Category Archives: Fieldwork Diary

Marianad: A Tryst with History

Noel Benno Joseph, Linitha Mathew, and Srilakshmi Nambiar visited Marianad, a fishing village in Kerala in October 2017 as part of the fieldwork component of the Master of Public Policy course. They chart out the history of the village and how it took its modern shape.

A still from the Marianad beach.

‘Everytime we come back from the sea, we bring back not just fish but our lives too’ says Anish, a 37 year old fisherman. Our 21 day fieldwork at Marianad showed us that the lives of the people in this quaint village in Thiruvananthapuram revolved around fishing. The fisherfolk fondly refer to the sea as ‘Kadalamma’ which when translated in English means ‘Sea Mother’. Most of the households in Marianad wake up at 3 am. The womenfolk pack rice porridge and if available, some slices of dry fish for their men. Men sip a cup of black coffee to shake off the looming cold weather and head out to sea. They return with the catch in the afternoon.

Fishermen believe that the place is blessed with good fortune and wealth, with varieties of squid, crab, and fish being shipped to different parts of the state. However, the days of glory did not come without a struggle. Known earlier as ‘Alilathura’, meaning an uninhabited place, the village’s history is enmeshed with religious conflicts and social transition. With a vision for transforming this barren land into a habitable space, a Catholic Bishop named Bernard Perera made concerted efforts to resettle the fisherfolk in this village. Since they were primarily Latin Catholics and religious faith was an intrinsic part of their existence, fishermen found their spiritual abode in a church in a nearby village called ‘Puthukurichy’. The villagers here did not take kindly to the new neighbours, more so because of the advanced fishing techniques they employed. It was widely believed that hook and line fishing technique which was advanced would result in smaller catch for these traditional fishermen who used the shoreseine technique. The political economy of resource ownership resulted in the burning of nets and boats and there existed a fear among the migrant fishermen.

In 1961, with the establishment of the Thiruvananthapuram Social Service Society (TSSS),  Marianad Community Development Project was introduced in the village. The Program for Community Organisation (PCO) played a key role in building the village and the fishermen cooperatives. The cooperatives incentivised the fishermen by providing them with credit and protection from exploitation by big merchants. The setting up of M.U.C.S, the first cooperative in the village was a revolutionary step in terms of the upliftment it brought to the marginal fishermen. Today, Mariyanad hosts four fishermen collectives, two of which are registered as cooperatives and the other two as charitable societies. The co-operatives are enrolled under Matsyafed, which is the fishing cooperative established by the Government of Kerala. This makes them eligible for subsidies and loans from government agencies. The cooperatives which are not enrolled under Matsyafed, organise themselves under the umbrella of SIFFS (South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies).

The history and social movements of the village is closely tied with the empowerment of its womenfolk as well, who found strength in these movements to form a collective by the name ‘Mahilasamajam’. This forum opened up employment opportunities for women, while also providing them with a platform to raise and discuss their issues. Nursery, sewing classes, net-knitting, and other vocational activities became a hobby and a leisure activity for the women while the husbands were away at sea. Today, fisherwomen make small purchases to sell fish  in the city, they bargain effectively, and are an epitome of strength in the male dominated markets. However, subtle signs of patriarchy crop up when it comes to matters of womenfolk going into the sea for fishing. They are strictly prohibited from getting on boats and going out into the sea at all times. But Christmas and New Year are occasions on which women and children are also taken for a ride into the sea in a festive mood.

Following is a video montage of memories from Marianad shot and edited by Noel.

(Noel, Linitha, and Srilakshmi are participants of the 2017-19 batch of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. They can be reached at noelbennojoseph@nls.ac.in, linithamathew@nls.ac.in, and srilakshminambiar@nls.ac.in respectively.)

Melghat: From Crisis to Cure

Nissy Solomon was a part of the group that visited Melghat, Maharashtra in the month of October, 2017 to work with KHOJ in pursuance of the field work component of the Master of Public Policy programme. She highlights the issue of malnutrition and its impact in the region based on her interactions with the local community and other stakeholders.

Students meeting community leaders at Payvihir village, Melghat, Maharashtra.

In the southern offshoot of Satpura hills, nestled amidst forested mountains is situated the region of Melghat. While it is known for its pristine mountains, it has also been infamous for a high number of deaths due to malnutrition. The severity of it has been under the scanner since 1993, following a Public Interest Litigation filed by activist Sheela Barse in the Bombay High Court. Despite steps undertaken by the government and initiatives by voluntary organisations, the problem of malnutrition continues to persist.

