Day 15 – February 13, 2011, Raipur, Mahasamund – Chhattisgarh

Shodh Yatra Day 15 –    February 13, 2011 – Raipur, Mahasamund. Chhattisgarh

Viklang Vivah – community marriage of physically challenged couples

I learnt of the above event from a wall poster and realizing that coincidentally the event was scheduled for today, decided to visit it for a while.  This was the seventh such event, explained Dr DP Agarwal the National General Secretary.  It begins with a Parichay Sammelan (introduction festival) on 26th December every year.  Many physically challenged people, or their relatives, who are looking for a match, come for the Parichay Sammelan, and the word spreads.  One month is given for proposals to be finalized and those who want to participate in the community wedding are asked to register themselves latest by 30th January.  This year, 55 couples applied and 52 were registered.  The three who were rejected included at least one under aged partner and the third couple was already married.

The function is organised  by the Akhil Bhartiya Viklang Chetana Parishad.  with the support of the Marwadi Youth Forum, the Senior Citizen Welfare Forum and the Kanya Kubj Shiksaha Mandal, an organization registered as far back as 1917.  Dr Agarwal informed us that the entire function is conducted with voluntary contributions and no financial support is taken from the Government.    In addition to the wedding ceremony and the feast, each couple is given a set of household items like utensils etc.  The wedding ceremony is conducted beautifully decorated pandal with 13 Vedis with four couple sitting each and a priest chanting the mantras over a loudpeaker.  All the brides and bridegrooms are dressed in wedding finery and at the call of the priest, exchanged var malas (wedding garlands), while mantras blessing them were chanted. The obvious joy on the faces of the couples and their relatives, is only matched with the joy of satisfaction one could see among the organisers.

I asked Dr Agarwal, who insited on feeding us breakfast while talking to us, what was his inspiration?  He referred to his early exposure to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.  He attended the Shakha in his villge Tilada Neora till he was in school.  Then he got admission in to the medical college in Nagpur and continued to be an active member of RSS.  He says one of the teachings of the Sangh is “If you want society to be good, first you have to be good yourself.”  Dr Agarwal told us that in addition to the wedding they also organize free medical checkups for the disabled, distribution of certificates of disability to enable them to apply for Government assistance, free surgical camps and cultural and sports events.  They also distributed over 2000 prosthetic devices. Dr Agarwal is also associated with the Hindi Sahitaya Parishad and organised a national workshop of literatures to sensitized them to the issues of disabled.

We thanked Dr Agarwal and his fellow organisers, made a donation and  set out by 11.30 am for our field visit to Mahasamund district.

Traditional Leatherworkers of Arang

Arang is a municipal town  of 60,000 population around 40 km from Raipur. We visited Ravidas Nagar and met with community members who have been involved in leather processing as their traditional occupation. Earlier this activity was the only source of livelihood for 150 households but nowadays people are shifting out of this occupation because of non-availability of dead animals because older animals are sent to the slaughter houses. The supply of naturally dying animals in rural areas has declined sharply.

I have known this livelihood from the time I was in the Jawaja rural development project, for my summer job in 1980 and worked with the Raigar community. Later, my PRADAN colleagues led by Vinod Jain, worked in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh with traditional leather flayers, organizing them into cooperatives, and engaging them in “wet-blue” tanning, to ensure they benefited from value addition, rather than selling just raw hides. Traditionally, when an animal died, the flayers would be called.  They would drag the dead animal to the outskirts of the village, flay the skin, and leave the carcass behind for vultures to clean up the flesh.  Then they would return after a few days and collect the skeleton, the hooves, the horn and the teeth. The hide was soaked in water with salt and tannins, removing the hair and curing the hide so that it would not deteriorate.

Raw hides being cured in the traditional way

This is what the leather workers of Arang were doing. Narsing Mirdha 45, told us all of them sell their processed hides separately to local traders. Why don’t they get organized and sell a truck load to factories in Kolkata? “We will need 16 tons for a truck load, and those many hides cost at least Rs 300,000.  Where is the money?  Plus who will trust the other to go to Kolkata and get the best price?”

Krishna Sonwane, 28, who is working in the post office as a part time computer operator told us that they earn Rs 200 for a hide and Rs 50 for defective pieces. Every month they are able to sell 5-8 pieces which is not enough to take care of their family requirements.  Hence they have adopted other livelihood activities such as share cropping and labor work.

