To look for new alternatives towards building and re-building lives and communities has always been a process of constant search, learning, experiment and experience in JMS. Traditionally being deprived of ownership of any sort on natural resources (land, water, forest, trees, houses etc), or physically being excluded from having access to natural resources has resulted in Dalits being landless and poor. Hence the community initiatives that JMS engaged in were to increase the access, ownership and control of Dalit households and communities over resources in general and over natural resources in particular using various strategies.
Some of the key initiatives relate to the following:
1. Land – the natural resource: Dalit Households in the district of Raichur are by and large landless or marginal land holders (half an acre to two acres). Very few of them over the years have acquired some land. However, majority of the people who toil on the land as agricultural labourers are Dalits and Dalit women in particular. A few of the households have lands ranging from 1 acre to 2 acres allotted by the government. These lands were generally fallow and unfertile in nature. Hence JMS initiative was to reclaim these lands through a process of making them cultivable. This experiment happened in the village of Devipura (Manvi Taluka, Raichur District) where 28 acres of land belonging to 14 households was rejuvenated, made cultivable (2003-05). The second phase of reclaiming land was undertaken during 2007-08 in the villages of Jagir Pannur, Muddanagudi, Pothnal and Dotrabandi where 106 acres of land belonging to 54 households was rejuvenated.
2. Organic Manure: After the completion of the Tungabhadra Dam and the canal network parts of Raichur came under canal irrigation. This process brought about a complete shift in the cultivation patterns with water intensive crops such as paddy becoming the most prominent crop. The process also saw high intensive use of chemicals – fertilizers and pesticides – thus resulting in salinity and unfertility of the soil. There were also health impacts on agricultural laborers, general populations consuming locally grown food items etc. Reclaiming soil fertility was undertaken through promoting the production of organic and natural fertilizers based on neem, cow-dung, bio-mass, vermi-compost etc. At present in different villages of JMS work area neem fertilizer, bio-compost, vermin-compost are produced and made available to the farmers.
3. Education : Literacy levels among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes remains the lowest in the country and the fact is equally true in Raichur district. The opportunities for good quality education itself being very restricted to people in general, Dalits experienced burden by having no access to primary education itself or being unable to access educational opportunities due to socio-economic and cultural circumstances. One witnesses the the prevalence of child marriages, child-labour, bonded labour etc in vulnerable communities. JMS has given priority to provide educational opportunities to children by encouraging them to go to schools, by holding motivational classes, tuition centres, by linking up with the National Child Labour Project (NCLP) under the ministry of labour for the education, mainstreaming and rehabilitation of child labourers. Among others, the Chilipili Child Laborers’ Special School is such an initiative.
4. Community Health: Our health in our hands – An Initiative in primary health care : Extreme poverty, the social and economic status of Dalit Women, social exclusion result in life long conditions compromised health status. Caste and patriarchal relations and unequal distribution of resources dominate the lives of women agricultural labourers and labour relations. The onset of malnutrition, anemia, and exposure to toxic pollutants within their living environments set the stage for decreased immunity and repeated infections throughout the course of their lives while their economic vulnerability and responsibility of caring for their children demands that they work outside the home in highly unfavorable conditions with regard to their health status. Women agricultural labourers inhabit the lowest rung in the socioeconomic ladder and vulnerability to economic crisis and acute poverty due to the seasonal and low paying nature of their occupation. With neither favorable living nor working condition we have found increased morbidity, joint pains, weakness, high anemia. Malnutrition, decreased overall sense of well being stress, health problems related to pesticides used in the fields etc. In this context 16 women from 7 different villages have been trained as Community Health Workers. In the last 6 years they have been taken through an extensive training on all matters related health particularly the use of herbal medicines, knowing their own bodies, knowing illness and factors causing illness, preventive health etc. Initially the work of the women includes taking up the an herbal garden in different villages coupled with sensitizing the women I the connection between nutrition, hygiene and health. Using the slogan “Our Health in our Hands” the Aarogya Karyakarathas have become healers for their community. The women now run a weekly clinic to counsel and heal people with illness. Every Thursday during the weekly village market day in the Pothnal village, the clinic runs in the office of the JMS. The weekly clinic has become well publicized among the local populace of the poor. The average number of people they that are recorded every year are about 3000.
5. Micro credit and self-help: Economic indebtedness and not having access to economic resources has been the bane of the community. While being resourceless on the forces them into debit one hand , the tag of being not credit-worthy deprives them access to the formal financial institutions such as banks on the other. This increased sense of being vulnerable has always forced Dalit communities and Dalit women to dispose of their assets (cows, utensils, lands etc) or to fall into debt in the hands of informal money lenders. The women in 45 villages have organized themselves as small groups of financial self-help through weekly savings. The loans and livelihood schemes provided through the SC-ST Development Corporation (Govt of Karnataka) and local banks have helped them re-assert their faith in themselves and has boosted their self-image.
6. Training and Capacity Building: One of the essential elements in the formation of JMS was to strengthen effective women’s leadership in communities. Building intellectual resources and capacities through constant sessions on various themes and exposure was a constant effort.
• Caste, Class & Patriarchy – understanding of society
• Violence Against Women and Women’s Leadership
• Domestic Violence and Dalit Women’ response
• People’s Movements and social struggles
• Right to food security
• Right to Education
• Right to Shelter
Trainings on Health
• Preparation of medicines for common ailments from locally available herbs;
• Understanding causes for Illness and remedies focusing on women’s issues
• Training on understanding women, gender and health
• Menstrual problems and development of pregnancy
• Participation in health campaigns (Right to Primary Healthcare Campaign)
• Training in snake bite treatment organized by CHAI, Puttur (Mangalore)
Exposure Trips, among others, included the following:
• Exposures to community health workers different places to learn about community health: AIKYA, Bangalore, Jeevadharu (herbal medicines centre) at H. D. Kote (Mysore)
• Visit to Narmada Valley and Narmada Bachao Andolan
• Participation in the National Alliance of People’s Movement’s Struggle in Delhi
• Participation in the Asian Social Forum, Hyderabad (2003)
• Participation in the World Social Forum, Mumbai (2004)
• Participation in the herbal medicines festival (Muligai Utsav) organized by FRLHT at Dharwad.
• Participation in the first Karnataka State Health Assembly, Davangere (2000)
• Participation in the second Karnataka state health assembly, Bangalore( 2005)
• Participation in the third Karnataka State Health Assembly, Bangalore (2007)
• Participation in the National Health Assembly, Bhopal (2007)