I am born and brought up in Gujarat and my academic life was also shaped in the same place. My exposure to poverty and related issues was limited to western and southern Gujarat and poverty to me was not having access to private hospitals and private schools. It however changed when I was sent for 1 month Rural Practicum in Dhenkanal district of Orissa. Along with other four classmates, I spent 10 days eating rice and salt with water, slept in a school building and worked on mobilizing community over Forest Rights Act 2006.
After spending two years in the field of public health I was keen to work for tribal rights especially on issues of assertion over natural resources. This shift or transition was due to my extensive field visits and travel across the State of Jharkhand. It helped me realize that economic empowerment supersedes social empowerment. When individual’s basic need for food is secured then only she can be mobilized over rights and entitlements. Meanwhile I got the opportunity to work as a PMRDF.
I got an opportunity to work in Khunti district of Jharkhand. First phase of work was focused on strengthening local administration and PRI members in decentralized planning, strengthening Gram Sabhas and reaching out with information on flagship and state sponsored programmes, mobilizing communities over this, resolving issues of SHGs in backward and forward linkages through training and capacity building. In last three-four months we are concentrating on organizing farmer committees for collection, storage and sale of NTF products, especially Lac. The objective of this is to organize farmers so that they can have hold over the market, have enhanced bargaining capacity and minimize middle men exploitation. In addition to that, provide them with scientific training on lac cultivation and develop networking with buyers.
We have been successful in organizing 200 lac farmers in two of the most interior blocks of the district. Besides this the work which gives inner satisfaction to me is, advocacy against human trafficking through networking with NGOs, awareness training and workshops with police and community, helping people to lodge FIR of missing girls, counseling of parents and rescued girls and suggesting them with alternative employment opportunities. The real satisfaction comes when community recognizes you and says “aap jab tak hai hame hamare adhikaro ke prati jagruk kar dijiye’’, I get delighted when PRI members ask me to address gram sabha, make phone calls at 5 in the morning to get details of agriculture schemes or the date of next training.
Shila Matang is based at Khunti of Jharkhand. She is a B.A (Hons.) in History and an M.A in Social Work.