Three decades after it was set up, Jagruti remains relevant in the Maoism-hit region, empowering women and the youth, helping curb the menace of alcoholism, and conserving the forests.
“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex.” Karl Marx
Apart from nature, Daringbari in Odisha has always been synonymous with Maoist unrest making headlines many times. The media often makes this a socio-cultural aspect of this quaint hill station, one where tourists rush to escape the burning heat of summer, yet where internal lava remains deposited in the core sockets of Daringbari.
“Amidst this rage, Jagruti took birth on November 15, 1982, in the guidance of Albert Joseph,” says Kailash Chandra Dandapat, the secretary of Jagruti, an organisation that’s working to empower people in “collective or an independent action for the betterment of the down-trodden sections of society irrespective of class, caste, religion, and creed”.
Speaking about the origin and growth of Jagruti, Kailash says that in the 80s Daringbari was “completely disconnected from the rest of the country and stricken with acute poverty”. “The natives went without food for days; the call of death seemed more promising than life. Albert was, during those days, working with the CRS and he witnessed this situation first hand. He launched Jagruti with a staff of 30; their primary focus was on elementary education, community health, and people’s livelihoods.”
It has been more than three decades and Jagruti still adheres to its fundamental determinants. But the Maoist mount to the barricades was two-way trouble for Jagruti. The government often suspected this organisation to be a Maoist supporter. When Jagruti shifted focus to Bhramarbadi, its workers were repeatedly questioned on why they had chosen this worst-affected Maoist den.
“Are you a Maoist too?” Kailash has often been asked this question at political meetings.”
The Kandamal district in Odisha is the hub of Maoist association. A total of seven insurrections have flared up in that area alone. The Kandamal riot of 2008 made headlines in all media.
Jagruti performed thorough research to understand the reason behind the agitation and concluded that 87 percent of the people involved in the riot were youths had been indoctrinated into the ideology. The Maoists assumed Jagruti was a government talk show, attempting to disintegrate groups.
After months of awareness programmes and individual consultations, a platform entitled “Antaranga” - coalescing 340 youth unions comprising 14,000 young lads - was channelised by Jagruti
When “Wadi” (orchard), felicitated by NABARD, encouraged 697 tribal beneficiaries to use their wastelands and generate mango orchards from them, the Maoists in the adjoining areas considered this to be a form of contract farming and destroyed about 5 acres of land.
Despite the violence, Jagruti came on the scene and organised group discussions explaining the motives of “Wadi” and tribal development. At about the same time, with the help of Odisha government, 100 school buildings were built for mass education.
The fact that Daringbari has a very low school dropout rate itself is a mark of success for Jagruti. They were fruitful in creating awareness regarding the importance of education irrespective of gender.
Right from its inception, Jagruti has been dominated by 128 women organisations. One frequent issue that women faced was the wrath that followed alcohol consumption by male members in the family. It destroyed the peace of the house and resulted in assault.
A survey conducted by Jagruti in 1987 showed that about 43 percent of the household income was spent on alcoholic beverages. Women’’s SHGs groups came forward and, with the assistance of Jagruti, started an “anti-liquor” movement. Within a year, all liquor shops were closed down.
However, after the government amendment in liquor production through Odisha Excise (Odisha Amendment) Ordinance, 2006, 22 districts in Odisha were given the licence to brew alcohol. On Women’s Day in 2008, the women of Daringbari gathered to revoke this act. A huge activism outburst broke out in Daringbari where the women were so enraged with the demolition of their year’s efforts that the two liquor shops that were opened thereafter were shattered to pieces.
“Although this was a brawl, the rich alcohol merchants learnt their lesson well. The women stood beside their decision as well as one another,” he says.
In 1995 Jagruti started giving training to the women to make dishes and other cutler using “Siali” leaves to make them self-employed and economically independent. Jagruti made a plea to the government to transfer the procurement of this production to a cooperative sector, AMC, from political goons. AMC has magnificently expanded this business house where women, who are the labourers, get 24 percent of the entire profit while the remaining is used for community development.
It is startling that the entire Kandamal district does not have a single chimney, mine or industry. It takes pride in having the highest forest coverage in whole of Odisha. Yet, farmers are self-sufficient, without one case of suicide.
“Jagruti runs about 120 Jungle Suraksha Samitis. Initially the tribals had to be made aware about the impact of wildlife destruction, but now they are experts and know the importance of conserving their own forests and biodiversity,” Kailash says.
The value of Jagruti in the lives of the local people of Daringbari can be seen as people contribute with a very positive mindset. In fact, every woman comes to community meetings with Rs 20 and gives it as a contribution for development attempts. This system was not generated by Jagruti but by leaders of various SHGs voluntarily.
Rupali Pradan, leader of Grace SHG, says that she understood the meaning of savings through the sessions of Jagruti. She leads a group of 12 members; they process and sell amla to an organisation called Kasam. “I try to teach the women what I have learnt from Jagruti; that savings is a lifetime security.”
Similarly, the women of Shaktimayee, Shantimaye and Jeevanjyoti, also SHGs, have involved themselves in various enterprises such as dairy, processing, farming and so on.
This small organization stood by the people of Daringbari when the whole nation was in oblivion. It took years for them to adjust with both the government and the Maoist groups, often putting their lives at stake. Perhaps the reason why the groups I met were so warm towards me was because I went through Jagruti. Or maybe it’s the years of reverence towards peace inculcated by this NGO that now runs through the veins of the people.
Disclaimer: This article was first published in Milaap. The views expressed by the author are his/her own and do not necessarily reflect that of YourStory.