Maati Sangathan

Maati started as a small group of women who came together in the mid 1990s to protest against rampant alcoholism. In 1994, within one month there were two cases in which husbands in their drunkenness had burnt their wives to death, but there was a conspiracy of silence around these shocking incidents with nobody willing to speak up. Malika, Basanti and a few others got together, held meetings in several villages and mobilised women, writing post cards to people’s representatives in villages all around. 1000 women came forward for a meeting in Munsiyari where they put forth a memorandum to the SDM asking for the sale of alcohol to be stopped. This protest became a seed from which the sangathan grew into a space for women to meet, talk, express themselves, and share their joys and sorrows.

Over the years, Maati has continued its work in opposing alcoholism (Anti Liquor Protest 2011) and in crisis intervention. People from around 50 surrounding villages know of them and victims of rape, harassment and domestic violence come to them regularly for help and support. The sangathan has also been involved in rallies and agitations demanding qualified staff and proper infrastructure in the local schools, college and hospital.


Anti Liquor Protest 2011

Since 1994, protests of varying scales have continued against the sale of alcohol. One of the main impediments has been the reluctance of the state government to act claiming that it will greatly affect revenue collections—from 232 crores in 2000, revenue earned by the Uttarakhand government from liquor sales has gone up to 737 crores in 2011. While the government has banned the sale of home made rice beer, there has been no attempt to close down the liquor shops. The sangathan has tried holding rallies, picketing the local liquor store and holding meetings with the men in the community in order to try and bring down the consumption.

In March 2011, the situation was precipitated by an incident in which a woman was burnt by her drunk husband. Having suffered 80% burns, she was fighting for her life in the hospital, but she was forced by her in laws to give a statement saying that she was injured in a stove accident. Her father approached Maati for help. On April 1, a large rally was organised by various groups in which hundreds of women, children and a few young men participated, their common demand being the closure of the local liquor shop.

Subsequently, cases of criminal trespassing, rioting etc. have been lodged against many of the protesters including some of the women of the sangathan. There has also been a lot of false propaganda in the area initiated by local political leaders in an effort to instil fear amongst the people in the community and discourage them from associating themselves with the sangathan. While some women have chosen to distance themselves, for others this has led to a deepening of the politicization process. It has made them stronger and more determined to fight against all odds for issues that they believe in.

Tourism, Livelihoods and Conservation

The community’s participation in ecological conversation will be greatly strengthened by linking it to livelihoods—this realization led to the Home Stay programme which started in 2004. Under this women who had a room to spare in their houses started hosting tourists. Initially women were apprehensive about allowing strangers to stay in their homes. When they tried it out for a few months, they found that it worked very well, and greatly enhanced the family’s earnings, the best part being that the money went directly to the woman. This experience also helped women in losing their inhibitions and interacting confidently with outsiders. Later through the Van Panchayat, they got money from the Forest department for constructing attached toilets. In 2011, around 17 households in Sarmoli, Jainti and Shankadura were participating in this community eco-tourism initiative. The fact that livelihoods depend on tourism leads people to take the responsibility of keeping their surroundings clean and green.

Opposing Destruction in the name of Development

In 2006, when news reached that as many as eight hydel power projects were being planned on the Goriganga river, the sangathan collected and built a body of knowledge on large dams and their impact on people and the environment. They gained an understanding about the planned Rupsiabagar-Khasiyabara project of NTPC and studied the EIA (Environment Impact Assessment). Then they reached out to the affected villages like Dumar, Darkot, Ucheti, Jhulapul, Patho, Lilam, Basantkot, Matkot etc. and disseminated the information. They showed footage from other places where large dams had been built. Raising crucial questions about which villages were being included in the affected category, unjust methods of land acquisition and calculation of compensation, lack of transparency, flawed EIA, and incorrect hydrology, forest and wild life data, the sangathan was involved in a long campaign against the administration. Finally in mid 2010, with the rejection of the project proposal by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), the work on this particular dam has stopped at least for the time being. The sangathan has had to bear the brunt of the local authorities who interfered with the Van panchayat election in 2009-10 to prevent Malika from being re-elected as sarpanch. The false FIRs filed against some members of Maati in the Liquor protest are also seen as a form of retaliation.