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For a 15 min video summary of the 80 day Shodh Yatra, click on


 

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Day 79 – The Yatra ends in Pochampally, Shodh continues


April 18, 2011     Pochampally, Nalgonda District, Andhra Pradesh

Based on report by Vishali Vishwanath, Communications Team, BASIX 

The last day of ‘Shodh Yatra’ was planned to culminate on April 18, 2011 in a village called Pochampally (about 45 Kms from Hyderabad) where Acharya Vinobha Bhave started the Bhoodan Movement in the year 1951.

Prayer meeting on the morning of April 18, 2011 at Pochampally

The venue was the AP rural tourism complex built next to the spot where Vinoba had come in 1951. The participants included staff, Senior Management, Board Members and well-wishers, friends and  collaborators of BASIX. The day started with a short prayer at 7:30 am followed by a few devotional songs

Hum Ko Manki Shakti Dena

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbchuCfqBls&feature=fvwrel

Vaishnav jana to taine kahiye jey pir parai janey rey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKAhRsqvZqo

Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8HBVGc7vhA&feature=related

The prayer meeting was followed by a brief introduction by Vijay Mahajan (VM) about the Bhoodan Movement led by Acharya Vinobha Bhave and its significance.  It was here at exactly this spot exactly 60 years ago that Acharya Vinoba Bhave launched the Bhoodan Movement on 18th April 1951.   VM described how it originated here.  After Independence, there was a lot of expectation of land reforms, but as that did not happen, disaffection spread among the landless. In Andhra Pradesh, armed struggle started in the Srikakulam district and spread all over northern AP. In the Nalgoda area, Pochampally vollage was a hotbed of Communist inspired violence.

Vinoba came to visit the village to underatnd the situation,  He was met bya group of landless on his way to the village and they told him that they supported the Communists because the Communists had promised to help them get land. Otherwise they found it hard to even have food to eat.  Vinoba asked them to come to his prayer meeting in the evening. There he said the landless had a justified grievance. He wondered aloud if any landlord would give part of his land to the landless so they could also live with dignity.  On hearing this, V Ramachandra Reddy, a landlord who had 1600 acres of land, said he would give part of his land to the landless. Vinoba was very touched by his gesture and asked him to think of it overnight, saying it was the beginning of a peaceful revolution.

A picture of Vinoba Bhave in the cottage in which he stayed in 1951

The next morning, Ramachandra Reddy reiterated his pledge and Vinoba then announced that this was the begionning of the Bhoodan Yagna (Land Gift Movement), for whioch he would undertake a padayatra (walking tour) of India.  He then walked without a break for fourteen years, covering over 40,000 kms and collected over 4.2 million acres of land as gift for redistribution among the landless.  This was indeed the world’s greatest  peaceful land reform movement, and a fitting tribute to Gandhi from his freomost disciple.

Vijay Mahajan (VM) describes the origin of the Bhoodan Movement

In spite of the great efforts put in by Vinoba for the Bhoodan Movement from 1951 to 1965, its practical results were disappointing.  In many cases landlords had gifted land that was under dispute, or had already been encroached.  In other cases, the land was barren and uncultivable.  In some cases, where the land was cultivable, the recipients did not have irrigation sources, plough bullocks or money for seeds and fertilisers. In many states, the Bhoodan Boards which were formed to distribute the land after a due process, had become bureaucratic or dormant, sitting on thousands of acres of donated land.

Association for Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA):

By 1969, the year of Gandhiji’s birth centenary, many Gandhians felt that something must be done to correct this situation.  In Tamilnadu the Sarvodaya Mandal  under the leadership of Gandhian leader S Jagannathan, decided to start a project for settling Bhoodan recipients on their land, by digging wells, land leveling, providing plough bullocks and seeds and fertilisers and some working capital.  The first such “Sarva Seva Fram” was set up in Sevalur village of Madurai district.  The young Gandhian worker who led the effort was S. Loganathan and the he was supported in the financially as well as conceptually by Giovanni Ermiglia, a retired professor of philosophy from San Remo, Italy.  By 1979, dozens of Sarva Seva Farms were set up all over Tamil nadu and the Bhoodan recipients saw a great improvement in their lives as a result.

Many Gandhians from other parts of the country requested Shri Jagannathan  to start Sarva Seva farms in states like Bihar, Rajastham, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.  This led to the birth of the Association for Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA), and NGO in 1979.  Giovanni helped it to raise donor funds and Loganathan ji managed to mobilise bank loans, and ASSEFA started one project each in Bihar, Rajasthan and Maharshtra.  Unfortunately, the success that was witnessed in Tamilnadu  did not get replicated in the northern states and by 1981, the projects were in doldrums.  The money was all spent and yet the work  was not completed and no benefits had accrued to the Bhoodan recipients.  They were in fact burdened with bank loans,

It was in this situation that Loganathan went in search of technical and management assistance.  When late Prof Kamla Chowdhry of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, who on retirement became a program advisor with the Ford Foundation, visited ASSEFA, she said she will try to locate some young management graduates for him, who are committed to rural development. She came back and told a young program officer at the Ford Foundation to check with late Prof Ranjit Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, for some names.  Ranjit  Gupta suggested the name of a 1981 graduate of IIMA, Vijay Mahajan.

Deep Joshi first met Vijay on January 21, 1982 and arranged a meeting between him and Lognathan in March.  The three developed a strong, warm relationship around the idea of ural development for poverty alleviation.  In August 1982, Vijay joined ASSEFA as its Manager, Technical and Management Services, and started working in the Gaya project in Bihar also acting as Bihar State Projects Coordinator.  He managed to turn it around in a year and then set up two new projects in Bihar, while recruiting young people like himself from IIMA to work with ASSEFA elsewhere. In order to attract a larger number of professionals to work in development and in NGOs beyond ASSEFA, with the help of Loganathan and TK Mathew of ASSEFA, Vijay set up  Professional Assistance for Development Action or PRADAN (which means to give in return, as against DAN, which means to give in charity).

