Today’s child is the foundation of the future. In India, approximately 40% of our population is made up of children under the age of 14 years.
Unfortunately, being the most vulnerable members of our society, dependent and voiceless, our laws and policies ignore the responsibility to understand our children’s many needs and to provide for their well being.
Our CRY partner SIPRA (Social Institute Program Rural Area) was founded by Dilip Rathod –with the objective to empower the people to stand up for their rights and for the rights of their children.
Today SIPRA’s involvement has gradually and successfully spread to over 42 villages in the region with the support of a Partnership with CRY.
Having worked their way through many obstacles, with barriers of suspicion and resistance, SIPRA has today successfully managed to gain the trust of the villagers.
SIPRA has managed to empower and strengthen the communities through knowledge building- encouraging them to voice, analyze, and move towards solving their problems, fight against injustice and induce the government to give them what is rightfully theirs.
Here are some examples of how these people -- simple in their ways and mostly illiterate, have learnt to mobilized their collective and use their knowledge and persistence to force the government machinery to do its job….They have learnt how to stand up for their rights -- for what is rightfully theirs!
If you don’t, we will - is the refrain through all these stories.
Classes in the BDO office
In one village, the primary school teacher stopped attending school. Days passed by and there was no teacher. Finally, in retaliation the students and parents went to the BDO’s office cabin and began to sing the national anthem, recite their alphabets and tables, making it almost impossible for him to do any work.
When asked by the frazzled BDO what they wanted, they said that since there were no classes being taken in their school they had instead come to his office to study.
……by noon, they were assured they would have a teacher. Within 8 days the teacher arrived!
The people had ensured their children’s Right to Education.
Give back our teacher
In another village, the English teacher was very good and much loved but with no warning or given reason he was transferred to another village. In their rage, the mothers locked up the school, banned anyone from entering and demanded the local authorities to send their teacher back …..It worked –soon they had their favorite teacher back at school !
Once again, the people had ensured their children’s Right to education.
Nivadnuk Bahishkar (Election boycott)
There were 3 other villages with need for roads as well. At the time of the elections they put forward their demand for a road to every candidate but having seen no results, in their frustration they decided to boycott (‘bahishkar’) the local council elections.
This boycott left the Election Commission very anxious, which in turn forced them to pressurize the local municipal body and soon the road project proposal was accepted. However this was only to the point of dumping the raw material to build the road and shortly work came to a halt, with the promise that it would be completed post election.
Finally, by the villagers’ constant persistence and efforts, work began soon after and the road was then completed.
…. The villagers now have access to neighboring villages for employment and for access to schools for their children.
At the center of all these stories stands the SHG’s (Self Help Groups). They are run by the women and initiated to empower the women.
These groups are linked with nationalised banks for loan facilities and today it is the women who manage the common savings accounts of the community, gradually built from monthly contributions by the families of the village. They are encouraged to make financial decisions which were earlier in the control of the men folk only.
These illiterate women who were once voiceless, have gained self-confidence, economic and social power within their community. With this experience they have learnt the benefits of financial saving and freed their families from the clutches of money lenders who exploited the people with heavy interest rates often up to 50%!!!
What struck me in all these villages, was the near-absence of basic necessities like water, electricity, roads, proper houses. Here are people who do labour-intensive work from 4 am, in the fields and then at home till whatever time their day ends, they live in extremely trying circumstances and are constantly challenged just in order to survive.
And yet these people make the time to get together, go and get what they want. They have cracked the use of knowledge and the importance of being a collective – to make an extremely corrupt, unyielding government machinery to do their jobs and deliver on the People’s Rights.
We have a lot to learn from these people.