The Optimist Citizen

How a couple is changing lives in tribal hamlets of Maharashtra using forgotten government schemes

Jan Kalyan Sansthan: A rights-based movement that is educating and empowering people belonging from diverse tribal hamlets on government schemes and policies

“We don’t want any money. We just want your trust,” a resolute Bhagwan Ram Sawant would say to tribals living in the hinterland of Maharashtra, in an attempt to work with and for them. His work came from the limitless empathy he harboured for tribals, his brethren. A community whose faith he wanted to win to embark a mission he wanted fulfill via Jan Kalyan Sansthan

Bhagwan Ram Sawant was born in a tribal family living in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. While growing up, he was highly influenced by the teachings of his mother who always encouraged him to work for his people. The words of his mother helped him visualise with clarity, the problems that persisted and often marred the lives of the people in his community. “Tribals in this region typically work as brick workers. They work for only 8 months, on a daily wage basis, and stay at home without an income for 4 months due to an elongated monsoon in the region. Wet-muddy floors, water percolating incessantly through the roof; life was difficult in a period like this, without any money. To add on to the heap of problems, the vice of irrelevant spending on alcohol was persistent. A tribal couple earns around 300 rupees a day, eats for 200 and spends the remaining 100 in liquor and other vices. They are ready to work or 7 days a week, but do not understand the concept of saving”, narrates Bhagwan Ram, giving a bird’s eye view to the predicament.

Bhagwan worked with some NGOs for 9 years and saw the distressing scenario in his community. He was sure of the fact that he had a responsibility to help members of his community understand the financial and physical distress and bring local solutions for it. Now, his search brought him to a solution that is often ignored under the rubble of propaganda and speeches – The government. “Tribals are unaware of what all that the government has made already available to them. Besides, they do not know exactly what to do and where to go. Most don’t have a formal education and think it to be a waste of time standing in a queue for a ‘supposed’ remuneration. Instead, they think they can work an extra day to earn more. The thought might seem right in the short-term, but forgoes bigger opportunities for the long-term”, says Bhagwan Ram.

He soon realized that all he had to do for his people was to bridge the gap between their understanding of various government provisions and is relentlessly working for over 10 years to achieve the same. To translate this idea into reality he established his own organization – Jan Kalyan Sansthan. The singular vision of the organisation is to work in the tribal hamlets and empower tribal to acquire entitlements – what is rightfully theirs.

Poonam Agaj joined an NGO right after her schooling and attained a formal training of working in tribal areas. Bhagwan and Poonam soon tied the knot and now they work hand in hand for the betterment of their people, to make them avail several government schemes, and educate them with several policies changes implemented for their betterment.

However, their journey has been extremely challenging as ignorance and lack of trust posed a major threat. “The government gives Rupees 1.25 Lacs to the Adivasis (tribals) to build an 18 x 24 feet house and the only thing required to claim this, is a certificate of being an Adivasi. Besides, there are many schemes for the women and the widows in particular who can avail the benefit and lead a better life. I just had to get their relevant documents and submit it at the right place. But it was not at all easy because there was a huge trust issue.”, points out Bhagwan.

Poonam and Bhagwan went from door to door to talk to people, understanding problems of tribals, and presenting the institutional schemes as solutions. “We don’t want any money and we just want your trust,” they told them. Eventually, with great efforts, two individuals agreed to seek their assistance and received their entitlements. This led to building faith with the others in the community.

“I was pregnant and still climbed hills and walked miles each day to meet people, tell them about the benefits that they can reap from government programs. This ignited trust in the hearts of the people,” mentions Poonam. Having faced their share of struggle, gradually the organization’s work took the pace and they are now reaching people in a more defined and structured way. The couple has trained and developed several youth mandals comprising of educated youth from the same community that walk in their footsteps. Moreover, the organization is now involved in several community-based activities including various festive celebrations and several workshops.

Image from the Youth Mandals conducted by Jan Kalyan Sansthan
The Youth Mandals created a learning space for the youth to take insights from the experience of the couple

Jan Kalyan Sansthan work has made considerable impact in many lives. Recalling one life-changing experience, Poonam and Bhagwan told us about a 45-year-old woman whose husband had died due to excessive drinking; leaving her with a debt of Rupees 14 thousand. Jan Kalyan Sansthan stepped in to help this lady in not just to paying off her debt but also in establishing her own small vegetable stall to earn a living for her and her child. The assistance came in by using appropriate knowledge of various government schemes.

The work of the duo also helped them become a part of a yearlong learning and leadership programme, called Changelooms. Designed and implemented by Delhi based organisations Pravah and Commutiny – The Youth Collective and supported by Oracle, Changelooms supports early stage social entrepreneurs. Bhagwan and Poonam were overwhelmed with the support they acquired during the 7-day training program. “Our trainers in Pravah worked with us on the field and guided us in every single step. We couldn’t speak English but they ensured that we understood everything well, making us comfortable every step of the way. They taught us to get involved in the lives of the people, understand their problems and be a part of it, so as to develop that required faith – a major understanding and requirement of our work”, says Bhagwan.

Recently, Jan Kalyan Sansthan conducted an Aarogya Shivir recently with 15 doctors that benefitted some 450 people included routine and exhaustive check-ups. “We are involving as many young volunteers with us as possible who can carry forward our activities for the betterment of the tribal community in the future and make them constantly aware of their rights,” says Bhagwan.

Bhagwan and Poonam are determined to extend a better life to their people through their persistent efforts and with the unmistakable stamp of humility. Their humility has helped them built trust in their community and with government officials as well. We sincerely hope that this transcends to create impact in many lives in the coming years.

If you would like to get an insight into their work, understand tribal issues first-hand or wish to  support Jan Kalyan Sansthan in any form, please contact them here.

You can also know more about the work of Pravah and their Changelooms program in promoting and fostering social entrepreneurs here.


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