Hum Kisan

Jhiri is a village of 150 households located in Manohar Thana block, Jhalawar district in south-east Rajasthan. The majority of the people in the village and around belong to the Lodha caste (OBC) and a smaller percentage to SCs and STs. Traditionally the only means of livelihood for the people in this area has been farming, but diminishing returns from agriculture in the past few decades have led to poverty, heavy indebtedness to local moneylenders and large scale migration. Adding to the problem are superstitions and a lack of awareness about modern medicine that lead to deaths from easily curable ailments and diseases. Being a stronghold of the political right wing, the region has seen a rise in religious fanaticism that has deeply communalised the people.

When Devendra first come to Jhiri these are the ground realities he encountered. Through the Hum Kisan Sanghathan, Manthan school and the Adarsh Handloom Cooperative he and Sudhi have undertaken a multi-pronged approach that integrates social, political, economic and cultural development of the people.


Hum Kisan and NREGA

To give people information about NREGA, volunteers from Hum Kisan did a cycle march in 52 villages in Manohar Thana block in 2006. They went to every village and through the medium of songs they announced that the government has come up with this new scheme for rural employment. They did plays with hand puppets to give the details of how to apply for work and how to ensure full payment on time. They explained the intricacies of the scheme, distributed the forms and answered people’s doubts and queries.

In 2008, Hum Kisan volunteers along with poor farmers of over 40 villages sat on a dharna for three days to get the NREGA documents from the programme officer. This was a part of the social audit that was done at a state level in collaboration with many other organizations. Then they went to different villages and publicly read out the documents so that people can point out the discrepancies and irregularities. The presentation of the audit’s findings played a crucial role in exposing financial malpractices and has been successful in greatly bringing down corruption.

In 2007, a resource centre by the name of Jagruk Nagarik Manch was set up in the town of Manohar Thana to help people with grievances like not receiving full wages, inclusion of names in BPL list etc. There is a Hum Kisan representative there who helps them write letters to the concerned authorities, and then follows up the case to ensure that the problem is sorted out.

Youth Theatre Group

Forum theatre has been a major tool that Hum Kisan has used in communicating with people. Different situations that people face everyday have been taken up and presented before them; for example corruption in government offices, atrocities against women, discrimination of dalits, an ailing person dying because of lack of timely medical attention etc. A group comprising 10-15 young men was trained and the plays were improvised in a way that would resonate with the experiences of the people. Changes in mindset and behaviour are perhaps the hardest to achieve and the process has been very slow. However for the participants in the play who are all youngsters from the area, it has been a transformative experience that has made them question age old norms and given them the confidence to break away from them in their own lives.

Broadening Cultural perspectives: Kabir Programme

It is not uncommon for a visitor to a village in this region to be greeted with boards saying Hindu Rashtra ke Hindu gaon mein aapka swaagat hai. ‘Welcome to a Hindu village of a Hindu nation.’ In February 2011, a 2 day programme was organized in which many local mandalis who have been traditionally singing Kabir were invited to perform at Manthan. At the end of it there was a discussion and the groups offered to take back boards with Kabir’s dohas (verses) that spoke of brotherhood and religious tolerance and put them up in each of their villages. Performances by Kabir mandalis have been a regular part of Hum Kisan’s cultural perspective building efforts in the community, but the larger scale and different format of this event made it an innovative way to respond to the increasing symbols of right wing extremism around them.

Library Initiative

In 2006, local libraries were set up in 11 villages in and around Jhiri. The libraries have books for adults and children, daily newspapers and also the latest issues of magazines like ‘Outlook’ and ‘India Today’. A person from the village who the people themselves unanimously selected was in charge of housing and taking care of the library. The initial funding came from the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation that included a small sum to be paid to the librarian. After a couple of years when the funding ended, the decision had to be taken whether to continue with the library or not. The people in every village decided that funding or no funding, they wanted the library to stay. While the direct use of the library is of course restricted to those who can read, it has succeeded in more ways than one by encouraging literacy, creating awareness about what is happening in the outside world and generating discussions amongst the people.

Girl Students of Jhiri

Geeta is a young mother who at the age of 18 became the first girl from Jhiri to pass the class 10 examinations in 2007. She was studying in class 8 in the local government school when she got married and was forced to drop out. Due to some marital problems she soon returned to her village and resumed her education from Manthan, clearing the class 10 exams from the open school. A dexterous weaver, she is also a part of the Adarsh Handloom Cooperative and is successfully earning her livelihood through weaving. She is now a confident young woman and is determined to pursue higher studies. In a village where the literacy rate for women is a dismal 28%, Geeta has been an inspiration for many girls. In 2011, two more girls from Manthan have taken the class 10 exams and are currently teaching at the school.