Shramjeevi Sangathana

Till the early 1990s the Marathwada region of Maharashtra was witness to several cases of atrocities against dalits, apart from everyday indignities, and exploitation in issues of work and wages. Political, economic and social power was vested in the hands of a few upper caste families, all others being at their mercy. The village was a highly segregated space, and was planned in such a way that the upper caste houses lay to the west side, and the lower caste houses to the east, so that the wind (whose general direction was from west to east) reaching the upper caste area would not be ‘polluted’ by contact with people from the lower castes.

The houses of dalits were cramped, made of mud, hay and leaves and were often worse off than the animal sheds of higher castes. There were separate wells for the use of different castes, and dalits were barred from entry into temples. In many hotels, there were separate cups and plates kept for serving dalits. There was no occupational mobility, and people were bound to do caste based work, the most menial falling in the lot of the dalits who had no negotiating power. With in the dalit community and other oppressed groups, people seemed to have accepted the situation as a given, and did not feel that they could raise their voice and protest.


Movement in Village Patoda

In 1991, in village Patoda of Jalkot block there was an instance of social boycott against the dalit community because two educated youth from amongst them had ‘dared’ to draw water from the well reserved for upper castes. The well meant for dalits had been contaminated and as a concession, they had been allowed to use the upper caste well. However, they could not access it directly but had to wait for a person from an upper caste to pour the water for them. Since the two men had not obeyed the rules, there was a furor in the village followed by people getting beaten up and finally the social boycott. When Dashrath and others in the sangathan came to know about this, they took up the issue in a big way and organized people from many nearby villages around it. Initially people were too afraid to come out of their homes even to attend a meeting. So the sangathan members would go to people’s home and have discussions. Slowly, people started picking up courage. Not only dalits, but OBCs and muslims also joined in the protests. They filed an FIR against the people who had beaten up the dalit boys. Then they called for a big meeting attended by hundreds, and finally the upper caste individuals who had indulged in violence were arrested. This was a huge turning point that made people believe that they have a right to speak up and that their voices will be heard.


Vanjarwadi was a small hamlet comprising 11 families staying at the bottom of a hill under precarious cliffs. They were landless labourers working for a landlord who had allowed them to live there as it was close to his fields. However, it was not accessible by road, and there was always the danger of the overhanging rocks falling and crushing the people and their homes. When the sangathan became aware of their living conditions, they were appalled. The 8-10 karyakartas who had gone there for the meeting offered to pick up all their things then and there and move them to the vast unclaimed gairan land of neighbouring Tondar village.

People were scared at first wondering how they could just take over that land, but they took the risk and went, taking up small plots of land for building houses and for agriculture. Initially there was some resistance from the people of Tondar village, but since their gairan land stretched over 1000 hectares and was lying unused, they finally agreed. Some sangathan workers stayed in the new village for a couple of months and fought to get water and electricity. Later the Panchayat Samiti got pucca houses built for the poorest families through the Indira Awas Yojana. The first 11 families who went there have got the land in their name. Following their move in 1993, as many as 150 landless families from nearby villages have come there and marked out plots for themselves. There is also a primary school on the gairan land with a proper building and amenities where the children of Vanjarwadi study.

Sangathan and the Police

Even more than the upper castes, the greatest source of fear for the oppressed communities were the police who seemed to wield unlimited amounts of power. Even people’s groups were afraid to go against them for it was a much safer and comfortable option to keep on their good side. In Marathwada, Shramjeevi Sangathana was the only group to openly protest against police atrocities and hold rallies against them. This went a long way in establishing in people’s minds that the police were public servants and not the overlords they were often acting as. People also internalized the idea that they do not have to be reduced to servility in their interactions with the police.

However, the stand of the sangathan has always been that they will raise their voice against injustice. So they have not hesitated in taking up rallies in favour of the police demanding higher pay, better working conditions, proper housing etc., and also opposing politically motivated transfers of honest officers. This principled position has won them the respect and trust of the administration and people at large.

Brick Kiln Schools

There are several small scale brick kilns dotting the area around Udgir. They are seasonal kilns operating between October and May. Usually families are paid in advance around Diwali when they need money, and then made to work for the next 7-8 months. From 2000 to 2002 the sangathan ran 5-6 informal schools for children working in these kilns. The children were of different ages and at different levels, but this effort gave them an opportunity to stay in touch with their studies.  Some people supported the sangathan by giving classroom space, and in other cases they held classes under a tree. An ngo helped with books, black boards and teaching materials. Through the government’s mid day meal scheme they got shopkeepers to give grains for the children’s food. Later these children were allowed to take exams in a regular school based on their attendance in the sangathan’s informal schools. The initiative had to be discontinued because of lack of funds to pay the teachers.