Our Indian population is primarily young. Approximately 40% of our population is made up of children below the age of 14 years. Being dependent and voiceless, our laws and policies treat children as non-entities and ignore their responsibility to understand and provide for their needs.
Our CRY partner SIPRA (Social Institute Program Rural Area) was founded by Dilip Rathod with the objective to empower the the Banjara, Adivasi, Dalit, and OBC communities of the Himayatnagar and Kinwat Talukas of the Nanded District bordering Maharashtra and Andhrapradesh – to stand up for their rights and the rights of their children
Dilip Rathod, began his education at his village school and with much struggle secured a Masters degree in Social Work. He proceeded to work in Mumbai and later with earthquake victims in Latur. But soon he returned to his village to help his own suffering Banjara community.
He worked his way through many barriers, researched the community problems and registered SIPRA in 1995. With the CRY Fellowship in 1997, he set up education and health programs and encouraged the participation of government officials….Today, in Partnership with CRY and with his dedication and vision SIPRA has spread successfully to over 42 villages in the region !
Being one of the most backward regions of the area, the villagers face many difficulties — Agriculture is their main occupation, however the poor irrigation system has lead to acute insecurities of income and migration. There have been many cases of land entitlement with the government forcibly taking over the struggling farmers land compensating them with measly amounts leaving many homeless without a voice for their Right to Protection. Often, the villagers have been cheated of their rightful share of rationed grains alternatively sold at higher prices in the black market, denying them their basic right to food for survival.
Here are some examples of how through knowledge building, SIPRA has taught the people to be responsible for a better life for themselves. They have encouraged them to collectively stand up against injustice, demand for accountability and with persistence, induce the government to acknowledge their needs and give them what is rightfully theirs…knowing well that without their own involvement, the government would do nothing to help.
Right to Education
We met an elderly farmer, who was uneducated and had little. He proudly announced that his son had scored 80% and how he had already made arrangements in advance for him to study further.
This elderly farmer, as a boy had labored in the fields as a means to survival. He could well have forced his son to do the same and bring in a much needed extra income…. But instead he chose not to. This farmer through his new awareness, was able to look further and allow his son the Right to an Education — to secure an independent future and be responsible for himself.
This elderly farmer who had never left his district — along with 500 villagers traveled to Delhi by foot, train and road to be part of a silent procession to support the Right to Education.
There were 2 villages badly in need for roads but their repeated demands remained unanswered. In frustration the villagers decided to sit in the middle of the road to block the state highway. The roads blocked up and the disruption forced the officials and police to arrive. The villagers were not intimidated and voiced their demands. After much negotiation, the authorities finally assured them a road.
…Within 8-9 months the road was complete and the villagers now have access to neighboring villages allowing them their Right to Employment and to schools for their children.
Right to Equality
The Self Help Groups are run by the women and initiated to empower the women of the village.
Linked with nationalized banks for loan facilities, the women are encouraged to make financial decisions which were earlier only in control of the men. These illiterate women, once voiceless, have now gained self-confidence, economic and social power and freed their families from the clutches of money lenders who exploited them with heavy interest rates.
With their awareness on child and human rights issues, they are a strong driving force in the mobilization of the collective, actively participating in community issues.
For many women in our villages, being downtrodden and disregarded is a way of life. Today even in our more educated urban society, we frequently hear of the disappointment and anxiety that comes with the birth of a girl child.
As these women today are empowered they are able to voice their needs and have earned a new respect for themselves. They have paved a brighter future for their daughters and forced the men to recognize that women too deserve the Right to Equality.
The founder of SIPRA, Mr Dilip Rathore and his wife, having no children of their own, have by their own choice adopted a girl child.
Kharmeen’s personal takeout
It was very enlightening to see how these village people, who for years had accepted and even expected to be exploited have today collectively chosen to stand up for what is rightfully theirs.
Through their experiences they have learnt that the process of standing up for themselves against a system of corruption and disregard, is often a long and tedious struggle –however it finally assures them a far more permanent and stable future, than to live in the constant uncertainty of being dependent on temporary relief like charity, with little control or security.
I parted from the village not with a feeling of pity as I normally would, but knowing within me that these people who believe in themselves, would find a way …… To stand up for what is right and ensure for themselves and their children a better life, with a sense of pride!