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Devipur Experiment–latest workshop on 23/1/2011-an Update

January 29, 2011

A.         Recap

At the request of the Viswasuk Sevashram Sangha of Ichhapur , West Bengal, we started an experiment in rural development at the Aila ravaged Sunderbans village of Devipur from May 2010.

In the course of the experiment the villagers have been encouraged and guided into planning and executing their own ventures, mainly based on their own internal material and human resources and little outside assistance.

In course of the experiment during the last eight months we have witnessed how they have formed their own self help group, begun a vermicomposte project, started a tailoring school for supplying stitched dress materials to nearby markets and have begun running a sales outlet at Icchhapur for selling packaged agro products.

For the newcomer to this blog, the following links will provide the earlier reports on the experiment:

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/joydhak-workshop-at-devipur-in-the-sunderbans-–-may’30-2010/

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/the-devipur-experiment-follow-up-workshop-on-11th-july-2010/

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/the-devipur-experiment-report-3—15th-august-2010-the-first-tangible-results/

B.         REPORT ON THE LATEST EVALUATION WORKSHOP

1. DATE: 23rd January’2011

2. VENUE: Devipur Village, Sunderbans.

3. EVALUATORS ON FIELD: Sri Shankar Mondal and Smt Aradhana Bhattacharyya

4.CURRENT STATUS OF VARIOUS MODULES:

(I) SALE OUTLET OF PACKAGED AGRO PRODUCT AT ICHHAPUR SEVASHRAM SANGHA PREMISES:

Present status:

Running fine. Regularly manned by a student from Devipur who is pursuing his study at Kolkata , staying at Ichhapur Ashram premises and is running the outlet smoothly.

(II) TAILORING UNIT AT DEVIPUR FOR THE WOMEN:

Position as of October 2010:

(a) During the October’2010 workshop (See previous report for details) The women of Devipur had observed that the working space for the tailoring school lacked proper infrastructure for proficient performance. They were in fact working on the Veranda of the Ashram with two rickety old sewing machine. During the October evaluation workshop it was decided  that the only brick built room of the Ashram available on the same premises would be allotted to the women for their tailoring school. The men of the village would  themselves redesign the structure of the building by opening big windows on its walls and arranging proper sitting arrangements etc for the women to work there. The Ashram had agreed to bear the cost provided the villagers worked themselves in order to reduce expenses.

(b) The women observed that as they are usually busy during the daytime with domestic chores and also working in the farmlands, it would be helpful if the school could have solar lamps so that  they could work at night.

(c)    Two guest participants in the workshop promised a sewing machine and other tailoring equipment.

Finding of the evaluation team on 23rd January 2011

(a) The visiting team found that the work has been successfully executed by the villagers. The Tailoring school has now been relocated in their new station in a brick built structure and is sporting a more professional look now. The following comparative photograph tells it all:

The changed look of the tailoring facility at Devipur

(b) After publication of the request in the blog a total of Rs. 12500 was donated by two individuals. The money was decided to  be used for two purposes: (a) installing Solar Lamp in the  tailoring school premises and (b) buying a new tailoring machine.

During the 23rd January’11 workshop it was found that Solar light has been installed in the tailoring school. The WEBREDA(West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Authority) had been approached through the Ashram Authorities for a subsidized supply of solar lamp which has resulted into receiving of a 75 watt Solar lamp system at a subsidized rate. It will be capable of powering four to eight CFL lamps.

The newly installed solar lamps

(c) The promised sewing machine and the tailoring equipment has been delivered  and installed. The Ashram is also providing one more machine which is ready for delivery at Dumdum, waiting to be picked up.

(d)   It was found during the inspection that the tailoring facility has started receiving orders for stitching dress materials. Initial orders are coming from a local semi urban area called Petkul. The men are on the job for bringing in more order. The women observed that with the Solar lamp installed they would now be able use the evening hours for more training and order supply work. Also the receipt of additional sewing machines would help in expanding the per capita training and working time.

(e)    Initially the remunerations of the stitching orders were paltry (Rs. 22 per dozen). Presently they have received another set of orders  at a rate of Rs 70 per dozen. The ladies are happy with that. They very candidly admitted that this is the time for establishment of their credentials  and once that is achieved the income should grow automatically. Initially they are getting orders for stitching simple children’s garments. A discussion was held with their instructor Smt Lakhsmi Sutar during which it was decided that she would now start  instructing the ladies in creating more intricate dress material that gets more remuneration.

Handing over the money for solar lamp and sewing machine

Handing over of the fund to Secretary of the Self help group by the visiting team

(f)     Finally, on satisfactory completion of inspection, an amount of Rs 11,200 was handed over to Smt Krishna Ray, Secreatary of the self help group as reimbursement for the expenses incurred for the solar lamp and money for buying of another sewing machine. The amount came from the donation from the two well wishers as informed earlier.

(III) VERMICOMPOSTE

This project is currently running fine. IT may be recalled that the first vermicomposte production facility was inaugurated in October’2010 at the Ashram premises at Devipur by two local men who were given training for that as a part of the project from University of Kalyani.

During inspection it was observed that the worms have already been employed in the first Vermicomposte bed and they are making a healthy progress. First yield is going to be slightly delayed due to cold season. Here is a shot of the growing worms in the first vermicomposte bed.

The vermicomposte bed is alive with activity

(IV) PLAN FOR THE NEXT PHASE

Rural health improvement programme with stress on preventive medicine and public health engineering

In the next phase we are planning to create a medical facility at Devipur with a small homeopathic dispensary and a non-formal training facility for the local people for training them up in first aid, public health engineering and preventive medicine. ALL SUGGESTIONS AND QUALIFIED ASSISTANCE ARE WELCOME.

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DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT : Fourth Report: Two more achievements

October 25, 2010

A. Earlier reports:

Please click the following links to see the earlier reports on this experiment:

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/joydhak-workshop-at-devipur-in-the-sunderbans-–-may’30-2010/

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/the-devipur-experiment-follow-up-workshop-on-11th-july-2010/

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/the-devipur-experiment-report-3—15th-august-2010-the-first-tangible-results/

B. Recap:

Location :

the location

A Sunderbans village named Devipur, on the bank of the river Thakurani in South 24 pgs of West Bengal, India.

Aim of the experiment:

Economic development of the village by optimum utilization of available resources, both material as well as human, available in the village and its surrounding area, involving residents of both genders and imbibing self-confidence and courage among the residents, especially the younger generation.

Background:

The Viswasuk Shevashram Sangha, a philanthropic organisation from Ichhapur, North 24 Pgs, West Bengal, has a small branch at Devipur , around 150 Kilometers away from Ichhapur. The economic conditions of the already poor village took a nosedive after being hit by the terrible cyclone Ayla some time ago.

The Ashram authorities wanted to start a revival activity at this village. On a specific request from the Ashram authorities the experiment was started from end of May 2010 at Devipur by an expert team comprising Debjyoti Bhattacharyya, Arindam Debnath and two Ashram Representatives viz. Sri Makhan Maharaj and Sri Shankar Mandal.

Methodology being followed:

a. On the spot assessment of needs, resources and capabilities

b. Assisting the local people in understanding their own requirement and in devising (by themselves) suitable strategies to achieve them.

c. Setting up milestones for implementation of such strategies and ensuring that participants stick to the schedule

d. Providing limited marketing and HRD assistance when such requirements arise.

e. Periodic evaluation of progress and providing guidance to participants in devising suitable modifications to their own strategies.

Results achieved till date:

1.      They have formed a self help group named Sunderban Vishwasuk Swanirbhar Goshthi with the women of ten families willing to participate in the experiment.

2.      The men have started a small enterprise of packaging locally available spices and honey. For this purpose the villagers have pooled a small initial capital from their own resources. No external fund has been provided.

3.      The Shevashram Sangha has opened a sales outlet for these products at their Ichhapur Premises.

4.      The women have arranged for a tailoring instructor from a nearby place and have started a tailoring class for themselves. The Vishwasuk Sevashram Authorities have provided them with requisite space and two old sewing machines for that purpose.

C. A new scheme introduced:

The agriculture in the village is highly dependent on large doses of chemical fertilizers which are expensive as well as harmful. In view of this, the Adult education centre of the University of Kalyani was contacted and with the active help from Prof Jiban Sarkar (Retd) of Bidhanchandra agricultural University, Kalyani, 4 of the villagers were given hands-on training in the techniques of vermicomposting.

