Normally, the voice of the poor and extremely impoverished – in particular indigenous people – is not being heard by government departments, and after 66 years of independence in India, these excluded groups are still struggling for their livelihood. The grass roots democracy and empowerment process of Gram Sabha and Palli sabha is not well recognized, and the planning process has not been put into operation effectively. The benefit packages of the government, under different acts, are not reaching the excluded and marginalized and there is rampant exploitation of the programmes and schemes.
To mitigate the challenges and address the problems, Orissa nari samaj (ONS), the federation of 54 tribal women’s organisations in Orissa, India, rigorously applied a series of capacity building initiatives, by which grass root level leaders generated and shared their strength and power to protest the illicit implementation system of the government.
The tribal women formed labour unions in each cluster of villages, and created their own institutions with the purpose of demanding their entitlements. Several times they met with the Sub-collector, District-collector and District Magistrate, and raised their issues and problems of non-implementation in the effective way of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Forest Right Act.
However, the departmental heads were not taking it seriously and avoided the situation. In this situation, the mob led by Orissa Nari Samaj, along with representatives at a district level and block level within the labour federation, assembled at District headquarters on 2nd December 2013.
More than 1000 men and women assembled at the district headquarters, arriving under their own steam and paying for their own travel expenditure. The rally started from District stadium and proceeded within the town area. Various slogans on different entitlement schemes (and their failure to deliver), were expressed by the mob, that provided a better environment for the participants to fight for their rights.
After the rally, they all converged on the District collector, Addl. District Magistrate in front of the District collector’s office. The leaders raised their voice against all types of non- cooperation of revenue officials, OTFD issues, bribing system, harassment of government people, non-cooperation of banking institutions, the lack of effectiveness of government programmes for PTGs, etc.
One memorandum was also submitted to the collector that contains 50 issues and problems with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and Forest Right Act, along with constructive suggestions for solutions. The action took only two and a half hours.
The District collector gave assurance to take the memorandum seriously and that all sorts of problems would be solved within 15 days. The strong voice of women leaders and PTG’s are being influenced by the district administration.
The march, led by Ms. Jayanit Patro, Nari Rashmi Samaj, Kaincha Matia, Women’s Legal aid cell counselor, Basnati Murumu, Nari Unnati Samaj, Hemal Soren, Nari Jayasri Samaj, rushed to the collector’s office without any protection by police and government officials, and presented the overall issues and problems of entitlement schemes and their failure, before the district administration.
This was a tremendous process of community empowerment by which the socially excluded groups/ communities asserted their rights and entitlements. The district officials were thunderstruck in witnessing the strong spirit of the protesting people.
The indigenous women of the ecovillages and sustainable communities thus asserted their rights.