From Superstitions To Super-Empowerment - A Story Of Solidarity

CORO shaped me and I shaped others while developing my village. I am grateful to CORO, Navi Umed Organisation and my wife Anusaya. – Kashinath Salam

Kashinath Salam is a grassroots leader from the 2016 cohort of Grassroots Leadership Development Programme (GLDP). He hails from Kajipod village in Nanded district. Being from a tribal Kolam community, his predecessors lived a wandering life from forest to forest. With time, this community started farming and settled at one place and survived on secondary yields from the forest. Kajipod is a small village of 32 households, having a group Grampanchayat at Javar.

Despite lack of basic facilities, in Gramsabha and Grampanchayat meetings, no one paid heed to the needs of the Kolam community. It was a grassroots organisation in Pandharkavda, Navi Umed which came forward to develop Kashinath’s village. Through relentless efforts the organisation was successful in getting 700 acres of forest land to the village under Community Forest Rights. It was a big achievement but the next thing bothered the villagers was what would they do with this land, how they would solve the basic issues of the village. It was the same time when Navi Umed came in contact with CORO through its organisation development programme and Kashinath started working with Navi Umed. Kashinath applied for fellowship in the leadership programme and got selected through a 3 stage process of recruitment.

It was a yearlong training and mentoring programme which nurtured the leadership potential in Kashinath. Initially, Kashinath being influenced by traditional superstitious practices, was not ready to join the training programme. He thought it would invite a wrath of the village god if he worked for forest and village development. But encouragement from the organisation head and wife Anusaya gave him enough courage to take up this assignment.

Kashinath attended all 5 residential trainings in GLDP and transformed into a bold, courageous leader as well as started understanding the issues the village had been facing. He realised there were no basic facilities in the village i.e. lack of electricity connections/street lights, raw/tattered houses, lack of proper roads, people had to walk half a kilometre to fetch drinking water. 29 families out of 32 were small land holders. They could not take out much from the farming due insufficient water. These 29 families would migrate to the town in search of livelihood for 6 months. Gramsabha was indifferent to the needs of the Kajipod village.

At this juncture, Kashinath applied his training to address the above issues. First he formed a support group of 12 people in his village through a series of meetings. The group took initiative to mobilise people to put their demands and got them approved in Gramsabha. Women also participated in this process and the village development started in a real sense. People learnt to optimally use the natural resources available to them, they created kitchen gardens, and livelihood was created around collection of honey, gum and mahua flowers. They took the ownership of their village and collected a local contribution of Rs. 90,000/-, gave their labour and time and built a 500 meter long road. An inspiring example of Shramdaan.

But the chain of development did not stop here. Out of the efforts of Kashinath and his fellow villagers, 15 families got farm ponds, wells for 15 families, the villagers got their house premises registered in their names, 22 families got well built houses, a new 1 KM long asphalt road was built going towards Javar village, where grampanchayat operated from, 32 families got electricity connections, street lights running on solar energy were installed, 15 families got home gas connections, Water was made available through home taps through a 500 meter long pipeline, 6 youth from the village got trained in Bamboo cutting, 15 people got trained in honey and gum collection. As a result 21 families created a livelihood of their own. All these livelihood opportunities in the village ultimately prevented the migration. The next big steps planned were, setting up of a Honey Processing Unit and Refinery Oil Processing Unit.

Kashinath’s leadership built a good rapport with the government system. They visit the village and cooperate in addressing its issues. The milestones that the villagers achieved were inspiring for others. On one occasion the Governor of Maharashtra visited Kajipod village and had a dialogue with Kashinath.

Kashinath also worked on the practice of archaic social norms leading to gender based violence. Women and Girls in Kajipod village used to lock themselves in the cow sheds during their menstrual period. But CORO and Navi Umed persistently had meetings and dialogue with the villagers and eventually now the women are allowed to stay home during this time.

The Honey Processing Unit has been approved by the government with a sanction of 98% loan towards the same. The project will be built on 3000 square feet land and will cost Rupees One Crore. The first installment of 3,78,000/- has already reached. The project has been initiated and will ensure a sustainable livelihood to about 200 people in the days to come.