The two-days course  was conducted by Prof Sarkar at Kalyani, in the first week of October’2010. The training fees of Rs 300 per head as well as the board and lodging of the trainees were borne by the Sevashram Authorities. The trained villagers were given the responsibility of starting  a vermicomposte farm in the village. The Ashram authorities would provide the requisite land for this purpose.

In this matter our expert group is thankful to Smt Sanchita Ghosh of “Concern India” who was kind enough to provide the necessary contacts.

D. Report of latest field visit to Devipur

The latest field trip to Devipur was organised on 10th October’2010.

The aims of the trip were

(a) to visit the tailoring training facility created by the villagers, evaluate its performance, to meet  its women participants  and discuss, in situ, the various problems as well as suggestions for better performance of the facility.

(b) to inaugurate the Vermicomposte farm and prescribe achievement milestones.

(c) to resolve the problem of manning of the sales outlet at Ichhapur through a tripartite discussion among the Ashram Authorities, the villager and the expert group.

The visiting team comprised the followings:

The expert advisor team:

Debjyoti Bhattacharyya, Arindam Debnath

The Ashram Team:

Sri Makhan Maharaj, Sri Shankar Mandal, Smt Aradhana Bhattacharyya, Sri Pashupati ,

Guest participants:

Sri Prosenjit Chakroborti, Sri Santanu Bandyopadhyay

The Trip to Devipur:

On 10th October, three of us were picked up from Barrackpore railway station by a hired vehicle. Pashupati and Makhan Maharaj were already there in the vehicle. Rest of the members joined us from various locations along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

Our car then veered east, left the neighbourhood of the Metropolis and dived into the Sub-urban Bengal. Within two hours we were beyond the township of Baruipur and were once again hurtling through the ill maintained  village roads towards the tiger terrains of Sunderbans.

This time there was a change in the route. After “Priyo-r More” T- junction, the vehicle left the straight road, took a right turn and  within an hour we reached the small riverside village of Dhaki on the bank of Thakurani. An unbroken chain of Mangroves greeted us from the other bank of the river. There, hidden somewhere amongst those swampy forests of Bani, Sundari and Garan, stood Devipur, our destination.

It was high-tide time. Our overcrowded country boat chugged its way through the slightly choppy waters of the river. At places the boat was almost brushing past the branches of some mangroves invading the river. After sometime  the boat changed its course and within a short while we were on the other side of the river.

A motorized cycle van was waiting for us there. A narrow ribbon of a road meandered in front through a confused landscape of river, mud and mangroves overlapping one another in a surreal harmony. This last leg of our journey proved to be the shortest yet bumpiest. However, once we reached our destination, the warm greeting we received from the villagers compensated well for all the tribulations of a challenging road.

The days’ work:

1. The Tailoring section:

The hitherto empty corridor of the Ashram building at Devipur was now agog with activities. Many women and girls were sitting around two sewing machines. Tinkling of trinkets, dashes of colors from their sarees and floating pieces of words spoken in sing-song voices all these were mingling together and giving rise to an almost festive environ in that darkish clay and bamboo structure.

A blue clad lady rose from beside one machine and came forward to greet us. She introduced herself as Lakshmi Mistri, the Sewing instructor for the girls.

Lakshmi Samanta, the trainer

During the evaluation session that followed, it was seen that the ten trainee ladies aged between 17 to 35 had already achieved some expertise in cutting and stitching of four items, namely Basic Salwar kameez, ladies’ inner gown (locally known as Saya) penny frocks and midi gowns. When asked they immediately brought in some samples of their works.

Fashioned from some old pieces of cloths, the dress materials were reasonably well made. The expression of achievement written on the faces of the ladies while displaying their works was quite satisfactory. Two enthusiastic girls changed into the salwar kurta stitched by themselves and came forward with shy but beaming faces for a photo session.

The girls and women of Devipur displaying their work

It may be recalled that the decision of starting the tailoring training facility was taken sometime in July and two second hand machines were provided to the villagers only in August’2010. The above progress was achieved by the group of uninitiated village girls within a time span of less than two months only. The entire visiting group congratulated the trainees as well as their instructor for this achievement in so short a time with the help of two old , rickety machines only.

The evaluation session was followed by an interaction session among the trainees, their instructor, the Ashram authorities. This was moderated by the expert group.

During the session, the trainees placed their requirements through their instructor. She was well prepared with her observation and demands. The following demands were placed:

(1)   They need a proper, well-lit training room as the makeshift training arrangement at the corridor is not conducive.

(2)   They need proper cutting tables, sitting arrangements for the trainees and proper placement arrangement for the machines.

(3)   They need a proper board for teaching the drawings.

(4)   The two available machines are defective. They need to be repaired to avoid false stitches that result in wastage of time as well as material.

(5)   Number of machines is highly inadequate. It needs be immediately increased.

(6)   They need standard shape-scales for proper cutting.

(7)   They need a supply of old cloths for practicing and learning exercises and new cloths for producing usable items for which they have already learnt the cutting and stitching.

(8)   The trainee ladies were finding it difficult to find time for training during the daylight hours as they had to remain busy in their daily chores. As the place did not have any electricity, it would be helpful if a solar light could be arranged in the training room so that they could work after dark.

Decisions and observations:

1. The Ashram authorities immediately allotted one half of the only brick structure available in the Ashram premises for establishing the training room.

Makhan Maharaj with the trainee ladies inside the newly allotted room that will become a proper training facility soon

The room , though sturdily built, was found to be dark due to absence of proper windows. It was decided that the villagers would put four big windows on its walls. The Ashram authorities would bear the expenses.

2. Regarding sitting arrangements and cutting board, it was decided that instead of purchasing costly wooden furnitures the villagers would create the sitting arrangements and the housing for the cutting board with bamboo poles fixed on the clay-floor of the room. A thick ply-board will be used as the cutting board. The expenses so incurred would be borne by the Ashram Authorities.

3. Regarding the Drawing board and the shape scales Mr. Santanu Bandyopadhyay, the guest participant  in the field trip promised to provide the same.

4. Regarding more sewing machines, Sri Prosenjit Chakroborti, another guest participant, promised one machine within the month, Sri Ashish Sarkar, a follower of this blog has also promised Rs 10000. It was decided to purchase another machine from that money. Finally, the Ashram authorities also promised another second hand machine which would be properly repaired before sending to the village from the Ashram.

5. It was also decided that the villagers would immediately arrange to repair the defects of  the available machines and make them functional.

6. The Ashram authorities would also provide enough old cloths for the practices. However, new cloths for producing usable items would be required to be procured by the villagers themselves. Initially they would produce goods that would fulfill their own needs. They would then produce for the neighbouring villages and the men would help in marketing them by door to door hawking. Only after these two stages would come the stage for commercial marketing of the items.

7.Regarding Solar lighting, it was discussed and found that it would not be possible at that stage as it involved an investment of at least Rs. 20,000.(approximately USD 450) which is quite substantial and difficult for the Ashram to bear at this stage.

Through this blog it is being appealed to the larger community of readers to contribute whatever possible for this solar lighting project. You can contact Sri Shankar Mandal ((91)9007422880. email:  spmondal@ymail.com ) for details.

The target date  for implementing decisions 1 to 6 above was fixed at 10th November’2010.

2. The vermi-compost project

The four villagers who were trained at the Adult education centre of University of Kalyani in the process of vermicomposting were found to have prepared the first vermicomposting bed which was kept ready for our inspection. A longish shed , erected on the Ashramland has been prepared for being used as the vermicompost farm whereas the composting pits would be placed just beyond the shed.

Inauguration of the Vermi compost project

The farm was inaugurated by Hon’ble Sri Makhan Maharaj.

It was decided to start with one thousand earthworms for which the villagers would arrange funds and the target date for introducing this first batch of worms was fixed at 15th November’2010.

It was also planned to add more beds every two months.

The third target was that after gathering first hand experience in vermicompost production for next six months, the trained villagers would start vermicompost training programme for the benefit of others , on 15th April’2010.

It was also decided that for the initial period the vermicompost so produced will go to satisfy the requirement of the families of the members of the Self help group.

