Swaraj Overview

SWARAJ Forum was initiated in November 1996 by Peaceful Society and like-minded groups and individuals to work towards a Society based on Gandhian principles. The manifestation of globalisation and fundamentalisation led to emergence of such formation.


The formation phase of SWARAJ is from December 1996 to June 1997. A three-day consultation on growing fundamentalism and the adverse impact of globalisation was organised by Peaceful Society and INSAF (a social action group based in Mumbai) in November 1996. The aim was to bring solidarity and provide a common platform for like- minded individuals, voluntary organisations, social action groups and people’s movements who have deep convictions in Gandhian philosophy. 22 Gandhian groups from the states of Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat took part in the consultation. The consultation finally culminated in the birth of a new process of bringing Gandhian forces together in the name of Swaraj with the sole aim to explore and evolve new alternatives to the challenges faced by the country.

The word Swaraj is a sacred word, a vedic word, meaning self-restraint and self-rule and freedom from all restraints.

The national consultation urged the holding of similar processes in Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu. During the 2-½ year period (from November 1996 to mid-1999) seven state chapters of Swaraj were formed. After a process of dialogue, discussions and orientation, 223 voluntary organisations, people’s movements and social action groups became associates of Swaraj in seven states, which included in them NGOs, social action groups, voluntary organisations and peoples’ movements. Peaceful Society conceived this process as its national programme.

Following issues surfaced from the various consultations, which were organised during the formation phase;


