Working with indigenous tribals has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life. From a small clinic at Brahmagiri to all the diverse projects that SVVM is running, it has been a very enriching experience till now. I have always maintained that development has to be about an expansion in the human and social capital of people and communities, for it to be sustainable and meaningful. While it is easy for one to get carried away by short-term economic gains of the many development interventions that both the Govt and NGOs undertake, we must appreciate that the long drawn and sometimes painful process of building capabilities of people is more permanent and rewarding. As we evolved in the different activities that we undertook in H D Kote for the indigenous forest dwelling tribes, it became increasingly evident that meaningful change would only be possible if the people took on the responsibility of development themselves. This is easier said than done in an eco-system that looks to marginalize already disadvantaged communities. SVYM believes in working with the state at the local level to strengthen the Panchayath Raj Institutions. This will not only strengthen local governance mechanisms but also ensure greater participation of the people at the grassroots level. We were also painfully aware of the challenges that tribals faced in negotiating positions of power in these local bodies in an electoral system that is skewed in favour of the rich and powerful. The recently concluded elections to the Gram Panchayaths are truly a milestone in this long and painful evolution. The quiet revolution that had commenced many years ago in the form of collectivization of the tribals in different forms, including the many self-help groups that SVYM established finally yielded results that far exceeded our expectations.
For the first time in the history of indigenous communities in HD Kote, 35 tribals were elected to the different Panchayaths across the taluk. Most of them are women and a couple of them are former students of VTCL. 6 of them will be presidents and 2 will be vice presidents. The efforts of collectivizing the women that Mamatha began and for which Poshini worked hard in shaping and federating is now visible for all to see. It was a matter of pride for Chikkamani and Bhagyamma, the president and secretary of Prakruthi Mahila Okkoota (the federation of the many self help groups for women set up by SVYM) to participate in felicitating these new members at VLEAD on the 17th of this month.
Orientation in progress
The day was also used to orient and train these newly elected members in understanding their roles as elected representatives and in appreciating the role of the Panchayaths in the development of their constituents and villages. They also could appreciate the importance of the formidable force that they represented now in the taluk. SVYM and GRAAM will work hand in hand with them as they grow and evolve into people who will not just shift the structure of power but will bring in community centric development into the lives of the thousands of indigenous tribals that they represent. One is hopeful that this manifestation of democracy that we see at the grass roots will be the beginning of a more powerful revolution – a revolution that will put ‘tribals first’ and make them owners of the development that concerns their lives.