3. A problem statement and solution mechanism suggested

The Sevashram runs a school for children of poor families at their Ichhapur premises. Many of its students are provided with hostel facilities. After the inauguration of the sales outlet at Ichhapur , it was suggested that services of such students should be utilised for running the outlet. The Ashram Authority initially agreed but the experience of last two months has showed that the Ashram authorities have totally failed to provide this manpower. As a result the business of the sales outlet is suffering.

On the other hand, as the village and the sales outlet are separated by a very difficult stretch of 150 KM, It is also not possible for the villagers to commute daily to run the outlet.

The problem was raised by both the sides, i.e. the villagers as well as the Ashram Authorities to our expert team during the expert team’s field visit on 10th October’2010.

The suggested solution mechanism:

We found that there are a number of  young individuals in the village whose education donot progress beyond secondary level due to remoteness and poverty. Some of them were seen to be quite capable of absorbing advanced education. After a discussion on the matter it was suggested that one such volunteer would be chosen from the village who would stay in the Ichhapur Ashram premises and look after the sales outlet there. In exchange, he would pursue further education at Ashram expenses. Ichhapur being closer to the Metropolis of Kolkata, the volunteer would get a better opportunity to educate himself.

The proposal was found acceptable by both the sides and it was decided that it should be implemented within 15th November’2010. In the meantime Mr. Pashupati, one inmate of the Ichhapur Premises of the Ashram was given the charge of the Sales outlet till the volunteer from Devipur takes over.

In this context Sri Makhan Maharaj pointed out that during Deepavali a huge gathering takes place at the Ichhapur Ashram premises and the villagers should take this opportunity for achieving a substantial sale of their products during that time. It was informed by Sukharanjan that they have been already preparing themselves keeping that date in mind. The results will be reported in due course.

Postscript

On our long way back, the issue of replication of the experiment was discussed. Now that the Devipur Experiment is steadily under way, the next target area was decided to be in East Medinipur. Sometime in next spring we shall start the first steps towards replicating the Devipur experiment in a selected village there.

The Devipurites also hinted at their interests in getting the project replicated locally in neighbouring areas. The matter will be examined and analysed to decide whether to get this replication done through the Devipurites under indirect guidance from the expert group or to conduct the replication experiment through the Shevashram directly as is being done at Devipur. Let us wait for the developments in near future.

Last but not the least, I would take this opportunity to introduce to you the two brave ladies, Laxmi Sutar, the experienced President and  Krishna Roy, the young and energatic  Secretary of the Organisation (Sundervan Bishwasuk Swanirbhar Gosthi),  who are providing a very capable leadership to the people of  Devipur in their endeavour to change their own lives for better. Here’s their photograph:

Laxmi Sutar and Krishna Roy (Left to right)

THE DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT REPORT 3—15TH AUGUST 2010: THE FIRST TANGIBLE RESULTS

August 26, 2010

The gist:


Road to Devipur

We have started an experiment since May 2010, among the dwellers of Devipur ,a remote Sunderban village  of West Bengal with a target to assist the villagers to improve their own lot by optimum utilization of their own resources.

The first Tangible results of the Devipur Experiment started coming  in with the inauguration of the first sale outlet of the Sundervan bishwasuk Self help group at Ichhapur on 15th August’2010. Initial results are quite promising. The experiment has started meeting its delivery milestones on time. A report.

Contents of the current report:

1. Theoretical background of the experiment

2.Links to the earlier report

3. Recapitulation of earlier developments

3. Report on the latest development on 15th August’2010

4. Summary observation and Next course of action


1. DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT: The theoretical Background

BASIC ASSUMPTIONS:

  1. Given adequate guidance , a below poverty line remote rural locality with adequate human resource can generate enough means to survive and thrive on their own without any resource inflow from outside.
  2. In a development program, the local people are the best judges regarding how to make best use of their local resources. They only need assistance in the form of an initial external leadership, in order to
    1. concretize and visualize their own ideas.
    2. enforce timely execution of plans.
    3. arbitrate in case of difference of opinions
    4. conduct a  periodic objective evaluation and suggest (not enforce) alternatives wherever required .

TARGETS

flowchart

  1. To see whether a below poverty line remote village can grow into a self reliant and economically strong location by using their own material ,intellectual and human resources only, without any resource inflow.
  2. To document the development of decision making capabilities and entrepreneurial skills among the participants in course of the progress of the experiment.
  3. To see whether they can devise and execute some home grown methodology that would start with a small internal resource, and then follow the following cyclic path to make it grow as the effort completes each turn in the cycle.
  4. To record the minimum level of monetary/intellectual/managerial assistance required to pull off such a programme.
  5. To document the various environmental, inter-personal and economic challenges that crop up in course of such efforts and also to document how they get resolved and to what extent that resolution requires outside financial/intellectual/managerial intervention.
  6. To measure the overall degree of outside assistance that is required to achieve the target number 1 as mentioned above.

2. PREVIOUS REPORTS ON THIS EXPERIMENT:

Report 1:

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/joydhak-workshop-at-devipur-in-the-sunderbans-–-may’30-2010/

Report 2:

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/the-devipur-experiment-follow-up-workshop-on-11th-july-2010/

3. RECAPITULATION OF EARLIER DEVELOPMENTS:

Devipur is an poverty stricken remote village in the Sunderbans on the bank of the river Thakurani. A Philanthropic organisation named Viswashuk Sevashram Sangha has got a small formation there. The village has been a victim of the recent cyclone called Aila.

The first survey:

The first survey

Two Ashram sympathizers and workers, Shri Shankar Mondal and Smt Aradhana Bhattacharyya were the first team to make a visit to the village in February 2010 with a specific focus on the condition of the women in the Devipur area.

Subsequently, the Ashram approached the Joydhak team with a request to participate in their efforts to improve the socio-economic condition of the village.

The first workshop(30th  May’2010):

The Joydhak expert team consisting Debjyoti Bhattacharyya and Arindam Debnath made their first visit to the village on May 30’2010, accompanied by Shri Shankar Mandal and Sri Makhan Maharaj on behalf of the Ashram..

After a detailed in situ study, the villagers in active deliberation with the visiting team, came up with a set of suggestions that made the beginning of the DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT. The details of that first  report is available at the following link: DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT –FIRST REPORT.

The suggestions were :

(a)    the men would pool some fund by bleeding their informal micro finance business to procure a small diesel-run engine to start a multipurpose mill for husking of grams or extraction of mustard oil or grinding of spices..

(b)   The women would explore the possibilities of making soft toys for which there is a big market. The Ashram would arrange for training of representative women.

In both cases the Ashram was ready to provide the necessary space for the ventures.

The second workshop(11th July’2010):

THE RESULTS OF THE EXPERIMENT STARTED SHOWING DURING THIS SECOND WORKSHOP. IT WAS FOUND THAT THE DEVIPURITES HAD ALREADY STARTED INDEPENDENT ANALYSIS OF THEIR PROBLEMS AND WHILE KEEPING THE GOALS INTACT, THEY HAD ALSO STARTED EFFECTING DEPARTURES FROM THE ORIGINALLY PLANNED STRATEGIES TO REACH THOSE GOALS.

The detailed report of the second workshop is available at the following link:

DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT: SECOND REPORT

Some examples of independent decision makings by the participants that resulted into departure from or modification of the original ideas developed in the first workshop:

(A)Regarding the Men’s project:

Problem statement: Existing financial resources were not enough to start the earlier planned multipurpose agro-processing mill.

Solution proposition: Multiply your existing capital first.

Proposed Solution Mechanism: Procure and package your local agro-products like Moong dal, honey , mustard and red chilies in small packs and sell them at a profit directly to the customer which can offer better price than present market value, since there will be no middle man.

Marketing strategy: The Vishwasuk Sevashram Sangha agreed to provide sale outlets in its different premises and proposed to use its goodwill to help market the products.

Target date: The target date for opening of the first outlet was fixed for 15th August’2010 at the Ichhapur Headquarters of the Ashram.

(B) Regarding the Women’s project:

Problem statement: The Devuipurites did the requisite market enquiries and arrangements were made by Joydhak for their consultation with a private businessman for their learning from his experiences. As a result they came to the conclusion that running a soft toy order supply business from such a remote location would not be cost effective.

As an alternative, they then visited a nearby township named Joynagar and spoke to the  cloth merchants / garments manufacturer  there.

It was found that lots of job work for stitching of ladies’ undergarments / kids wear would be available from this local market / manufacturer only, provided the womenfolk of the villages could learn how to stitch professionally.

