Currently I have taken up a work to evaluate PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action), a civil society that has been engaged for more than 25 years in livelihood enhancement in 43 of the poorest districts spread across eight states in India. In this context, I had been to Jharkhand during 9-11 June 2011.
Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand is the new emerging city showing signs of haphazard growth. It is still not late and care should be taken to expand with wide roads and landscaping that is natural to the region. After a quick breakfast, Narendranath (from the Delhi office of PRADAN who had earlier spent a decade of his field days in Goda and Hazaribagh areas when Jharkhand was part of undivided Bihar) and I moved over to Khunti, a newly carved out district from Ranchi on 12 September 2007. It is a very historical place, as Kunti and her five sons (the Pandavas) were supposed to have stayed here during their agyantavas (years of anonymity) and also the birth place of Bhagwan Birsa Munda, and we happened to be there 111 years after he died under mysterious circumstances in the Ranchi jail when he was just 25 years. I just wonder what would have been the course of Indian history if Bhagwan Birsa was alive for another 50 years. Would there be 'green hunt' today?
I had a quick interaction with a few of their staff and then moved over to a Mundari village - on the way I saw the path to the village where Bhagwan Birsa was born, the hillock where he organized meetings as also the presence of operation green hunt. PRADAN's intervention in a village begins by organizing women self help groups (SHGs). We were welcomed by flower garlands prepared by the different groups. The local PRADAN staff facilitated the women folk in drawing out a village resource mapping and planning of what could be done. With help from a special Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY), which has now become the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM). Mango plantation has been done in lands that were otherwise barren. Some poultry and goat rearing activities have also been initiated. Most importantly, it is this village that featured in Ek Ropa Dhan, on System of Rice Intensification (SRI) cultivation, that bagged the best promotional film at the 58th National Film Awards in 2010. The intervention in this village for SHGs for women built on the existing strength of the traditional gram sabha (which even today is largely a male affair) that has been functioning regularly. Today, however, there are occasions when the views of women are sought at times.
We went to another village where I was shown of an intervention facilitated by PRADAN that has transformed a rocky barren land to a mango orchard. Seeing the success, other similar land are also being extended to orchards. I had a late evening interaction with PRADAN staff who had returned from their field locations and then returned back to Ranchi.
Early in the morning we left for Hazaribagh, rather Barhi block. Unlike, Khunti, this is not a tribal belt. Small women owned poultry farms and tasar weaving are some of the interventions in this region. Some SHGs have been operating for nearly two decades. I was told that some of these are functioning independently and some are now part of other groups - splintered from PRADAN. It would be worthwhile to know the level of interactions and the benefits. Also relevant would be to know about the SHGs that might have closed down.
We also went to a village with a number of women-run poultry farms. Some of the questions raised during discussions were risks associated with poultry farming on account of diseases and price shocks. The system followed by PRADAN spreads the risks and absorbs the shocks while providing income.The last interaction was at Padma block. Here the women were very articulate. There were strong discussions on dowry, and in particular the issue of desertion of women, particularly among Muslims.
By the time we reached Hazaribagh we were joined by Abhijit and Souvik from Koderma and Goda respectively. One of the problems they indicated is the male migration and the unwillingness of the youth to engage in manual labour work (particularly the youth from the middle peasant communities). Thus agriculture has become a domain of the women whereas men migrate out in search of jobs (handling mechanized earth movers and with increasing susceptibility to diseases like AIDS, acquired immune deficiency syndrome). What are the livelihood interventions that would keep the men back and also save the family are important questions? The next day we returned to Ranchi and had a long discussion with Satya on the tasar story - Silken Spread.