4 Km for a pail of water, 40 Km for medical facilities !
Kalahandi, infamous for the distressing news coverage it has received-inaccessible due to forests and hilly terrain, tribal population and food insecurity in the rainy season when rain makes the villagers unable to access PDS for grains. Malnutrition and starvation, epidemics and deaths due to diarrhea, malaria and disability due to polio. Where women walk 4 km daily across hills to fetch one pail of water. Fifty eight per cent of the population of Thuamul Rampur block are tribals, 67 per cent are landless and 89 per cent belong to below poverty line (BPL), 63 per cent face food stress for a period of six to seven months a year and 77 per cent of the children (0-5 year’s age group) are malnourished, according to a survey done by Antodaya.
An interview with Chairman, Mr. Dilip Kumar Das, one of the founding members of Antodaya, an NGO mobilizing villagers to fight for their entitlements in a district ignored largely by government officials due to its inaccessibility and shocking apathy.
1. Tell us something about yourself and how did Antodaya start?
Dilip: I am from Cuttack and worked with different social organizations after my college education. News of starvation deaths and child selling brought me to Thuamul Rampur block which is third most underdeveloped block of Orissa. Dr. Salem Farook and I started Antodaya.
2. You are working amidst tribes like Paraja Tribes. What are the major challenges working with them?
Dilip: There was no resistance. We faced opposition from liquor vendors. Tribal people supported us. We got support from the district administrators and filed cases against money lenders who were grabbing their lands illegally and were able to release 375 acres of tribal land.
3. What is the literacy rate of women in the tribes?
Dilip: There is a lot of illiteracy among women. Only 10-11% are literate.
4. In an outbreak of diarrhea there, 175 people died in 1996. The Government medical officer accepted inability of the health and family welfare department to access the villages. So what is the situation today in terms of hospitals and medical facilities? Are these government or private facilities?
Dilip: Not much has changed. There are 3 hospitals, the main community health centre with three doctors. There are 2 small primary health centers each with one doctor who are also not on regular duty. This is for 256 villages spread more than 40 km away on an average and some even 100 km away from the main community health centre. Our volunteers are doing first-aid but where there is no volunteer; people are facing problems. No communication or technology is also another problem. There are some testing labs at the main hospital only. Government efforts are average. They have schemes.
5. What do you think makes women self help groups (WSHG) a powerful tool to bring economic development in Kalahandi villages? How sustainable are these?
Dilip: We started these WSHGs in 1991 and women were in charge. After working with the people, we found that every village had a community fund traditionally, i.e. the Kutumb Panthi controlled by men but it never sustained. Men would use the savings to have a feast with liquor etc. So we had the WSHGs formed because women would not allow a feast.
6. What is the typical size of a SHG? How do the women access credit and what income-generating activities are women involved in?
Dilip: 10-15 is the average size. Villages have roughly 25-30 households. So we try to have 1-2 SHG in each village. We have 246 SHGs out of which some have 6-8 members. We interface between the SHGs and the regional rural banks like the Kalahandi Aanchalik bank. Women sell timber and forest products and we help them in accessing markets.
7. Girls do not go to school and if they go to school, they are pulled out. Literacy rate for women is only about 11%. What is Antodaya doing for this?
Dilip: We made people aware that education is necessary. Women SHGs have empowered women to send their children to school. The girl child is going to school now. Not many girls have pursued higher education though. There were not many schools nearby earlier. Now there are government schools within 1 km radius. Antodaya started social education centers in 1990-91 to teach adult education in an informal way.
8. Antodaya is working since 1989 in Kalahandi. Can you give one inspirational story where a local initiative by people themselves brought a good change in their living conditions?
Dilip: Most epidemics are caused by lack of drinking water. In 1996, within 10 days, there were many deaths. There is hard rock under the ground so borewells dug by government is not possible. Open wells also get contaminated. So streams have to be harnessed. Without electric power, gravitational force was used as streams were above hills while villages were below. This was an innovation from us. We started this initiative in Taragaon and it was followed in 150 villages.
9. Are the default rates low and the lenders happy?
Dilip: 91% SHGs repay their loans on time. Banks are quite happy. We have got grants for setting fruit orchards in 2010 for citrus (mango and lemon) fruits. Production will happen in 2014 and a producers’ cooperative loan is being set up.
10. Can our readers help Antodaya in any manner?
Dilip: One can help us with technological innovations. You can also help us with financial support or link us with donor agencies you know of.
11. What would be your message to our women community?
Dilip: Get your entitlements and rights, come out of your shells and be outspoken.
For any support that you can provide to Antodaya be it financial or in terms of vountary work, contact them at:http://www.antodaya-kalahandi.org.in/contact/index.shtml