PRADAN:

This was the NGO that VM set up in 1983 to recruit, train and deploy young professionals  in development, who were to work wth NGOs like ASSEFA and later MYRADA, Anand Niketan, Seva Mandir, etc. Aloysius Fernandes of MYRADA was PRADAN’s first Board Chairman for many years till Prof Ranjit Gupta took over in 19989.

Some well known PRADAN professionals  are Deep Joshi, who joined in 1986 and in 1988 took over as the Executive Director from VM, Deep continued in PRADAN till retirement and was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009. A batchmate fo VM from IIMA, Ved Mitra Arya (who after a few years in PRADAN, founded SRIJAN) worked in ASSEFA Maharashtra and so did Pramod Kulkarni, who later founded PRERNA and Saathi.  From the next batch of IIMA joined Vasimalai (who after many years in PRADAN, including as its third Executive Director, later founded DHAN Foundation) in Tamilnadu.  From the next batch of IIMA was Guru Charan Naik, who worked for over a decade in PRADAN  and now heads The Childrens’ Fund in Srilanka. In 1985, nwhen Vijay shifted to start  ASSEFA in Guna, Madhya Pradesh, his role as State Project Coordinator in Bihar was taken over by Achintya Ghosh, who was PRADAN’s fourth Executive Director  and  is still in PRADAN.  Sankar Datta, now the Dean of The Livelihood School was in PRADAN  from 1984 to 1988. Another IIMA graduate, Biswajit Sen, joined in 1986 and worked for several years in Uttar Pradesh along with Vinod Jain of IIT Kharagpur.  Biswajit is now Livelihoods Advisor to the World Bank while Vinod runs an NGO in UP. Also from IIT Kharagpur was Subodh Gupta, who later started Safal Solutions.   Neelima Khetan wason of the first IRMA graduates to join PRADAN  and was with it for only three years as she joined Seva Mandir, from where she has just stepped down after 25 years, including 12 as Executive Director. Girish Godbole from TISS  joined in 1985 and after working with several NGOs in Maharashtra, left after a few years  to head Save the Children, Soumen Biswas who joined PRADAN straight from IRMA in 1986continued to work in Jharkhand and is now the sixth Executive Director of PRADAN.  Stalwarts like Dinabandhu Karmakar, Narendranath, Nivedita Narayan, Anish Kumar, Madhu Khetan and Satyabrata Acharya, Anirban Ghose, among others continue in PRADAN, which is arguably one of the most effective grassroots livelihood promotion institution  for the poor in India.

PRADAN was registered on Bhoodan Day, April 18, 1983 and since then VM has made it a point to register new entities on that day. He left PRADAN in 1991 and after five years of intense study and field work decided to set up a new generation livelihood promotion institution, BASIX.  BASICS Ltd, the holding company of the BASIX Group, was also registered on April 18, in 1996.  Thus the day has a lot of personal significance for VM.

Field Visit:

BASIX has nearly 250 customers in villages around Pochampally and the local team arranged a field visit for the participants to meet the customers engaged in fisheries, and weaving activity. Pochampally is well-known for its ikkat (tie-amd-dye) weaving style and saris made here are considered of high aesthetic value.   Once people came back from the field visit, breakfast was served and for the benefit of those who could not join the VM’s Shodh Yatra, an audio visual of his journey across the states of India was presented.

The Livelihood School Foundation Day:

TLS celebrated its annual day on April 18 every year and today is the 4th annual day, founded by Dr Sankar Datta, a  long-term colleague of VM’s from PRADAN days. Lamp lighting ceremony was performed followed by a brief presentation of annual report of The School by the Assistant Dean, Ms Gouri. An e-learning module on livelihood promotion was inaugurated on the occasion.

Dr Vidya Rao of TISS, Mumbai lighting the lamp, while Dr Sankar Datta and Smt Gouri Krishna look on

Microfinance – Study on Suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Discussion:

This was followed by a presentation about the study conducted by an independent social science research team headed by Dr Davuluri Venkateswarulu, and his five colleagues. This study was a detailed investigation into suicides in AP which were allegedly caused by MFIs. The AP government had listed 87 cases and the  study covered a 50% sample,  44 cases.  The findings of the study revealed nearly 40 percent of the reported cases of suicides  had no link at all with MFIs.  But in the other cases, multiple borrowing from more than one MFI, as well as from SHGs was common.  In some cases, suicides took place after recovery visits by the borrower’s group members  either by themselves or with the MFI staff.   This report is yet to be finalised and will shortly be made available in public domain .

Dr Davuluri presenting the highlights of his study

Eminent persons who know the microfinance  sector were invited to speak about their experiences on the subject –

Mr CS Reddy, APMAS talked about what SHG leaders thought of MFIs

Mr C S Reddy, CEO of APMAS, To view please click on link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCFle83ELTs,

Mr Girish Godbole, documentary film maker spoke of what he saw in 2009

Mr Girish Godbole, an independent documentary film maker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPnJYKR6KXU

Mr PD Rai, MP, spoke about what political leaders think of MFIs

Mr P D Rai, Member of Parliament, Sikkim  spoke about the political leaders’ view about the sector. Please click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4e6nOZsL5Hk

Mr Vijay Mahajan, Chairman of BASIX, President of MFIN, and Chairman of Executive Committee of CGAP addressed the question of why he is defending MFIs. To view, please click on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YQHbkuJ7fA.

At his suggestion, a minute’s silence was observed to sympathise with the families where suicides had happened.  Mr Vijay Mahajan also said that MFIs should offer monetary compensation in those cases where a link was established between a suicide and an MFI’s loan recovery practices.  He also said strict steps should be taken that no such incidents happen in the future, by training and supervising the field staff and lending only after checking the prior borrowings of a household from a credit bureau.

