Protecting Human Rights of the Most Deprived People

Rajaram Ka Purva is a most neglected rural hamlet inhabited by the poorest people of Kuchbandia community. This is located in such an isolated backyard of Mahuwa panchayat (Banda district of Uttar Pradesh) that a visitor to the panchayat may easily go away without noticing it. As we went around nearly 40 homes of this hamlet, almost every home gave the impression of the dwelling of a displaced family in the process of moving to a proper home—walls covered with polythene sheets, a mud house much in need of repairs, hardly any protection from weather extremes and bits of very meager possessions scattered around. However, as the people here explained, this is the condition in which people have been staying here for nearly three or four generations.

They were settled here on the land of a few big landowners and due to their isolation and illiteracy, they were easily neglected by the authorities (except at election time, they say) and could not assert their rights either. Hence even now hardly any child here goes to school and most of the welfare programs do not reach them.

They are entirely landless people with no farmland owned by any of them and no land leased either. In fact they do not have their land rights properly recorded even in the context of their meager housing and they could face the threat of eviction. This is despite the government promise of housing land for all rural families.

Their livelihood base remains highly precarious. Their traditional livelihood was to repair some kitchen implements like silbatta while going from village to village. No one can survive on this alone now but they have not been able to get reasonably paid or assured payment farm work or NREGA work (except for a short recent spell for which wage was awaited at the time of our visit). Due to the insecurity of their housing, they cannot go to far-away places as migrant workers. So the only option is to spend Rs. 50 or so to go to the nearest city of Banda early on morning of any given day. If the person is lucky to get picked up from the place where daily wage workers gather, then after a very hard day’s work he returns at night with an average earning of Rs. 400, if he cannot get work he returns disappointed after losing Rs. 50 on just coming and going.

People live from day to day with hardly anything to fall back upon and as they explained, no work can often mean no food also. During the recent Covid times when even precarious earning opportunities were disrupted entirely, people say that they were actually on the verge of dying from hunger till suddenly help came from an unexpected source.

Vidyadham Samiti is a voluntary organization which has been working on many-sided aspects of justice in Banda district. As Covid related distress increased in several villages of its work, Vidyadham Samiti (VS) started mobilizing as much grain and other food from various sources to rush this to distressed communities. In the course of this work, VS volunteers heard about the acute distress in Rajaram Ka Purva and came here to see things for themselves. As the founder coordinator of VS Raja Bhaiya says, “What we saw was alarming and we decided to give the people here priority attention.” People here told us that the food arranged by VS turned out to be a life-saver for them.

Since then VS was looking for an opportunity to work on a more durable basis for the welfare of the people of this neglected and isolated hamlet, and this became available in the form of a project of the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR). Although this project has been operational for only about 7 months or so, within this short period so much has happened that has given new hope to the people living here.

When VS started working here, apart from their housing conditions being precarious, the people here did not have job cards, or ration cards, and their names were not recorded for housing schemes or other welfare schemes. Hence there was a basic problem of identity in accessing any benefits of government schemes or even ensuring security of their hamlet.

Now a mobilization process started in the community, culminating in a 5-day protest including a protest fast which was well-covered in the local media. This created the desire ripple to bring the concerned officials to the neglected hamlet for the first time. Job cards were prepared to enable people to seek work in rural employment works under NREGA. The process of preparing ration cards and income certification was started. The names of people here were sent for approval of housing scheme as they should get high priority inclusion in this scheme due to the highly precarious nature of their present housing.

A new village path has been constructed to provide better access to this hamlet and help in ending its isolation. Till children can start going to a proper government school, a school within the hamlet has been started with the hamlet’s only high school student Sagar teaching the children in evening. At the time of our visit, the assembled children were delighted at the prospects of the Independence Day celebration to be held next day along with distribution of sweets, and insisted that we should come again tomorrow.

So much has been happening recently that the villagers are full of hope regarding the possibilities of future. Similar is the situation in about 20 other villages where VS started implementing this short-term project of FGHR which everyone here hopes can continue for a longer period. Apart from taking up the more specific problems of various villages, what is common to the efforts made in these villages has been to set up community education centers in various villages where on the one hand students from remote villages get a better chance to resolve their problems and perform better at schools, and on the other hand children who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out can get help for re-joining school. As Mobina, an activist of VS says, efforts to make education more interesting as well as simple are made simultaneously. A community education committee seeks to ensure that the village school, its mid-day meal component and other aspects are functioning properly.

At the same time, groups of adolescent girls which on the one help the work of community education center ( a member of a group of adolescent girl group or kishori samooh can be a member of an education center too) and on the other hand the group also helps girls to avoid child marriage or marriage at too early an age, at the same time increasing the prospects of their education, health and overall well-being.

Women’s groups use united action to resist any causes of domestic or sexual violence. Women who have been victims of molestation have been helped to avoid any further harassment and to get justice including actions against culprits and compensatory payment which can exceed one hundred thousand Rs. in a single case.

Similarly any cases of injustice or atrocity against anyone particularly the poorest sections of society, actions to avoid further harassment and to secure justice for them are initiated by VS activists in cooperation with communities. On the 30th  of every month a public hearing called Chingari Chaupal is organized at the VS office to hear various cases of injustice and to discuss and initiate the remedial actions that can be taken.

How various government welfare schemes can be best used for the welfare of the weakest sections has been one of the most urgent concerns of the VS. Its activists of various previous programs are well-trained in this work. A companion women’s organization called Chingari has been playing an important role in this as well in actions against various injustices. These experienced activists have made an important contribution in the success of the work taken up more recently in Mahuwa and Bisanda blocks contributing to bringing new hope within a short time of about 7 to 8 months.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist




Related Articles