So the villagers decided to modify the women’s project also. They were given a sewing machine for initial training of the village women. They themselves arranged for a seamstress named Laksmi, who has started giving lessons to the villagers now in the art of cutting and the craft of using of the sewing machine.

An individual, following the experiment regularly has also offered a second machine immediately after the women make the first profit out of their novel venture.

(C) Regarding Management of inter-personal relationship:

It was seen that they had, by themselves, formed a small group of ten willing families who were ready to participate in the experiment voluntarily and had christened the group as Sunderban Bishwasuk Swanirbhar Goshthi.

4. REPORT ON THE DEVELOPMENTS ON 15 AUGUST’2010

After the decisions of the 11th July meetings, the work progressed with a deadline based approach.

On the Women’s side

they have started a continuous training with the help of a local instructor in the art of tailoring of ladies undergarments with the help of the singleton machine provided by the Ashram Authorities.

On the Men’s side

The Devipurites could initially manage to pool a capital of around Rs 4555. to procure the materials to be sold in the outlet to be opened on 15th August at the Ichhapur premises of the Vishwasuk Sevashram Sangha. The proposed materials  consisted of different spices and honey which are their local products.

Three members from Devipur village had arrived in the Ashram premises with the materials on 12th August. They borrowed and set up a small weighing machine in the first floor of the Ashram building and went to work there, meticulously weighing and packing their fares in tiny plastic packets adorned with a label printed at the Ashram press indicating the name of the Self Help Group. A slender candle flickered continuously at one corner—this was their primitive tool – a slow and cumbersome one– for sealing the cellophane packets; allow the flame to lick the top of the filled cellophane pack and heat-seal it, at the risk of burning your fingertips alongwith the packet.

Regarding pricing of the packs they did a survey in the local markets to get the prevailing prices and very intelligently kept their prices a notch lower than that.

inauguration of the first outlet

After the flag hoisting ceremony in the Ashram school premises, the Sale outlet was inaugurated by Makhan Maharaj with assistance from Debjyoti Bhattacharyya, Arindam Debnath and Shankar Mandal. He introduced us to one Ashramite who has been dedicated for managing the sales outlet.

Addressing the gathering, Mr. Sukharanjan from Devipur made a very poignant statement about the desperate economic situation of the village and the efforts they are making to ameliorate that without asking form any financial aid from anybody. It was the voice of  a belligerent Sunderbans trying to fight back on their own strength and offering whatever they have to the more advanced segment of the society with an aim to generate a capital for launching of their dream project of a small agro-processing plant in their locale, that would serve the local community and generate income, without any outside financial assistance.

The sale outlet did not have any colour or frills. A simple bamboo thatch with some makeshift benches and tables displaying small cellophane packs and bottles containing the agricultural products and unadulterated honey right from the bosom of the forestland!

The guardians of the children of the school were the first set of customer for the outlet.

Sukharanjan addresses the gathering-- the voice of Sunderban

The result was almost instantaneous. There was a brisk selling and the first day itself saw a sellout worth more than Rs. 2000. As a result the Ashram Authorities got confident about the prospect of the outlet. The entire investment of Rs. 4555 was paid to the Devipurites  by the Ashram authorities so that they could roll the money once again. The rest of the material would be sold from the outlet and the profit portion would be kept separately in the Ashram’s custody as planned.

At the time of writing of this report, the rest of the stock has already been exhausted, and the Devipurites are in the process of bringing in the next lot to the outlet.

On their way back to Devipur on the next day, with their investment recouped, the first thing the Devipurites did was to visit the Kolkata market and purchase one sealing machine and a weighing machine of their own.

5. Summary observation:

Regarding the Men’s project:

The first cycle is thus over in the experiment.

(A) During this period it has been observed that

(a)                the people displayed development of decision making as well as entrepreneurial skills and then

(b)               could successfully pool a small fund from among themselves, roll it , recoup the investment and then re-invest a part of that in creating permanent

assets. (refer flow chart at para 2 of “Target” segment of the report)

(B) For that purpose they required the following outside assistance:

(a)                Infrastructural help in the form of a small sell-outlet

(b)               Psychological counseling and morale boosting interactions

(c)                Management level assistance in defining the goals, setting milestones and following these up by experts.

(C) The Men’s project will now enter its growth phase. This phase is most crucial in the sense that the sustainability of the scheme will be put to the real acid test in this phase.

(D) As a preparatory for this growth phase,

(a)    The villagers themselves are busy preparing for the next stage of a continuous supply of saleable products in larger volumes.

(b)   a set of proposals is going to be discussed by the Ashram authorities regarding the various assistances they would provide in this developmental phase. The discussion is scheduled to take place on 29th August’2010.

(E) The set of proposals include

  1. Creating a permanent RCC structure sale outlet at Ichhapur campus.
  2. Initiating the process of setting up of the second outlet at Medinipur campus.
  3. Initiating the process of marketing the goods at Daihata wing of Ashram campus.
  4. Arranging for adequate display boards etc to attract attention of prospective customers.

Regarding the Women’s Project:

It is yet to complete the first cycle. This is being closely monitored. The difference in the gestation period of the men’s and women’s project could be due to factors like:

(a) difference of socio-economic status among the men and the women

(b) nature of the project. The men’s project invloves procurement and supply of goods while the women’s requires development of a specific skill set.

The issue is being closely monitored and will be studied in detail during the next in situ workshop at Devipur on 10th October’2010.

In the meantime Sri Shankar Mandal is in constant touch with the Devipur people monitoring the progress of the women in their project  and pushing the men-folk regarding the next phase of their business with an aim to maintain the deadlines.

We shall be awaiting the developments and shall publish the next report in due course.

TAMBOURINE-MONSOON ISSUE PUBLISHED

July 18, 2010

The second issue of the wonderful children magazine-Tambourine-has been uploaded.

Click this link for details of content:

THE MENU

SPECIAL ATTRACTIONS:

Renowned film-maker Satyajit Ray was born in a family of geniuses. His grandfather, U.C Roychoudhury  was a many faceted personality. One of his greatest contribution to the world of letters is his wonderful collection of folk tales of rural Bengal. “The Book of the Tailorbird” (Tuntunir boi) is one Such collection.

At Tambourine we have started the work of converting these wonderful stories into a colorful English comics. This issue contains the first episode. CLick the image or the line below:

THE BOOK OF

THE

TAILORBIRD-EPISODE 1

2. Wonderful stories from ANANYA DAS and SANHITA

3. CONFESSIONS OF A THUG –THE SAGA OF THE KIDNAPPED BOY CONTINUES–

A REPRODUCTION FROM THE ORIGINAL WORKS OF MEADOWS TAILOR, THE STORY TELLS HOW A SIMPLE BOY TURNED INTO A FEROCIOUS THUG ( THE HANDKERCHIEF KILLERS OF CENTRAL INDIA) CLICK THE PIC:

AND MANY OTHER EDUTAINING FEATURES FOR CHILDREN.

THE DEVIPUR EXPERIMENT–FOLLOW UP WORKSHOP ON 11TH JULY 2010

July 16, 2010

A few days back I had reported on beginning of the Devipur experiment by Joydhak together with the Bishwashuk Shevashram Sangha.. The post can be seen at the following address: https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/joydhak-workshop-at-devipur-in-the-sunderbans-–-may’30-2010/

After that, the first follow up interaction was done on 11th July’2010.

Here’s the report:

Date: 11th July’2010

Time: 10 AM to 4 PM

Venue: Ashram Campus of Ichhapur Bishwasuk Sevasram Sangha.

Participants:

1. Debjyoti Bhattacharyya and Arindam Debnath : Representing Joydhak

2. Makhan Maharaj and Shankar Mandal : Representing Shevashram Sangha

3.Sukharanjan Roy, Shyamal Sutar : Representatives from Devipur

4 Sanjib Nath Choudhury, Prop.M/S Sarat Creations, Manicktala: Guest participant

RECAP

The village among the mangroves

Devipur is a poverty stricken remote village in the Sunderbans. An organisation named Bishwashuk Shebashram Sangha has a small property there. They want to do something for the villagers. They requested Joydhak to conduct a workshop there for exploring the ways and means of starting a self sustained development process among the inhabitants. This resulted into starting of the  Devipur experiment.

