SWARAJ – KERALA
Keram means coconut in Malaya. Kerala is, of course, the land of coconut palms. A land full of coconut palms and deep green cover has many inland waterways called the backwaters. Thus, some call it the Venice of the East. Kerala is known for the highest literacy rate in India. Besides, the male/female ratio shows that it has best ratio too.
However, despite the best ratio between the male/female population and the highest rate of female literacy, the plight of the woman in Kerala has not changed. It is on the same level as the rest of the country. Women continue to be exploited, tortured, oppressed and deserted in Kerala. Reported cases of bride killing have been on the rise. In 1997 it was 37, in 1998 it was 53 and in 1999 it was 67.
There is propaganda of Panchayat Raj and People’s Planning in Kerala. Fascinating slogans like “Empowering the People”, “Gandhian Dream Come True”, “Gram Swaraj Established” etc. appear prominently. However, ground level reality if different. The common people know little or nothing about the Panchayat Raj Structures and of the Gram Sabha. In Kerala, the Gram Sabha, the core of the Panchayat Raj Institutions, could be about 1000 families of an average village, which has a population of about 5000.
For all practical purposes this is too large a body where participatory democracy is not possible. Besides, the members are not aware of their functions, rights and duties. Local community development is difficult. Further, political party leaders and bureaucrats generally dominate the Gram Sabha; thereby the opinion of the people is suppressed. Currently, Gram Sabhas generally function as “Rubber Stamps” of policies and programmes of Political Party Leaders and Bureaucrats. The common people ask for small for small benefits here and there at the meetings of the Gram Sabhas and these too are not adequately fulfilled.
Unemployment is the most critical issue in Kerala; particularly serious is the unemployment of the vast number of educated youth. The question of unemployment has become acute because of conversion of land cultivated for foodgrains – rice – into cash crop cultivation – spices, horticulture and rubber.
And then, agricultural land is being converted into non-agricultural – for industrial use. Besides, the present educational system is inadequate, as it does not promote dignity of labour. Large numbers of educated unemployed was hankering after white-collar jobs, which were not available in such large numbers. These educated unemployed persons did not want to be employed either in the booming construction industry in the state or work in the agricultural sector from where they came. In these sectors the work was usually carried out with labour from Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh.
The Kerala Swaraj started in 1997 during the first phase of the programme. During this period, 3 regional meetings and one state level workshop were organised on – ‘Issues in the state and addressing these through Gandhian ideology’. The outcomes are published in the form of a book. During this period, youth camps were also organised in 10 districts. During the second phase, training on PSP was taken up at state, district, panchayat and community levels. 345 villages in 10 districts were covered under this process. During the current phase, the activities are focused in 8 districts. There are 7 fellows working in the state including the state coordinator and an accountant. However, only 4 districts have fellows. Although the fellows work under the 5-village concept, in most places they are covering entire panchayat, which has more than 5 villages. Save Idukki Campaign (SIC) is part of the IRN network and coordinated at the state level.
PSP Process in SJ-Kerala-
The PSP process started in Kerala with the State Level Introductory Workshop held at the Kumli Holiday Home in Iddukki District from 13th and 17th February 1998. Later, a workshop was conducted exclusively for women to get co-operation from women and to inculcate the concept of “SWARAJ” and PSP among the people. Forty-one women activists from different Mahila Samajams participated in the workshop. Seven selected persons from these workshops participated in the National Level Training for Facilitators held from 15th to 25th May 1998 and the National Level Workshop held from 27th to 30th May 1998. Four persons participated in the National PSP Refresher Course held in Goa from 25th July to 2nd August 1998. Thereafter, the State PSP Team was formed and Training Programmes were organised at district and regional levels to capacitate organisational level activists. The PSP Co-ordination Team prepared a State Action Plan. A total of 345 villages were covered. In this implementation process 44 organisations contributed substantially.
Issues Identified by SJ-Kerala-
2. Atrocities against women
3. Caste Discrimination.
4. Decline in foodgrains crops
6. Excessive use of Plastics
7. Food Scarcity
8. Gender Inequality
9. Lack of Drinking Water
11. Population Growth
– Atrocities against Women
– Community Health Problems
– Environmental Pollution
– Lack of Awareness about Gram Sabhas
- Strengthening People’s Organisation to control over the Natural resources (Land, Water, and Forest) and to work continuously towards the sustainable development through gram sabha,
- Empowerment of Women to enhance their role in organisational processes enabling them to fight against all violence, inequality, injustice, exploitation and marginalisation due to LPG and Communal Fascism.
- Education and organisation of children and youth for Social Justice, Secularism and Sustainable Development and Societal Peace.
- Promotion of eco-friendly products through market networking of village products.
- Support People’s movement to face the challenges of NEP and domain forces like WB, IMF, WTO, and TNCs.
- Enabling Capacitation of fellows, facilitators and associates of SWARAJ Kerala at different levels.
- Study, Research and documentation to understand implications and innovative experiments in various sectors.
– Campaign Against Alcoholism
– Campaign Against Corruption and Exploitation
– Campaign Against Corruption and Exploitation
– Campaign Against Dowry
– Campaign Against Monopolies of MNCs and the Influence of Media
– Capacitation and Skill Training Programme
– Conscientisation of the People for Participation in Gram Sabhas
– Conservation and Provision of Drinking Water
– Literacy Programmes on the current economic policies and legal literacy and
– Marketing Network for Rural Products
– Promotion of Labour Intensive and Eco-friendly Production units in villages
– Promotion of self-help groups
– Protection of the Environment
– Publication of News Bulletin
– Study, Research, Documentation
AREA OF OPERATION
30 villages in 12 Panchayats
INTERVENTIONS, ISSUES AND IMPACT
– The Swaraj structure from the village to the state level is well established and functioning.
– Women SHGs are formed at village level and they have been federated at panchayat level. 3 such federations are in place. Social marketing of essential goods taken up by these federations.
– Entrepreneurship development programme organised for SHG members.
– A strong network established at the state level with NGOs, Gandhian groups and others.
– Support and participation in programmes of other issue-based groups (adivasis, human rights groups, dalits, bamboo workers etc.)
– Introduction of alternate and holistic health practices in the community.
– Environmental issues addressed through tree plantation, digging rain pits, encouraging plastic free zone etc.
– Education and awareness building among children through basic education, personality development, camps etc.
– Swaraj Mitram campaign to raise funds locally has been launched in August last year. The target was to raise at least Rs. 10,000 in a year; so far Rs. 2000 has been collected.
– Quarterly news bulletin on issues and innovations/ experiments in the state published in the local language.
– PSP text published in Malayalam.
– Women are not there in the state and regional committees.
– Workloads of fellows are high and the remuneration is very meager.
– Report writing and documentation poor due to language. The report to the national office has to be sent in English.
– Party politics is a growing threat.