The sustainable development goals that aim to end poverty by 2030 highlight the element of nutrition being central to holistic development. Concerns of nutrition arise not just from sufficient dietary intake but from a host of interconnected processes like education, health care, employment, sanitation, connectivity, and more. In other words, there exists a complex interplay of factors which is poorly understood. In the context of Melghat, a detailed study exhibits that malnutrition is multifaceted and it is both a cause and an outcome of other problems plaguing the region.

According to official government figures, child mortality in two blocks of Melghat – Chikhaldara and Dharni – was 206 in 2016 and maternal mortality was 7 in the year 2016 which shot up to 15 in 2017. On an average, every year 400-500 children between age 0-6 die in this region. The reasons are multi-causal and intricately connected. Eighty-four per cent of women in this region suffer from anaemia, the cause of which is nutritional deficiency. Lower haemoglobin weakens women’s ability to survive child birth.  Surviving a high risk pregnancy causes greater risk to child’s health.

Maternal mortality and child deaths due to malnutrition are a result of systemic failures. Factors like limited Public Health Centres (PHCs), dearth of paediatricians and gynaecologists, high unemployment, poor infrastructure and connectivity, reliance on traditional medicines, and lack of awareness among the tribal population contribute to this failure.  For instance, at Chunkadi village, a remote village in Chikhaldara, there was no PHC functioning. Absenteeism of medical practitioners is common to most villages in Melghat. Complicated cases do not get due attention as a result of which maternal and child health deteriorates. This appalling situation is representative of what confronts the region.

In response to the humanitarian crisis in Melghat, many civil society organisations emerged to maintain and build strong capacities aimed at assuaging the plight of the people. Advocate Bandu Sane, director of one such organisation KHOJ, asserts that there has been a long term presence of government and civil society organisations, each working in their own capacity to improve and mobilise resources for action. However, lack of coordination among the institutional actors has been impeding the desired progress in the region.

When considerable attention was drawn to this region, the state government appointed committees and initiated schemes to fight the issue of malnutrition. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were set up, each with their strategies for the region’s development. Currently, there are over 300 registered NGOs operational in 320 villages. Despite their presence, the problem of malnutrition continues to grip Melghat. This is reflective of a lack of synthesis among the institutional actors.

Understanding the importance of collaborative efforts, KHOJ organised a convergence workshop on October 28, 2017 where prominent stakeholders took part to collectively envision a better future for the tribal population in Melghat.

Convergence Meeting held on October 28th, 2017 in Amravati, Maharashtra.

Given the interrelationships among the range of causal factors underlying malnutrition, efforts to address these problems from individual capacities have resulted in limited success. In order to achieve these strategies of development, a coordinated action that encourages dialogue among institutional actors is imperative to avoid policy discrepancies. Part of the solution in managing complex problems includes successfully partnering across permeable boundaries and engaging citizens and stakeholders in policy making.

At a point when considerable effort has been invested in this area, the time has come to examine whether convergence could be an effective means of governance, since the future demands a collective rethinking of common issues.

(Nissy Solomon is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at nissysolomon@nls.ac.in)

Village, Politics and Reminiscence

PRAMIT PRITAM JENA

Pramit Pritam Jena, worked in the tribal village of Purulia, West Bengal with PRADAN as a part of field work for Public Policy students at National Law School. From the experience during his fieldwork, he brings to the light the daily life of people, empowerment of women collectives, sustainability of Self Help Groups and their way forward.

pano_20161023_120549Life in the tribal villages of Purulia (a district of West Bengal) is rustic and peaceful. At around 4:30 – 5 am, adults and children rise from slumber and set about their daily routine. The break of dawn sets into motion the typical village cacophony – cows mooing, hens cackling, and vessels clanging. The men depart for the farms, while the women form serpentine queues near the tubewell with pots and pitchers. This routine is consistently followed, which perhaps, creates a cultural divide from the urban areas.

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Water shortage is palpable, as is reinforced by the fact that Purulia is a notified drought-prone area. As agriculture is the chief source of subsistence, delayed monsoons set life in disarray. A deferred sowing of paddy leads to a late and poor harvest. Water harvesting structures have made life easier after the monsoons end, but the consolation only lasts till the smaller to medium sized ponds dry up in March/April. However, the villagers relate stories of the 1970s, when, in contrast, most villages had no source of drinking water. There is a visible change in villages where PRADAN has been working, according to the testimony of the rural folk. Government line departments are apparently not very effective as Project Implementing Agency. This could be attributed to the shortage of technical staff and bureaucratic lethargy. It is evident that PRADAN as an NGO is capable of fulfilling financial and physical targets, as well as establishing an emotional connect with the community.

