Tour

Millet for all

We left Potnal yesterday morning, visited an NGO en route and reached Kadiri at 8 pm.   Dinesh met us near the bus stop on his motorcycle and we followed him to his home, with a brief stop at Earth 360, the millet processing factory that he set up, which we were pleased to hear, was doing well.  Involved in every step of promoting millets, linking farmers and consumers, the company had grown and was breaking even while upholding the values with which it began 5 years ago, holistic health for people and planet through sustainable agriculture rooted in diverse, local, whole grains (also called coarse grains).  In brief: millets for all, health for all.   Continue reading

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Notes

Breaking away from an oppressive tradition: Devidasi Vedhike

Professor Rajendra from Bangalore, who introduced us to the work of Dalit activists working to eradicate manual scavenging and obtain rights for safai karmacharis, told us about an organization working for the rights of women who were sexually exploited through the traditional practice of devidasi, or “dedication” of young women to a temple.  The majority of devidai women come from the Madiga subcaste, one of the most oppressed among the Dalit community.  We met some of the people involved in the Devadasi Vedhike, or Devadasi Resource Center (DRC), which works to raise issues that the devadasi community faces, and help children of the community access education and job opportunities that will allow them to break away from this oppressive tradition.
Our conversation lasted a couple of hours and by the end we had more questions than answers.   The levels of patriarchy and oppression are deep and multilayered.  For now I am only noting the people we met, as we stay in touch with this group perhaps we will understand more about the methods of the Vedhike and whether they are effective.

Continue reading

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Tour

Jewelry without hazardous working conditions

Chiguru Enterprises, Potnal

To support themselves and the organization, women of Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan started making terra cotta jewelry and home decor and selling it in local colleges and exhibitions.  This contributes to the self-sufficiency of the organization and key activists.

When villagers are displaced and wars are fought over gold, diamonds and other precious metals and gems, the world needs to appreciate the peaceful beauty of handcrafted terra cotta goods. Chiguru has been a regular supplier to AID tables and the products are quite popular and help connect conscientious consumers to eco-friendly, fair-trade products.

Proceeds from sale of terra cotta ornaments handcrafted by the women of Chiguru Enterprises supports the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective working in Potnal, Raichur District, Karnataka.

Edited to add: In July 2016 The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) released a study on jewellery and gems, noting that the those in the industry suffered under “inadequate working conditions and limited compliance with health and safety standards.”  Detailing some of the hazardous working conditions jewelry and gem workers face, ASSOCHAM noted that “Excessive and prolonged exposure to lethal chemicals and gases can lead to ailments like lung tissue damage, kidney damage and lung cancer.”

Read:  Avg. salary in gems & jewellery sector lowest across manufacturing sector: Study (accessed February 2017 from ASSOCHAM website)

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Questions

“How would they know?” Dalit women talk about caste discrimination (part 1)

While having lunch with some of the Sanchalakis (coordinators) and karyakarthas (activists) of the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatana, a Dalit women’s collective in Potnal.  We mentioned that while coming on the bus from Raichur station, we passed a number of elaborate temples.

Were these temples open to all?  We wondered aloud.

Yes, yes, they said.  Anyone can go there.  The temples don’t ban anyone.

“So you can enter any temple, if you wish?” we asked pointedly.  Mariamma replied that she was not very familiar with the rules of the temples.   Narsamma said, “other than in our own village, we can enter any temple.”

“And in your own village?”  we wanted to know.

“In our own village we can come to the steps of the temple but not inside the temple.”

“What will happen if you go inside?”

She laughed and said, “People will say, look at these people, they think they are so great they are brazenly going inside the temple.”

They said this so matter-of-factly that I felt I had to explain why we were asking particularly about this.   “When we talk about Dalits being denied entry into temples, many people don’t believe that it still happens today,” I said.

“How would they know?”  Narsamma asked me.  “We are stopped at the steps, so we know.  They are not, so they don’t see it.”


These Dalit women had begun organizing 15 years ago, a story they have told often and recently documented in a photo essay and video.  They united and gained the courage to speak up at panchayat meetings, to demand rations and anganwadi services, housing loans and access to other government services.  They were kind enough to share their stories again when we went to meet them.

[To be Continued]

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