Peoples’ Right to Land and Livelihood
In 1985 a group of young social activists emerging from the Chatra Yuva Sangharsh Vahini, a youth organisation led by Loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan, started working for the rights and uplift of Musahar (most poor amongst the SC community) in 4 Blocks of Patna District. In 1988 they registered Pragati Gramin Vikas Samiti (PGVS) under the Societies Registration Act of 1860. From then on as its focus spread gradually to include all SC and poor excluded communities so did its field area. With a mission to work for the most marginalized and vulnerable sections of society to ensure their dignity, equality, rights and justice PGVS is now operational in 1260 villages in 30 Blocks of 17 Districts in Bihar.
From its inception PGVS firmly believes in the empowerment of communities through organisation building around the principles of non-violent peoples’ action, self-reliance and local governance. PGVS therefore took on the role of promoting Ekta Parishad as a community based organisation in Bihar from 1991. After a decade’s work EP-National and Bihar State decided to upscale its activities and widen its area of work. As a precursor to this it organised a month long Padayatra through six of the most troubled districts of Bihar. This started from Jamui on 11 September 2001 passing through nearly 100 villages and hamlets in Nawada, Nalanda, Gaya, and Jahanabad districts and culminated at Patna on 11 October 2001.
At this time the radical Left movement was well entrenched, especially in these six districts. Amidst this environment of violence and counter-violence this EP initiative was looked upon with great hope as harbinger of peaceful change process by poor and marginal communities.
During the long walk from the daily interaction and meetings with community groups, organisations and individuals the following situational analysis emerged:
- Land was the single most burning issue of the day in the lives of the grassroots communities rich or poor. And the Dalit and Adivasi communities were nearly all landless labourers with no ownership even over the land they lived on let alone owning agriculture land.
- Even the land awarded to people from these communities under the Bhoodan and/or revenue deeds were under the control and occupation of landowning upper castes.
- The issue of control for land was at the centre of almost every incident of violence and counter-violence though they were given communal, familial, caste and political colouring.
- The state of poverty of these communities [especially Musahars among them] was unbelievably pathetic and undermined not only their health but totally usurped their dignity along with their rights to livelihood, social security and even vote. And for poor grassroots communities the hope of ever owning a piece of land seemed a cruel joke.
- Between violence and counter-violence women and children were bearing the full brunt of the situation, and families were migrating in large numbers leaving only elders and children behind in villages to earn a subsistence wage and living in other parts of the country.
- However, the state government, mainstream political parties and even civil society organisations still refused to accept the right to land as the root cause of poverty and unabated socio-political violence.
It was apparent that roots of social exclusion, discrimination and oppression lay in a culture of silence, subservience and ignorance. PGVS therefore decided to take on this massive challenge of empowering the poor through a non-violent process of community organisation building and was launched the Re-Building Bihar Programme in 2003.
The organisation’s emphasis has been on skill and knowledge enhancement to build capacities of poor and marginal communities to first analyse and understand issues affecting their lives. Simultaneously PGVS took up awareness building around rights and entitlement to land and livelihood amongst deprived communities and initiated women’s income generation, agriculture enhancement through group farming to empower them as a strong organisation of the excluded communities at the grassroots working towards an improvement in the quality of life.