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VISIT TO GRAM SWARAJ SANGH, KUTCH, GUJARAT

The picturesque Samakhiali station and the
gorgeous winding road which leads to Sontekri, Rapar is never an ordinary
journey. From factories and hotels to the rather beautiful villages that pass
by, an hour seems to fly away without knowing you are already at Gram Swaraj
Sangh’s campus gate. Based on Gandhian ideology, the GSS campus welcomes you to a simple life –

a life away from noise, away from too many people and more
importantly away from the stress we experience in the city.

GSS staff- Dinsehbhai, Basheerbhai, Pujaben,
Dharmendrabhai and many others are all warm and inviting people. CRY staff and GSS members
both share a mutual feeling of respect towards each other. The main reason
being, the alignment of thoughts with respect to the change both the
organisations want to bring in the lives of children and communities. This
common vision has been the integral aspect of the bond CRY and GSS has shared
over the period of 10 years.

Our project visit was spread across 2 days
where we visited different settlements ‘wands’ near and far in Rapar district.
Every settlement we visited had people from same community/caste. I suppose it
is their way to ensure that their values and traditions can be preserved and
taken forward.

For almost 10 years, CRY and GSS, have been
working with these communities to create awareness of their rights and the
rights their children are entitled to. And with these consistent efforts that
were put in, we on our visit were able to see the transformation that has taken
place. It is evident from the way they speak and voice their opinions. Once
shy, they are now, not afraid to stand up for whats right. May it involve
meeting the local government representative with petitions, letters of demand
and/or appeals or going all the way to court to make sure that the community is
entitled to receive the facilities and schemes they are entitled to.

Of course there with progress there are few
problems which are yet to be resolved. For instance caste system is something that’s still prevalent amongst all the
communities GSS and CRY works with. Although
all these communities are marginalised, they have their own upper and lower
caste distribution. For e.g: the Koli community has 2 castes – Desi Koli and
Parkra Koli. The former consider themselves evolved and better than the
later.  There was another instance where
the villagers, inspite of the water scarcity, were not accepting drinking water
from the tanker sent by the local authorities only because the individual driving
the tanker truck was of lower caste. Instead they brought water from the shop
by paying Rs 15 from their pocket.

Migration is another major problem within the
communities. Few of the reasons for migration are availability of work, land
ownership issues with the local authorities etc…Children are forced to leave
schools because of frequent migration. However, with intervention from CRY and GSS, every year
there are fewer communities that are migrating.
At one such wand we visited, the community recently gained access to
electricity, but no house registration. Seems absurd when you think that they
get an electric bill on their name and address, but still the house they live
in is not registered. As the house is not registered, people do not have ration
cards. Hence instead of getting basic necessities at nominal price, they are
forced to buy food and other household related items at market rate.

Finally, what caught my attention is the way
GSS and CRY team is trying to
bring in a attitude change amongst these communities.  Where the villagers were not accepting the
water brought by the lower caste tanker driver, team quickly suggested to use
this water for household purpose (cleaning themselves, washing clothes etc…) if
not for drinking. Finding a solution to the problem and then convincing
villagers to it is something I was fabulously impressed with. It was a great
headstart for the team to steadily change the attitude pattern amongst these
people.

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