“Amidst this rage, Jagruti took birth in 15th November 1982 in the lapse of Albert Joseph”, comments Kailash Chandra Dandapat, the existing secretary of Jagruti. He was kind enough to give a history of the origin and growth of Jagruti. Back in the 80’s Daringbari was completely disconnected from the rest of the country stricken with acute poverty. The natives went without food for days where the call of death seemed far more promising than the baseless life. Albert, during those days, was working with the CRS and he witnessed this situation first hand. Refusing to sit on his haunches, he launched Jagruti with mere a 30 staff-size. Their primary focus was on elementary education, community health, people’s organization and livelihood. It has been more than 3 decades and Jagruti still holds strong in its fundamental determinants. The Maoist mount to the barricades was a two-way trouble for Jagruti. The Government suspected this organization to be a Maoist supporting club. When Jagruti shifted its special focus at Bhramarbadi, the officials were repeatedly questioned on the basis of choosing this worst affected Maoist den.
The Kandamal district in Odisha is the hub of Maoist association. A total of 7 insurrections have flared-up in that area alone. The “Kandamal riot” of 2008 made captions in all media. Jagruti performed a thorough research to understand the reason behind the agitation and got to the conclusion that 87% of the people involved in the riot were youths completely deranged by the ideology of Communism distorted and indoctrinated by the profit groups. The Maoists assumed Jagruti to be a Govt. talk show attempting to disintegrate the groups. After months of awareness programs and individual consultations, a platform entitled “Antaranga” was channelized by Jagruti coalescing 340 youth unions comprising of 14000 young lads.
When “Wadi” (orchard), felicitated by NABARD, encouraged 697 tribal beneficiaries to utilise their wastelands and generate mango orchards out of it, the Maoists in the adjoining areas considered this to be a form of contact farming and destroyed about 5 acres of booming land. Despite the heating violence, Jagruti came into the scene and organized group discussions explaining the motives of “Wadi” and the tribal development. Right about the same time, with the help of Odisha Govt. 100 school buildings were built for the mass education. The fact that Daringbari has a very low school drop-out rate itself is a mark of success for Jagruti. They were fruitful in creating awareness regarding the importance of education irrespective of gender.
Right from its inception, Jagruti has been dominated by 128 women organizations. One frequent issue that the women faced was the wrath of alcohol consumption of the male members of the family. It destroyed the peace of the house and resulted in an assault. Also, a survey conducted by Jagruti in 1987 showed that about 43% of the household income was wasted in the purchase of alcoholic beverages. The woman SHGs groups came forward with this challenge and with the constant assistance of Jagruti an “Anti-Liquor “movement began. Within a year all the liquor shops were closed down. However, after the Govt. amendment in Liquor production, 22 districts in Odisha were given license to brew alcohol. At Women’s Day a huge activism outburst in Daringbari as a protest against this amendment. The women were so enraged with the demolition of their year’s efforts that the 2 liquor shops that opened thereafter were shattered to pieces. Although this was a form of brawl the rich merchants of alcohol learnt their lessons well.
In 1995 Jagruti started giving training to the women to make dishes and other cutlers using “Siali “leaves to make them self-employed and economically independent. Jagruti made a plea to the Govt. to transfer the procurement of this production to a cooperative sector, AMC, from the hands of political goons. AMC has magnificently expanded this business house where the women, who are the labourers get 24% of the entire profit and the remaining is used for community development.
It is startling that the entire Kandamal district does not have a single chimney, mine or industry. It takes pride in having the highest forest coverage in the whole of Odisha. Yet, the farmers are self-sufficient, without one case of suicide. Jagruti runs about 120 “Jungle Suraksha Samhitis”. Initially, the tribals had to be made attentive about the impact of wildlife destruction but now they are experts enough to conserve their own forests and biodiversity.
The value of Jagruti in the lives of the local people of Daringbari can be felt through their gestures alone. They contribute to a very positive mindset. In fact, every woman comes to the community meeting with INR 20 and gives it as a contribution to the development attempts. This system was not generated by Jagruti but the leaders of various Self Help Groups voluntarily. The culture of alter-benefit is well-maintained where the trainers are served with meals whenever meetings are held. This pulled me towards meeting the women of the various SHGs and getting to know them at a personal level. Rupali Pradhan, the leader of “Grace SHG”, says that she understood the meaning of savings through the sessions of Jagruti. She leads a group of 12 members where they process and sell “Amla” to an organization called Kasam. “I try to teach the women what I have learnt from Jagruti- Savings is a lifetime security”. Similarly, the women of “Shaktimayee”, “Shantimaye” and “Jeevanjyoti”, SHGs have involved themselves in various enterprises such as dairy, rive processing, farming and so on. “in my Aanganwadi, pregnant women and small children get shelter and nutritional food”, defines Sunita who runs it.
This small organization stood by the people of Daringbari when the whole nation was in the reign of oblivion. It took years for them to adjust with both the Government and the Maoist groups often putting their lives at stake. Perhaps this is the reason why the Groups I met with were so warm towards me because I went in reference to Jagruti. Or maybe it’s the years of reverence towards peace inculcated by this NGO that now runs down the veins of the people.