Power within, power over, power with – field memo from Palamau, India

Friday, June 10, 2011 - 15:31

Ruchi Tripathi, Head of Right to Food, and Celso Marcatto, Right to Food Global Programme Coordinator, recently visited Palamau, one of the poorest areas in India. Check out her memo from the field.

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Photo: Discussion with group members of different women’s groups from Manatu, Chunka Village – all are part of the Gram Swarajya Abhiyan (GSA)

Resilience and fortitude of tribal, dalits and other communities in rural Palamau is remarkable as they are part of forgotten India, forgotten by the government, as well as the Maoists/Naxalites who had come to the area several years ago to help liberate these communities. 

Communities are getting organised and groups of disabled, women, forest dwellers, workers are coming together – all federated under the broad umbrella of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (GSA).  GSA volunteers work tirelessly to strengthen the local self help groups and people’s organisations by providing them with information and building their resolve through the movement.

Nonetheless, survival is still a daily reality. They use any survival strategies available at their disposal – accessing public welfare scheme, engaging in wage labour, gathering forest produce, living on the largesse of others within the community and eking a living off the land. They graciously receive their entitlements through the public distribution system, even if less than their allocation.  The men regularly migrate to the nearby areas for causal labour or further afield for months on end.

Forest dwelling households are fighting to remain on their ancestral land – beaten and locked up in prison for doing so.  Farmers are suffering third year of drought and water scarcity is not only affecting the land, animals, farming but also access to drinking water – proving to be a key struggle for women.

Children and women are often the silent sufferers, and they bear the brunt of the poverty and oppression both outside and within the household.

Social protection has a major role to play in their lives and they are entitled to get their due.  However, with little social or political capital, it’s much harder for them to gain access to social welfare schemes. And with fewer social networks, they are also more likely to be exploited when they migrate or undertake wage labour. What’s more, the poorest among them do not have the requisite money to join many self help groups or local farmers’ groups. 

Farming is key to ensuring household food security. It is not the preserve for the rich and better-off farmers.  With this in mind, agricultural policy makers and practitioners alike, should work to strengthen and support sustainable farming practices for such marginal households, particularly for women farmers. Soil and water conservation, seed selection and storage, mixed cropping, land preparation and other farming practices need to be strengthened to enhance their food production and food security.

Village and women’s groups organised around land rights and entitlements should also look at sharing farming knowledge and pooling resources to improve their agriculture and make the land more productive and sustainable.

India has an extensive agriculture research and extension system. Yet, it often times focuses on conventional technical solutions that do not necessarily reach and/or do not benefit marginal farmers. Agriculture research and extension needs to be rescued from the current apathy and officialdom.  Now it’s the turn of the Naxals and the government to genuinely work for the people in whose name they are operating.