Since my engineering days in 2002, I had somewhere in the corner of my heart a passive desire to contribute to the welfare of disadvantaged communities. Seeing academically faltering students from SC/ST communities & system working mainly for majority, I took initiatives to organize, inspire, guide, and break their historic sense of inferiority complex in our caste & class divided society with the purpose of instilling in them a sense of pride and dignity.
In the consecutive years, though I was in a PSU, I always wanted to contribute with my knowledge for bettering the life of the most oppressed communities of India. Therefore, I had associated myself with a few NGOs which had been working for the tribal cause. To help catapult the voice for tribal cause, I did an MBA from Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. After this, I preferred joining a PSU in a tribal dominated district rather than accepting an offer from a US based MNC. During my tenure with the PSU, I forged relationships with the local communities through CSR initiatives promoting education & health. The zest to work for people got a concrete platform when I joined PMRD fellowship.
I had never stayed in the rural area before. Therefore to get an understanding of the rural life, I started staying in the villages. Through interactions with farmers, village level government employees, educated youths, SHG women and others I understood the social, economic, cultural, and political landscape of the rural life. Rural life is full of hardship and I found at most of the places the government in the forms of Village Secretary (GS) & Talathi is not present. Through interventions from SDOs & DC, I could improve the level of attendance in these areas.
While visiting remote areas, we got to know that no GS had visited them for several months. Villagers did not know who he was due to which the right to work (NREGS) could not be realized by these without-work people. Now when I asked authorities to visit & make plan for work, the villagers have opportunity to realize their rights.
I also saw villagers had to travel up to 50 Kilometers in areas where transport was few and far between. I decided to bring modern concept of ultra small bank (USB) to their villages & recommended to the DC. Based on cluster approach, I formed USBs at several clusters benefitting more than 5000 people per cluster and reducing their travel to less than 5 Kilometers.
Many a times, government employees use LWE as an excuse to stay away & escape from work. I went to the remotest villages and as expected, the situation was pathetic with no livelihood option apart from seasonal MFP collection & rain-fed farming. I formed consensus amongst village women for starting incense stick making plant (GAP). The community took initiative & ensured the safety of the plant. Now, the Forest Ranger had to go to the village for inspection & starting of livelihood unit where he would have ignored conveniently. Villagers saw an unprecedented surge in officials visiting their sensitive & remote village and they know this is because of the initiatives of the researcher who had come to their village.
For scheduled areas, the constitutional provisions are with the thoughts of conserving local lifestyle & resources which are increasingly threatened by non-tribal in-migration. I think along with sensitizing indifferent local government officials for implementing government schemes in letter & spirit; we have to look at the essence of provisions of scheduled areas which to me encourage developing locally independent & self sufficient villages.
Santosh Gedam is based at Gadchiroli (Maharashtra). He is a B. Tech. from Laxminarayan Institute of Technology, Nagpur and a PGDM from Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. Santosh was with Mumbai Refinery of Bharat Petrolium Corporation Limited for around seven years before joining IIM, Bangalore. After his post graduation, he rejoined BPCL in Highway Retail Marketing Division. After a year’s work, he joined PMRDF.