1.       Caste conflicts

2.       Child Labour

3.       Communalism.

4.       Deterioration of moral values.

5.       Exploitation in tribal belt

6.       Fundamentalism (religious)

7.       Grabbing of land belonging to tribal.

8.       People’s rights over Land, Water & forest resources

9.       Problems of Nomad tribes and their rehabilitation and legal rights,

10.   Problems related to fisher folk

11.   Prostitution

12.   Protection and rehabilitation of sex workers.

13.   Shelter

14.   Social justice and human rights

15.   Social relations are completely at halt in the Sone region.

16.   Socio-economic and health problems of migrated men labourers

17.   Violence

18.   Widespread violence and dehumanisation.


19.   Communal riots affected children and widows.

20.   Divorced women (mostly in Muslim community)

21.   Gender inequalities

22.   Killing of girl child

23.   Lack of sanitation especially for women

24.   Socio-economic problems of women


25.   Destruction of cottage industries

26.   Destruction of traditional agricultural practices

27.   Deteriorating condition of weavers (most of them are Muslim)

28.   Heavy debt of the banks on marginal farmers,

29.   Lack of adequate wages

30.   Mass poverty and starvation

31.   Migration of labour plight to urban

32.   Poverty.

33.   Unemployment


34.   Indigenous seeds

35.   Lack of irrigation

36.   Poor farming and problem of livelihood.


37.   Illiteracy especially among the women

38.   Lack of educational facility


39.   Alcoholism and addictions

40.   Collapse of public health care system

41.   Health problems

42.   Infanticides

43.   Infertility

44.   Mal- nutrition

45.   New diseases such as black fever


46.   Cultural and resource crisis because of promotion of tourism.

47.   Loss of traditional practices and livelihood.


48.   Non-implementation of Land Reform Act

49.   Non-implementation of the Panchayat Raj Act.

50.   Panchayat Raj

51.   Political instability.

52.   Tribal Self Government


53.   Big dams and its impact on environment

54.   Damning of rivers.

55.   Destruction of Gir forest for tourism.

56.   Displacement

57.   Floods

58.   Rise in river’s bed,

59.   Rise of desert areas


60.   Deforestation

61.   Deforestation due to increase in the consumption of forest product

62.   Depletion of biodiversity and lives stock

63.   Destruction of common land – grazing land.

64.   Destruction of horticulture

65.   Destruction of natural forest.

66.   Destruction of vegetation

67.   Destruction water management

68.   Drought

69.   Drought prone area increasing

70.   Drying up of water resources.

71.   In discriminatory mining even in so-called protected areas such as wild life sanctuary.

72.   Increase in poisonous grass

73.   Landslides and soil erosion.

74.   Mining

75.   Non-timber forest produce

76.   Polluted and contaminated drinking water

77.   Pollution,

78.   Population of Mahadeo tribes is decreasing at alarming rate.

79.   River pollution

80.   Rivers pollution due to industrialization and rampant development.

81.   Starvation

82.   Widespread pollution due to industrialization


83.   Conversion of agricultural land to cater the demands of urbanisation and industrialization.

84.      Destroyed hills due to urbanisation and new developmental projects such as Konkan Rly etc.,

85.   Grabbing land by big companies, especially of common lands.

86.   Grabbing Land specially belonging to tribal and poor communities by the private companies, multinationals, NRIs.

87.   Market economy affecting life style and rural economy.

88.   World Bank and its policy

89.   Globalisation and its impacts in rural economy

90.   Multinational Companies and their trade network

91.   Promotion of tourism under new economic policy.

92.   Salt issue – banning sale of traditional salt and imposition of iodised salt.

93.   Village & Cottage industries are affected due to Globalisation


The training on PSP process and the actual implementation of PSP at the village/ community level took more than two years. It is an ongoing process. The structure Swaraj and the vision, mission, role, strategy and programme (VMRSP) were evolved based on the outcome of the PSP. The states and the consortiums developed their VMRSP after compiling and consolidating the PSP outcomes from their regions. The data on PSP from various state units were collected and copiled. The national Strategic plan (NSP) was evolved out of the state and campaigns. Thus the entire process has been a truly participatory and bottom up approach.  Four main strategic thrust areas common to all the regions emerged during the first national workshop (July 1999). Programmes and activities are planned by the states keeping the local context in view.

–        Work towards establishing self- rule (gram swaraj) to re-establish the rights of adivasisdalits, women and other marginalized sections of the community on common property resources; sustainable development through gram sabha.

–        Bring in social transformation by striving for gender equality, restoring cultural heritage and working against fundamentalism, alcoholism.

–         Support and strengthen people’s movements (sangthan) to face the challenges of new economic policy, World Bank, IMF, WTO, TNCs etc.

–        Capacity building of fellows, facilitators and associates of Swaraj.

Within a short period of 30 – 32 months, Swaraj has been able to carve an identity and create impacts. The present internal evaluation focuses on the achievements, concerns and future strategies.


Participatory Strategic Planning (PSP)


Soon after its inception, Swaraj was in need of an alternative process, which could help in an effective realisation of peoples’ aspirations through self-rule. It was also felt that grassroots organisations and the communities should become aware of the linkages between the policies laws etc. formulated at the international, national, state level and their impact on the lives of the community at the local level (macro and micro contexts). Swaraj forum was in need of a process that would be inclusive and ensure collective, co-operative and participatory efforts in decision-making processes, in planning, monitoring and formulation of the action programmes to achieve the objectives.

In the wake of the above situation, Dr. Badal Sen Gupta a noted social scientist and South Asia consultant to EED gave an introduction to Participatory Strategic Planning (PSP) that had characteristics which could ensure peoples’ participation and their empowerment too.

PSP is a capacity building process, both at the organisational level and the community level for peoples’ empowerment. Swaraj decided to adopt PSP both at organisational level and peoples’ level. PSP has now become a part and parcel of Swaraj’s endeavour. A series of programmes on PSP between August 1997 to July 1999 at the national level, the state levels, organisational levels and the actual implementation of PSP at village/community levels has enabled Swaraj to evolve common vision and mission and chalk out a strategic plan for Swaraj.

A total of 1624 villages were covered under the concept of Swaraj and Participatory Strategic Planning (PSP). The documentation of PSP process was also completed and approved in the state conventions of Swaraj in five states. This process has identified some strategic thrusts and programmes to be undertaken with specific strategies and methodology emerging from the process. It has been successful in setting-up networks onPanchayati Raj (village self-governance) and strengthening of people’s movement in river valleys/basins, through the establishment of Indian Rivers Network.

