र का निर्माण. आरएसएस से जुड़ी सैंकड़ों संस्थाएँ हैं. उसके लाखों, बल्कि शायद, करोड़ों स्वयंसेवक हैं. इसके अलावा कई हजार वरिष्ठ कार्यकर्ता हैं जिन्हें प्रचारक कहा जाता है. भाजपा के सत्ता में आने के बाद से आरएसएस दुगनी गति से हिन्दू राष्ट्र के निर्माण के अपने एजेण्डे को पूरा करने में जुट गया है. यदि भाजपा को चुनावों में लगातार सफलता हासिल हो रही है तो उसका कारण है देश में साम्प्रदायिकता और साम्प्रदायिक मुद्दों का बढ़ता बोलबाला. इनमें से कुछ हैं राम मंदिर, गौमांस और गोवध एवं लव जिहाद. 

Birth of New Communist Party ushers in new epoch in Canada's Left history

By Harsh Thakor  On January 31, 2024, history was made with the formation of the (New) Communist Party of Canada (the (N)CPC), the successful completion of its Founding Congress, and the public release of its Political Program. A most sporadic development in turning course of Communist movement locally, and worldwide. It also pits a challenge to dogmatism or mechanical approach and stagnation. taps the revolutionary creativity of the masses and is major re-orientation towards shaping revolutionary class struggles and  the massline.

Ethiopian ruling classes, political masters in West have their hands soaked in blood

By Harsh Thakor  Over two hundred were killed in recent weeks in Ethiopia’s Oromia and Amhara region. After peace-talks between the Oromo Liberation Army and the Ethiopian government did not materialise tensions are escalating in the Oromia region. Earlier, on November 22, least 25 civilians were massacred in a government aerial drone strike, in Chawaka districts of the Buno Bedelle zone. This incident took place only two days after a fierce battle arose between the OLA and governmental troops in the Sulula Fincha district of the Horro Guduru Wollega zone.

Landlords' armed bandits launched merciless attack in Brazil but face resistance

By Harsh Thakor  Armed bandits called the “zero invasion movement” comprising of landowners, gunmen and police marched into   Bahia with support from the PM [Military Police]. On January 21st, indigenous Maria de Fátima Muniz, known as Nega Pataxó, shaman of the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people, was shot dead in the Caramuru Catarina Paraguassu Indigenous Land and chief Nailton Muniz was seriously injured by gunshots, as were others indigenous people during an attack by the notorious  paramilitary group.

Landslide early warning system: Odisha Govt, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham collaborate

By Divya Saini  In a strategic move to mitigate the impact of landslides during storms, the Odisha government in collaboration with Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham is gearing up to establish a user-friendly Landslide Early Warning System (EWS) in Gajapati district. This initiative aims to provide advanced information, especially regarding landslides caused by disturbances in the natural stability of a slope.