Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ration Cards

Passports to entitlements!!!

Ration card is made out to be an all important document for the citizen of India, they also serve as an important document to establish identity of the person or family. Basically this document is a tool basis which a family can access the benefits of Public Distribution System in India. The Antyoday and Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards enable families to buy food grains, kerosene, sugar etc at subsidized price. In nutshell it is a document which provided food security to the poorest of the  poor. However, rampant corruption and requirement of series of other documents in acquiring this document has not permitted marginalized nomadic and de-notified communities to acquire Ration Cards.

Consequent to our continuous lobbying some policy amendments have been made by the concerned authorities in the issuance guidelines which is making it feasible for these communities to acquire Antyoday and BPL ration cards.
The pictures talk of nothing but the abject poverty in which these families survive and yet it has taken them 6-8  months to acquire Ration Cards.
Hakanbhai and Sujaben Meer are from Deodar in Banaskatha.  Their traditional occupation has been begging. But age has taken its toll and the couple no longer can walk the distance required to go to work. They have two daughters whom they do not send to work because of safety issues. The daughters go for work only if they have a trustworthy company.
The efforts of VSSM has made it possible for these family to secure documents like Voter's ID card, Ration Card, Adhar UID, inclusion of names in BPL list. The couple also receives Rs. 800 in pension under the Vayvandana Scheme.

Pasabhai and Bhagiben Saraniyaa are from Deesa. The couple has three sons. The family has been leading a nomadic life for decades now. Their traditional occupation of sharpening knives and tools has kept them on the move all these years. Most of all these has adversely impacted their sons prospects of receiving education. 

The collective efforts of VSSM and Pasabhai have helped them secure all the essential citizenry documents, inclusion of their name in BPL list and a residential lot to build a home. Lately the family has also received Rs. 45,000 from the government for the construction of a house. The family now dreams of having a permanent address. The youngest son has been able to go to school and excels in his class.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Dhaniyawada settlement... Inching towards Utopia…

Vast open fields dotted with patches of lush greenery, trees swaying in summer breeze, cluster of newly constructed houses amidst the arid fields, wide streets separating rows of these houses, their colorful facades, street lights, water taps at their door step, temple of community deity, a Balghar that keeps the children occupied through the day.  This is not a dream but a reality that 22 families of Nath-Vadee community are living.  They had never in their wildest of dreams imagined living this lifestyle. Tarpaulin sheets supported by bamboo sticks, suffering a continuous onslaught of abuse and stigma, children refused admission in the village school, a life of complete deprivation is what they lived till now.  

22 Nath-Vadee and Vaas-Vadee families have been staying in the outskirts of Dhaniyawada village of Banaskatha's Dantiwada block. VSSM's initial contact with these families was in 2007. These families than had no identity proofs or other documents to prove their existence. Absence of such documents is an established norm with the Nomadic and De-notified communities. The initial efforts focused on getting the required identity proofs like Voter's ID cards and Ration cards.  There were almost 46 children of school going age who, just loitered around or helped their families earn living.  These children accompanied their parents and begged with them. The frequent efforts by the community and VSSM to enroll these children in Dhaniyawada government school were resisted by the village communities and teachers.  VSSM initiated a school for these children in the settlement.

The village of Dhaniyawada resisted the settling down of these community near their village hence hindered the effort that VSSM undertook be it getting the voter's ID card or APL card, plots for residence, inclusion of names in BPL list, mainstreaming the children in school etc. The village honchos challenged each and every move VSSM undertook for the benefit these Nath Vadee families, making the realization of their basic rights and entitlements an absolute uphill task.  It took 4 years of untiring efforts to get residential plots allotted. To receive funds for construction of houses the family required to feature in the BPL list. Ironically, in spite of reeling under absolute poverty the names of these families could only get their names included in the BPL list after mammoth efforts. The community received generous contributions for the construction of homes during the Ram-Katha by Res. Shri. Morari Bapu.  The contributions facilitated construction of homes for 22 families.  Roads, power, streetlights and water facilities followed. From a desolate place to a beautiful neighborhood the Nath Vadee settlement of Dhaniyawada has come a long way. It has taken almost 6 years to realize this possibility.

Recently, the children have also started getting transport facility to reach the school that is 3 kms away. 61 children from the settlement otherwise had to walk that distance daily. After relentless efforts and letters to higher authorities including the Chief Minister of Gujarat these children now have facility to make their commute easy. These children now do not wander with their parents instead some elders stay back in the settlement and take care of all the children so that they can continue with their schooling. Such shift in the mindset of the community reflects their desire to embrace change.

As Ramesh Nath, a community leader from the settlement reminisces  'what life we led till now, our lifestyle was like that of wild animals who survive in forests!! No house, no bathing, no changing of clothes, surviving without food, absolutely no importance to education and hygiene. This is how life was earlier but VSSM taught us to live like humans. We have heard people tell us why do you all need land for building houses, do Vadee's stay in houses?? It pains us when we hear other communities taunt us saying now even the beggars have pucca houses. None of our earlier generations have ever stayed in a pucca house, even our distant relatives who visit us from parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan remain awestruck when they see our settlement. For them ours is the best settlement, 'Settlement Number One' is what they call our neighborhood.'
It has taken us almost 7 years to reach this benchmark. We have been able to accomplish all that we had planned for this settlement: starting with identity proofs, residential plots, building houses, children in school. All that remains is creating alternate livelihood opportunities for these families to pull them out of cycle of migration and begging.

60,000 individuals receive Voter's ID Cards
4,000 families acquire Ration Cards
1,000 families receive residential plots
209 families supported to build houses
23 new permanent settlements created