These were compiled at the national level by the state coordinators and other important activists. The following are the thrust areas in order of priority based on the PSP.

Ø      Advocacy – human rights, environment protection

Ø      Capacitation

Ø      Gender equality and empowerment

Ø      Solving unemployment (in the context of Globalisation)

Ø      Literacy


It is quite evident that PSP has been an enabling process at all levels and has had a major impact on the work culture of Swaraj. All of them were appreciative and spoke highly about the process. Within the Swaraj team, many have had exposure to other participatory processes such as PRA but they felt that PSP was a unique process that has relevance both at the personal and organisational level. The following are some of the remarks/ statements made by fellows and associates based on their experience with the process.

–        PSP has brought in lot of clarity and has helped in planning and addressing issues in any field be it relief or development work.

–        It enables all concerned in in-depth and critical analysis of issues. Helps in identifying the root cause of any issue or problem.

–        It helps in determining and redefining values.

–        ‘We have used the PSP process to rework on our vision and mission. It is now more oriented to the present development context and people- centric’ remarked a state coordinator referring to his own organisation.

–        It has helped in building a strong bond between the community and Swaraj.

–        It is an ongoing and continuous process.  It is easily adaptable to the local/ rural situation. ‘We use the popular local media such as songs, plays, theatre to explain the process’. Most of us have also translated and prepared PSP document in our own language.

–        It is an empowering tool. People in the villages have been able to identify issues, prioritise them, and plan interventions and strategies.

–        ‘It is a very flexible approach and has enabled us to identify emerging issues/ challenges and include them in our planning process. In Jharkhand for instance ethnic conflict (among various adivasi sects) was unheard of till recently. However, this has emerged as a serious issue in recent times. We have incorporated this as one of our thrust areas’.

–        It is an inclusive process and is particularly suited for the voices of the most oppressed to emerge; be it dalitsadivasis or women.

–        In this process, women have readily come forward and participated. It provides space for women.

–        It gives power to the people in planning, monitoring and decision-making.

–        It is an ideal tool for self-analysis.

–        It is a holistic approach, helps in reflecting on the past, understand the present and plan for future.

–        Helps in reducing ‘gaps’ and provides scope for the community and organisation to work together.

–        Provides clarity on individual’s role.

–        ‘PSP is the backbone of Swaraj’.

–        PSP fits in perfectly with the value based Gandhian ideology of Swaraj.


There were a few who felt that at times some of the complicated jargon was difficult to translate and adapt to local situation and dialect. They felt that some of these need to be simplified. While a large number of women and men from the community have been trained as facilitators in the process, due to paucity of funds refresher courses have not taken place as expected. The implementation of actual PSP in many villages and follow up is yet to happen. These are areas of concern that need immediate attention.

People Empowerment & Sustainable Development (PE & SD) Phase:

The 23 months long and rigorous PS phase provided common documents to work unitedly. The mandate of the document was for 10 years. The PSP created a beginning for the formation of a forum and ‘workology’ (working relation in between organisational structure, vision and people) from bottom to top and vice versa. An inspiring emergence was witnessed at district level consultations, consortiums and state level conferences and also at national conference organised at Gram Vikas, Berhampur. A sun of change was seen rising. The fragrance of hope for better / humane society was smelled there. The culture of participation and partnership was at rise. The PSP phase build the basis for possible and desirable change in the society and therefore defined the role of the change actors.

The PE & SD phase-I, which is also known as post PSP phase I begin with enthusiasm at one side and suffocation about role and partnership at the other side. It seems that neither the executor of PSP process or its introducer were clear about overall emergence and their role thereafter. This resulted into suffocation about better role to reap the better yield. The insufficient funds for post PSP phase and lack of ability to forecast about such insufficiency had adverse effect on post PSP performance. The Forum’s dependence   on one organisation and one person resulted in squeezing the possibility of post PSP harvesting. Nevertheless, the leadership from top to bottom did not bow down before sudden severe insufficiency of funds and faced the post PSP scenario with right spirit. They showed tremendous courage to carry the mandate of Berhampur conference.

