Rannzunjar Pratishthan and Ekta Parishad

 

 

Rannzunjar Pratishthan and Ekta Parishad

Non-political, non-profit, non-governmental registered charitable youth organization (NGO) and Ekta Parishad: *Dr. Robert Gorter’s involvement

by

Guru Brar

 

*Dr. Robert Gorter has a life-long history of social involvement and has been active in fundraising and providing microloans out of his own pockets to the under-privileged in Brazil, Sub-Sahara, and West Africa; in India and Pakistan.

Rannzunjar Pratishthan is a non-political, non-profit, non-governmental, registered, charitable youth organization (NGO). The mission of this organization is to help farmers and their families in issues typically related to life in rural India.

During four consecutive years, rural areas in India are facing a severe drought with no water for irrigation and cattle; and since last year, even a lack of sufficient drinking water cripples further these communities. Therefore, during the night by train, 120.000 liters of water per day are being transported to Latur, in the State of Maharashtra, and the capital of one of the worst regions hit by the current drought.

All artificial lakes are now empty and irrigation made impossible. Also, groundwater reservoirs are currently so depleted, that to access groundwater, one must drill new wells at least 90 meters deep, or more.

Because of the ongoing drought, farmers can no longer grow the crop and the land lays barren. Cattle had to be slaughtered or sold. Thus, farmers lack any income for four years and many farmers were driven into suicide. It is estimated that in the Latur region in 2015 alone, more than 3.000 farmers committed suicide.

Another consequence of the growing poverty is the lack of financing the dowries, necessary to marry in traditional Hindu cultures. This is affecting all adolescents and, being unable to marry, stimulates them to leave the area altogether and migrate to large cities; with all the problems associated with that.

In 2014, Rannzunjar Pratishthan has been established by like-minded people, including farmers, engineers, medical doctors, and other Health Care Providers, sportsmen, civil servants, and local businessmen, to tackle these problems on a local level and by members of the affected rural areas where they belong to.

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Dr. Gorter with Guru Bar (right) and Vinod Kumar from Haryana who became the final champion in all categories.

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Vinod Kumar from Haryana as the overall champion in free wrestling

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KUSHTI CARNIVAL: The mega-event at Kundal in September 2013, as the new season started. Old hands think this crowd was ‘below normal’ because people have still not recovered from a bad season last time

Kushti is located at the intersection of sports, politics, culture, and economy in the rural regions of the State of Maharashtra. Wrestling exists in urban areas, but the wrestlers are from the villages, and mostly from (extremely) poor farming families.

Maharashtra’s ongoing agrarian crisis has hurt the sport for some years now. The last four years of severe drought and the consequent water crisis made it worse. Most local tournaments were canceled and prize money shrank. Many wrestlers dropped out, hurting their families’ investment in them.”

A tractor can be the first prize at smaller tournaments here. Rs.15 lakh out of every Rs.25 lakh comes from the ordinary farmer. If they’re doing badly, wrestling does badly.” (And vice versa too).

Wrestling is a route out of poverty, a striving for status, for the rural poor. Nearly 90% of them are from poor farming families and the rest are the children of landless laborers, carpenters, and so on. None are from the educated classes. Wrestling is also a passion. Barely 5% of Phelan’s make it to higher levels.”

That passion shows in the scores of very young boys sharing two or three small rooms in a taleems (training center in a boarding school-like setting), cooking their meals in groups. Many go running at 4 a.m., before training in the taleem commences at 5 a.m. and goes on till 8.30 a.m. The younger ones attend school between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Training resumes half an hour later and lasts till 8.30 p.m. Extreme discipline is a given. “Budding cricketers train maybe four months in a year. Ten years of training isn’t enough in wrestling.”

At the tales, farmers and laborers plead with the gurus to train their sons as pehelwans. It’s barely 6 a.m., and 83-year-old Ganpatrao Andhalkar is busy teaching eight-year-olds, among others, at his academy in Kolhapur. The former Asiad gold medalist and Olympian keeps a watchful eye on the practice bouts of older students while explaining the craft to the young ones. Occasionally, he bellows an instruction or reprimand to wrestlers. Often, he gets off his perch with the youngest and stands right over the fighters, pointing out moves and faults.

Wrestling is deeply rooted in the farm economy. But today that economy is fragile. The fees at the tales are nominal — Rs.100-200 (1 to 2 Euros) monthly, perhaps.” Andhalkar himself pulls in more from being a “chief guest” at functions across the State, than he earns from fees. The poorest students, he charges nothing. “Yet they’ve still got to bear huge diet expenses themselves.”

