The story so far…
The Mushahars belong to “adivasi” groups (indigenous peoples) of India but they are also amongst the most discriminated against (during the colonial period they were called “criminal tribe”). They have lived for centuries in sub-human conditions, segregated, always at the outskirts of large villages in the rural areas of North India (especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). These are landless families, whose members often work as agricultural labourers for few rupees or for a handful of rice and dhal. Their abject poverty and their isolation make their access to basic services (schools and health centres) nearly inexistent. Their literacy rate is very low (from 2 to 6 %) and their health conditions dismal (mortality rates for children and women are much higher than that prevailing in rural India).
Read more about our projects in India:
Malwabar Mushahar Bastee School
Educational and training centre in Prerna Kendra
Environmental and Livelihoods Enhancement and Rights
Garima Kendra, Uttar Pradesh
Local Partner – SDF (Social Development Foundation)
1. Malwabar Mushahar Bastee school
During 2008, SONIA added this initiative to those that it has been supporting since several years. In 2007, a local NGO, established a school where 230 young Mushahar children receive one meal per day, a dress and a very basic education. One of SONIA’s member had, on her own, raised funds to buy a piece of land to build a very modest school, latrines and to contribute to the school’s operating costs. Later on, she asked SONIA to “adopt” this worthwhile project. The Board of SONIA accepted this offer most willingly and thus we are contributing to its future development. With the assistance of some Indian friends and the voluntary contribution of the social activists trained by the local NGO (SDF), the school has been better equipped and other activities in support of the families of the Malwabar village have been realized.
After three years, the results were impressive: in the space where children gathered in the dust, now there is a school that is also utilized as a gathering place for the activists of the social movement promoted by SDF. A collective field is cultivated by the members of the community to contribute to the school feeding programme. The health of the children and their nutritional status are monitored on a monthly basis by the teachers who have been trained accordingly. Every Saturday the children gather for a “talent camp”, where every one of them can participate in their preferred activities (sports, arts, etc).
The school has become a development centre for the entire community. Other activities aimed at the economic empowerment of the households have been initiated. Thanks to the initiatives of the social activists, the Malwabar village has been linked to the government electric grid system. This is a big achievement, in the past the justification for not connecting it to the grid system being the stigma and the prejudice according to which such communities would have never been able to pay for this service. Thanks to the electricity connection, the school will be able to project educational films and videos and to launch a computer training programme for the children and adolescents in the village.
The achievements of this initiative have attracted the interest of the media and of research centres in India and abroad.
The new objective is to make Malwabar an attraction pole for those who want to study and share an alternative itinerary for community development, which has as a starting point meeting the needs of the most vulnerable sectors – the children – to build a better future for all.
For more information visit : http://malwabarchildren.blogspot.it/
In 2011 the center was further enlarged and became a training center for rural development and a magnet for social activists who are interested in a closer look at how to tackle the complicated issues of caste, gender and efficiency of government anti-poverty schemes in rural communities and among the most marginalized and discriminated against as the Mushahars. The role of the centre as a magnet for social activists continued to increase in 2012: the centre is now used by the Mushahar for their community meetings and a large library recently created is well used, mostly by Mushahar and Dalit youth from nearby villages. Moreover, 30 young activists attended a training course and, at the end of December, the centre organized a big festival for all their social activists and the population at large. For two days meetings were held; there was also music, singing, dances and evening celebrations on the “humanist culture” promoted by the centre.
2. Educational and training centre in Prerna Kendra
At the end of 2010 SONIA started supporting a new initiative with the same partner: the construction of an educational and training centre of a community of Manual Scavengers (cleaners of pit latrines) in Fatehpur District (Uttar Pradesh). The Manual Scavengers are amongst the lowest ranking and the most discriminated against of the Dalits (untouchables). The centre offers primary education, scholarships for girls, skills training and computer courses.
For information on the work by SDF with manual scavengers visit: http://gazipursdf.blogspot.com/
Throughout 2011 and 2012 SONIA has continued to support this initiative of the Social Development Foundation by supporting the rental of the facilities and the equipment of the centre (computers, printers, sewing machines and its running costs ), besides of accommodating 100 students.
3. Environmental and Livelihoods Enhancement and Rights
In partnership with Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), a non-profit grassroots organization, this initiative successfully improved the livelihoods of poor people living in arid and semi-arid areas in Rajasthan through the revival of ancient, but currently abandoned, water harvesting methods. The initiative supported by SONIA promoted, through awareness raising campaigns and motivation, the diffusion of these techniques and related activities, where similar grassroots organisations existed and/or were emerging. Major achievements can be summarised as follows: organisation of marches of sensitisation on the need to build johad(water retention structures); construction of two johadin two large villages and establishment of village plantations; sensitisation of 200 school going children on the importance of water and forests to preserve the environment; organization of meetings of sensitisation, gathering about 1,300 people, on the issues of environmental enhancement and conservation; training of 20 traditional birth attendants; sensitisation and training of 240 rural women to exercise their rights to vote in order to influence, amongst others, local decision makers on problems they face as women.
4. Garima Kendra, Uttar Pradesh
Since 2011 SONIA, in partnership with SDF, started supporting a new initiative consisting of training women and girls of the Dalit caste ('Manual Scavengers' i.e. Latrine cleaners) who have abandoned their traditional work, in tailoring and embroidering saris in rented facilities, dubbed Garima Kendra .
To be able to reach women living in more rural areas, with SONIA's support, SDF, opened two rural training centres. When women have been properly trained, SDF moved the training centres to another location, so as to increase the outreach of the programme. A few sewing machines were left behind in these rural centres, so that women can continue to exercise their newly acquired skills. The programme had to stop in 2015 because SDF lost its licence to ontain funds from abroad During its year of operation 1,650 women and girls were trained by the centres and 135 girls benefited from computer literacy. A committee of Muslim and Manual Scavenger women was formed which will fight for the rights of these women. Their first task was that of obtaining the official status of working artisans , whici they obtained in 2018. They hope to obtain permission to receive funds from overseas.
5. Local Partner – SDF (Social Development Foundation)
SDF is a humanist organization working to provide education to eradicate superstitions and believes regarding women and vulnerable groups. Agrarian reform, with a gender sensitivity focus is one of the main areas of work of SDF, along with right to food and development of secular values amongst the groups they work with: adivasis, Dalits, women, minorities and other discriminated castes in India such as fisher folks, “scavengers” (cleaners of latrines) and women from Muslim communities.
SDF mobilizes grassroots communities and attempts to broaden the popular space of their advocacy and lobbying work. SDF has been instrumental in the creation of social movements such as the Uttar Pradesh Land Alliance and the National Land Alliance. They strive to create an alternative model of social movements which attempts to gather progressive forces that already work within their communities for social justice, human rights and restoring the dignity of marginalized groups. http://www.thesdf.org