Vijay Mahajan addressing the gathering in Pochampally

Conclusion of the Shodh Yatra

VM  then explained about the purpose of the yatra (the ABCD of Shodh Yatra as explained in the blog) and shared his experience and learning during this journey.

i)                 The poor continue to be resilient and improvise in various ways to ensure they have a livelihood. Compared to earlier, there is a high demand and awareness for education;

ii)                Government is doing a difficult job in introducing several initiatives for upliftment of the poor and let us all come together, use this opportunity to help them make this successful through our journey of mission livelihood promotion and Inclusive growth.

iii)               Many remarkable individuals continue to contribute to the nation, to the fellow-beings, to our democracy, so rather than questioning about what others have done and blaming each other, we should take inspiration from them and work.

iv)               BASIX re-dedicates itself to working with the poor in a sustainable manner.  All actions will be examined in the light of whether they fulfill our mission of promoting a large number of sustainable  livelihoods for the poor. Sustainability is not just financial, it is also environmental and institutional (normative) and the recent lessons from the microfinance sector should be taken into account.

He thanked all those who joined him for a day or more and those who have been following the Shodh Yatra on his blog.  As he said

My Yatra ends in Pochampally, the Shodh continues…

Link 1 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcjkGOLGBeM

Link 2 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G0J3JZnpaY


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Day 74 – Kolar, Karnataka


Face to Face with Microfinance Clients

Further, for Kolar, feedback from clients during the qualitative investigation by the study team
reveals that the multiple borrowing level of 3-4 loans per client in the area resulted from
several individuals having taken on the task of forming groups and inviting MFIs to lend to
them. Later these individuals used their influence with the clients to get commissions and
kickbacks, or to appropriate entire loans of group members [proxy borrowing]. The following
sections discuss the views of the Kolar Anjuman and multiple borrowing and other issues that
reinforced the adverse factors resulting in the crisis. 
Excerpts from "Competition and the Role of External Agents - 
The Delinquency Crisis in Southern Karnataka"  by EDA Rural Systems

Suresh Krishna, CEO of Grameen Koota who organised the Shodh Yatra at Kolar with his clients

Shodh Yatra at Kolar on 13th April 2011: Schedule

Timings

Time required

Events

Mode of Travel

From To

9.30 A.M.

Assembly at Bangalore International Airport-Arrival Area

9.30 A.M 10.45 A.M 75 Min Travel from Bangalore Airport to Kolar(via Devanahalli, Vijaipura, H-Cross-distance  about  60 Kms)  By Car
10.45A.M 11.00 A.M 15 Min Starting from Govt. Hospital and reaching  Prashanth Nagar By walk
11.00 A.M 11.30 A.M 30 Min Interaction  with Microfinance clients
11.30 A.M 11.45 A.M. 15 Min Starting from Prashanth Nagar  and reaching   Noor Nagar By walk
11.45 A.M. 12.45 P.M 60 Min Interaction  with Microfinance clients
12.45 P.M 1.00 P.M 15 Min Starting from   Noor Nagar and reaching Galpet  By walk
1.00 P.M. 1.30 P.M 30 Min Interaction  with Microfinance clients
1.30 P.M 1.40 P.M 10 Min Starting from Galpet  and reaching  Karanjikatte By  Car
1.40 P.M. 2.10 P.M 30 Min Interaction  with Microfinance clients
2.10 P.M 2.15 P.M   5 Min Starting from  Karanjikatte reaching  Pathrakartara Bhavan By Car
2.15 P.M 3.00 P.M. 45 Min Lunch at Pathrakartara Bhavan
3.00 P.M 4.00 P.M 60 Min Discussion with  LDM Mr M R Raju and DDM-NABARD Mr Jayaprakash Samudre at Pathrakartara Bhavan
4.15 P.M 5.00 P.M 45 Min Discussion with DC Kolar Mr Manoj Kumar Meena IAS, at DC Office
5.15 P.M 6.15 P.M. 60 Min Sharing thoughts with MFIs Staff Members
6.30 P.M 8.00 P.M 90Min Discussion with Mr Zameer Ahmed President, Mr Mohd.Saifulla Secretary and other Office bearers of Anjuman-e-Islamia

8.00 P.M

Departure to Bangalore  By Car

Comment from Samit Ghosh, Founder and CEO of Ujjivan:

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

Just back from a day of Vijay Mahajan’s Sodh Yatra in Kolar town.  It’s been a couple of years since the Anjuman Committee banned Muslim  women from repaying MFI loans or availing new ones. It was terrible to see the plight of these women today. They are either back in the clutches of local money lenders or sitting idly in grinding poverty. In stark contrast the other women in the town are peacefully going about their existence and building up their enterprise. These have dark lessons for the poor women in neighboring Andhra who are suffering the same plight because of the State Government fiat.

Learnings from Kolar field visit  -  T. Navin, Manager, Social Performance Management, BASIX