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It is without a doubt that there is a contention between the local politicians and our host organisation. One of the members of an SHG, in the local MLA’s native village, recounted one incident when a PRADAN professional was apprehended by local leaders. Hundreds of women in the SHG federation rushed to the spot in support of the former. The matter was resolved once the MLA of the constituency intervened and took the perpetrators to task. Corruption is deep rooted, beginning from the highest levels of government, and percolating down to the panchayat. Funds for development work are sheared off in piecemeals as they are handed down the hierarchy, and a reduced amount reaches the works phase. Moreover, the beneficiaries are selected in a biased manner. The favourites of politicians and office holders remain at the receiving end, while the deserving look on.

However, project implementation through SHGs has brought about a paradigmatic shift in the story of local self-governance. Members assert that every penny is accounted for since the transactions are carried out through transparent SHG, Gram Sabha and Aam Sabha meetings. The quality and time periods of project completion have also improved. One begins to wonder whether the key to development lies not only in the Government policy making, but in the extent to which we have been successful in tapping the potential of an organised, mobilised and empowered rural community, especially women collectives.img_20161026_120153

The sustainability of SHGs to effect change is directly linked to their financial sustainability and rate of growth and maturation. Any external policy intervention to SHGs should bear this issue in mind. It is vitally important that both government and NGOs work to bear all the costs in mind of interventions to make them sustainable otherwise the SHGs will be overburdened and destined to fail. Government regulations could help manage this risk and increase the emphasis on sustainability of SHGs. There are key areas of SHG financial management that need to be improved such as internal controls, accounting, management stewardship, organisational efficiency and others. If the government were to enact policy that would regulate the quality of SHGs and tied this to their eligibility for SHG-Bank Linkage, then this would help bring about a more measured and responsible growth to the movement. Both for SHGs and SHG federations, there is a need to aspire to attain standards following the best practices. As the SHG federations are emerging as community owned microfinance institutions, there is a need for significant investment in providing institution building support. These SHG federations being bodies like corporations which are registered under an appropriate legal form must comply with the prudential and legal norms. There is a need for a well-developed third-party rating system for SHG federations before they are linked with financial institutions to act as an intermediary as they handle a large volume of funds from the bank linkage and also undertake savings from their members.

img_20161021_165450There is a need for establishing a computerised Management Information System (MIS) for SHGs and SHG federations to monitor their performance on a regular basis. SHG federations must be able to publish their annual reports and share those with all their members. A suitable marketing channel has to be developed at panchayat level by state agencies. Formation of such agencies can be inculcated into programme guidelines. The cost shall be borne by the State Government. SHGs need to be encouraged to upgrade into cooperatives. In advanced stages, these groups are capable of inducing change to domestic problems due to the presence of a corpus fund, skilled manpower and experience. Finally, the role of NGOs has been critical in achieving the vision of SHG led development. Using them as facilitators in SHG formation and guidance has to be made compulsory in programme guidelines as government line departments are unable to realise quantitative and qualitative targets due to multiple responsibilities in respective portfolios. The SHG model has to be supported through fortifying support of Government policy and guidelines in order to reach fruition.

(Pramit Pritam Jena can be reached at pramitpj@nls.ac.in)

Forest Rights Act: Ten years later

EDITORS

MPP 2016-2018

December 18th, 2006 witnessed the historic passage of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. Almost a decade later there is only a tiny portion of the vast forest land of India which has been brought under its purview. The tribal population all over India still face an ongoing struggle on a daily basis but with considerable support from civil society groups and Government officials, they have been partially successful in acquiring their rights under the act. We take this opportunity to share a glimpse of their lives which we observed during our fieldwork visit.

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This village Panchayat (or Rachabanda in Telegu), in Andhra Pradesh meeting, to discuss Rehabilitation & Resettlement package they will receive if the Polavaram Dam project goes through. The package being offered to them is as per the 2013 Act and not the updated version they are entitled to, causing them a loss of nearly Rs. 6,00,000. The project has forced the villagers to understand Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013, Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 and Forest Rights Act 2006 – all laws that rely on vigilant and aware Gram Panchayats to protect local interests.

