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Case Study of Ward 52, Cuttack, Orissa:

Empowering the Lower caste of Tentulinali

In one of the neighbourhood groups of Cuttack called the Tentulinali Sahi, long standing caste
biases have divided the community into two clusters – Savarna  Sahi  (upper caste cluster) and
Asavarna Sahi (lower caste cluster). Initially, there was no participation in local governance by the so-called
lower caste people, since they were neglected by the so called upper caste people. But after NFI and its partner
HDI’s intervention, there has been a big change. Regular field visits, constant communication with the people,
separate meetings with women, youth and elderly people have helped establish a good rapport with the local people.
Initially, the community had doubts about the purpose of these interactions. Gradually, however, they came to
understand and identify with the purpose.

When it was decided that a cluster level committee should be formed, people from the  lower caste community
said that there should be one committee including members people from both the clusters. They postponed the meetings
in order to discuss the matter with the upper-caste community. The upper caste however refused to step into the locality
of ‘Harijans’ and to involve people from the lower caste in the deliberations. They demanded a separate committee for
themselves. On their insistence, two seperate committees had to be formed.

Nevertheless, the formation of a cluster level committee in Asavarna Sahi and their representation in the Ward level
committee has brought about a big change in the lower caste’s participation and interest in local affairs. It has given
them a sense of ownership and responsibility, an opportunity to participate and open up. Women also participate in these
meetings. When a matter needs urgent attention, the committee organizes meetings in the night which are attended by all
members of the community. All decisions are taken in the presence of the community. After the internal meetings,
discussions are held with the field team.

All these processes indicate that a tremendous amount of change has occurred in the lower caste community: simply put,
people have started planning for their community. The following example illustrates this:

Recently, a dog had fallen into a well. Though the community managed to pull it out, people could not use the water for some
days. As a safety measure for the future, they decided to raise the height of the well, to cover it after fixing a tube-well
and to repair the well platform. The entire activity was planned by the community. The tube well was provided by a field partner
organization. Everything else was contributed by the community in terms of cash, kind and labour. Before starting the work,
they sat together and discussed how to utilize the community fund for the well repairing work. The work was completed entirely
because of the effort of the community. The community now plans to arrange a cover for the well and to make a drainage
system near the well for proper disposal of waste water. They have also framed rules and regulations for the usage of
the tube well. No one is allowed to bathe or wash utensils there.

This case shows how people can affect change by coming together, and that so-called lower caste people can inculcate a
sense of ownership and responsibility for their surroundings and empower themselves in the process.

Giriraj

A story from Delwara:

Giriraj Vaishnav is presently the supervisor of the waste management work being carried out in Delwara by the Nagrik Vikas Manch. He supervises a team of ‘Arogya Mitras’ (so  christened by the Nagrik Manch, which prefers this name to the term ‘Harijans’).

A couple of years ago, Giriraj was in search of work and back then, this was the only work the Manch could offer him. He reluctantly took up the job, only to leave it after sometime owing to threats from his community to either leave this ‘menial’ job of working with the Arogya Mitras, or to be nominated a pariah. Giriraj came back to the Manch later to look for some other ‘respectable’ work with them. Again, however, his previous post was the only vacancy available at the Manch. After several counselng sessions, Giriraj took up the job again and decided to continue inspite of the mounting social pressure on him. Though he faltered at times, the project team and the Manch stood by him and helped him boost his spirits.

He faced opposition not only from his own community, but also from the Arogya Mitras who considered him an outsider and wanted somebody from their own community to supervise them. Giriraj was even mocked at by some people in Delwara and called names while he was attending to his duties. Breaking caste barriers and trying to create equity in a caste-ridden society, it was not easy to start a congenial dialogue. It has been a journey full of challenges for Giriraj, challenges that are not over yet. However, the mere fact that an upper caste man works with the so-called lowest caste on a daily basis indicates that though there hasn’t been a revolutionary social change, things are gradually moving in that direction.

Click here for more on Delwara

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