Visit to Gram Swaraj Sangh, Kutch, Gujarat

The picturesque Samakhiali station and the gorgeous winding road which leads to Sontekri, Rapar is never an ordinary journey. From factories and hotels to the rather beautiful villages that pass by, an hour seems to fly away without knowing you are already at Gram Swaraj Sangh’s campus gate. Based on Gandhian ideology, the GSS campus welcomes you to a simple life - a life away from noise, away from too many people and more importantly away from the stress we experience in the city.

GSS staff- Dinsehbhai, Basheerbhai, Pujaben, Dharmendrabhai and many others are all warm and inviting people. CRY staff and GSS members both share a mutual feeling of respect towards each other. The main reason being, the alignment of thoughts with respect to the change both the organisations want to bring in the lives of children and communities. This common vision has been the integral aspect of the bond CRY and GSS has shared over the period of 10 years.


Our project visit was spread across 2 days where we visited different settlements ‘wands’ near and far in Rapar district. Every settlement we visited had people from same community/caste. I suppose it is their way to ensure that their values and traditions can be preserved and taken forward. 

For almost 10 years, CRY and GSS, have been working with these communities to create awareness of their rights and the rights their children are entitled to. And with these consistent efforts that were put in, we on our visit were able to see the transformation that has taken place. It is evident from the way they speak and voice their opinions. Once shy, they are now, not afraid to stand up for whats right. May it involve meeting the local government representative with petitions, letters of demand and/or appeals or going all the way to court to make sure that the community is entitled to receive the facilities and schemes they are entitled to.

Of course there with progress there are few problems which are yet to be resolved. For instance caste system is something that’s still prevalent amongst all the communities GSS and CRY works with. Although all these communities are marginalised, they have their own upper and lower caste distribution. For e.g: the Koli community has 2 castes – Desi Koli and Parkra Koli. The former consider themselves evolved and better than the later.  There was another instance where the villagers, inspite of the water scarcity, were not accepting drinking water from the tanker sent by the local authorities only because the individual driving the tanker truck was of lower caste. Instead they brought water from the shop by paying Rs 15 from their pocket.

Migration is another major problem within the communities. Few of the reasons for migration are availability of work, land ownership issues with the local authorities etc…Children are forced to leave schools because of frequent migration. However, with intervention from CRY and GSS, every year there are fewer communities that are migrating.  At one such wand we visited, the community recently gained access to electricity, but no house registration. Seems absurd when you think that they get an electric bill on their name and address, but still the house they live in is not registered. As the house is not registered, people do not have ration cards. Hence instead of getting basic necessities at nominal price, they are forced to buy food and other household related items at market rate.

Finally, what caught my attention is the way GSS and CRY team is trying to bring in a attitude change amongst these communities.  Where the villagers were not accepting the water brought by the lower caste tanker driver, team quickly suggested to use this water for household purpose (cleaning themselves, washing clothes etc…) if not for drinking. Finding a solution to the problem and then convincing villagers to it is something I was fabulously impressed with. It was a great headstart for the team to steadily change the attitude pattern amongst these people.