  1. An MFI when it enters an area apart from studying the livelihood and financial landscape of the area should give equal importance to understand the socio-cultural situation of the area. The local cultural practices, religion, regional and caste identities & hierarchies could have strong influence on the people and could influence MFI operations. E.g., the influence of religious institutions - Anjuman in Kolar.
  2. When an MFI starts working in an area, it could threaten the existing power equations in society. E.g., when women from minority community started coming out from the household to attend centre meetings, the men felt threatened and religious institution felt un-Islamic activities taking place
  3. When the existing power equations get threatened, the affected do take the help of religion to maintain existing power equation. E.g., in Kolar the men approached Anjuman-e-Islami and requested them to ensure that MFIs stop lending to women
  4. An MFI should be aware of the fact that while in some instances conflicts are important if it contributes to the empowering process of the vulnerable, it should also be aware that sometimes conflicts could result in greater repression and control within. E.g., conflicts that arose within the minority community among women and husband were not resulting in empowering the women but were contributing to greater repression on women within the family. In such instances the MFIs could take a back step.
  5. In situations when an MFI finds it difficult to deal with conservative sections, it should be willing to take ‘one step forward and two steps backward’ keeping the larger goal of financial inclusion. E.g., in Kolar discussion on the immediate problem of stoppage of recovery and lending operations was addressed through dialogue with Anjuman. While temporary compromise was adopted as a strategy - these on the other hand opened doors for loan recovery and lending and also include back minority women in financial inclusion program in future.
  6. An MFI should be aware of its limitations. It cannot take up the role of social reformation and and hence should not confront with socially conservative section though not necessarily support them if the influence of socially conservative section is stronger. It should be remembered that the reformation movements happen from within the religious communities. E.g., the renaissance in India – when reformation movements within Hinduism were led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Vidya Sagar etc.,. the changes happened only through social reformers within community.  Confrontation to the extent possible could be avoided given the scope of “MFI”.
  7. Women wish to get larger loan (according to their capacity) from minimal MFIs rather than smaller loans from multiple MFIs. They feel that having multiple memberships means attending many more centre meetings spread over many days. E.g., if women have memberships in 3 MFIs, she needs to attend the meetings thrice in a week – instead they prefer a loan as per their capacity from a single MFI.
  8. Over lending and multiple lending negatively affect the Microfinance Clients. While the larger goals of financial inclusion are important, it should not be at the cost of overburdening the clients resulting in over indebtedness – which can negatively influence the people’s livelihoods. E.g., in instances when suicide takes place (either due to direct or indirect affect of MFIs), the earning source of the family is lost which affects the whole family.
  9. Temporary stoppage of loan repayment does not necessarily mean that clients do not wish to repay back the loan and wish for additional loan. E.g., minority women felt that per se they were not against loan repayment or taking another loan cycle. Instead they were only worried about the negative repercussions it had on them e.g., being questioned by religious institutions and the men within their family.


Mail from Suresh K Krishna

Managing Director | Grameen Financial Services Pvt. Ltd., 

Dear Vijay:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of your shodh yatra. It was wonderful spending a whole day with you. I hope we were able to meet your expectations for the Shodh Yatra.

It was a pleasure organizing the day. Even though we had done several meetings like this in the past, this visit gave a lot of insights to the situation of the people of Kolar.

It was sad to see the suffering of many of the women who now have to depend on the financiers who are charging exorbitant interest. The most inspiring movement for me was that many of our defaulting borrowers were requesting for restarting the services (offcourse with lot of changes).

The key learning for me have been that we should have been sensitive to the local sentiments and should have built better relationships with Anjuman and others in the local community. The meeting of Vijay and Anjuman was a great break through and will pave way for a new beginning.

As discussed I will initiate the ICL's for the muslim men and work with Anjuman  to release the loans by the mass wedding Anjuman is organising. Will keep you posted.

With regards

Suresh



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Day 73- General comment – We have to be counted before we count !


The Census of India 2011, Preliminary Results are out!

I am an ardent admirer of India’s mega administrative exercises – the Decennial Census, the General Elections, the Pulse Polio Campaign, the Total Literacy Movement, etc.  The sheer scale of these is mind-boggling.  The 2011 Census aimed to count over 1.2 billion people, filling up over 300 million “household schedules”, all in a period of thirty days.  This was achieved by employing  government school teachers as enumerators – over 2.7 million of them.

I first encountered the Census Operations in 1981, when I was still finishing my last term at the IIM Ahmedabad, but as it had few classes, I had gone off to Jawaja, the IIMA’s rural development project in Ajmer.  This time, the Census was happening  in the middle of my Shodh Yatra.   The Census begins with a mass awareness campaign, and I could see several hoardings all along. Apart from generally informing everyone that a Census is on, there were special messages for ensuring the enumeration of the disabled, for example.

A billboard announcing the Census 2011, in Chhattisgarh and seeking enumeration of the disabled

A bunch of demographers spend many years trying to ensure that the questions and the responses thereon are precise and coded.  The household schedule is translated into 16 languages, in addition to Hindi and English.  The enumerators are trained and each is given a manual of instructions. In one of the schools we visited near Dalli Rajhara in Chhattisgarh, the school teacher was absent, as he was away on “Census duty”.  Then there is the house listing operation, where every habitation is given a serial number and that number is painted on its exterior using “geru”.  The next day, I managed to catch one enumerator doing this in Jamgaon village in Dhamtari district.

A Census enumerator painting a number during house-listing operations

Then comes the actual household canvassing of the schedules, for which the enumerators go to all the houses in their assigned area, between February 8 and 28 of the Census year.  This Census, there were a total of 14 questions, covering name age, gender, religion, languages spoken, education level, marital status, employment status and occupation, place of last residence (to cover migration), housing amenities, disability status if any. I was lucky that when Siddharth and I came back to his house in Bolpur after we visited Shantiniketan, an enumerator and a supervisor turned up for the Census.  I requested them if I could see the schedule and they proudly showed me the neatly printed form (in this case in Bangla and English).  As they got Siddharth to answer the questions, I took pictures.

The Census 2011 Household Schedule

The enumerators were pleasantly surprised at my fuss, and I managed to explain to them why I found the Indian Census so important.  Apart from yielding very important aggregate and category-wise data for all kinds of planning, to me it represents the elemental gesture of the Welfare State reaching out to each citizen, recording her/his existence, by name.  Eventually, this is the basis for all entitlements.

Canvassing the household schedule at Siddharth’s house in Bolpur

The enumerators also go to institutions  – orphanages, prisons, and of course school and college hostels. The most touching aspect of the Census is the counting of the homeless, which I missed seeing this time but had seen in 1991.  On the night of February 28 of the Census year, lakhs of enumerators go out to every nook and cranny of each city and town, combing pavements, platforms, bus-stops and railways stations, abandoned sheds and even graveyards, to look for homeless and count them.  It is easy to be cynical about the State, but the fact that we have now been doing a Census successfully for over a Century is a matter to be applauded.

