In October 2009, eight districts (including Bagalkot) were severely affected by floods. The people suffered severe loss of lives and livestock; houses were damaged; acres of fertile land were inundated and tonnes of food grains were spoiled. Most people were housed in schools. Many had to go without food, potable water, cooking materials, bedding and other basic needs for over a week. Infants and their mothers were in severe distress; breastfeeding mothers were forced to put newborns to sleep on cold, wet floors. The aalamba team responded to the needs in Badami taluk of Bagalkot district.
Distribution of relief materials
After a survey of the affected areas, the aalamba team prepared a list of those who had been left out of the relief process by various agencies. Over 1600 households from 22 villages were covered in the distribution of relief materials like food items ( wheat flour, dal [lentils], rice, oil and salt),utensils (plates, vessels, tumblers and ladles), clothes (children’s clothes, sarees, warm clothes), and bedding (bed-sheets, blankets, rugs, mattresses).
The aalamba team found that most of those who had not received relief materials invariably belonged to the dalit families. When we tried to reach out to the families who were left out, we were stopped, locked up in school buildings, man-handled and our vehicles stoned. Citing existing village practice or other excuses such as lack of roads, the relief materials were most often not allowed to be sent to the dalit area (called kaeris). In one of the villages, a dalit youth was fined by the village leaders and made to apologise for preparing a list of those households who were left out of the relief distribution. In another village, the aalamba team found 30 dalit families, whose names were not on the beneficiaries’ list, even though they had been affected and had been living in the relief shelter for over a month after the floods!
An irresistible call
After the initial work of relief distribution, the aalamba team could not withdraw because of the overwhelming request by the people to stay on and support them in dealing with issues of rehabilitation, unemployment, ill-health and so on. Most of them were landless labourers and used to migrate to Mangalore or Udupi for work. After a lot of thought, it was decided that the aalamba team would continue to work in those villages and livelihood support would be the primary focus.
The aalamba team focused its work in four villages – Budihala, Thaminala, Katharaki and Khyada.
Mobilising people’s power
The work with the marginalised communities revealed that a large proportion of the people were unaware of the existing Government schemes and were cut off from formal institutions such as banks, co-operative societies, local bodies and so on. Even if information was available, accessing them became a challenge due to corruption, lack of transparency and lack of organised power. The aalamba team focussed on organising the people to address issues concerning them.
Gramaabhivriddhi Samithi (Village Development Committee)
Gramaabhivriddhi Samithis were formed to discuss and take up various activities for the development of the village, with special focus on health and sanitation. The Samithis which covered over 200 households had representation from SHGs, panchayat, school development and monitoring committees and other village-based groups. This created a platform where women and men, especially from marginalised communities, got an opportunity to present their views. They were able to voice their demands regarding utilisation of resources meant for the village. The Samithis mapped the resources available for the village and prepared a people’s plan for the utilization of the same. These plans, which included action points for environmental hygiene were then shared with the panchayat members and officials.
The panchayat accepted the plans submitted by the Samithi (for road-side drains, washing areas and tree planting) and incorporated it into the panchayat action plan.
Though the Total Sanitation Campaign of the Government had been in existence for very long, none of the families in the area had got any benefits from the scheme (or even knew about its existence). The Samithi members sought information from the panchayat and got the amount (Rs. 5375 per toilet) sanctioned to construct 32 toilets.
The plan for construction of a toilet for the anganwadi which was pending for very long was completed.
The compound wall of a school was repaired and a new gate installed to protect the saplings planted by the students. In another area, the ground around the school which was used by people for open defecation, was cleared and saplings were planted.
A sub-centre constructed over 17 years ago was not functional despite repeated complaints by the local community members. It was being used as a cattle shed and sheep pen. The fans and other electrical systems were broken. The community members supported by the aalamba team represented the matter to the District Health Officer (DHO) and Taluk officials. A video documentation of the unused Sub-Centre and its impact on the community members was filmed and shared with the officials. Soon an Auxillary Nurse Mid-wife (ANM) was posted to the area and the Sub-Centre revived.