                In a corner of Rajasthan, this is the state of the government primary school. It has been running for approximately four years and at present, 52 stud
img_3528ents study under this shelter.
A local man is willing to donate the land it currently stands on but due to errors in his application filing, it was immediately rejected. He had originally filed an individual rights claim (as laid out in 3(1) of the Act) instead of a community development claim (as given in 3(2)).  Despite the ambitious promise of the Act, a lack of understanding of its details prevents many communities on Scheduled lands from receiving their basic rights, in this case, primary education.

                  The Nayakheda village in Achalpur block of Melghat in Maharashtra is one of the model villages in the area. The Gram Sabha with help from non-governmental organisations like KHOJ has successfully acquired its rights under the Forest Rights Act. The villagers have also established their rights over the vast forest land and taken it upon themselves to protect, conserve and reforest the area. It is the present generation which has made a rigorous effort to restore their forest and agricultural land, stopped migration and hence built a stable village economy.

                    In the Western Ghats of Karnataka, the seven forest dependent tribes of Kodagu district are the Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kuruba, Panjari Yerava, Pani Yerava, Malekudiya, Soligas and Marathi / Naiks.

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Image source: CORD

The socio-political and economic disparities can be explained due to the gaps in the implementation of Forest Rights Act, along with the lack of transparency and accountability of the Forest bureaucracy. Characterised by the colonial mindset of administration and solitary decision-making authority, the forest wealth and lives of the tribals has been under rigid surveillance by the forest department. The struggle for rights has been an ongoing saga but has gathered momentum in the form of civil society organisations which are playing an instrumental role in advocacy and campaigning for implementation of Forest Rights Act. Kodagu is also famous for the Nagarhole Park which is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, declared as the thirty-seventh Tiger reserve under ‘Project Tiger’ in 1999. Coorg Organization for Rural Development (CORD), an NGO has documented several case studies regarding the violation of rights and skewed rehabilitation arising from such conservation regimes.

Our fieldwork participation helped us see that the experience of the Forest Rights Act is varied, with different regions facing specific challenges. Despite this, many of India’s forest dwelling communities retain deep connections with the forest and can protect them more effectively than a distant bureaucracy.
The Forest Rights Act recognises this wisdom and the benefits of a ‘democratic forest’, but it needs sustaining commitment and cooperation in order to succeed.

 

(The group in Andhra Pradesh took the accompanying photo and included Arvind Balaji, Kalidoss Nanditha, Rohith CH and Shreoshi Dutta. 
The group in Rajasthan took the accompanying photo and included Devarchan Banerjee and Smita Mutt. 
The group in Maharashtra took the featured photo and included Aishwarya Gupte, Doohan Vaz and Trisrota Dutta. 
The group in Karnataka included Ananya BJ, Anoop Ramakrishnan, Apoorva S, Kabir Khan and Sattvika Ashok.)

Fieldwork

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EDITORS

MPP 2016-2018

An intrinsic component of a Public Policy program is an experience of the ground reality. In order to comprehend the actual workings of a policy initiative or government scheme, the batch of 2016-18 engaged in three weeks of fieldwork. Different groups of nascent policy analysts spread across Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand and West Bengal and worked on a range of policy issues. We spent three weeks in villages, drinking water out of wells, cooking our own food, living with limited infrastructure, facing the lack of water and electricity connectivity, realising that a very prominent section of the Indian population still lives without the basic technology we take for granted. The social, economic and political reality of these areas is harsh. Life is tough. The mainstay of our work was an analysis of the implementation process of policies and barriers to effective implementation. We worked with the Forest Rights Act, Integrated Child Protection Scheme, Juvenile Justice, Child Development and Protection, Rural Development, Tribal Development, Women’s Health and Education, Child Education and Child Rights, RTI and the Rehabilitation of displaced and tribal communities.

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In a meeting with Jharkhand State Livelihood Mission team, Pradan

We were linked with NGO’s established in these different areas, who have been working with the people for at least twenty years in bridging the gap between government policy, government officials and the people. Some of our partner NGO’s were CORD (Karnataka), MKSS, Seva Mandir and URMUL (Rajasthan), PRADAN (West Bengal and Jharkhand), Khoj (Maharashtra) and Samata (Andhra Pradesh). We engaged with the local people, children and women, Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, government school officials, Ward members, the Panchayat, police officials, and of course, the organisation workers.

It has been an enriching and eye-opening experience, one that will ground all our future endeavours. Accounts of personal engagement and learning will soon grace the walls of LOKNITI, so stay tuned to know more about the India no one talks about.