And quite wonderously, by early April, within just a month of the closure of the household canvassing,  the preliminary results are out!  We are over 1.21 billion of us Indians, one in every six human beings on Earth!  There was some good news – the population growth rate in the last decade has come down to 17.64%, which is a steep drop from 23.87% in 1981-91 and 21.54% in 1991-2001.  Surely, the aphorism that “development is the best contraceptive”  is beginning to be proven right. Literacy percentages have gone up, especially for women, which is the result of high enrolment rates for girls in school.  But enhanced  incomes and  literacy  do not seem to always translate into positive social outcomes – the female to male ratios are shocking low in developed states like Haryana and Punjab, while Jharkhand and Nagaland seem to be much better off on this front.  The underlying cause, the male child preference of people in the northwestern states may still take a decade or more to correct itself.  But serious corrective action must be taken, before this becomes a China like situation.

One has to await the detailed results.  I personally look forward most to what are called the “General Economic Tables” which not only give the number of person employed in the main occupations – agriculture, industry,  but also later according to three digit National Industrial Classification codes.  So one can find out, for example, how many persons are engaged in mining in Dhamtari or in fishing in the Sunderbans.  Looking forward…

In case you are interested in looking through the treasure trove of data from past Indian Censuses,  visit www.cesnsusofindia.in

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Days 71-72 Dhaka, Bangladesh


Prof Yunus and I in Dhaka on Apr !!Prof Yunus and I in Dhaka on Apr 11, 2011

Apart from offering our solidarity and conveying the sentiments in our letter below on behalf of the world microfinance community, I also discussed a number of issues with Prof Yunus, including the political economy of microfinance and what we can do about it. We also discussed the notion of sccial businesses and the idea of a  social enterprise stock exchange.

CGAP concerned about efforts to remove Nobel Prize winner Yunus from Grameen Bank

CGAP today released the following statement from Tilman Ehrbeck, CGAP CEO, and Vijay Mahajan, Chair of CGAP’s Board, on the efforts to remove Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus as Managing Director of Grameen Bank:

“We are deeply concerned by the campaign of the past few months and recent legal actions to remove Muhammad Yunus as managing director of Grameen Bank.

Over the past thirty years together Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank have been a powerful force and symbol for the microcredit movement, and for progress for poor people who were previously excluded from formal financial services. Professor Yunus has been a pioneer in the field, and his substantial contributions to advancing the cause of poor unbanked women should be celebrated by Bangladesh, and the international community.

Access to credit can be a valuable tool to allow poor households to invest in small businesses, and see themselves through vulnerable patches. More broadly, access to financial services can provide important benefits simply by enabling poor families to manage their household finances more effectively and smooth their consumption—allowing them to save for emergencies, pay school fees when needed, and cope with illness or other temporary shocks.

The microcredit movement made a critical contribution in proving that it is possible to deliver financial services to poor people at scale, and in a sustainable way.

The current situation is damaging not just to Grameen Bank and poor clients in Bangladesh, but also to the wider microfinance industry.

Nearly three billion people in the world have no access to formal financial services, and it remains our priority to ensure that previously unreached low-income populations gain access to the full range of services that they can use to invest, build assets, smooth consumption, and deal with shocks.

The widespread international support Professor Yunus has received affirms the important role many countries now see for financial inclusion. We also sense an increasing awareness and understanding at a political level in many countries — including the G20 — of what financial inclusion can contribute to social and economic development.

We hope that a compromise can be reached that allows Grameen Bank to operate effectively, and for microfinance in Bangladesh to continue to thrive and contribute to the social and economic development of the country.

We remain sharply focused and committed in our efforts to help realize the important goal of universal financial inclusion.”

About CGAP

CGAP (The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) is the world’s leading resource for the advancement of microfinance. CGAP provides the financial industry, governments and investors with objective information, expert opinion, and innovative solutions to effectively expand access to finance for poor people around the world. More information: http://www.cgap.org

Click on   http://www.cgap.org/p/site/c/template.rc/1.26.15709/

Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)

In addition to meeting Prof Yunus, I also met Sir Fasle Abed, Founder and Chairman of BRAC, arguably the greatest scoial enterprise in the world.  In addition to  running a large microfinance operation with six million customers in Bangladesh (Director, Ishtiaq Moahmmed), BRAC als0 runs thousands of schools, a major rural health program, Arong, a chain of handicraft stores, De;ta BRAC Housing Finance Ltd, the BRAC Bank, and the BRAC University (Dean Timothy Evans).

I also met Dr Mahabub Hossain, Executive Director, BRAC, who was formerly an economist with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila.  His articulation of what the issues were in microfinance in Bangladesh was both very comprehensive and analytical.

Sir Fasle Abed, Chairman of BRAC and I in Dhaka on April 11, 2011

I gave a talk on the State of Indian Microfinance at the BRAC Centre, which was chaired by by Prof Rehman Sobhan, Chairman of the Bangladesh Centre for Policy Dialogue. It was attended by about twenty odd persons, and was followed by a dinner which was attended by Khandakar Muzharul Haque, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Microfinance Regulatory Authority  of Bangladesh.

Dinner at Oh Calcutta! Dhaka

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Day 66-68 Bhitiharwa Ashram, Champaran, Bihar


My Invitation to Bhitiharwa Ashram, Champaran, Bihar, which I sent to about 40 selected people. About 25 came and the responses of some of them after the visit are given below:

Dear Friend

As you know, I have been on a Shodh Yatra since January 30.  One of the places I went to was the Bhitiharwa Ashram in Champaran, North Bihar, where  in 1917, Gandhiji came to conduct the famous “Indigo Labour Enquiry” and then launched a Satyagraha against forced cultivation of indigo by poor farmers.  This was Gandhiji’s first major public action in India, after returning from South Africa.

Even though I had read about it,  being there gave me a deeper insight into the power of Satyagraha, which Gandhiji demonstrated in Champaran.  Thus I have decided to return to the area and host a workshop titled “Reinterpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha for the 21st Century” .  This is being organised at Gandhiji’s Bhitiharwa Ashram in Champaran on 6-7th April, 2011 by the Jawaharlal Nehru Leadership Institute (JNLI), the Bhitiharwa Ashram Sansthan and the Association for Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA).

