By Revathi Krishnan
This summer, I sought an internship at ‘PRADAN’ (Professional Assistance for Development Action). With its presence all over the country, I decided to intern at its division in Jharkhand for two weeks. When I reached Jharkhand, I learnt that I was to work at the district of Khunti. Naxalite presence in the district unnerved me a bit.
I had come with the agenda of working on lac cultivation. Lac is primarily a sap which is used in cosmetics, lubricants, dyes and medicines. On my first day, I learnt how it was grown. Its cultivation is done mainly on trees such as ‘Kusum’ and ‘Ber’. The sap is extracted by planting a brood (an insect which fests on the barks of these trees). The cultivation of lac is done the entire year round and there is no particular season for its harvest because it is transplanted from one tree to another as per the season and convenience of the farmers. Apart from lac cultivation, I had an ardent desire to work with the NREGA programme (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). As a Political Science student, I wanted to connect the scheme from a micro perspective to a macro perspective. Over the two weeks, I learnt that NREGA is intertwined with every other scheme in the region and manages to pave the way into the villagers’ lives.
INRM or Integrated Natural Resource Management had sought to develop all natural resources to improve the lives of the villagers in the area but on a simple condition that the development of one resource was not at the behest of the other. Based on five Js, Jal, Janwar, Jan, Jameen and Jeevan, INRM played a vital role on the lives of the villagers. An extremely barren village called Gophu was converted into a green and cultivable area of the region! NREGA with INRM facilitated crop planning, land mapping and irrigation, such as building of tanks. The government pays the people for each tank built, each trench or canal built, each contour or land mapping done. The efforts of PRADAN have to be applauded, as it acts as a medium between the villagers and government. It pesters the government to allocate jobs and ensures payment. It educates the villagers about their rights and duties and encourages them to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.
At my stay in Khunti, I visited innumerable self-help groups, locally known as Mahila Mandals. The main aim of these Mahila Mandals is to make women of the villages self-reliant, so that they do not have to rely on men for money and maintenance. These mandals have created a network that acts as pillars of support when in need. A testimony by a member claimed that before the formation of these self-help groups she was enclosed in her own world and did not even know what was happening around! But now with the advent of the Mahila Mandals, they seek jobs, are aware of their rights, open bank accounts, save money and help each other on a wide range of issues from funds to domestic violence to education. At a higher level stands Gram Sangathans. These serve as collective representative bodies for direct dialogue with government officials and officers. Towards the end of my stay, I realized that these self-help groups along with PRADAN were the backbone of the villagers.
The villagers and the representatives of PRADAN claim that the two main barriers hindering the development of the region are the Naxals and Alcoholism. The Naxal ideology or the ideas of Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar were no longer in play and they ceased to seek the upliftment of the poor. Instead, they harassed the poor for food grains and money, proved to be a deadlock in these schemes and did not let work proceed by creating an atmosphere of fear and terror. Alcoholism prevented the villagers themselves from doing work. Several cases of domestic violence and child abuse have been reported.
PRADAN has reinstated the faith of the villagers in NREGA. Today, the villagers can confidently demand their rights and address their concerns directly with the government and fight against the atrocities inflicted upon them. My internship at PRADAN exposed me to an entirely different aspect of the spectrum and made me think and question. Above all, it has left me confident because of the ambiguities and uncertainties this internship presented. The moment we experience it, it leaves us a whole lot stronger and wise. My friend had hinted, ‘even if you are not able to enjoy your stay, you’ll come back knowing that you survived it.’ Though I may say I didn’t just survive it, I thrived from it!