I came to know about the existence of JMS during the AID-India Conference, where Savitri displayed terracotta jeweleries. Later Sudha mentioned to me about the help required for terracotta unit, and that’s how I ended up visiting them.
Jagrutha Mahila Sangathan (JMS), a collective of dalit women and agricultural labourers struggling for their rights, was started by Premdas (who’s now working with CHC) and his friends in Potnal in 1999. It has found its office in a hut kind of an arrangement in Potnal, a village in Manavi Taluka, Raichur district. JMS now has grown in to 50 Sanghas (covering villages in Manavi and Sindhnur talukas) that mobilizes women agricultural laborers.
I reached there on 7th Feb around 11am. I was taken around the place by Savitri, a young JMS worker who’s from Potnal itself. She briefed me about JMS activities in general till the Karyakarta meeting started. It is a monthly meeting, where in 2 women from all the 50 Sanghas come as representatives. There are 7 full time Sanchalikas who manage these Sanghas. The meeting begun with kannada songs that discussed issues with PDS, Devdasi system, etc. Savitry tried her best to give me a running commentary about the songs in English! Later the women came up with various issues regarding NREGA, NRHM, untouchability, etc. that prevail in their villages. For instance, there was a complaint from a woman that she hasn’t been getting full pay for her work under NREGA; later we discovered that she had handed over all her account books to Gram Panchayat people and relied on them for her money!
Thadakkal village has a new PHC sub-center coming up, for which a gowda has been handling the contract. Even though the government has issued a grant of 2 lakh, he is planning to build the center in a relatively small place (it’s not that there is not enough land available), so that he can put the rest of the amount in his pocket. Just when the women were discussing this issue, someone informed about a Taluka level public hearing in progress at Potnal PHC. Everyone headed towards PHC to share this concern. Savitri and other JMS workers helped the women to frame their complaints. Finally, the officer agreed to set up a visit to the village next week.
After coming back to the JMS hut, Ratna (JMS worker and Taluka level coordinator for JAA-K) and Snehalata (JAA-K resource person) gave information about some of the new NRHM schemes to all the women. When they discussed JSY, there was a mention about nurses taking money for the delivery, let alone JSY benefits. The women were scared that if they refuse, the delivery of the next child in their family may be affected!
Post lunch, I spent some time with the Terracotta Unit. Koshi, another founder of JMS had trained around 150 women several years back, out of which only 14 consists the SHG at present, each drawing 50/- per day as salary from the income. There are other women wanting to get involved , but due to high inventory and slow sales, they are suffering from a huge backlog of payments as of now, hence can’t expand. Though Dastkar has been able to provide some help in arranging ~4 exhibitions a year, it has not been enough. None of the women knows Hindi or English to communicate effectively in big cities. I and Savitri exchanged several ideas, one of which was to create a brochure and web presence. Hopefully, I shall be able to help them with that.
Later in the evening Chilipili kids positioned themselves in a circle outside JMS hutf or tuition. Chilipili is a residential school (running inside the JMS hut) started a year back to help ex-child laborers, funded by SSA and NCLP. They have around 40-50 kids (mostly drop-outs) and 3 teachers. However, the funding per child and teacher’s salary that they received from government is quite insufficient, hence the rest of the requirements are supported by JMS funds. Kids started the session by singing songs on child labour. I tried to talk to some kids having Savitri as interpreter. I thought I’d make them talk to me in Hindi, but kids turned out to be smarter, forcing me to learn to converse in Kannada :-).
Next day early morning, I was awakened by the morning prayer and Yoga sessions of Chilipili kids. Sunday is the cleaning day for the kids. Since it’s not possible to afford any full-time maid for the premises, kids are taught to be self-sufficient. They clean their rooms, wash vessels and clothes, plaster the compound outside with cow dung, maintain vegetable garden, etc. very efficiently. At 11 o’ clock, kids packed their clothes and headed for a bath at Tungabadra river. Some of the photographs in my album show their innocent exuberance. They just loved being photographed.
My noon time was spent with one of the workers in Herbal medicine group. Over 15 women constructed this group and a few of them have been trained in Herbal medicine at several places. Their herbal clinic on Thursday witnesses a big crowd from surrounding villages giving them a fair sale. Neem fertilizer group is another income generating group, totally managed by 20 women and produces 50 tonnes of unadulterated need fertilizer that is supplied to various groups practicing organic farming. The unit begged ‘the Citigroup/UNDP 2005 Micro Entrepreneur Award’ for South India. Unfortunately time did not permit me to know more about them or talk to them. All the three income generation group fall under one brand coined as ‘Chirugu Enterprise’.
In the evening, I talked to Chilipili kids about lifestyle in Gujarat. When Savitri suggested this to me, I was blank about how to begin. Somehow I ended up telling them about Gandhi/Sardar Patel and food/festivals later. I understood the reason behind Savitri’s suggestion as soon as I heard the questions from kids. I truly wished I could spend a day more with kids when I found them asking – “do they have monkeys/buffaloes in Gujarat?”, “Do you find grapes, apples there?”. Kids then asked me for a photography session, after which I started back for Bangalore.
On the way to Bus-stop, I along with Savitri, Snehalata and Padma (a chilipili teacher) visited Potnal PHC. Though the board outside said the center functions 24*7, Sundays are treated as holidays by doctors. However, Snehalata mentioned that PHC has improved a lot after NRHM in terms of facilities.
In all, the weekend at JMS proved to be eventful as well as educational, and I didn’t miss having Pulkit around at all :-).
PS: In case anyone is interested in helping the Terracotta group, please contact me to discuss more about the possibilities.