The best way to go there is by an overnight (16 hours) train from Delhi to Narkatiyaganj, which is 17 kms from the Ashram. In view of the busy season, please book your train tickets immediately.  Narkatiyaganj is also connected by direct train from Lucknow and Howrah.  If you wish to fly, the nearest airport is Patna and then there is a five-six hour car ride to the Ashram via Muzaffarpur and Bettiah.

If you wish to participate in some field visits to villages and historical places nearby, please arrive a day earlier, that is on 5th April.  I should mention that the boarding and lodging facilities at the Ashram will be base minimum so please come prepared to rough it out.  Please bring a bed sheet, an air pillow, a warm shawl/blanket, a flashlight and mosquito repellent.  The nearest hotel is at Bettiah, 45 kms away.

I request your participation and confirmation for the above workshop.

With my best wishes

Vijay Mahajan

From: Anushree

Sent: 09 April 2011 20:45
To: vijaymahajan@basixindia.com
Subject: Champaran Visit

Dear VM,

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to visit Champaran and experience that life. There was really a lot to learn from the visit, and it was an experience worth a while.

I must confess though that I am not referring to the seminar (the sangoshti)that we had ideally gone to the Ashram for. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it interesting. Honestly, I had a better experience while talking informally to people, especially Mr. Ramji Singh than listening to his formal speech. If I could say so, I would have learnt a lot if we would have spent all the time in small informal groups, discussing about the Satyagrah and if it could be used in this century. The talks that the eminent scholars gave, were mainly aimed at what Gandhiji did, how he was as a person, and how the current government is not doing what it is supposed to do. There wasn’t much around how Satyagrah is important or debate around whether it is still relevant.

Saying that, the experiences that I had in Bihar were amazing, some mind boggling and definitely thought provoking. Apart from being a welcome break from the daily routine, it served as a good platform to learn something more about my country. I had never been to Bihar before, and this was truly a good experience. There is nothing like getting to know your country, your people and not from the five star hotels but from the grass roots where the real India lies. There is a lot talk around the divide between Bharat and India, and one gets to experience this debate first hand. The lack of toilets and electricity is the plight of Bharat while India bathes in the lights and uses modern and designer bathroom fittings. While the women in India walk hand in hand with the men, the women in Bharat still sit at homes and not sit in male gatherings. It’s one thing to listen people explain the divide, it’s something else to experience it firsthand.

I would again sincerely like to thank you for the experience.

Yours sincerely

Anu

—–Original Message—–

From: rajanikant kad
Sent: 10 April 2011 19:08
To: Vijay Mahajan JNLI
Subject: The Champaran Yatra – My Learnings and Ideas

Dear VM,

Thanks for giving me a chance to visit Bhithiharwa Ashram – Champaran. As a student, I had read the history of Champaran. At that time I could understand the question of ‘Teen Kathia and Neel Farming’.  As a school teacher and as a Master Coach, second time I read the Champaran Satyagraha and could understand it as a campaign to bring about change and leadership in the era.

But when I visited the Bhithiharwa Ashram of Gandhiji, I could understand the truth in it.  The process of the Satyagrah at Champaran was one of the best which gave the fast result.  This process of Satyagraha can be learned very well as an example of that of the development and economic empowerment through the eradication of ignorance and changing the overall attitude of people can only free them from the bondages of slavery and sufferings.

Through the Speech of renowned Gandhian Shri Ramji Singh, I could feel the aspects of good speech, its contents, logical representations, the force and energy in the speech. Then my visit to the Bithiharwa village gave me some of the understanding of the sufferings of people over there.

(1)   Most of the people were land less workers. (2)   Their source of earning was only agricultural labour. (3)   From each family one earning person went to the other states i.e. – Punjab, Haryana etc… but they all come back after the work of four to six months and stay back at home and spend all the money earned. (4)   Some of them had cattle also. (5)   As informed they were also given land during the Bhudaan Andolan by Vinobaji. But with the passage of time they sold the land. (6)   They don’t know about the government schemes for them. (Here we can create awareness.) (7)   For them a work of 100Rs. per day is thought to be more than enough and they will be satisfied with it. They don’t have the urge to do something bigger or better for which they will have to work continuously – everyday. (8)   I found a bit of liking to remain idle or laziness which is seen there in the males of the eastern part of India.

So, if we want to change their situation, then we will have to start with the development work but also we will have to be ready to change their minds – their way of thinking which will require hard work and patience from our side. It will be good if we can develop a small scale industry that is an industry based on the raw material available in the village. A skill based industry which can give them Rs. 100 or more per day for the whole year.

For those who cannot be included in that, we can train them for some skills rather than the agricultural labour only and through the creation of a co-operative society can assure their progress. I also found that there is no co-operative society actually working in the field of dairy products and the prices are very low.

After all we may need to change their mindset that they continue their work even after getting enough for food and think about better future.

Our JNLI Workshop of IYC and others

As our programme of training IYC and other EOBs is concerned, I would say that it must be done and is a very good initiative of JNLI.  Even we should try to find out such places of Gandhiji all over India and explore the possibilities over there also.

As far as our training workshop at Champaran is concerned we would need to design one.  I would like to share some of the ideas I have in mind regarding the workshop.

  1. It can be a national level workshop.
  2. It can be a seven day workshop with the name of place in the heading.
  3. At least 48 hour stay with the family like a member doing all their work.
  4. Every morning there should be a ‘Prabhat Pheri’ – the bhajans with the trainer and trainees together.
  5. It may have the study of the different ideologies of politics (Socrates, plato, chanakya, kautilya, democracy, communism, capitalism etc..) in General and the Gandhian Ideology in Special. Sessions for each to broaden the horizon of trainees in the world politics.
  6. There should be a special session/sessions about the Champaran Satyagrah, it’s Historical understanding and Process as to learn the designing of any campaign for social/political change. Even the application of that technique in the present problems of the country.
  7. The trainees should also be explained village economy and its affects in large scale to the nation’s GDP etc. From Micro to Macro.
  8. After each day’s learning there should be a presentation made by the participants on the next day morning.
  9. An exam at the end of the workshop with gradation to understand their growth.
  10. And the follow up work.