When concerned agencies turned a deaf ear to affected dalit families in the relief process, the media (TV9) was approached to air the issue. The interviews with the affected persons were telecast. The following day, the families received compensation.
Under the Special Component Plan (SCP), people who completed training in leather works received worker kits from the Government.
A subsidy of Rs. 10,000 each was given to two widows through the Amrutha yojane to pursue dairy farming.
The aalamba team supported community members who had availed of work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), but had been duped by the local people in-charge of the program. Misappropriation of funds, manipulation of records on job cards, muster rolls with wrong names/ names of deceased/ names of those employed elsewhere and so on were exposed and brought to the notice of the authorities. When approached, the concerned persons tried to silence the people, attempted to bribe activists and community members, threatened to cause physical harm to the community members, and went back on promises. But due to the persistence of the community, with the support of the aalamba team, the people were able to claim and receive what was rightfully theirs.
Agricultural Labourers Federation
A federation of agricultural workers has been formed to highlight issues concerning the workers, including NREGA. The federation called GRAKOOS (Grameena Koolikarmikara Sangha) was facilitated by Shri. Abhay from Raichur. The aalamba team has been supporting all the activities of GRAKOOS since its inception.
A list of workers who needed the job card for NREGA was submitted to the authorities in 14 panchayats.
In Thaminala, 8 days’ work was arranged for 35 households through the intervention of the federation.
A meeting was organised demanding proper implementation of NREGA in January 2011 in front of the Bagalkot Zilla Panchayat (ZP). Thirty people participated and met the ZP CEO and sought a written letter from him assuring proper implementation. As agreed upon, the CEO held discussions on the complaints. After the CEO’s intervention, things have improved.
- The job cards which were unduly delayed were issued immediately.
- Payment for work done was released and all dues cleared.
- As the Panchayat Development Officer (PDOs) was in-charge of more than one panchayat, it was difficult for the community members to meet him. After the intervention, the PDOs program list was put up on the notice board in the panchayat office and also communicated to the villages in advance.
There was severe unrest in Nagaral Panchayat after 400 NREGA workers were not paid their NREGA wages. The intervention of the State Director for NREGA, on the request of GRAKOOS resulted in labour payment of over rupees five lakhs.
Over 250 NREGA workers from Bagalkot attended a state level rally held in Bangalore on March 2011 at their own cost. The workers met the minister for Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Rural Water Supply and Sanitation, , who promised all support in ensuring that the workers got the benefit of the NREGA without any hindrance.
The aalamba team conducted meetings and facilitated the formation of self help groups, with special focus on livelihood programs. Thirteen SHGs (five men’s and women’s groups, 2 youth groups and 1 group for persons with disability) were organised in these villages.
Dairy farming: Thirty eight flood-affected, landless/ marginal farmers’ families (26 women and 12 men) were supported in dairy farming through the aalamba program. Twenty two families purchased buffalos, while twenty four families were supported to buy goats, through means of a revolving fund.
Reviving the KMF Society
A milk society affiliated to the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF) was dysfunctional for a long period. This resulted in marketing problem for the participants of the aalamba livelihood (dairy farming) program. The participants supported by the aalamba team dialogued with KMF, who reopened the Society on the condition that a minimum of 100 litres of milk would be supplied every week. In addition, KMF promised a grant of Rs. 25,000 if the revived society functioned properly for a year. Tailoring: Twelve young dalit women in Katharaki village are being trained in the tailoring school set up by aalamba on request of the SHG members for training in some productive livelihood skill. The space for the tailoring school was provided by one of the SHG members. Food processing: There is a lot of demand for processed food products, but the SHG members were hesitant to take it up as an enterprise, because the risks involved in it. Three members from our SHGs were encouraged to participate in the training program (fruits and vegetables processing) organized by STEP in association with CFTRI (Central Food Training & Research Institute), Mysore. A young woman trainee who was forced to discontinue studies after her tenth standard, has started making pickles, puliyogare mix and potato chips under the brand name ‘Jawari Food Products’, with the support of aalamba. She hails from a landless family. Her parents used to migrate to Mumbai in search of work. She now wants to use the income from her business to support her parents and to continue her studies.