The first on the spot survey and workshop was conducted in May 2010. The basic philosophy adopted for the Devipur experiment is that the villagers would have to generate their own resources for initiating a self sustaining process. Outside assistance would be only in the form of providing basic infrastructures, lending a little assistance in marketing etc. In other words , no money will be pumped in from any outside source in any form.

During the in situ workshop at Devipur on May’30, the following ideas had come out of the discussions:

IDEA FOR THE MEN:

  1. The men would look into the possibility of installing a multipurpose diesel operated motor that could be utilized for running implements like Mustard oil press, Moong Dal husking machines etc. suiting various seasons.
  2. The space and other physical infrastructure would be provided by the Ashram who will allow its premises and room to be used for that purpose.
  3. The fund and skilled manpower would be organized by the local people. They would themselves study the feasibility of taking out a portion the little amount of money that they are rolling in an informal micro-credit business in the locality, as initial capital and once some asset is in place that could be used to get further bank loans.

IDEA FOR THE WOMEN:

  1. The primary idea that came up was that the women could start a soft toy making business there. The Ashram would provide space and sewing implements and organise basic training and assist in procurement of raw material and marketing.
  2. Sanjib Nath Choudhury, Prop.M/S Sarat Creations, Manicktala, a businessman selling Indian Handicrafts in Indian and overseas market would be approached to explore the possibilities of whether he could provide some simple job works of painting earthen pots to the villagers , to be used in making designer candles.

WE DID NOT WANT TO IMPOSE ANY PREFIXED IDEA—INITIALLY WE WANTED THEM TO THINK

The underlying principle was not to force some prefixed ideas and notions on the people but to begin a dialogue with some basic ideas and leave the villagers with the germs of the ideas and allow them to study their feasibility and improve upon them. This was essentially designed to liberate an independent thought process so that they could reach some ideal strategy of their own.

We were eagerly awaiting the response, to see whether they could improve upon these initial schemes to arrive at practicable solutions, by modifying, accepting, discarding and replacing various components of the initial ideas.

The follow up Workshop at Ichhapur—a report

It was a overcast Sunday morning. It was not raining though. The Ichhapur Headquarter of the Shevashram was as usual busy—patients flocked into the low cost medical facility, guardians waited into the waiting hutments for their day-scholar wards undergoing Sunday classes, the inmates were busy with their daily chores, some were cleaning the yards, some washing their clothes and spreading them on a piece of green field to  dry in the open air.

The daily chores by asram inmates


Sukharanjan and Shyamal had reached the Ichhapur Ashram from Devipur on 10th July and had initiated the discussions with the Ashram authorities. As per their reports, since the last workshop they have done the followings:

  1. Feasibility study of the men’s proposed project of the multipurpose agro processing plant.
  2. Feasibility study of the proposal for soft toy making by the women and market

study for alternative work plans for women.

  1. Forming a core group of willing families who would participate in the

experiment.

After the arrival of the Joydhak team in the Ashram premises at around 10 AM on 11th July, the workshop started. We took up the above points one by one:

The meeting begins

(I) Feasibility study of the men’s proposed project of the multipurpose agro processing plant.

The village representatives appreciated the fact that the scheme of establishing a multipurpose diesel operated engine on the Ashram land and catering to the various seasonal agro processing was a sound strategy for triggering a sustainable growth.

However, on the flip side, the issue of initial capital could not be completely addressed by the method of bleeding their micro finance business.

Following the last workshop, they had taken a thorough look into the financial strength of this informal business and have come to the conclusion that out of the total financial asset of around Rs. 40 thousand being rolled in this micro finance business, hardly 10 thousand rupees could be spared without maiming this business.

On the other hand, the cost analysis made by them showed that starting of the engine business required an initial capital of 35 to 40 thousand Rupees. Thus, to start with the scheme they required at least thirty thousand more.

At the same time, the basic plan is that no money should come from any outside resource and they fully appreciated and supported that. Aamra Bhikkhaa chaaina (We donot want any alms)—was the expressed stand they took during the meeting.

Problem statement

Their only question was, how to go about generating this fund through their own resources.

The suggested solution

We asked them about what local assets did they have that they could sell. They proposed that

(a)                they could supply ample quantities of honey from various seasonal flowers all round the year.

(b)               they could supply chilly, mustard seeds and Moong Dal from amongst the surplus production they had.

Hence, a plan was required to be built up around these assets so that these assets could generate the requisite capital for their original project of establishing a multipurpose agro processing unit at Devipur with the help of a diesel operated multipurpose engine.

The Plan for execution of the suggested solution mechanism and the decisions taken in the workshop

(a)    It was found that the Ashram at Ichhapur served around 9000 plates of food to its inmates in a month. It was decided on the spot that the Ashram would buy the chilly, mustard seed and mooong dal they require for that purpose from the villagers at market price, pay them back their cost price and keep the profit amount separately towards developing the required fund. This amount  would be the villagers’ money only, but kept locked in by the Ashram authorities in order to allow it to grow.

(b)   If it succeeds then the Ashram would consider extending the same offer in respect of its other branches at Midnapore and katwa.

(c)    The Ashram gets lots of visitors everyday. It will open a small outlet in its campus that will sell the above products including honey. The Ashram will also lend its name (backed up by its goodwill) to be used as a brand for these products which will be packed in plastic packets and bottles bearing the Ashram label and logo, to be printed at the Ashram press. The villagers would package their products in small bottles and plastic wraps and send the supplies to the outlet. The Ashram will employ some of its student beneficiaries as sales personnel which would in turn act as a vocational training for the students so engaged. The financial arrangement will be same as described above. This outlet was targeted to be inaugurated on 15th August’2010.

(d)   The Ashram authority would then open another such outlet at its Midnapore Branch.

(e)    The Katwa branch of the Ashram holds a monthly congregation that draws substantial participation. The Ashram will arrange for a periodic sale outlet there during this congregation.

(f)     (d) and (e) will be implemented before October 12th (i.e. the Sharodiyo Durgotsav festival)

(g)    Depending upon the results yielded by these three outlets, the Ashram will approach its followers among the business community spread at various places to  provide more sale outlets for the products.

(h)    The Maharaj remarked that side by side with the Devipur products the Ashram could sell its own products ranging from coconuts to incense sticks to religious books from the same outlets which would generate some revenue for Ashram also.

(i)      A survey of the Ashram premises was taken immediately after this discussion and a prominent location was selected , close to the main gate. The location is a hut made of bamboo thatch which is presently used as a guardian’s waiting chamber. It was planned to augment the room, partition it and use its front portion as the sale outlet.

Surveying for the location of the outlet

(j)     It was decided that the entire operation would be run under the auspices of “Sunderban Bishwashuk Swanirbhar Goshthi” (Sundarban Bishwasuk self help group), an informal group of 10 volunteer families from Devipur who have initially come forward to participate in this experiment.

(k)   Once the requisite fund is generated by this process, the plan for setting up the multipurpose agro processing facility at Devipur will be implemented by the villagers, while the selling business would continue to generate additional fund.

(l)      The representatives from Devipur were agreeable to this suggestions and drew up a delivery schedule whereby the Ashram would deliver the first batch of printed labels to them by 6th August and they would deliver the first batch of products by tenth of August to the Ashram authorities. The designing of the labels were to be done by the press workers of the Ashram.

(II) Feasibility study of the proposal for soft toy making by the women and market  study for alternative work plans for women.

(a)    A market study taken up following the first workshop showed that the competition in this area was quite tough with lots of players functioning locally in and around Kolkata. The business required regular to and fro movement of raw material and finished products between Kolkata and Devipur that is bound to adversely affect the costing. Also the distance factor and the communication glitches need to be taken into account.

(b)   Mr. Sanjib Nath Choudhury, Prop.M/S Sarat Creations, Manicktala was invited  in the workshop by Arindam as a special participant for evaluating the possibilities of giving simple job works (like painting of the earthen pots for designer candles) to the villagers. He  showed his products and on being briefed about the location of the village, he stated that sending in raw materials to such a distance and getting back the finished products would adversely affect the profitability of the venture. He suggested whether the villagers could themselves make the earthen pots from their local resources , paint them and send them out. In that case he would guarantee a readymade market, provided the products come up to the standards.

