What causes a man to leave his secure routine life and venture out into the tribal regions of the country? Only someone who has made this choice would know so.
We talk to Vikash Das, who was born and brought up in a tribal pre-dominant region . Since childhood he has witnessed the heart wrenching situation the tribal communities have been through and this moved him to get on the field and engage with them in order to really understand and solve their problems. He also talks about his initiate called Vat Vrikshya and how he managed to empower the people in this region.
Can you tell us about your experience during those months?
It was a great learning experience.There were endless problems . Language barrier , cultural differences , geographical isolation , societal pressure and much more. It was very hard for me to understand their language but I gradually got used to it. The tribal villagers have been geographically isolated from our society and they really keep their art , culture and traditions to themselves.The women were not open enough to discuss their problems with an outsider like me.They took me as another outsider who is in their villages to exploit them. It took a great amount of time to convince them to be the part of our venture. I had to live like them in their village so that I could understand them better and be part of their culture.
What is Vat Vrikshya all about?
Vat Vrikshya is not a concept by people who are perceived to be more educated or have a more fortunate life but rather a collaboration between people from diverse backgrounds including those who are determined to make their lives better by becoming the change agents. It is not about privileged folks helping less privileged folks but it is about realizing that we all belong to one global community and we can help each other to make this world a better place to live in. We figured out that the tribal households are solely dependent on agriculture and forest products for their livelihood. But because of adverse weather conditions and outdated agriculture techniques , the farming is not productive. So we thought of providing a sustainable alternate source of livelihood. We observed that tribal’s are usually very artistic and good at handcrafts.So we discussed this with them and brainstormed on how to make the products of higher quality , higher value and better design.They already have the raw skills , the technical skills but what needed to be addressed was the design. Designers and the market have different perception on how their products need to be and so we become the communicator between the market and the tribal communities. For instance the Soura art of Sabara tribe is incredible but they never let it flourish. They used to do Soura art on their walls only during festivals.They were using dyes from flowers, leaves, clay etc and brushes made up of bamboo stick. We provided them colors, brushes etc and let them do the design on canvas, glass, marbles, hand looms and the results have been phenomenal. These arts are in greater demand in Indian cities and abroad. We have women groups comprising of mentors and women from the communities. This is like the school system where the women are provided business skills and at the same time are made financially literate. So we actually nurture entrepreneurship among women with no formal education. We also have women education programmes where in we invite our partners and make the tribal’s aware of various govt policies, subsidies. We connect them to financial institutions, banks and help them avail loans for this business. Recently we launched Saving Prog and now each of them have their own bank accounts. Now they have the capacity to save and think about their future. We have formed community clubs and knowledge sharing centres where women from various tribes actually gather at one place and share information , expertise. Through these we actually create role models for tribal women. The women from the same community who are already successful actually share their experience with these women.We talk about various social and health issues in clubs to create awareness.
What do you aim to bring about by this movement?
We firmly believe that empowering women to be key change agents is the most critical element to achieving the end of hunger , poverty and illiteracy.When women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and the income increase. In short, communities become more resilient. Wherever we work, our programmes aim to support women and build their capacity.By empowering women as the key change agents in rural communities, over hundreds of women now have the opportunity to move from abject poverty to self-reliance.We organize Women Leadership Workshops called Agrasar ( meaning Progressive or Lead ) to nurture collective leadership and ensure that the women’s voices are heard at all levels.
What would you like to tell our readers who are not aware of this scenario in the country?
Youth are the key to addressing change in this world.They have immense potential to lead and feed the world.We need to develop initiatives , programmes and policies to re-dignify the traditional knowledge held by Indian rural women and their leadership role in the family and the community.