Session 4: Claiming Rights, Advocacy & Empowerment

In this session, three organizations affiliated with CORO to various degrees discussed their efforts to stand up for the rights of the environment and the people while forefronting gender concerns. What emerged was the importance of harvesting grassroots knowledge, spreading it to other grassroots communities, and gaining recognition, respect, and compensation for this knowledge.


  • Manish Rajankar, Shalu Jagdish Kolhe & Sarita Dudhram Meshram (Bhandara Nisarga Va Sanskruti Abhyas Mandal)
  • Vijay Dethe & Ramesh Tekam (Pariyavaran Mitra)
  • Supriya Jan & Mumtaz Sheikh (CORO)


Dr. Ishita Dey (CDP Ambedkar University)

“Role of Women in Integrated Water Resource Management, the Third Dimension of Management of Malguri Tanks in Bhandara and Gondia Districts”

Manish Rajankar, Shalu Jagdish Kolhe & Sarita Dudhram Meshram, Bhandara Nisarga Va Sanskruti Abhyas Mandal (BNVSAM)

Our organization is working in Bhandara and Gondia Districts of easternmost part of Maharashtra. We are engaged in the work of strengthening the livelihood of water-dependent communities through community leadership development and conservation and management of traditional tank system of our area. These tanks were built for providing protective irrigation to the rice crop, before centuries, in the reign of Gond Kings of Chanda. There is a social inequity also, inbuilt in this system of water management as it was evolved in the feudal system. The King has given the land irrigated by a tank, in reward to the person, who has built the tank. The tank building community or person gives some share of irrigated land to the persons, who have helped him to build the tank, but the majority of the land remained with him. The management work of the tank was also carried by all these beneficiary farmers. Even fishing was also carried out by the owner.

We have adopted two strategies, one is to rejuvenating the tank system with the traditional, experiential knowledge of the fisherman community and at the same time, another strategy was to develop women leadership from the community to prepare the holistic plan of tank management and to enter in the arena of decision making through local governance system of Gram Sabha.

Firstly we have documented the traditional knowledge of the community, then scientifically documented the selected tanks diversity, its current formal and informal use systems, their impacts on resources and then on dependent communities and later on shared those with the village community again. The process of preparing the village level holistic plans of water management of these tanks is going on.

On the other hand, starting with the organization of Dhiwar community women in SHGs, now the village level strong organization of women from all social groups is established. The women gram sabhas are taking lead for village level governance of resources, including the water resource.

“Towards Prosperity: Local Governance and Forest Management at Pachgaon”

Vijay Dethe & Ramesh Tekam, Pariyavaran Mitra

” ग्रामसभा पाचगाव ची गोष्ट हि फक्त एका गावाची गोष्ट नाही आहे.

एक लहानसे गाव स्वतःची प्रगती कशी करून घेते, एवढ्यावरच ती संपत नाही.

हे एक प्रकारचे आधुनिक राज्यशास्त्र आहे. आधुनिक काळामध्ये

नागरिकांनी कसं वागायचं, आपल्या भोवताल च्या साधनसंपत्तीचा

आपल्या उपजीविकेकरिता संवर्धनशील उपयोग कसा करायचा आणि सर्वात महत्वाचे म्हणजे

हे असे जगत असताना आपल्या नागरिकत्वाची आणि व्यक्तीभावाची

जपणूक करीत स्वराज्य कसे आणायचे, याचे दिग्दर्शन पाचगाव मधून होते “

The development process at Pachgaon is significant in many ways. In the first place it highlights the importance of recognizing the rights and endowments of the local communities. The FRA is considered as a historic act because it categorically grants rights over a crucial natural resource i.e. forest. FRA is not a development program. It is an act of the state to recognize community rights, especially to those who were traditionally enjoying those rights but were deprived from doing so in the colonial and post-Independence period. Pachgaon has shown that if the communities are endowed with such rights, they can make a better use of the resource.

The employment of bamboo harvesting has been open to all and any able bodied adult person could participate into it. As individual abilities differed, the amount of work carried out by individuals differed. However, care was taken to ensure equity. An upper ceiling for bamboo cutting was recommended and adhered to. Age and gender considerations were appropriately honored. The gramsabha did not expect anybody’s labor free and those who worked on behalf of gramsabha were adequately compensated. This kind of flexibility was possible only because the work was planned by the community and for the community.

The gramsabha has been quite conscious that all the bamboo harvesting needs to happen sequentially and in a sustainable manner. The usual method is only to cut the mature bamboos in a grove. In this manner, the harvesting operations could be sustainable for the next 20 to 25 years. During this time, appropriate measures for new plantations could be considered. Thus the livelihood generation processes initiated at Pachgaon have the potential to remain productive, equitable and sustainable.

In tribal areas the youth suffer from multiple stresses: frustration with the administration, anger against police repression, anxiety of existence, uncertainty of future and social exclusion. To counter this, it is necessary that the youth be given remunerative employment and their faith in the system is restored. They also need to be given social and cultural space to channel their youthful energies. Their confidence to deal with government administration needs to be developed. In Pachgaon this has been achieved. The endowment of rights and the associated freedom to manage the resource provide a purpose in life. The involvement into work and acquisition of real remunerative wages satisfy the livelihood needs. Hands and heads are occupied. Kinship and community ties provide the much needed emotional and social support and the threats of anomie and alienation are removed. Faith in governance and development is restored. This is the most significant aspect at Pachgaon.

“To Pee or Not To Pee”

Supriya Jan & Mumtaz Sheikh, CORO

To Pee or Not to Pee? That is the question that plagues women going about their daily lives in our vibrant, sprawling city. Regardless of class, religion, sexuality, gender identity, or disability we all need to urinate and defecate. Yet these are the same factors that determine who can seek relief and at what cost. When men use urinals free of cost while women cannot, while trans people cannot use any public toilet at all, when toilets are not accessible to those who are differently-abled, while low-income communities face unhealthy conditions in their communal bathrooms - how can any city thrive without providing for its denizens most basic needs?

The Right to Pee (RTP) campaign emerged out of CORO and Leaders’ Quest’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program which is aimed at building capacities of grassroots leaders to tackle some of the chronic and complex issues that the marginalized communities face. RTP arose from a group of Mumbai fellows and their organisations collective resolution to advocate at all levels for gender-inclusive clean, safe, free public urinals. Collaborative processes come into RTP’s work in two equally important ways: collective decisions are made by and for the community and conscientious engagements are created with state officials and policy-makers.

Over the last 5 years, 33 organisations and individuals in Mumbai have enriched RTP campaign with their participation. RTP involves intensive collaboration (and occasionally confrontation) with different agencies to advocate with government to make policies to ensure women, transgender people, disabled people, and other marginalised groups’ easy access to clean and safe urinals and toilets at public places. The campaign also seeks to generate awareness that will increase people’s participation in actually designing the infrastructure they will be accessing, along with supporting local governance committees in managing these amenities for a safe, gender friendly, inclusive, competitive city. RTP’s journey from activist collective to tightly coordinated grassroots collaborator-confronters is a remarkable example of how the people’s knowledge can be included in systems of governance and planning through rights-based advocacy.