Dilip Kumar, 35, said most of the residents of Ravidas Nagar have taken agriculture land on lease. He himself has taken three acres land on lease. As per agreement farmer has to give a lease rental of 10 bags (of 75 kg each) of paddy per acre to the land owner per crop season after harvesting. In case of crop failure, the farmer still has to give an amount equivalent to 10 bags to the land owner. Expenditure on the paddy crop cultivation is roughly around 4500/- per acre. They are hardly managing to get 20 bags (15 quintals) per season per acre which is not sufficient even for their family consumption. Is this normal? “No it depends on the rainfall. Around five years back we had a bumper yield of 35 bags per acre while this year the yield is the lowest, at only 15 bags.”

Mangu Ram Ajgara, 54, has 75 decimal (0.75 acre) of agricultural land and is also engaged in leather processing and seasonal labour. Through labour, he manages to earn between Rs 75 to 150 a day. Mangu Ram is a father of five, of which three have been married off and one is going to school, and one son Suraj, who failed in 10th class is working with him in leather processing. They took us to the hut where hides were being cured using the traditional method. Would he like to learn new techniques of leather processing?  Instantly, he replied “Yes”.

Mangu Ram told us that in 1993 he had taken Rs 5000 as a loan from Dena Bank, which had 50 percent subsidy and the remaining Rs 2500 he repaid to the bank on time. But he never got another loan though he continues to have the bank account. Does he use to save?  “No, because my earning is not sufficient.”  How does he meet any emergency expenses? “ I had taken Rs 20,000 from moneylender a year ago when my wife was hospitalised and I pay Rs 1000 per month interest.” Has he heard of health insurance? “No I have only heard of life insurance but I have never been approached by any one for insurance.”

Sumitra Sonwani 50, is a widow, resident of Ravidas Nagar, Arang, Raipur.. Her husband died one and a half years back and she has four kids – of which three got married and one daughter, 12 yrs old, studies in class 6. Is she getting widow pension under the Government pension scheme. “Yes, the form was filled up by the local Parshad (Municipal Councillor) Dhruv Kumar Mirdha a year back. I started receiving pension of Rs 200 per month four-five months ago.”  How does it come to her, by money order? “No, I have to go to the block and then the bank. I  spend 3-4 hours.” Does she work that day then? “No, I lose my daily wages of Rs 70.  Sometimes I have to go a second time because the bank says the papers have not reached.”  That’s a transaction cost of Rs 70 to 140 to get Rs 200!

See video link

** Amit – Sub-K,  please note. We really have to ensure that the pension comes automatically into her bank account and people like Sumitra can withdraw the money at their convenience in their village.

Bamboo workers, Arang

We moved to Dir Para in Arang. It is a small cluster having some 20 Kandra  (scheduled tribe) households engaged in bamboo work. Manoj Kandra, 30, tells ushad tried out some other activities such as welding and rice mill fitter but finally he reverted to his traditional activity of making bamboo baskets, Suppa, Charri. They buy bamboo from the Forest Department depot on showing their “nistaar” card. The government issued these to artisans in 1968, according to Gurjarlal Kandra, 65, father of Manoj.  They can purchase up to 20 bamboos per month ,  costing around Rs 25-30 per bamboo. For making 12 baskets they required four bamboos and three full days. After completing the bamboo baskets they sell to the retailer at the rate of Rs 30 per basket. This works out to an income of Rs 240 in three days.

We confirm by asking how much do they make in a month?  “Hardly Rs 2500”. So how does he manage? “We are  getting 35 kgs of rice for Rs 2 per kg from ration shop.”  Is it regular? Do you have to pay anything extra? “Nothing extra.  It comes every month.  Sometimes they give 12 kg wheat and 23 kg rice. They also give kerosene and sugar.”   Why did you come back to do this work instead of being a welder or rice mill fitter? “There I used to get Rs 3500 per month but I spent more on food and also I was always at the beck and call of my employer.  Here I am with my wife and kids and we all live and work together. This is better.”

Misfortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Bhukan Devraj, 60, father of nine and his son Gopi, 37, father of six, live at the edge of Dir Para, Arang. Bhukan, who belongs to a tribe of snake charmers, moved here over 50 years ago.  “Initially we used to do our traditional work of taking snakes in baskets from village to village and seeking alms, playing the been (gourd flute).  We also used to do tattooing. But that  work did not fetch much so far the last 20 years I have been collecting scrap from villages and selling them to wholesalers in Arang town”, says Bhukan Devraj.

Gopi is also a scrap collector and the sole bread winner of his family. Every day on his bicycle he travels some 40 km collecting scrap plastic, tin, bottles and  waste paper/cartons. The family all help in segregating the mixed scrap before they sell it to the local buyers.  He says he earns about Rs 200 per day, but that is not enough for looking after his six kids and wife. What about the ration rice ar=t Rs 2 per kg? “Yes, we get 35 kg rice per month but that is not sufficient for eight of us so we buy rice from the open market at Rs 16 per kg.   Nowadays many people have entered this business so competition is high and my earning has fallen.  So, I have kept some pigs also.”

The "losers" in development

As we were talking to Gopi, his mother, two of his sisters and their children also came by and they all talked to us about how difficult life was for them.  Listening to them and looking at their tattered huts, I could not believe that these people are the proud “adivasis” of a state which is meant to be a state of adivasis.  How “development” can leave some people as losers and how poverty can be passed from generation to generation – can be seen talking to them just for a few minutes.   Click on the video link below.

Mahanadi riverbed cultivation

We reach Para Gaon, a village situated on the bank of the wide Mahanadi (Great River). Indeed, it is the great river of East Central India draining an area of around 132,100 km2 and a total course of 858 km. The river starts in Chhattisgarh and flows to the Bay of Bengal through Orissa.  In the  summer season,  the river bed is largely dry, with small streams interspersing large sandy tracts. Farmers of nearby villages cultivate Cucurbits such as Water Melon, Musk Melon, Bitter Melon, Cucumber etc.

Dasrath  Nishad, 37,  is a Kewat, or boatman by caste. Since last four years he has been cultivating various crops in the river bed. This year he has sown Water Melon, Musk Melon, Cucumber & Bitter Melon in half an acre. How much will he earn?  “After all expenses, if I get a good harvest I will save Rs 15000 to 20000 profit within three months. I have two acres of bharri land in the village and this time I grew paddy. His wife also works with him in agricultural activity. He was spraying pesticide when we met him.  “What were you spraying?” “Endosulfan”, he says.  How did he know if that was the right pesticide? “The krishi seva kendra  owner (agro service shop keeper) suggests if we tell him what we are growing.  But since I am experienced in agriculture, I asked for this particular pesticide and they gave me.” He has two children, both going to school. And, indeed they get Rs2 per kg rice without fail every month and 35 kgs is enough for the four of them. He has never taken loan from any bank, nor does he use a bank account to save. He has never heard about crop insurance.

I thank Dasrath and walk through the sand to the river bank, where my BASIX colleagues form the Mahasamund Unit take some pictures with me.

Home-based worker in Nayapara, Mahasamund

Pratibha Thappa, 40, is from Nepal and resides here for the last twenty years as her husband works for a private railway contractor.  She makes Dhupbatti, or incense. The powder, paper, packets and  cartons are all provided by the “company”. She rolles the paper into small cylinders about three inches long and half inch in diameter.  The rolled cylinder is then glued on the side. Then it is dried and filled with the incense powder. This makes the dhupbatti.   Each packet contains 12 dhupbatti and one carton contains 120 packets.  She prepares one carton in two days and  earns wages of about Rs. 1500 per month for three hours a day of light home based work.

Pratibha had a bank account with SBI but  it is not in operation. She has an idea about insurance and wants to do it for her husband.  She had availed a loan of Rs.15000 from BASIX. She used Rs. 8000 for strarting a chicken shop and rest of the amount was used for house repairing. She put her son, 20, incharge of the chicken shop but he could not manage properly and gave credit to  customers who did not repay. So she closed the shop.  The boy now works in a rice mill.

Pratibha’s daughter is studying in class 9th.  When I asked her what she would like to do when she grows up, she gave me the same look as my daughter gives to me when I ask her the same question – implying “What a silly question to ask!”.  We thank the mother and daughter, take some happy pictures and proceeded to Saraipalli for the night.

