Solidarity, Tour

For a Just Society – Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan [photos]

Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan
Dalit Women’s Collective

Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective, formed in 1999-2000. AID has supported the group through projects, fair-trade marketing as well as solidarity to the Sanghatan in various phases. Along with AID-Bangalore volunteers Chetana, Karthik, Disha & Tamia, Ravi, Khiyali and I recently visited the women to hear their own reflections on their experiences and successes over the years, fighting oppression based on caste, gender and class, as well as ongoing challenges on all these fronts. Here are some photos from our visit with these grassroots partners. Continue reading


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


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)


Farmers’ Market

Eating is an agricultural act.   – Wendell Berry

Films like “The Story of Stuff” have made millions of people aware of the connection between what individuals consume and waste daily, to the issues of poverty and pollution globally.  At the local level, we need to translate this to specific changes people can make in food, clothing and shelter habits to meet our needs without exploiting our environment and other people.

While the mainstream media spends billions persuading us that we need to consume more and more to be happy and that simple living is dull and difficult, the Farmers’ Market serves as a place to bring producers and consumers together, to and make a socially conscious economy not only possible but also joyful.  Street musicians perform while children ramble about the park and eager photographers zoom in on birds and butterflies.

The farmers bring fresh vegetables and fruits from their fields, and several stalls sell snacks prepared from organic ingredients.  As well as art and craft stalls, a place to spin thread on a charkha, a stall to get a massage and others that come and go.

I found it a worthwhile place to display our jivika products, particularly those that are not available in most places, such as our convenient nursing kurtas, cloth menstrual pads and cloth diapers, and the veggie-bags.   All of these are designed not only for supporting products made of khadi by rural tailors, but products that make sustainable living easier for all of us.  So I usually take an EZ Cooker, which generally interests people to come and find out what it is and how it works, and a few people order them for home use.  When it is cold I try to take some khadi hoodies as well.  And the usual AID literature, CDs, calendar etc.  Apart from sales, tabling is a great opportunity to meet interesting people and particularly young people looking for volunteer work.  Because the farmers’ market is not just about buying delicious food but connecting with people who believe that we can bring about a better world.

Organic food is expensive.  But polluting the land and our bodies is even more expensive, though as a consolation the vegetables may come with a lower price tag.  I try to keep on buying organic food not only for my own sake but also in the hopes that as the farmers practicing organic agriculture get more demand, they will also increase their supply, get more economic supply chains and eventually more people will be able to afford these and farmers who grow the food will have more secure livelihoods.


Raising the standards for fair trade and livelihoods

This article  appeared in Parivartan, the AID Sanfrancisco Bay Area newsletter in December 2005.

L.S.Aravinda describes AID-India’s new plans for marketing ecoproducts and debates the issue of how to put two and two together when it comes to demand and supply.

In India today, many communities practicing traditional livelihoods such as spinning, weaving, jute and bamboo crafts, vegetable dyeing, paper making, metal work and other small-scale industries have lost some of their competitive advantage in part due to governmental policies that have allowed large industrial manufacturers to copy some of their special techniques and designs without negotiating any terms or royalties with them. Therefore, those that want to sustain a livelihood through traditional skills as well as those learning a new skill need better marketing support.

Many organizations that train people in making garments, household and gift items (such as the bag in Kalamkari style, above) have sought help from AID to get their products to the market. AID volunteers have also sold products such as greeting cards, candles, soaps, mats, frames, jewelry, pottery, and toys through stalls at meetings, conferences, neighborhood networks. From 2001-02, AID-India also ran an “Eco Shop” in the busy Grant Road area of Bombay.

This experience in marketing ecoproducts has led us to examine livelihood issues in greater depth. How can we build co-operation and reciprocity between consumers and producers? If consumers knew how the price they pay for a product is split up among all those who produce and market the product, would they be concerned to ensure that all receive a living wage? We believe so. Living wage is the simplest, most honest way to ensure livelihood and development opportunities for a large number of people who now struggle to access 2 meals a day. When parents in a family unit earn a living wage, conditions that lead to the use of child labor and seasonal migration end. And when communities have strong roots and retain access to common resources, they have the power to plan their own development based on local knowledge and priorities.

We also believe that quality as well as quantity of income makes a difference in people’s lives. For example, Chand Bibi from Srikakulam district recently learned to process and make household items from jute. Though she is not earning more than she did previously through daily wage work, she is now able to set her own hours and work from her home. Also, whilst earlier her family used to be scattered in search of work, these days they are together year round.

In Orissa, the new AID Rural Technology Resource Center works with local artisans and trains youth in various appropriate technologies and methods of production that sustain the natural resource base. This training extends beyond production into marketing products such as handmade paper, windmills etc. Our “know-your-product” labels will explain how an item–say, a Khadi Kurta–benefits the wearer, society and the planet. By keeping customers informed of the amounts earned by the tailor, the weaver, the dyer, the spinner, the farmer, the truck driver, the accountant, & the web designer, we hope to raise the standards of fair trade locally as well as globally.

This article by L.S.Aravinda emerged out of a discussion on the same topic during her recent visit to the SF Bay Area in July of 2005.