My take away

Personally I would say that I was moved to see such village.  First time I saw such villages where there is no light, no sanitation facility, even a school running in huts. I also felt and understood that the Gandhi Vichaar is present in the air: be it any part of India.

After all Champaran is the land of Change, Knowledge and Learning, I also was touched by the spirit. With the experience there and discussions with Vivekji about Gandhian ideology and his guidance of the principles of Gita, I understood how any addiction can dilute me from my vision of serving the nation. So I felt that and have decided to leave smoking and drinking. Drinking was not a major problem to me as it was a new thing to me but I have to struggle a lot about smoking as it has been my 9 year old habit. I don’t know whether I will be able to keep it but I have trust on God within me that he will give me the power to stick to the correct decision. I heartily thank you and Vivekji for Changing my life. Regards,

Rajanikant Kad, Team JNLI

The abandoned tourist bungalow in the Ashram

—–Original Message—–

From: vivek.saran
Sent: 12 April 2011 16:52
To: ‘vijay mahajan’
Subject: My visit to Bheetiharwa Gandhi Ashram at Champaran.

Dear VM,

I am thankful to you for giving me the opportunity to visit Champaran and be a part of the workshop. My first reason of excitement was because of getting to  a place like the “Champaran Gandhi Ashram” which we have read in history during our school times. Greatness of Mahatma Gandhi is beyond compare. While I was at Champaran I thought myself lucky to be at a place which actually should be the “pilgrimage” for all those associated with politics in whichever way.

We came to know that Bheetiharwa Gandhi Ashram (West Champaran) was the place from where Gandhiji started the “Satyagrah movement” in 1917 which proclaimed the beginning of “Swarajya” and first victory of non-violent protest against the British Government. In our discussion with Dr Ram Singhji of Ashram, we also came to know that Gandhiji told the farmers that he will fight for them but before them he would like to probe into the truth of the matter.

For that, Gandhiji went to homes of 8000 farmers- gathered the individual applications. Gandhiji, at the same time also got the copies of applicable laws and the judgments in the past. Once Gandhiji was convinced that there is truth in what the farmers are deprived of, he fought for the farmers and won this battle against injustice in just 6 months.

On being asked to leave the district by the District Magistrate, Gandhiji submitted an application stating that “people need me here and I am not doing anything wrong ; I am supporting the truth and while respecting your authority, I “dis-obey” your order to leave the district and you are free to give me whatever punishment for this disobedience”.

One more incidence happened at Bheetiharwa Ashram which forced Gandhiji to tell himself that

“Millions of my countrymen do not have enough clothes to cover their body and being their representative, I should also be their true representative”.  From that incidence in Champaran, onwards, he used to wear a single unstitched cloth (dhoti) to cover his body.

While Gandhiji was struggling for the farmers’ right, Ma Kasturba Gandhi stayed there at Bheetiharwa for six month and devoted her time in educating children running a school for the poor children.

It felt bad to know that despite of being such an important place of Indian history, there has been no significant development even after 96 years. We need to understand that the place can be a source of inspiration to the budding leaders to build the future of India.

“One work is better than 100 speeches”, we should do something for the Ashram so that it willh will not only benefit the people (staff) of the Ashram but also the visitors. “Vaishnavjan to tenekahiye re” is still in the mind of millions. That used to be the start of day at all Gandhi Ashrams. With time this has vanished. I wish this trend is revived at least in Gandhi Ashrams across India.

On Village industries, Gandhiji was not against not against mechanization but had the view that when there are many hands without work, mechanization will not solve the problem of unemployment. On the contrary it could be a good option when you have few hands to work and work cannot be completed manually.

Gandhiji dreamed of “Gram Swarajya” that is village should be “self-sustainable” in all respects.

Our Intervention at Entry level:

After the village-walk, I think that one of the initiatives can be to start with “Information Dissemination” to the villagers and handholding support can be done by some good NGOs.

Villagers need to inculcate amongst themselves that they themselves are responsible of what they are and they should fight their own battle. Our role should be the source of right information and guidance without giving any grant or aid.

One change I am feeling in myself after Champaran that my capacity to work has increased and I learnt that what is the real “service” to people without any expectations in return.  The JNLI team would be happy to initiate any move which brings us close to Gandhiji.

Thank you once again VM for showing us the right direction which gives us immense strength.

With regards,

Vivek Saran, JNLI.

http://www.youtube.com/my_videos_edit?video_id=R4v2V4J3ZC4&ns=1

Click on the link above to see a glimpse of fhe seminar “Re-interpreting Gandhiji’s Chmaparan Satyagraha for the 21st Century”

From: Raja

Sent: 13 April 2011 18:01

To: vijaymahajan@basixindia.com
Subject: Bhitiharva Report

Dear Sir,

Before Shodh Yatra with you, it was always a curiosity for me to see the poverty of Bihar as I am locally from Delhi and worked with Migrants from Bihar during TAFI project in Delhi in 2008.  While working with them three questions arise in my mind: i) why are they migrants in most of the part of India? (ii) why are they working on low daily wage rates, and (iii) what are the social and political issue for development of the people?

And I got the chance to get the answer of my all the questions during your Shodh Yatra and here are those answers: Large population of Bihar is landless and doing the labour work on agriculture land. They work on daily wage of Rs 50/-.  After ending of agri seasons they move to other states. This is the main factor for migration to other states.

But I have seen a major social change in education system during the yatra.  A village called Bhitiharwa (fear removing place) under Gonaha block has three govt. schools with more teachers and with few students.  There is a private school which have 450-500 students from nursery to 8th standard. It means parents are encouraged for their children’s future. They can spend some amount to get the good education to their children. I visited one of the Harijan Tola in Bhitiharva and got to know from them that now upper caste give them respect because they are now educated towards education/behavior etc to some of the extend. This is the social impact I have seen of education.

