Praxis facilitated a ‘Ground Level Panel’ in India in July 2013. The Panel comprised 14 people who experience poverty, insecurity and exclusion, including women, transgender and men; urban slum dwellers; landless people; Dalits and tribal groups; people living in rural poverty; disabled people and those from conflict and disaster-affected areas. Please click here to see the profiles of the panel members
The 14 panelists came together to deliberate over the UN High Level Panel’s (HLP) recommendations for a post- Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda for development and made their own recommendations based on ‘ground level’ experience.
Discussions took place over five days, culminating in an outreach day in Delhi where the panelists presented their recommendations to local and national audiences, including decision-makers, the media and civil society organisations.
The Ground Level Panelists produced a final communiqué of the outcomes of their deliberations.
Read the blog article written by Tom Thomas, CEO of Praxis, reflecting on the Ground Level Panel experience in India.
Amrita Naik, a 17-year-old tribal girl from Odisha, cherishes the achievement of her project on future solution of soil conservation in mountain area being selected for the National Science Congress. Her life took a turn for the worse when her mother died. She was only 11 years old. Her father, who was unemployed and an alcoholic, married another woman. She had to fend for herself by working on construction sites. She ran away fearing that her father would get her married off as customary in her community. A woman at whose house she lived in brought her to Kalinga Institute of Social Studies, a residential school for tribal children that provides free education. Amrita feels she is fortunate for having had the opportunity to complete her schooling. She wants to be a lawyer. She envisions a world free from foeticide, child marriage, corruption, superstition and illiteracy.
Joshna Pradan, 22, fought for her family’s right over their one acre of land in their village in Kandhamal district of Odisha. She studied up to Class 10 and now works as an agricultural labourer in her village. She works hard to take care of her mother and younger siblings. When Joshna lost her father at a very young age, her uncle took possession of the one acre of land their family owned, which was their only means of survival. He also separated her elder brothers from them. She, her mother and her younger siblings had to starve for days on end. They survived on the wild roots she used to bring from the forest. When she grew up, Joshna summoned the village panchayat and fought for their land. Thanks to her efforts, they have got back a small portion of the land.
Mayavati, 29, is from Kisani ka purva village in Unchahar Block of Rai Bareily district of Uttar Pradesh who has combated poverty and discrimination to educate her children. Being a Dalit, her father was unfairly paid for work he did in the fields of the landlord and she spent many days in her childhood going hungry. She longed to step out her house alone, but was never allowed to by her strict father. She got married at 15 hoping that things would change, but they did not. She had to work in a rice mill from where she saved up the residue of broken rice mixed with stones to feed her husband and two children. Eventually she got involved with a savings group in her village, which helped her save money and take loans to put her children in school. She also set up her own petty shop. She wants to help other women and believes that no amount of cash transfers will help alleviate poverty. She sees collectivisation to be the only solution. She dreams about a world where all children go to school.
Mohammad Akbar, 40, lives in Gondi Ibrahim Patan of Baramula district of Kashmir and is proud of having helped the people of his village get various benefits since he became the president of the Village Development Committee six years ago. He dropped out of school after Class 10 to support his family and now works in a local shop to sustain his family of 10. Prior to 2007, the conflict between the army and militants disrupted life and frequent indefinite strikes took a toll on his children’s education. Akbar always wanted to work for the welfare of his community and his dream came true when an NGO approached their village to improve local governance and livelihood opportunities. He helped BPL families in the village access various government benefits. Akbar wants to see significant changes in the village and he wants to help his people.
Mohammad Ismail, aged 29, was a member of a rescue team that helped people to safety during the 2004 tsunami. He lives in Chennai and was diagnosed with 70% disability because of polio at the age of eight. His disability did not deter his spirit. He completed Class 12 in the corporation school and started looking for a job to support his family. In 2002, his already impoverished family suffered a jolt when the slum in which they were living was notified for eviction to make way for a commercial boating site. Despite protests, 1500 houses including his, were demolished. Their belongings were thrown out and the inhabitants were moved to a relocation site called Kannagi Nagar on the outskirts of Chennai. Iqbal has been desperately looking for a job in private companies but in vain because the area he hails from is considered notorious. On one occasion, he finally got a job in a private company but the company cancelled his appointment when he submitted his address proof. Iqbal wants a world that has employment for everyone, clean habitats, safety for children, a common school system and an effective police that does not act as the servant of the affluent.