The first phase of PE & SD project from November 1999 to October 2003 not only succeeded in maintaining its existence in 7 states, but also developed visible roots in 340 villages through fellowship programme. Ms. Hemalata Subramanyam who was entrusted by the EED / EZE and Peaceful Society to evaluate, found following progress;

q       EED has been supporting the Swaraj initiative since its inception. Besides extending financial support, the most noteworthy contribution of EED has been the introduction of Participatory Strategic Planning (PSP) through its former Head of Consultancy Desk, Dr. Badal Sen Gupta.

q       A short-term project proposal was submitted to EED (EZE), Bonn in December 1996 to strengthen the newly born Swaraj initiative. During the second phase July 1997- October 1999, the PSP process was introduced at various levels. Phase III proposal was submitted as ‘People’s Empowerment and Sustainable Development’ (PE&SD) project to EED, based on the outcome of the PSP processes. The proposal began from 1st Nov. 1999 for 3 years.

q        The training on PSP process and the actual implementation of PSP at the village/ community level took more than two years. It is an ongoing process. The structure of Swaraj and the vision, mission, role, strategy and programme (VMRSP) were evolved based on the outcome of the PSP. The states and the consortiums developed their VMRSP after compiling and consolidating the PSP outcomes from their regions. The national Strategic plan (NSP) was evolved out of the state and campaigns. The entire process has been a truly participatory and bottom up approach.

q       The constituency of Swaraj includes eight states (Goa in a small way) and eight campaigns including the Western India Forum for Panchayat Raj (WIFPR) and the various consortiums under the Indian River Network (IRN). The work is spread over 17 districts and covers a population of about 10 million.

q       All the members who work in Swaraj are referred to as Fellows or Karyakartas.   A total of 72 fellows are associated with Swaraj programmes at the national, states and various campaigns.

q       Although Swaraj has as yet no stated policy on gender, the gender profile of the fellows reveals the presence of a large number of women. At present there are 32 women fellows (44%). At the community level, Swaraj has already ensured 50% representation of women in various committees and at the level of volunteers in most places. However, the recruitment and retention of women is a challenge.

q       Women’s involvement and participation is quite high in the programmes. 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.

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.

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. The contribution from the community averages at around 60% and in many village level programmes 100%.

q       A unique feature of Swaraj is the thrust given to promote volunteers at the community level. Besides on male and one female volunteer at the village level, the various committee members are also volunteers.

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 has promoted a culture that is humane, non-hierarchical and equitous. It has provided opportunities for 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       The constituency of Swaraj is quite large and requires substantial resources (both human and financial). Swaraj is working under tremendous resource crunch. The number of fellows is grossly inadequate to meet the programme needs. This has major implications for the future.


PE & SD Phase II was an extension of first phase. The EED did exhibit participatory culture while processing and finalising the proposal for this II phase. They not only agreed about the insufficiency of funds allotted for earlier phase I, but enhanced the funds for phase II and showed readiness to develop a consortium of supporting organisations in Europe so that needed resources could be channelised. Besides the enhancement of funds, the head of South & Middle Asia Desk and its head of monitoring dept. spent 3 days with the main team of SWARAJ and executive committee of Peaceful Society.

The phase II started on Nov. 1st, 2002 as continuation of earlier phase for 3 years. It began with selection of fellows, their 10 days training and training of state and consortium level coordinators. Old and new fellow continued their work in respective 5 villages and strengthening various structures of SWARAJ in their area. The capacity building programme (CBP), which was neither part of formal project of, phase-I or II was also taken up again with the sole view to enhance the ideological and analytical base of its constituents. However, continuation of CBP becomes a financial suffocation due to which it was not multiplied at various level.