The solution:

The villagers were of the opinion that a project should be considered that reduced this need for substantial movement. Their study revealed that this could be achieved in two alternate ways:

  1. by developing some local products and selling them in and around Kolkata (like in the men’s plan). This would reduce the movement by half, by curtailing the inward movement of raw materials.
  2. By locating some close by market (for collecting raw materials and supplying finished products) from where this to and fro movement would be far less and more stable.

Regarding (a), the Devipur representatives informed that they could not envisage, as of now, any product that the women could make from local resources. Response to the proposal from Sanjib Nath Choudhury was a definite “No” as , the villagers opined that it would require a specific skill development, infrastructure development, resource planning an continuous involvement of manpower which could not be afforded by the village women at this point of time.

As a result of this above-described situational analysis the Devipuraites were found to have concentrated on strategy (b) after the initial workshop and has successfully zeroed on a suitable local market and product.

Joynagar, the township nearest to Devipur, has a huge market for cheap ladies apparels including undergarments and children’s dress material. The villagers reported that they had already done a survey at Joynagar market and have found wholesalers interested in supplying material for making of such products. The villagers could easily collect the raw materials from the wholesalers, get the work done by their women and bring back the finished products to the wholesalers. Sewing of such garments donot require any extraordinary skill and ordinary sewing machines can serve the purpose.

The Plan for execution of the suggested solution mechanism and the decisions taken in the workshop

(a) The Ashram authority immediately provided them with a sewing machine to carry back to the village for starting of the operation.

(b)   It was further decided that one of the rooms in the Ashram premises at Devipur will be used as tailoring room for the purpose and the ladies of the ten volunteer families will share time in using the sewing machine. The progress in this matter will be periodically reviewed and once satisfied that it is progressing smoothly the Ashram will consider augmenting the facility with more machines.

This room, who knows, may hold a bright speck of future for the women there.....

(c)    The ladies will also share a part of their profit in the dream scheme of establishing a multipurpose engine in the village.

(III) Forming a core group of willing families who would participate in the  experiment.

It was reported by Sukharanjan and Shyamal that the villagers had conducted an internal meeting wherein the proposal of the last workshop was discussed threadbare and  after debating the various facets, a willingness survey was conducted regarding who were really interested in the experiment. It was seen that  initially ten families in the village were committed to going ahead with the experiment. The to men had come as the representative of this group of ten families. They produced the list of ten with the names neatly written in Bengali:–>

list of participants, prepared by the villagers

They proposed the group to work under the banner of Sunderban Bishwashuk, Swanirbhor Goshthi (Sunderban Bishwashuk Self Help Group). All the members of the family would work together according to capacity on the different plans decided above and the profits gained would be in custody of the Ashram, to be released when enough fund is accumulated for installing the multipurpose engine.

The names of the ten families were brought by Sukharanjan. It was interesting to note that all the representative names were those of the women of the families followed by the names of their husbands or fathers.

It was observed in the meeting by the villagers that once new families start coming in for membership they would not augment this group but instead encourage them to form another group. This would ensure, according to their observation a healthy competition and also not disturb the functioning of an existing group.

Evolution of this last concept needs to be carefully watched. Though a promising new kind of plan, it also holds the seed of some future problem. However, we did not discuss this issue further during the meeting, as it was too early for any serious discussion to begin on it. The developments in this matter would be followed closely.

AN INTERESTING SPIN OFF

During the discussions about supply of honey, the representatives of Devipur remarked that they generally throw away the drained honey combs containing bee wax.

On this issue, Sanjib, the special guest in the workshop, informed that Indian bee wax is too soft for making of candles and hence is of no use to his specific industry.

Subsequently the matter was discussed with painter.Sri  Amitava Bhattacharyya. He informed that Sunderban bee wax is widely used in sculpting activities. It was sold from Barabazar, the main business district of Kolkata and provided the contact number of  the person who will be able to guide.

Mr. Shankar Mandal of the Ashram was immediately contacted and  the information was passed on to him. He is currently taking up this issue. Further report awaited.

Joydhak Workshop at Devipur, in the Sunderbans – May’30, 2010.

June 20, 2010

Joydhak Workshop at Devipur, in the Sunderbans – May’30, 2010.

The background:

Fifty Kilometers away from Joynagar railway station in the district of  South 24 Parganas of the Indian state of West Bengal, there flows a river called Thakurani. One of its banks is covered under the dense canopy of mangroves and on the other bank, surrounded almost on all sides by the various branches of Thakurani as well as by the main river itself, stands a village called Devipur.

Devipur is a very interesting place. Its one of the frontier human settlements standing between the civilized world of mainstream Bengal and the menacing Sunderbans and thus has to serve two masters for survival. The two masters , the nature on one side and the human ‘civilization’ on the other, function at two  completely different levels, both equally inscrutable and unpredictable.

The continuous subjugation to two such different , difficult and demanding masters has left an indelible stamp on the entire settlement. It’s a study in contrasts. People discuss the latest nabbing of a burglar or nabbing of a tiger on the village grounds in the same pitch as if there’s no difference between the two.

A casual visitor will find any number of such contrasts strewn around in the village grounds as well as in the collective psyche of its dwellers, but more of that later..

The Vishwashuk Sevashram Ashram of Ichhapur, 24 pgs (N), a voluntary organisation working for the economically weaker sections of the society, has got a branch at Devipur. During the Joydhak workshop at Ichhapur Ashram in January’2010 with their child beneficiaries, the Head of the Ashram had made a request for conducting a joint field visit and a workshop at Devipur to see what the Ashram could do there for the welfare of the local residents. The workshop in the village was scheduled on 30th May 2010.

The team:

The Joydhak team comprised Debjyoti Bhattacharyya and Sri Arindam Debnath.

Sri Shukananda Brahmachari (Makhan Maharaj), Secretary and Sri Shankar Mondal a voluntary worker joined us from the Vishwashuk Shevashram.

The visit:

We started at around nine in the morning in a vehicle of the Ashram. It was an old Maruti Omni converted into an ambulance (i.e. by putting a stretcher inside and a blue lamp outside on the roof of the car).

It happened to be an election day in Bengal as well as a Sunday. We gratefully flew through the almost deserted roads during the first leg of the journey. Everything was peaceful and not a ghost of any trouble could be seen anywhere.

The trouble began once we crossed Joynagar. It was around 11 AM. By then we had already driven 90 KMs in two hours and around 50 KM road was left. We were expecting to reach the destination by 12:30.

But, suddenly the road changed its skin and the hitherto smooth and sleek track became a terribly rough and bumpy one. The drive now became extremely slow and jerky, the sultry heat almost unbearable. At places there was absolutely no surface left and the car was behaving like a storm-teased boat. After a while the octogenarian Maharaj had to lie down on the stretcher. His head peacefully resting on Arindam’s lap, eyes closing occasionally stealing a few moments of fitful slumber, our discussions on various issues and projects  continued intermittently. The journey was proving too much for his body but not for his indomitable spirit.

Covering a distance of around 15 kilometers in the next one hour  we stopped for stretching our limbs a bit and went to a roadside tea-and-sweet vendor for a swig of tea. He was a short man with a disproportionately large moustache and a calm stoical look hanging like a permanent fixture on his face. For some time he appeared to communicate in a language made up of  gestures and monosyllables only. The break came when Arindam tasted one of his sweetmeats and expressed his high appreciation for it. Suddenly the man opened up and gushed out his feelings about how correct Arindam’s appreciation was and how the other city people did not appreciate anymore the true spirit of a Bengali sweetmeat.

Then came a long chat about many things under the Sun ranging from last year’s cyclone ‘Aila’ to the zooming price index and plight of the rural poor to the man’s surreal fixation about witnessing a moonrise in the southern sky. (This needs a little explanation: During our conversation the man had suddenly lowered his voice a notch and had informed in a conspiratorial tone  that for the last two days he had been watching  the moon rising on the southern sky. He had mistaken us to be traveling journalists and wanted us to write about this when we went back. Maybe a shrewd ploy at a gimmick to bring his name in the media! Who knows. The man didn’t appear to be insane or inebriated.)

“When do you think we shall be able to reach Devipur?” Arindam asked the man while we were preparing to leave.  “Two hours more,” the man informed, and then added stoically, “Since the Aila last year, the roads here have really deteriorated at places……its all bad luck you know…….”