Voluntary Action – NGOs vs ISCOs – some thoughts

In Chhattisgarh, whether it is the Manas Mandalis of Rajnandgaon villages or the Viklang Parishad of Raipur, one can see traditional, indigenous “good works” are thriving.  I want to contrast these indigenous civil society organisations (ISCOs) with so called NGOs, of which we met a few in Rajnandgaon then a few more in Raipur.  While there is no dearth of well meaning activists to start and run such NGOs, on the whole their dependence on external resources, whether from foreign donors or from the Indian / state government, is in stark contrast to the “shall do with our own resources what we can” approach of indigenous CSOs.

The extent of volunteerism (not to be confused with voluntarism) is also much higher among ISCOs.  To be fair, this is because ISCOs tend to undertake activities as events, which do not require full-time, round the year work, whereas NGOs are responsible for running projects / programmes which have to show results in a time bound manner.  Thus NGOs need and hire professional and support staff on a salaried basis.  Often, one finds they are not particularly motivated by the mission.  The question is how to get the best of both worlds – the enthusiastic participation that ISCOs invoke from volunteers vs the systematic efficiency and the ability to scale up that professionals can bring.

Over lunch at Mahasamund at around 4o clock I raise this question with my colleagues Nitish Rathi and Ajay Gupta, both of whom joined BASIX after some years of experience in NGOs.  I asked them how was BASIX different from NGOs?  Nitish says “Here the objectives and the methods are very clear and we are expected to deliver.  In NGOs, as long as we did some work it was enough and results were not tightly monitored”. Adds Ajay, “So, here we end up delivering more benefits to our target group in a shorter time.  Moreover, unlike NGOs, we do not give anything for free.  So it develops a sense of self reliance among the customers.”

This was exactly the theme that dominated the discussion when I met several NGOs in Raipur on day 10.  For example, Rajneesh Gupta of Agrocrats described their work with farmers where they did not depend on any funding from donors.  Instead they focused on organising the community and bringing it to such a level of maturity that both political leaders and government departments felt impelled to finance various programmes in their region.  Similarly Manish Singh of Janmitran, Raigarh has built a cluster of 4000 lac rearers without significant external support.

The most outstanding example of self reliance that we came across was in Samudayik Vikas Sanstha, Rajnandgaon where thousands of women from slums have been organised into neighbourhood groups (NHGs) for savings and credits.  All the NHGs in a ward form an area development society (ADS) and all the ADSs join together to form the community development society (CDS).  Over the years they have collected nearly Rs 7 crore of savings deposits and they manage their entire operational costs including the salaries of over 40 staff members from the interest spread of these funds, which they lend at 12 percent per annum.

In other words voluntary action, whether of the indigenous variety (Manas Samithis, Viklang Parishad) or of the modern professional NGO variety (Janmitran and CDS) are the basis for positive changes that we see in a complex changing society like that of Chhattisgarh.  The nagging question however, is why the state is unable to tolerate more radical demands from people like PV Rajagopla’s Ekta Parishad, or the Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM), of Shankar Guha Neogi, who was shot dead by an unknown assailant or more recently Dr Binayak Sen the doctor who provided much needed health care to poor tribals. He has been accused by the government of supporting Naxalite violence, a charge which it has been able to adduce enough evidence for, so that on 9th Feb, 2011 he was refused bail by the High Court.


About vijaymahajan

Educated at St XaviersSchool, Jaipur; IIT Delhi; IIM Ahmedabad and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, USA; Co-founder of several development organisations - BASIX (, PRADAN (, Development Finance Forum (, Andhra Pradesh Mahila Abhivruddhi Society (, Sa-Dhan ( and the Microfinance Institutions Networrk ( Chair of CGAP Excom; BASIX Boards; DSC Board; Board member of MSSRF, ASSEFA, Gram Vikas Honours - WEF Davos Schwab Social Entrepreneur; Ashoka Global Fellow; IIT Delhi Distinguished Alumni Award; HSBC-Access Award for Outstanding Contribution to Microfinance in India; listed among India's top 50 most powerful people in India by BusinessWeek, Asia edition, 2010 Married to Savita, Deputy Dean, ISB, Hyderabad; two children, Chirag and Chandni
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One Response to Day 15 – February 13, 2011, Raipur, Mahasamund – Chhattisgarh

  1. Anoop says:


    You are getting better and better at this !


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