The number of poor people in India, according to the country’s Eleventh National Development Plan, amounts to more than 400 million. Due to rampant corruption and land grab, the country has not been that successful in reducing the proportion of poor people from about 55 percent in 1973 to about 35 percent in 2014.

But almost one-third of the country’s population of more than 1.3 billion continues to live below the poverty line, and a large proportion of poor people live in rural areas. Poverty remains a chronic condition for almost 50 percent of India’s rural population. The incidence of rural poverty has declined somewhat over the past three decades as a result of rural to urban migration.

On May 4th, 2016, Researchers at Germany’s prestigious Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia have published a thorough study in which they found that major parts of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Asia – already experiencing incredibly hot summers and years of drought – could become so warm that “human habitability is extremely compromised.”

The researchers found that even limiting global warming to lower than two degrees Celsius – agreed at the United Nations COP21 climate change summit in Paris last year – would do little to stop the regions from overheating, with summer temperatures increasing more than two times faster than the average pace of global warming.

“In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South-East Asia could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy,” Jos Lelieveld, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and professor at the Cyprus Institute, said in a statement released this week (May 4th, 2016).

It is customary that young girls and boys can only get married if the girl brings into the marriage a dowry. This is usually a cow and bout 30 couples could not get married as there was no dowry. Thus, with the assistance of Guru Brar. Dr. Gorter was able to spend quite a few cows to young couples and the day after the wrestling, a Hindu priest could marry them. In total, ca. 30 couples got married and a community lunch was served.

 

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Poverty rate map of India in 2012: four years of severe drought has worsened poverty dramatically in 2016.

Poverty is deepest among members of scheduled castes and tribes in the country’s rural areas. In 2014, these groups accounted for 80 percent of poor rural people, although their share in the total rural population is much smaller.

On the map of poverty in India, the poorest areas are in parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and West Bengal.

Large numbers of India’s poorest people live in the country’s semi-arid tropical region. In this area shortages of water and recurrent droughts impede the transformation of agriculture that the Green Revolution has achieved elsewhere. There is also a high incidence of poverty in flood-prone areas such as those extending from eastern Uttar Pradesh to the Assam plains, and especially in northern Bihar.

Poverty affects tribal people in forest areas, where the loss of entitlement to resources has made them even poorer. In coastal fishing communities, people’s living conditions are deteriorating because of environmental degradation, stock depletion, and vulnerability to natural disasters.

A major cause of poverty among India’s rural people, both individuals, and communities is a lack of access to productive assets and financial resources. High levels of illiteracy, inadequate health care, and extremely limited access to social services are common among poor rural people. Microenterprise development, which could generate income and enable poor people to improve their living conditions, has only recently become a focus of the government.

Women, in general, are the most disadvantaged people in Indian society, though their status varies significantly according to their social and ethnic backgrounds. Women are particularly vulnerable to the spread of HIV/AIDS from urban to rural areas. In 2014, an estimated 9.7 million men, women, and children in India were living with HIV/AIDS. Most of them are in the 15-49 age group and almost 50 percent of them, or 4.9 million in 2014, are women (National AIDS Control Organization).

Despite the many wrestling champions they’ve produced — and despite top political leaders heading their federations — the gurus of kushti have received little support from the Maharashtra government. It is a complaint across western Maharashtra that Punjab and Haryana treat their wrestlers a lot better.

Coal Dependence Worsens Drought Impact: Greenpeace Analysis

Power plants in India consume water needed for 251 million people – In seven drought-affected states they consume water that could meet requirements of 50 million people

On June 2nd, 2016, in New Delhi, Greenpeace India published a long-awaited study that shows that even as India suffers from one of the worst droughts in decades, affecting 266 districts across 11 states, the government continues to be myopic about managing the country’s water resources.Greenpeace India today released data on the water consumption patterns of coal power plants in seven droughts affected states – Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Chhattisgarh. Coal power plants in just these states consume water that could meet the basic needs of 50 million people for a year.

A Greenpeace India analysis of a report released in March this year estimates that the total freshwater consumption of coal power plants in India is 4.6 billion cubic meters per year. This is enough to meet the basic water needs of 251 million people. These figures will more than double if all proposed plants are built.

Coal power plants are amongst the most intensive industrial users of freshwater. Despite this being a drought year, the water consumption of coal power plants in India has not received sufficient attention from policymakers and government.