He was speaking as if the road and its condition was also a natural feature and should be accepted as if it was handed down to man by nature. Nowhere in his tone could we find anything remotely resembling sarcasm or skepticism towards the slow pace of state intervention in restoring damaged civic amenities. He has accepted the terrible road condition continuing now for around a year just in the same manner as he and his ancestors have always accepted a bad monsoon or a flash flood. That’s what is popularly been called the ‘Oriental fatalism.’ Being familiar with this laid back mental set up prevailing in many areas of rural India, we did not find this attitude out of place. But then, everybody is not like that! Two hours away, a different kind of mindset was awaiting us.

THE DESTINATION, AT LAST

The tea shop owner proved right. It was almost past two when the van finally pulled up in front of a largish piece of land sporting a few huts and a small brick structure. That was the Ashram property at Devipur.

A local resident was waiting there for us with a can of sugarcane juice. The middle-aged man was quite well to do in local standards and thus was in a position to  devote some spare time for pious work. So he has taken the responsibility of looking after the Ashram as a local manager. A small blackboard hung at one corner of the long verandah indicating that some teaching activity was done there. The man informed that his son, who had made a failed attempt at graduation at some point of time, gave lessons to some local students at this facility provided by the Ashram. And there ended the role of the Ashram in the local society.

But why, despite having this excellent piece of property, the Ashram is not able to increase its activities here while they can run free schools, low cost dispensaries, press and many other such activities in their other locations?

The local person had overheard our conversation while pouring the cane juice into glasses and handing them over to us. Suddenly he intervened with a simple remark, “For the Ashram to be active some Ashramite needs to come as a resident in this Ashram–somebody who is capable enough. Otherwise the Ashram will be able to do nothing.”

Makhan Maharaj nodded his assent and added, “He is right. Somebody should come and stay here and start the work. These people are ready to take the responsibility of maintaining him. Their food is simple, coarse but sustaining. The man will get all the basic amenities like food , cloth and shelter. But, nobody is ready to come and stay. Obviously, a family man will not be able to do that. Only a Sannyasi can do that, and that is the rarest kind of human resource these days. I donot understand why they are becoming so rare—-’

The demand of the local man and the confused lamentation of the Maharaj are logical results of a long social evolution. It will not be out of place to discuss it a bit here.

AN OUTDATED DEVELOPMENT

MODEL

What the Maharaj was trying to say relates to a unique  development model which has been time tested in rural India. In this model, the wandering monks, knowledgeable men who   renounced all personal worldly hankerings, used to carry the light of (both worldly and transcendental) knowledge from place to place and wherever they stayed they became the source of knowledge and guidance for the local simple rural folk. With the advent of Europeans and the resulting commercialization of both education and development under the aegis of Occidental perspective of life, the model took a back seat and retreated from the happening scenes of Indian ‘mainstream’ to that vast hinterland called rural India. That was beginning of end of this model of development in India.

Slowly the model lost its relevance in an ever increasing sense as the urban society expanded. However, due to a not-so-advanced communication technology the slowly shrinking rural community remained  insulated from the changes in the urban domains and hence this model of development could still continue in such insulated domains where time stood still. But finally, beginning from the eighties , the revolution in communication technology  spelt its final doom. The predominant market driven social model stepped in, and without outwardly changing the villages into cities, recast the lifestyle and perspectives there, remodeled the lifestyle philosophies and created a different class that has essentially become consumerist without first becoming urban.

Quite naturally this social environment is not conducive to generation of people fit to serve in the ways the traditional Sannyasi has served  the society, and as a result of rapidly diminishing supply of adequate number of resource persons this model is fast losing its steam as well as role, so fast that sometimes the existing people in this trade, the Sannyasis who had started their career as social servants and reformers a few decades back, feel dizzied by the speed of the change and manifests a sense of loss through these kind of comments.

THE GOOD OLD WINE IN A BRAND

NEW BOTTLE

The need for leadership and guidance however remains strongly felt in these hybrid societies with an urban aspiration and a rural look, because of  still existing inequalities in the societies. Though the people here are being fast programmed by the aggressive communication and media tools to know more of the dainties of an urban life, the basic infrastructures for food, shelter, education  and health are as yet inadequate and a lot is required to be done in those areas.

The existing Sannyasis with their static world views are not adequately equipped to handle these situations. They even donot speak the prevailing language! The situation needs a new breed of social workers trained in the intricacies of this new socio-economic fabric, the new desires, the new fears and the same time they should be selfless too. Such people are not born in the regular processes of the society. They are the exceptions but they do exist. Joydhak has been witnessing a number of such new gen Sannyasis in the form of Subrata Biswas in Priyabala Vidyabithi, Falguni heading the Ravindra Smriti Vidyalaya at Bamangachhi, Shivaji, who has created a Ramkrishnite free school, again at Bamangachhi, Mr. P.K. Biswas and his school “Nivedita Vidyapith at Radhanagar, of South 24 Parganas,  Sri Dulal Maharaj, operating mainly among the rural tribal folks of Maharastra, and many others like them.

The above discussion will hopefully explain the dynamics of the two casual remarks mentioned earlier, one by the local caretaker of the Ashram properties regarding need for a resident leader  and the confused lamentation of  the Maharaj in response.

THE PLACE

The local resident gave a picture of the socio economic structure of this marginal settlement balanced precariously on borderline between human society and the mangrove wilderness.

A lot of local land has become salt caked due to the floods following the destructive cyclone of last year. At least another year’s rain will be required to cleanse the land to some extent to make them productive. The producing lands are single harvest ones but if one can manage a shallow bore well the same land is capable giving two harvests (“As my land is doing. I have a shallow,” he added smiling”) But then not everybody can afford that and there exists no infrastructure through which the community can provide such facilities to weaker individuals.

“There is yet no electricity supply here. That’s a major problem,” the local caretaker of the Ashram lamented. At this , another youth sitting close by and listening to the discussions interjected, “But soon we shall have electricity here. They were discussing the other day. Soon the government people will start putting poles and drawing cables…we shall not have much difficulty then. There will be light, and we shall be able to watch television….” and that’s the local youth’s involuntary response to the question of  how to make use of electricity!

Health facility is poor. The local quacks are the main source of health service. The nearest health station is quite a few kilometers away. So are the nearest bank and railway station. The only contact with mainstream Bengal is through the ill maintained vein of road through which we came and the only protection from the mangrove predators in the  wall of flowing water of Thakurani. Tigers do visit the village. The latest one roamed free for two weeks before it could be netted by the forest officials.

THE FINAL DISCUSSIONS:

Our food had been arranged in the house of this mentor. After a  quick wash and lunch of rice, dal and some vegetables and fish we gathered under a large tree. Small talks on various subjects gradually gravitated towards the main focus—poverty and lack of future in their lives.

The only question that was being fired to us in various forms and in various tones ranging from pleading to sarcastic was, what assistance could we provide through government machineries for the villagers? The mood was pretty clear, if you are capable of that, tell so and we shall discuss, otherwise you are wasting our time.

We enquired as to what they understood by “Assistance”. The replies that came back , again in various forms and with varying levels of clarity was that they felt that they needed more share of the various government aids provided to the rural poor in the form of different poverty alleviation schemes.

The schemes, in place in various forms for some decades now in India can be summarized in one line—push in some money in the rural economy in the form of food or wage for artificially generated work.

Various such schemes do exist , both for men and women, and they are playing a great role in avoiding hunger and sufferings arising out of abject poverty in many segments of the country. In essence the schemes are a form of aid that makes an weak attempt towards equitable distribution of aggregate wealth generated by the nation by channeling some extra wealth from its wealthier regions to the poorer regions.

Such schemes , though playing a major role in rural lives of India for quite sometime now, are riddled with many problems ranging from corruption to inadequacy of fund and issues of inappropriate timings. But the most glaring drawback of such schemes (positive statistics notwithstanding) is that most of the times they are not executed to ensure that the money so injected in a system recycles and multiplies itself. An aid mostly remains an aid and is not transformed into an investment capable of recouping the capital in time and of generating a profit in the process so that the same money can grow and re-inject itself into the system. In short, such aids do not put in place a permanent solution by transforming itself into a permanent and profit generating asset. Thus , in effect it remains a dignified alms given by the richer citizens to their poorer brethren through the governmental machinery , a significant part of which again is siphoned off before reaching the targets by various modes which we can generally term as ‘Transmission loss’.

So we began our talk by simply asking them whether they had been getting any such assistance already.

The replied that yes they were getting some work or monetary assistance under some such schemes but that was far less than adequate.

