Kuchbandiya settlement in Khamora Panchayat (Mahuwa block of Banda district) in Uttar Pradesh has lived in extremely difficult sanitation conditions for several years. Now this is beginning to change, thanks to the efforts made under the Lok Manch Fellowship Programme and the courage shown recently by the people, particularly women.
The Kuchbandiya(Dalit)is a highly marginalized community of Bundelkhand region which generally lives in those lower parts of various panchayats where conditions are more hostile. In Khamora panchayat, the Kuchbandiya settlement frequently gets inundated. Water enters the poorly constructed huts and houses of people. Three children have been drowned.Not a single toilet exists in this settlement. When the country and this district were declared ODF and the people here asked for toilets, they were asked to keep quiet. The landless people living here are also under pressure not to defecate in nearby farms. For the greater part of the year people living here have to walk 2 kms. to the available (open) defecation place.Recently under a fellowship program (Lok Manch fellowship) to help social activists to work with the poorest people, an activist belonging to Chingari Sangathan of women’s awakening named Mira helped to mobilise these communities. She set up a local unit of Chingari organisation here and they started demanding better sanitation and cleanliness in the community.
By mutual consultation it became clear that a drain is a primary need to rid the settlement of mud, slush and waterlogging conditions. When community members sent this demand on the basis of urgency to the panchayat pradhan, at first he did not care to respond. When people tried to meet him, again he did not respond.Then determined women went in a group to his house. The pradhan’s wife said, “He is not at home.”
The protesting members knew he is hiding. So they said, “We will low to ascertain for ourselves. We have been turned away for too long.”When women entered the house, the pradhan was found hiding in a corner!Caught red-handed, he tried dramatics. He told the women, “You take away all the panchayat papers. From now onwards you illiterate women run the panchayat.”
A women replied, “We have not come for this. We only want justice. We elected you as the king. A king should not run away, but give justice.”Finally, the pradhan agreed to the highly justified demand for a drain.Now there was delay from the panchayat secretary and the block office.
At each stage the women showed the same determination, the same courage. They organised peaceful protest, shouted slogans.
Finally the drain was sanctioned. This was the first victory for this extremely marginalized settlement and its people.
The next phase of the struggle was to ask for toilets. Predictably there were problems. ODF had already been declared. Officials said funds may not be available just now. But women persisted with their demand.Finally one community toilet was sanctioned. Work started, bringing more hope to people. But just then a powerful villager intervened. He falsely claimed that the land chosen for the toilet site belonged to him, thereby creating legal complications and bringing the work to a halt.People realised that this was an attempt of some powerful persons to check their newly found assertiveness. But they have no other option just now but to wait till the new complication can be resolved.
People have realized that not just land-rights but even essential sanitation rights can be snatched from the poorest people. Now they will have to plan more carefully.
Meanwhile they are going ahead with the plans to improve education and a social reform effort to reduce alcoholism. All this together has given a new hope to the community, despite all the existing problems including social discrimination and livelihood crisis faced by this marginalised, neglected community of Kuchbandiyas.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives. His recent book on survival issues and people’s response titled Planet in Peril has been published by Vitasta, Delhi.