Several training programs were conducted in SHG management, book keeping and dairy farming. Health camps for persons with disability were held in the area.
Power of information The two day workshop on Right to Information (RTI) for dalit SHGs in Badami had outstanding results. Forty five applications were filed with various government departments at the end of the second day on issues related to flood relief work, NREGA, PDS, etc. It was found that while some government agencies had no idea of the process involved in replying to an RTI application, some others resorted to threats to force applicants to withdraw their requests for information. However the applicants pursued the matter and the information was received in response to all the applications.
A significant intervention in Badami taluk has been aalamba’s Swachcha Grama program – a health and sanitation initiative.
A demonstration toilet was built in the houses of one of the youth SHG members using materials contributed by him. The technical assistance was provided by aalamba.
Awareness campaigns and village level training programs were conducted in schools and village centres. Two villages, Budihala and Thaminala were taken up for this program.
Information about the available schemes for village sanitation was collected from the respective panchayats and the same was presented during the SHG meetings.
A total of 42 toilets have been constructed with support from the revolving fund of aalamba in Budihala and Thaminala villages.
Other health related activities
Public health system: A public hearing on health issues was conducted by aalamba in partnership with Janaarogya Andolana Karnataka (JAA-K), in Bagalkot. A study on Primary Health Centres (PHC) was conducted where the condition and services of three PHCs were documented. The findings of the study were furnished to the respective departments, to the press and were also presented at the public hearing. Cases of negligence in health care were presented at the public hearing held on February 19, 2010 at Bagalkot. Various organizations working in the district attended the hearing, including Antyodaya from Mudhol, DSS, Sarvodaya from Jamakhandi and Samvada.
Around 600 people had gathered. The event received good media coverage. The lacunae in the health systems were discussed and a comprehensive campaign to improve the system was prepared at the event. Another study was carried out in 40 sub-centres functioning under 10 PHCs. Data for 20 sub-centres were analysed and the improper functioning of the sub-centres was exposed. The District Collector promised to take action to revive the sub-centres. Primary health charter: Before the panchayat elections in Karnataka, the aalamba team attended an exchange program organised by Community Health Cell (CHC), Bangalore.
A primary health charter (a village health manifesto) was prepared and all the candidates of the Gram Panchayat election were approached to support the manifesto. Seven contestants of the Gram Panchayat elections signed the manifesto with a promise to implement the same if they came to power. At the same time, pamphlets containing information on the manifesto were distributed among the community members.
Access to medicines: A seminar on “Medicines and the Lay Person” was organised in Bagalkote by aalamba and JAA-K in November 2010. The topics covered were essential medicines, the effect of patents on patients and the Novartis legal battle. Over 40 participants attended the seminar. Dr. Sharada, the Health Officer from Hole-Alur attended one session and answered questions regarding the functioning of public health system.
In December 2010, the aalamba team in Badami organised a discussion on the Karnataka Promotion of Public Health and Prevention of Diseases Bill, 2010. The aalamba team along with JAA-K members, had earlier attended a meeting organised by the Karnataka Health System Development and Reform Project (KHSDRP) and Karnataka Institute of Law & Parliamentary Reforms (KILPAR), who are involved in drafting the Bill. The team presented concrete recommendations regarding the Bill.
Health camp: As a part of community-based rehabilitation programs, aalamba in association with Spandana and Jagruthi organized a village health camp for persons with physical and mental impairment. Fifteen children upto 12 years of age with serious impairments were brought for the camp and received medical advice and treatment.
Workshop on public hearings in health: In October 2010, aalamba along with JAA-K, organized a three-day workshop to review the work that was carried out during 2009-2010. Experiences of various public hearings conducted on health system throughout the state were shared and issues pertaining to rational drug use and patents were discussed.