“This drought has been devastating for millions of people, yet we continue to ignore one of the biggest water guzzlers in the country, the coal power sector.  Given the scant water supply, we have to prioritize meeting basic human needs and livelihoods over water being diverted for operating a power plant,” says Jai Krishna, Greenpeace Campaigner, “It is particularly deplorable for the government to continue promoting more coal power plants, including in water-scarce regions, instead of investing in renewable energy solutions that would reduce the water burden as well as our contributions to climate change.”

The Greenpeace analysis reveals that the water consumption of coal power plants could more than triple in the coming years if all proposed power plants in these seven states are taken into account.

“This is a recipe for disaster. The next time we have below-normal rainfall, the crisis will be felt in farmlands, urban homes, and boardrooms alike,” cautioned Jai Krishna, “As water supply reduces, conflicts will arise, and power plants will need to be shut down more often to preserve water supplies, rendering new power plants a risky bet for investors and lenders as well.”

Companies such as NTPC, Adani Power, GMR, Mahagenco, Karnataka Power Corp have already been forced to shut down plants this year due to the severe water crisis, affecting grid stability as well as company revenues.

The water crisis of 2016 has highlighted the urgency of shifting to a diversified energy model that reduces India’s reliance on coal power, to save water and prevent power outages. The water consumption for solar and wind energy is negligible in comparison to coal. The government’s ambitious 175 GW target for wind and solar energy holds the key to securing both water and electricity supplies in water-stressed regions.

“We need a dramatic shift in power policy to save us from a situation where both water pipes and electricity run dry,” concluded Jai Krishna.

Ekta Parishad (unity forum in Hindi) is an Indian activist movement founded in 1991 by Rajagopal P. V., the son of a Gandhian worker. Ekta Parishad is a federation of approximately 11,000 community-based organizations and has thousands of individual members. It is currently operating in 11 states and had many associated foundations and associations worldwide, like in the EU (Germany). The strategy of Ekta Parishad is in  Gandhian tradition and thus, completely non-violent.

The two main activities of Ekta Parishad: dialoguing with the government at the state and national level and mobilizing the villagers for struggle at the grassroots level. Yet both are interlinked: people are struggling at the bottom level and their struggle is supported by a formation of institutions giving them the tools to fight for their rights (using democracy) at the top level, through dialogue. Vice versa, supporters are dialoguing at the top level to give space for political action or struggle at the bottom level.

The Gandhian, nonviolent strategy of Ekta Parishad

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Rajagopal speaking at the beginning of Jan Satyagraha, Gwalior, October 2012

The grassroots struggle is centered on the struggle for land rights. Approximately 70% of India’s population depends on access to land and its natural resources for their livelihood. Without any legal claim to these lands, thousands of people are forced to migrate to urban centers every day where they are left with no choice but to become manual laborers without rights or financial and life security. Thousands of people in India unite to free themselves from the oppressive hold that the land policies of this country have over their lives.

Ekta Parishad thus pressures the top and the bottom of the Indian political and administrative system, which is mainly blocked due to corruption. The latter engenders an inefficient distribution of information and inequitable distribution at the grassroots levels. The people at the bottom level don’t receive what they need to live decently and are powerless. Ekta Parishad helps the people by empowering them to defend their rights and provides a platform for people to share their experiences and ideas with the confidence that their voices will be heard.

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Rally in Bhopal, India, organized by Ekta Parishad

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Ekta Parishad office in Bhopal

Rajagopal P. V. is the founder and guiding spirit of Ekta Parishad. In October 2007, Ekta Parishad organized Janadesh, a 350 km non-violent foot march between Gwalior and Delhi. Approximately 28,000 farmers and activists participated. Following this, the Indian government promulgated the Forest Right Act in 2008 (for whatever it is worth).

However, implementation is extremely slow. In October 2012, Ekta Parishad organized a new march, Jan Satyagraha, with 100,000 farmers this time.

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Rajagopal speaking to 25,000 people, Janadesh 2007

Ekta Parishad is the only non-violent social movement in India working on land and forest rights at a national level. It has been built up over twenty years building from the local, to the state, to the national and increasingly to the international levels. The purpose of « a-massing » a larger and larger grouping of poor people into a mass movement has been to pressure a central government that is resisting reform and structural change.

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Ekta Parishad Walk, Chhattisgarh, Nov 2005

In Grande Tradition, easy 20.000 poor farmers and their families would walk 300 km to the capital of India, Delhi, to offer their demands for improving the laws for the poor (farmers) when their farms were taken by local governments to make possible industrialization. Due to rampant corruption among the civil servants, many farmers ended up with 10% or less what they were entitled to. This meant that the farmers and their families ended up in the slums of large cities, like Calcutta, Mumbai, and Madras.

