The View from Gadchiroli

We are in Chandrapur: Rediscovered tehsil headquarters, wannabe city.

The town-to-be sits leeringly at the edge of Gadchiroli, Vidharba’s beleaguered tribal district. We are here to join CRY’s team which is on an annual evaluation reporting visit with three ‘partners’, CRY-speak for activists and small NGOs that CRY helps to grow into fully-sledged NGO: Able to gather funds and resources for itself, able to plan and monitor the work they do. Able, above all, to channel government’s attention and resources to the area’s crying needs.

In Gadchiroli’s case, the incipient “issues” are poverty, malnutrition, morbidity, landlessness, no work, no schools, etcetera: Not surprisingly, the Naxals are here. They have been around for decades, rejecting the State’s ‘welfare’, organizing supporters to stand up in their rejection.

Dilip bhau recounts a story: Chichpura is a typical forest hamlet – a hundred or so families scratching a livelihood together in constant friction with the forest guards and officers. Dilip bhau’s team is trying valiantly to channel the trickle of our South Asian Superpower’s 8% growth rate to Chichpura.

They organize people to apply for land ownership under the Forest Dwellers Act, go door to door asking fathers and mothers to enroll their children in the area’s only school. They also tried to pull up the local ANM to conduct her compulsory fortnightly visit to immunize the village’s 24 newborns.
“She doesn’t want to go to Chichpura because there’s no road connecting the villages. She has been getting her salary even without immunizing anyone…” Dilipbhau’s pauses suggestively and no one in the room seems surprised.

Which is why an organization like CRY so vehemently goes the Rights way. Rights, as you may have guessed by now, are important for those living without them– the poor, not the rich. And the only body that can make rights happen are the government.

It may sound naive, foolhardy or simply a waste of resources, but there are actually no better option than to try and fix all that is wrong with this parliamentary democracy of ours. So instead of writing off the entire government with cursory indictments of failure, Dilipbhau and 200 others like him break down the seemingly unsurmountable problem into bite-size pieces: No healthcare? Find out why the health center is not working. No education? Get a school going by petitioning the district Education officials.
In an area like Gadchiroli, where the people have for long felt the brunt of government neglect of basic services, this approach comes with a can-do attitude towards resolution. Gadchiroli is a district that has seen protest for long, witness the Adivasis protest against the proposed dams at Hemalkasa in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra in the 1980s (shown in the picture. But since protests, whether non-violent ones or the recent violent ones, have not helped, connecting the government's services to each village, one village at a time, seems to be the slow but steady and above all persistent approach.
Dilipbhau certainly believes so. And so does CRY, who supports small partners like Dilipbhau with much needed resources and expertise.

And thus it comes about that the very process of finding out, asking questions, rebuffing offences, meeting, pulling collectives together, the villagers find themselves a lot more empowered. Sure, no one builds them a school overnight or donates food and medicines, but what gradually grows is a sense of ownership - of the resources which the government owes the children.

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