Vidyadham Samiti Makes Waves with Asserting Rights of Weaker Sections and Women


In the course of its eventful journey that started in 2001, Vidyadham Samiti (VDS), a voluntary organization of Bundelkhand region in central India, has acquired a well-established reputation as a true friend of weaker sections of society, standing by them in difficult conditions and in resisting injustice. Often facing several hurdles placed in its path by the rich and the powerful, Vidyadham Samiti has struggled hard to survive these adversities while providing relief and bringing hope to the poor and weaker sections in the 70 villages of Banda district (Uttar Pradesh) where it works on regular basis. In addition it has made some important contributions in a few other areas from time to time.

VDS has worked from early days in 50 villages of Naraini block. More recently it has added 20 more villages from Mahuwa and Bisanda blocks. Raja Bhaiya, founder of VDS and his close colleagues consider the trust of the people, particularly the weaker section, acquired in the course of their journey, as the achievement they cherish the most.

VDS has taken up hundreds of cases of injustice and tried to help the victims, most of whom are Dalits or from other weaker sections. In a very considerable number of these cases the VDS has succeeded in achieving significant relief and justice for victims of injustice. VDS has developed a working pattern on writing applications, arranging meetings with officials, advocacy, judicial processes and peaceful dharnas ( sit-ins) or protests where needed for obtaining justice. This is a peaceful process for the protection of legal and constitutional rights of citizens who are placed in more adverse socio-economic conditions.

In similar ways VDS has taken up innumerable cases of injustice to women including cases of domestic violence, dowry and sexual violence and achieved significant success in getting justice for several women. In its work area VS has also succeeded in improving overall social conditions for women so that they have more freedom for coming out for wider social roles. Several women who suffered silently numerous injustices earlier could not only resist injustice in the new conditions but also come forward to fulfill other women who were caught in various injustices. Several women have been helped to receive compensation for the injustices caused to them. Women with little formal education or even illiterate women have been fulfilling important and wider social roles with the help and guidance of VDS.

In its work to resist injustices the various jan sunwais or public hearings organized by VDS have played an important role. These have been organized under the various programs of VDS and more recently also under the Chingari chaupal series. Chingari is a regional organization of women which takes up several issues of injustice in peaceful ways and VDS often works in close collaboration with Chingari.

If the various government schemes of livelihoods, employment, social security, housing and welfare are all implemented in the right spirit then these can make a very significant contribution to improving socio-economic conditions. Unfortunately the actual implementation often falls much short of the actual potential. At times there may be even some adverse impacts on some vulnerable people, an example being of vulnerable workers from poor households who toiled at NREGA work sites but did not get wages for a long time. In such a situation VDS has tried to bring out the weaknesses at the implementation level with the objective of securing improvements, an important democratic process and an important responsibility of any democratic organization. At the same time VDS has taken the information regarding the available schemes to the most deserving candidates for these schemes—the poorest people living in the most remote hamlets and thereby helped the government a lot in extending the reach of these schemes. To give a recent example, Rajaram ka Purva hamlet in Mahuwa panchayat has been more or less untouched by government welfare programs when mobilization efforts of VDS led to the officials visiting the village for the first steps and initiating the first steps for making job cards, ration card and applying for housing schemes. In many villages VDS has been consistently helping the poorest people in getting job cards and ration cards without which they cannot access the benefits of the rural employment guarantee scheme and the public distribution system.

Problems of farmers have been increasing in times of adverse weather and climate change. VDS has worked in several villages to improve the productivity of farmers and their capacity to adapt to more adverse conditions by taking up work relating to land levelling, bunding, soil and water conservation. Spread of organic farming has led to reduction of costs for farmers as well as improving overall agro-ecological conditions. Several returning migrant workers were helped to start farming again.

Several landless persons had been given land pattas but they could not cultivate this land for years due to the pressures exerted by powerful local persons who often encroached this land for their own use. VDS helped several hundred landless persons to cultivate several hundred bighas of such land.

VDS played an important supportive role in the struggle of the people of Kolawalpur and other nearby villages to check sand mining in a river. VS mobilized returning migrant workers to take up courageous work based on voluntary labor to try to revive a stretch of Gharar river which had dried up.

During several drought situation VS stepped up its work of providing relief to people in the form of distribution of food kits and starting food banks or grain banks in some villages. Similar work was also been taken up in even more difficult conditions during Covid times. VDS has been working for several years for improvement of the public distribution system and various nutrition schemes in its work area.

By arranging for the distribution of sweaters and blankets in some of the poorest hamlets before the advent of winter or by arranging for the timely supply of other necessities the VDS has tried to provide relief to some of the poorest families.

This region has been shattered from time to time by suicides and trauma deaths of farmers. VDS contacted several of these families to extend some help to them.

One important reason of the distress of farmers is their growing indebtedness which in turn is related to the growing role of middlemen in corruption-ridden loaning. VDS has been raising its voice against such malpractices and has exposed several cases of corruption relating to this as well as other issues. VDS has made effective use of right to information law in its efforts against corruption and related malpractices, particularly in contexts where the weaker sections are directly affected adversely by this.

VDS has also worked to improve the functioning of several panchayats (or rural self-government agencies). When representatives from weaker sections were elected to panchayats, they often faced various obstructions from powerful persons. In such cases VDS extended its support so that dalit and other weaker section representatives could function effectively and independently to implement a more pro-poor agenda in their panchayat.

VDS traces its establishment to the starting of two schools and hence it has been making special efforts to improve the functioning of rural schools. This contributed to improving several schools which were functioning properly and where teachers had been absent frequently. At the same time in some remote hamlets inhabited by the poorest people where it was difficult for children to attend regular schools due to a number of reasons, VDS has started informal schools within the community space so that children receive at least some education till they can be connected to a government school. VDS has also made efforts to make this education simpler and more interesting for students from very poor families.

Special groups of adolescent girls called kishori samoohs have been set up in the work area of VDS which hold regular meetings to discuss their problems. This has helped to improve health and education and reduced considerably the possibility of child marriage.

VDS has helped the campaign against alcoholism and gambling in several villages. Thanks to such efforts, in Kolawalpur villages many persons have given up the consumption of liquor.

Some activists of VDS have also contributed to initiatives outside the regular work area of VDS. Thus the efforts of Mobina helped to rescue people of some villages in Kabrai block from very highly inflated electricity bills, while Matadayal, who is also a folk-poet, helped several landless or near landless farmers to cultivate their land pattas which they could not do earlier due to threats from powerful persons.

In the course of this journey VDS has faced several threats from the powerful forces which had been dominating the region in their exploitative grip for too long. Despite this VDS has continued its eventful and inspirational journey with courage and resilience.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine (Gandhian Ideas for Our Times), Planet in Peril and India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food.


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