Also in Europe, Dr. Gorter actively supported the goals of Ekta Parishad by assisting local chapters to raise awareness about Ekta Parishad.

To prepare and organize for these long walks of 300+ km with poor and often undernourished and/or sick people took a lot of organizing skills. For instance, Dr. Gorter was able to get senior medical students from Germany (and few from India) to join to assist in simple health care (blisters on feet, etc.) and have a mobile Emergency Room in the form of an ambulance and tents. And normal saline for infusions for those who were severely dehydrated.

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Janadesh 2007 on Chambal bridge

The structural change that Ekta Parishad is calling for is a complete land redistribution to enable the marginalized and downtrodden, to get out of poverty. Land reform is a « game-changer » that could bring 40% of the populace out of absolute poverty and reduce substantially the violence that is gripping Indian society.

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Rajagopal (*1948) on Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, at the end of the big walk Janades, 2007

One of the successes of Ekta Parishad’s history is that people have found a social space in which to come together and demand their rights. In normal society, it is not easy or possible for a marginalized person, like a single impoverished woman, or a bonded laborer, to stand up for their rights (even though they have them). Ekta Parishad is guarding democratic space by bringing groups together in a mass organization. By doing this it is constantly reminding the government that, in case they have forgotten, it is their role as given by the Independence Declaration and the Constitution, to provide that all people basic human rights and freedoms.

Rajagopal was born in 1948 as a fourth of five children in Thillenkery, a village in Kerala, South India. His full name is Rajagopal Puthan Veetil, but he now chooses to use only his first name in public to avoid any caste-related stereotyping that might be associated with his full name. Rajagopal’s father was an activist fighting for India’s independence and therefore was frequently separated from his family. Rajagopal attended the grade school at Seva Mandir, being taught in the Malayalam language. The school followed Gandhi’s philosophical principles about life and work in a community. He later studied classical Indian dance and music, before completing his education at Sevagram, Gandhi’s Ashram in Maharashtra, with a degree in agricultural engineering. This is also where Rajagopal learned to speak English

In the early 70s, he worked in the violence-ridden area of Chambal in Madhya Pradesh to help rehabilitate dacoits.

The current Modi government after coming into action has proposed two major changes into the land acquisition act:-

  1. It seeks to dilute provisions such as the mandatory consent of 70 percent of those affected in the case of public-private partnership (PPP) projects.
  2. It removes the provision of a mandatory requirement for a time-bound Social Impact Assessment for land acquisitions.

Rajagopal accuses Modi and his administration as being too much a pro-corporate and claims it will further aggravate the difference between the rich and poor in the country.

In 2014, Rajagopal received the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration.

The Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration is a prestigious award accorded by the Indian National Congress, after former Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi. This award is given annually starting from 1985 to distinguished persons/institutions for promoting national integration and understanding and fellowship amongst religious groups, communities, ethnic groups, cultures, languages, and traditions of India and the strengthening, through thought and action of the nation’s sense of solidarity. The Awardee is selected by an Advisory Committee of eminent persons representing art, science, culture, education, literature, religion social work journalism, law, and public life. The award carries several half-a-million Rupees in cash and a citation. The Award is given on the Martyrdom Day i.e. 31 October. The Award is given for services deserving of recognition in the year to which the Award relates and two years immediately preceding it.

The Award has so far been given to Swami Ranganathananda (1987), Smt. Aruna Asaf Ali, The Bharat Scouts, and Guides (1987), Shri P. N. Haksar, M. S. Subbulakshmi (1990), Shri Rajiv Gandhi (Posthumous), Paramdham Ashram (Wardha, Maharashtra), Acharya Tulsi (1993), Bishambhar Nath Pande (1996), Beant Singh (Posthumous) & Natwar Thakkar (Jointly), Gandhi Institute of Public Affairs (Karnataka), Indira Gandhi Centre for National Integration (Shanti Niketan), A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Shankar Dayal Sharma (Posthumous), Satish Dhawan, Shri H. Y. Sharada Prasad, Ram-Rahim Nagar Slum Dwellers Association (Ahmedabad), Aaman Pathik Peace Volunteer Group (Ahmedabad), Ram Sinh Solanki, and Sunil Tamaiche (Jointly), Rajagopal (2014).

 

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