Social change at grassroots

In the spotlight: Sanchaya Nele highlights gender and caste issues through  theatre performances.

Sanchaya Nele is an NGO based in Anekal taluk of Bangalore urban district that goes beyond merely helping marginalised communities like Dalits, adivasis and minorities in daily survival. It creates awareness on fundamental rights and guides residents of the village in securing social entitlements like ration cards, land titles, pension, scholarships and opposing discrimination. Further, it exposes typically excluded groups to the functioning of local governance structures and pertinent legislations. Sanchaya Nele also grooms women and youth from financially backward Dalit families to become community and government leaders.

The beginnings

Dalits constitute around 60 per cent of the population in Anekal taluk. However, they are regularly subjected to abuse. Also, most Dalits there lack education and many of them are bonded labourers making assertion of rights more difficult. Adivasis and other minorities are equally or more marginalised. Women of all communities additionally encounter gender violence and discrimination, within the family and outside. 

“In spite of the above situation, neither the government nor any local social welfare organisation, defended the civil liberties of various marginalised people effectively,” points out Yashodha P, Sanchaya Nele’s young co-founder and director. Consequently, she and other youth active in various national social justice movements, created Sanchaya Nele in 2004. 

They started reaching out to traditionally excluded individuals and groups in 32 villages in Sarjapura hobli in Anekal taluk. In each village, the organisation’s representatives initiated weekly meetings with people from affected communities. There, the participants were encouraged to highlight their main problems. During these discussions, rural residents complained of a lack of access to basic amenities such as water, electricity, sanitation and roads. In some cases, the villages did not have these facilities. In others, people from dominant castes were preventing Dalits from utilising common public infrastructure. Further, many Dalits and adivasis in Anekal either did not have family ration cards, voter identification, caste certificates or were unaware of how to obtain these documents. Additionally, some did not know the various schemes with regard to land, jobs, pensions and scholarships which the government had introduced specifically for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), the official term used to refer to Dalits and adivasis. But the villagers in the taluk had no drive or courage to persuade the government to ensure that they received their basic entitlements. 

Activities and successes

“It was evident that most of the Dalits and adivasis in Anekal taluk accepted their status quo. Generations of our community have undergone severe oppression and segregation. But only some of us are willing to speak out against it and attempt to change the scenario,” said Gopi, a Dalit youth who has worked with Sanchaya Nele for four years.

Other staff members like Savitramma and Ambika, and volunteers of the organisation are also from such communities. Through regular meetings, they built up collectives of 20-30 women and youth in more than 100 villages across the taluk including other hoblis namely Jigani, Kasaba and Athibele. Detailed consultations with the affected communities in the village and area-level meetings showed that awareness programmes on the relevant welfare schemes were essential. Also, village residents needed assistance in completing and submitting the requisite application forms and reminding the relevant government agencies at the taluk and district level. 

Through repeated knowledge sharing sessions and practical experiences, Dalits and other marginalised people in Anekal are now able to avail their benefits.

Around a 1,000 senior citizens, five hundred widows and disabled persons have started getting their monthly pension successfully. Poor women are receiving government loans for buying cows or are being granted land for housing and livelihood. The few Dalit and adivasi families with small lands and necessary records are securing formal land titles although this is cumbersome. Those with dry land have learnt about the provision for free borewells under the Ganga Kalyana Yojana. About 20 villages in the taluk have obtained government grants for construction of houses through the Ashraya Yojane, public toilets and electricity under the Bhagyajyothi scheme. Economically backward residents have secured baby care kits for newborns, maternity benefit for neo-natals and Bhagyalakshmi scheme for girls among other entitlements although the implementation of the last is not streamlined.   

Through street theatre campaigns in village squares, Sanchaya Nele highlights the importance of educating children, especially girls, and the drawbacks of early marriage.

The organisation also encourages small savings through women’s sanghas. Further, the NGO urges marginalised communities to monitor the functioning of government schools, primary health centres and fair price shops and report discrepancies. Gradually, the Dalits and adivasis of Anekal are uniting with Sanchaya Nele staff and volunteers to demand reliable public services. 
 
Trained in laws

Sanchaya Nele trains its staff and volunteers on the SC/ST Act, RTI Act, MGNREGA, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and rural governance set-ups. Village collectives also learn to provide immediate medical aid and temporary shelter to domestic violence victims and counsel their families, particularly men. The organisation’s staff provide legal assistance through experienced professionals. Being familiar with the legislations, they pressurise the district or state administration (as applicable) to obtain compensation and justice for the survivors of caste or gender atrocities.

“Two financially challenged Dalit women from Anekal taluk won the 2010 Karnataka Gram Panchayat elections with the backing of the marginalised communities and outside support from Sanchaya Nele. They have demonstrated that many more are joining our relentless struggle,” Yashodha sums up.

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