The foundation of PIDT’s work is the formation of small societies, or samities, within the villages for engagement in social work and community development activities. PIDT makes particular effort to organize young people and women to expand their input in village level decision-making. PIDT’s field staff initially organize meetings and continue to participate as facilitators as needed, helping stimulate questions and foregrounding potential solutions that come out of the group discussions. The focal areas of each group grow out of their own concerns and priorities. As people realize their collective strength, PIDT introduces savings and investment activities, transforming the samities into socially conscious Self-Help Groups with a joint stake in each other’s welfare, as well as federating them into larger pools so that they can influence local politics through the panchayati raj system.

Different places, different priorities
Chhattisgarh, Surguja District
When PIDT entered Surguja District in 1978, the entire region, which is nearly 90% tribal,m lived in fear of the wealthy Lal Saheb family whose brothers regularly raped and pillaged in the households and extorted pay or forced labour from anyone who dared to refuse. They had a standing bribe agreement with the police and all other official channels in

he village, leaving the people nowhere to turn with their grievances. The pioneer team members stood with the people against this entrenched brutality, risking threats and assaults on their own safety to inspire courage in the people and show them that their solidarity was greater in strength than the alliance among the oppressors.

After working in the village for a few months, the team had drawn the attention of the Lal Sahebs, who shouted:“‘we have heard all about your activities. No one is allowed to come into this area and do anything without our permission. We are the Lal Sahebs here. We do not want anyone to make the villagers educated, conscious or developed. Leave this areas within three hours or else we will kill and bury you.’”

The team carried on organizing the people into samities that met weekly to discuss social problems and find solutions. Within weeks the villagers had jointly cleaned the common well, purified wells for drinking water, and restored access to the public road that the Lal Sahebs had blocked for their own irrigation fixtures. They persuaded the local political leaders to close liquor shops, and arranged for a doctor from a nearby hospital to come administer smallpox vaccine and inoculate for cholera. Schools that had been placed there had refused to teach the Adivasis, claiming they were stupid and it was a waste of time. The villagers started a night school for the children as well as adult literacy classes, jointly contributing to a fund for the kerosene oil needed to provide light.

Today, the samities have recently been federated for greater political power. Forced into official channels to attempt to maintain their status, the Lal Saheb brothers have lost governance seats in the panchayat to women leaders from the samities. PIDT is now preparing to withdraw from this area as sustainable transformation has taken root and is flourishing.

Jharkhand, Lokshala
The numerous samities that have been established for diverse social upliftment work are now thriving. Women’s groups, youth groups and environmental groups have substantively changed the face of the region. In learning to work collectively, the samities have also become the primary arbiters of conflict resolution, reducing the need to go to the courts and the police, which had dispensed justice, if at all, late and at high cost. Criminal cases have gone down such that local police, who used to extort bribes, recently complained to PIDT staff members that they no longer had any reason to go to the village.

Building on the cooperative success of the samities, efforts are being made to transform these development committees into Self-Help Groups (SHGs), adding the dimension of inter-lending for community-based financial management and economic selfsufficiency. This is a new concept for these villagers who, twenty years ago, had virtually no cash economy. PIDT is training these largely women’s groups in cooperative saving and financial management so that they can start their own incomegenerating activities, such as small-scale agricultural enterprises and animal husbandry.

Presently, nearly half of the existing samities have begun successfully saving and approximately one dozen have been granted bank loans up to Rs. 25,000 based on demonstration of consistent inter-loan repayment. As assets are held and managed by the group, investments benefit the larger community rather than falling disproportionately to members of better off landed families among them.

Having grown out of socially active samities, the members remain interested in solving problems related to women and their position in the society. The fact that they are now earning has increased respect for women in the family, dramatically reducing incidence of wife-beating, and increasing the selfconfidence of the women as they are consulted in family and village-level decision-making. The nutrition level of the children
has improved and most are attending school.

In the next few years, PIDT anticipates the federation of these samities for greater political clout and integration with higher level structures – a process in which the more savvy SHGs will play a critical leadership role within their communities.

Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDG)...
MDG #3. Promote gender equality and empower women Back