VSSM gives identity, life-skills, rights, education, health facilities, housing and livelihood options to absorb nomads into the mainstream
The emergence of a modern and industrial society has rendered traditional occupations of nomadic tribes either obsolete or their survival is threatened. As a result, many tribals are finding it difficult to earn a decent income and adjust to the new reality. “The traditional way of life of these nomadic tribes is either dying, or is dead, already. How will they restart their lives in modern Gujarat?” asks Deepa Krishnan of Mumbai Magic.
Mittal Patel found the answer to this question in her own way, by attempting to bring the old Gujarat and modern Gujarat together. She has been working at the grassroots with the tribal communities since 2006. In 2010, Ms Patel started the Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM), which means a support forum for nomadic communities with the aim of bringing them into the mainstream of society.
Ms Patel’s problems were manifold. Gaining basic recognition and empathy was also difficult in the beginning. “As far as the government is concerned, these tribals don’t exist,” says
Ms Krishnan, a donor to VSSM. They are, often, not even on the electoral rolls. Their problems go back to the way they were treated under the colonial masters. They were branded ‘habitually criminal’ by the British under the Criminals Tribes Act of 1871; this is defined as ‘addicted to the systematic commission of offences’, such as thefts. Restrictions on their movements were imposed. Even today, not all tribal women have been rehabilitated from prostitution.
But Ms Patel, a gold medallist from Gujarat University’s department of journalism, is not pessimistic; she has no time to shed tears of sympathy. From helping the nomadic communities claim their land rights, to getting voter ID cards, to setting up a school for their children and fighting with bureaucrats to extend welfare benefits to them, she has a million tasks to accomplish that leave little room for pessimism.
With the help of the state government and some NGOs, Ms Patel organised a mass wedding in Banaskantha district (Gujarat) for women from the Saraniya community (a nomadic tribe). There have been several weddings in the affected districts—each time, to take the women out of prostitution. Recognising these marriages as a mass movement at grassroots level, Madhav Ramanuj—a renowned Gujarati poet and president of VSSM—said: “I feel these weddings are taking place in my own family.”
VSSM intervenes at multiple levels to create vocational options for these communities. It equips craftsmen to enhance their skills as well as introduces them to new vocations. A series of training workshops have been conducted for Nathwadee, Saraniya, Gadaliya, Bawa, Kangasiya, Salat and Meer communities. Those who complete their training have increased their earning power through the new skills they mastered.
VSSM is now forming district level forums for performing artiste to increase their bargaining power and provide equal platforms to all the performing artiste groups of Gujarat. It also helps them to buy new and modern musical instruments, make-up kits, costumes, etc.
Ms Krishnan summarises Ms Patel’s efforts thus: “Mittal has started tent-schools for nomadic children, conducted group marriages to help reduce the burden of wedding expenses on nomadic families, rescued nomadic girls from prostitution and taken on many other social issues.” In some cases, she has even added some families to the electoral rolls with government help. Imagine a man who was a ‘habitual criminal’ as a British subject being able to vote in the Republic of India! Donations to VSSM are tax-exempt under Section 80-G of the Income-tax Act.
Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch
Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch,
‘Harikutir’, Sadvichar Parivar Campus,
Satellite Road, Ramdevnagar,
Ahmedabad - 380 015 Gujarat.
Phone: (079) 2686 0378/79