I also got an opportunity to support/attend program on “Re-interpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagrah for Contemporary Times” on 6-7 April 2011 at Bhitiharwa  village, Narkatiaganj,West Champaran.  It was nice to hearing speech of many social workers who worked with Gandhiji. It was also nice meeting and adopting some of principal of Satyagraha from Shri Ramji Singh (age of 90) who were also with Gandhiji for many years.

When I visited Gandhi Ashram on March 9th, it was very peaceful and silent.  But between 5th to 8th April, this program made Ashram full fledged with volunteers/NGOs/social workers sharing on Satyagrah and making future plan to improve livelihoods of people around Gonaha Block of West Champaran.

I have not seen how Ashram looked like in 1917 when Gandhiji’s presence was there on Satyagraha but I was able to sense energetic and dynamic environment during that era during the program.

Once again many thanks for giving me the opportunity to join with you in Shodh Yatra and understanding livelihoods and their needs to improve their livelihoods. Taking personal leave for 15 days and bearing travel/hotel cost to see poverty of Bihar was difficult for me.

With kind regards,

Raja

From: Mona

Sent: 14 April 2011 16:32
To: vijaymahajan@basixindia.com
Subject: Champaran / Shodh Yatra

Dear Vijay,

It is exactly a week since our visit to Champaran. I have had enough time to absorb and reflect on what I saw.

The plight of the Musahar community was a revelation, and a very disturbing one. The decline of the Small Farmers’ Associations (SFAs) structure in Bihar strikes me as a huge setback, on any measure of progress and development, and I am surprised that no government agency has thought it important to revive and support them. The constant requests for schools and school funds that one heard everywhere underscored the sad state of schools there, but it also made me hopeful about the future of these communities. Stories of graft in the SHG-bank programme I heard in Bhitiharwa were not new, but when viewed collectively with all other issues, the adversity and the inequity are hard to digest.

When one thinks about it – the corrupt and mismanaged issuance of BPL cards and the PDS system, lack of employment opportunities outside of the farm sector, the miserable working conditions for farm workers, corrupt banks, no electricity, no proper schools – one can’t help but feel daunted by the enormity of the task. But there is a desperate need to do something.

In terms of action, one approach could be to break it down to small, focused projects based on the team’s capability and the ability to create some impact in a near enough time frame. But then, given that all these aspects are so interwoven, to pick just one or two would be an inadequate response, especially when the aim is to find a long term solution. What we ideally need is a comprehensive, an “integrated” plan – an integrated Champaran development plan.

The Plan, of course, needs to be put together by someone who is experienced in this kind of development work. Perhaps PRADAN or The Aga Khan Rural Support Program can do this? I neither have the training nor the experience to work through the specifics, but think that it requires people from a variety of backgrounds to contribute to it, including those from the government and the commercial / corporate sector. And, the corner stone of the Plan has got to be building intermediary/ institutional structures that put the responsibility of managing the Plan back on the shoulders of those who would benefit from it. I should add here, Vijay, that while I may have known the importance of these intermediate, people-managed, structures earlier, it was at best a very theoretical understanding. The experiences during the Shodh Yatra made it come alive and I couldn’t have got more clarity any other way.

Personally, I have been struggling with the question of my own commitment to this and whether I have enough of it to be part of the solution. I have waited these last few days to try and get an answer, but maybe with more engagement that clarity will come.

Does the “Plan” idea sound a bit fanciful? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Again, thank you for your time during the yatra and for being so generous in sharing your knowledge and views with all of us.

Best,

Mona

From: Arijit Dutta
Sent: 09 April 2011 20:55
To: Vijaymahajan
Subject: “Re- Interpreting Gandhi’s Champaran Satyagrah ” for Contemporary Times.

Dear VM,

At last, I could make it happen – joined Champaran with you. I re-visited the Indian History, before I went to Gandhi Ashram, Bhitiharwa, West Champarn. This is because, I thought that, it would help me to understand more, what Gandhians would talk about Gandhi.

It was a long train, as well as, road journey from Kolkata to reach Gandhi Ashram – took 18 hours. However, train journey was utilised for reading Gandhi’s first Satyagraha in Champaran. Being a development professional, I could understand the problem of shifting traditional farming practices, which sometimes development professionals try to do the same mistake. I also thoroughly read about the “Tharu”  – the original inhabitants of West Champaran – who are generally very simple, innocent and straightforward people. I could understand this community more during my visit to villages.

Gandhians talked more about his contribution towards Indian Independence and how he started his campaign from Champaran. Personally, I am confused – most of the speakers talked about in-equality, corruption about present India and called for greater movement along these lines. As I understood that, this requires a strong social movement, which I understand is for “right based” initiative. Now, being a Livelihoods based Development Professional – I do agree that, this strategy could also help for livelihoods improvement, but professionally, I do not practice the same – so, I’m confused personally.

Visit to the villages  – I could understand that, land holding is a major issue here. The fertile tarai land is owned mostly by a few landlords and like other parts of Bihar, absentee landlordism is also common here. Village households, do practice farming, after taking land on lease. The landlord would take 50% of the produce  – therefore, even Gandhi started his campaign from here against the British land grabbing for Indigo cultivation, still ownership of land is yet to be sorted out. More so, the great Bhoodan Movement originated from this state.

Regards,

Arijit.

From: Somnath Ghosh [mailto:sghosh53@yahoo.com]

Sent: 19 March 2011 08:40
To: Vijay Mahajan BASIX
Subject: RE:”Reinterpreting Gandhiji’s Champaran Satyagraha for the 21st Century” workshop at Champaran on April 6 and 7th, 2011

Dear Vijay,Been following your blog. The range is such that it makes comments on them look so inadequate. All one can do is “walk along” with you through your blog, and see the things you do, and absorb as much as one can.

Much that I’d have liked to be at Bhitiharwa Ashram at Champaran – and see you – I seriously doubt whether I’ll be able to make it.

What more!
Somnath

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