The actual grassroots work of Swaraj in terms of selecting villages, mobilising and organising the community etc. started only during the third phase. It is very difficult to evaluate a programme that is about 30-32 months old more so because it is a process oriented and participatory approach. However, even during this short period one can see many positive features and outcomes that are very impressive.
q Swaraj’s guiding philosophy is the Gandhian thought and ideology. However, without being blinded by the ideology, Swaraj has made it socially relevant to the present context. This has made them a more open and transparent forum.
q The formation of state units (7) and campaigns (8) itself has been a huge task. A majority of the state units and campaigns are well established with organisational structures and systems in place.
q Swaraj has established an identity in the community and partners within this short period. The networking strategy has helped in bringing together a large number of NGOs, social action groups, and people’s movements on a common platform to address issues.
q Swaraj team comprising of fellows has become a more cohesive group. Capacities of the fellows have been enhanced through the PSP process. The commitment and motivation levels of the fellows continue to be very high despite many constraints. The fellows play multiple roles as facilitators, development workers, organisers, catalysts, volunteers, motivators etc.
q The fellows have gained acceptance and become part of the local community. This has been relatively easy as many of them belong to the same region and culture. At the same time, the fellows are respected and looked upon as a friend who is part of the people’s struggle.
q Swaraj has promoted a culture that is humane, non-hierarchical and equitous. It has provided opportunities women as well as for people from all religions, castes and communities to be part of the process. This is reflected both within the organisation and in the villages.
q Women fellows constitute 44% of the total staff of Swaraj. By all standards, this is a tremendous achievement considering the nature of work. Swaraj has also developed a ‘pro-women bias’ and is committed to ensuring equal representation and participation (both in terms of quality and quantity) of women at all levels. While there are practical difficulties in recruiting and retaining women what is refreshing is the commitment for gender equality among most of them.
q The PSP process from which the state, campaign and national VMRSP has been derived is relevant in the present context. The in-depth analysis of the macro and micro level issues and its impact on the social, political, economic and cultural spheres has helped in formulating strategies that are more realistic and practical.
q At the community level too, there are many encouraging experiences. The focus of Swaraj has been on the poorest of the poor. In many places, people’s movements (sangathans) have been formed and strengthened. Leadership is gradually emerging from the community in many places.
q The community is enabled to think, analyse and resolve issues. There is more confidence and willingness to pool and contribute their own resources to solve problems instead of waiting for ‘external’ help. The strategy of focusing on the community’s strengths and opportunities instead of weaknesses has greatly helped in the confidence building exercise.
q The contribution from the community in the form of time, labour, food, money etc. in all Swaraj activities and programmes is a strong indicator of the trust and faith in the concept of Swaraj. As stated in earlier chapters, the contribution from the community averages at around 60% and in many village level programmes 100%. It would not be incorrect to say that if the community contribution had not been forthcoming, Swaraj programme would have been severely affected.
q Women’s involvement and participation is quite high in the programmes. This was clearly seen during the village visits undertaken during the evaluation. Even in the most tradition bound societies, women came forward and joined in discussions. In a state like Jharkhand where the society is highly feudal, women sat along with men for hours and interacted on various issues. The members of the SHG groups that have been promoted in almost all the Swaraj villages are articulate and are proactive in addressing village issues. Many SHGs are actively campaigning against alcoholism, taking action against teachers who are irregular, motivating parents to send their children to school etc. In many places they are also active members of forest protection committees. Many of them are also taking part in PRIs and some of them have even become panchayat members. Women have become more mobile and visit banks, district government offices on their own. At many places, besides savings, small income generation programmes have been initiated. In Kerala, the SHG federation is into social marketing of essential goods.
q The youth in the villages are a major support in most of the programmes. Many youth groups have been formed and during interactions with them it was heartening to observe that many of them strongly feel the need to improve the situation of the villages.
q In the river basins, the community has developed a sense of ownership on the rivers, natural resources etc. The need to conserve and protect natural resources- be it water, forests has motivated them to come together and form people’s movements. The increasing awareness on environmental degradation and pollution has motivated the community to file cases in courts (PILs).
q The strengthening of gram sabhas and gram kosh in many villages has brought a sense of oneness among the community and is motivating them for collective action.
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