Our next question was what they had done with that money. This drew a clear blank. First they did not understand the implication of so trivial a question. Once again we repeated it and they replied that they had spent the same in satisfying various domestic needs.

Next we asked whether they ever gave back anything in return. The answer was a no.

The next question was simple and straightforward—whether they considered themselves as beggars or not.

The question drove home. The people fell silent for a while only to come back with a gusto, “Then what do you people suggest?”

So we made our suggestion. It was simple. Make use of existing resources, however meager they are and make the grow.

A discussion ensued where the existing resources and their possible uses were listed. These were:

1. Working space:

    The Ashram had a property of around two bighas. They will allow the villagers to make use of this.

    2. Capital:

      The men of the village run a small rural financing business. The scheme is very simple. Each contributed some little fund to make a small corpus of few  thousand Rupees. When somebody is in need of money they lend it from the corpus at a high rate of interest. The income is distributed among the stakeholders proportionately. Some take it out and some reinvest it, thus increasing his stake. It was planned that a portion of this could be invested as initial capital.

      3. Ideas:

        For men: Moong dal hasking machine is a low cost item and easy to handle. Installing this machine in harvest time would generate enough seasonal work that would pay for the machine in a season or two. Then the rest would be profit.

        Mustard production is quite substantial in this area. The production is mainly used for production of mustard oil at subsistence level but the presses available in the area are less efficient and give lesser output. If a high efficiency press could be installed , the villagers themselves, expert and intelligent farmers as they are, were convinced that the machine will get job round the clock. Coming to the issue of power to run these implements, one member gave a simple solution, Purchase one diesel operated motor and different types of belts and the same motor can run different machine based on need.

        Once they have some assets to show they will also be able to get loan from banks, thus increasing their working capital. Once started, this will multiply, but the most difficult part was to make the beginning.

        We left the germ of the idea at this stage in their minds allowing them some mental space to mull over it and judge its various consequences. We put our confidence on the native intelligence of the farming community and decided to await and respect the outcome of their thought process.

        It was decided that Shri Sankar Mondal, representative of the Ashram, will keep in touch with the people there, help in developing the ideas further with assistance from the Joydhak team and when the people are psychologically and physically ready to begin the venture, will arrange to provide the requisite infrastructure in the form of making a part of the Ashram space available for the project, assisting in procurement of the machines (if possible , second hand machines at cheaper price) from the Kolkata market and getting necessary help in installation of the simple devices.

        It was decided that the matter would be reviewed again after the rainy seasons are over and when the season for mustard and moong draws near. That will be right point for the second push.

        The fundamental principle of the proposal was developing a partnership were the benefactor would invest only in kind (providing some physical infrastructure and the requisite initial leadership) while the beneficiary group will garner their existing resources—money (whatever meager amount they can bring together  would have to do as a start), human resource and skill. This will help in developing a sense of ownership about the scheme among the beneficiaries and it will not remain merely a Government aid programme from which one expects some alms only, giving back nothing in return.

        For Women: Two schemes came up during the discussion:

        (a) a soft toy making business could be started by a group of women. The group should have at least 7 to 8 members. Soft toys have got a huge readymade market at all levels of the society. There are wholesalers who provide the requisite raw materials and take delivery of final products on payment of wages. The role of the Ashram would be to provide basic local infrastructure, help in primary skill development among some of the women by arranging for their training and then to arrange for initial selling of their products in the wholesale markets.

        (b) Arindam came up with a second suggestion: one of his friends has a business of domestic and overseas selling of Indian handicrafts. One item of his trade is painted clay pots and lamps. It will be the employer’s responsibility to provide all the raw materials and the work will be done on wage basis. No capital investment is required by the women. All they would need would be some space and some rudimentary basic skills which could be easily provided.

        Once the ball starts rolling a part of the income could be invested in micro finance , but that would be a second level idea, to be considered if and when the first stage succeeds.

        It was decided that the matter would be reviewed after  a period of one month between the Ashram representatives and the representatives of the group of women of the locality wherein the plan will be finalized and next course of action started.

        The date for that second stage is approaching now. By end of June we shall be able to provide updated information regarding progress of this scheme. In the meantime a group of institutes providing training in soft toy making has been identified by Joydhak and the list has been provided to the Ashram representative.

        HOMEWARD BOUND

        While coming back we had stopped the car at a deserted spot. Shankar, who is a frequent visitor here, led us through salt encrusted sterile lands to a spot near the river. The majestic Thakurani flowed silently with its silvery gray spread of water. It was low tide time. A rivulet emptying into the river lay idle– its water mass almost completely drained by the sea-ward  pull of the low tide. A thin line of water was still trickling through the very center of it. The dense forest on the opposite bank was gradually enveloping itself into the evening mist. A menacing silence prevailed, accentuated by the constant whining of wind all round us. Under the calm of that approaching evening , the village waited silently for a change. Will this change happen? We shall wait and see.

        A request

        This Devipur experiment has just begun. All ideas and suggestions to enrich it are welcome. Please send in your ideas in comment mode. Any idea counts.

        NON_ENGLISH POST (FOR BENGALI READERS ONLY)–the 10th issue of the Bengali online magazine Joydhak has been uploaded.

        June 18, 2010

        http://www.joydhak.com
        জয়ঢাকের ১০ম আন্তর্জাল সংখ্যা প্রকাশিত হল। আগের সংখ্যাগুলোর মতই এই সংখ্যাটিও সাজানো হয়েছে গল্প, কমিকস, ছড়া উপন্যাস  ও আন্যান্য নিয়মিত ফিচারে।
        কিছু উল্লেখ্য বিষয়ঃ
        ক। কমিকস বানানোর কাজে ছোটদের উতসাহ দেবার প্রচেষ্টা আব্যহত রয়েছে। ছোটদের তৈরি কমিকস “চমকিলা চোখ” দেখতে পাবেন  পত্রিকার “লিখিব খেলিব” অংশে। রয়েছে “দার্জিলিং যাত্রা” নামের এক অসাধারণ রঙিন কমিকস-ও।
        খ। ছোটদের জন্য আগামিদিনের লেখক তৈরির কাজও আব্যাহত। ১৪ বছরের মহাশ্বেতা (যে জয়ঢাকের বুক রিভিউ অংশ লেখে) এই  সংখ্যায় প্রথম অনুবাদ গল্প লেখায় হাত দিল। গল্পের নাম ‘ভাল ডাইনি’।
        গ। জমে উঠেছে উত্তর পূর্বের পাহাড়ের অরণ্যে এক অসাধারণ রহস্য এডভেঞ্চার উপন্যাস “বগাচি জাতির সন্ধানে প্রফেসর সত্য শূর” ঘ। গল্প লিখেছেন অনন্যা দাশ, পার্থপ্রতিম পাল, অনুরাধা গুপ্ত প্রমুখ।

        ঙ। কমপুটারমুখো কিশোরকিশোরিদের এডেভেঞ্চারের লোভ দেখাতে কলম ধরেছেন বর্ষীয়ান বৈজ্ঞানিক ও ট্রেকার রাজকুমার রায়চৌধুরি। ধারাবাহিকভাবে লিখছেন হিমালয়ের বিভিন্ন ট্রেকিং রুটের পরিচিতি।  অভিজ্ঞ পর্বতারোহী এবং এককালের ক্যারাভান নামের এডভেঞ্চার  স্পোর্টস সংস্থার মালিক বাসব চট্টোপাধ্যায় দিতে শুরু করেছন ছোটদের পর্বতারোহণের প্রথম পাঠ।
        চ। এককালের নামকরা শিকারি, ও পরবর্তী জীবনে সংরক্ষণবিদ, মধ্যপ্রদেশের প্রাক্তন মুখ্য বনপাল শ্রী জগজ্জ্যোতি দত্ত কলম ধরেছেন  তাঁর বর্ণময় অরণ্যজীবনের কিছু গল্প ছোটদের শোনাবার জন্য।

        জয়ঢাকের সাম্প্রতিক সার্ভে থেকে বের হয়ে আসা পাঠকের বিপুল দাবিকে সম্মান জানিয়ে এই সংখ্যা থেকে শুরু করা হল পত্রিকার  পিডিএফ ডাউনলোডের সুবিধে।

        তাছাড়া আরও অনেক অনেক—–

        এই ঠিকানায় দেখুন– http://www.joydhak.com

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