Mohammad Samsul Haque, 45, is a migrant labourer from Guwahati, Assam, who has studied up to Class 5 but managed to educate his two sons. His elder son is doing his graduation. Haque, who was a farmer from Nimua Latima village in Nalbari district of Assam, migrated to Guwahati to work as a daily wage labourer to make ends meet after regular floods disrupted his fields. He works at a garage as a screen painter during the day and spends his nights as a caretaker in the shop of a local businessman. He goes home during the harvest season to help his family on the fields. There has been a significant change in the agricultural scenario over the past few years because of an NGO that renovated the canals his village – a task the government failed to do for 25 years. But he still finds it difficult to get a job in the city, especially in the rainy season. He looks forward to the day when all citizens will be able to enjoy all rights.
Nandlal, 42, has overcome the discrimination he faced because of his disability to work for the rights of people with disabilities. Hailing from Tehsil Salempur, Devaria district of Uttar Pradesh, Nandlal started driving a truck at a young age. His life took a tragic turn when he lost both legs in a road accident at the age of 18. Taunted by family members and neighbours because of his disability, he left his village and came to Delhi. He started living on the footpath near India Gate and has worked with several NGOs. He educated himself and read many spiritual books and derived the confidence to face life. Nandlal feels bad when he sees people look at physically challenged beggars sympathetically and wonders why they never come forward to give them work and make them independent. He dreams of a world where people look at the physically challenged as equals, not as people worthy of pity.
Pinki is a 17-year-old girl from Shivnala Village in Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh, who is among the few girls in her village who have got the opportunity to study. She belongs to a Dalit family and is the second of seven siblings. Pinki had to assert her desire to study quite aggressively with her parents before she was allowed to go to school. She feels that the biggest problem in her village is the lack of health facilities, unavailability of electricity and absence of employment opportunities for adults. At a seminar on Human Rights, Pinki was amazed to learn that women in other places have the right to choose whom they want to marry. She wants to be a computer engineer when she grows up and set up a business of her own which can provide young girls the opportunity to study. She dreams of a world where the poor are free from suffering and there is no discrimination of opportunities between boys and girls.
Sixty-five-year-old Raghunath Sada led a land rights movement against local landlords in the Ujjwa Paschim village of Kusheswarthan of the Darbhanga district of Bihar. Thanks to his relentless fight for the Musahars, the community to which he belongs, acquired 62 acres of land. He also got two bighas of land, which help him sustain his family. His village remains waterlogged for four to five months every year. The Musahar community is the most disadvantaged community of Bihar and Sada has been voicing their issues through his writings and discussions in various fora. He believes that though the Bihar government has declared Musahars as ‘Mahadalits’ his community lives in extreme poverty. His wants to help Musahar children gain access to education and he believes that, at least, housing should be the primary step towards the well-being of the landless Musahar families, followed by land redistribution.
Ravikant Redkar, 32, is affected by cerebral palsy and lives in a slum in North Mumbai. The happiest day of his life was when the telephone booth he runs was inaugurated in the presence of his mother. Ravikant points out how the paradigm shift in communication arena of India has put his sole livelihood option in crisis as few people use telephone booths in an age where almost everybody has a mobile. But Ravikant still nurtures the hope to overcome the present challenge as he thinks some good people still exist in society who believe people with disabilities can be part of the development process. Ravikant is currently also associated with and NGO through which he advocates for rights of people with disabilities.
Ushaben Dineshbhai Vasava, 33, is a tribal woman from Panchpiri village, Sagbara Taluka of Narmada district of Gujarat, who is leading a team managing an agricultural tool library in her village. Through her initiatives, the village has road, water supply to individual households, construction of bio gas plants and vermin-compost unit among the group members. Ushaben recalls the time when many people did not have access to drinking water. People were silent and did not have courage to raise their voice. She hopes that one day all women of her village will come out and raise their voice against their hardship and demand rights. She also dreams that women of her village should be economically empowered and this would make them self-reliant.
Sunita Devi, 28, belongs to the Paswan community and was born in Patna. She has studied until Class 12 and moved to Samastipur, Bihar, after marriage. She lives there with her four daughters and her husband. Sunita is a tailor and earns a living stitching clothes for women and small children in her village to supplement her husband’s meagre income. She believes that she is an independent woman as she does not have to ask people for help. In fact, she said with pride that she helps others in need. Ten years down the line, she sees herself doing good for society and helping people live a better life.
Uzma is a 16-year-old girl from Delhi who takes care of her mentally ill mother with pride. She feeds and bathes her regularly. She also takes care of her three younger siblings. She used to live and beg on the streets near Jama Masjid along with her mother and siblings. Since 2010, she and her siblings have been staying in a shelter home run by an NGO. She now learns to operate a computer and attends spoken English classes. With the help of a bridge course, she has completed studying until Class 6. She wants to be self-reliant so that she can take responsibility for her mother and siblings. She dreams of a world where young children do not have to live on the streets.
Vineetha, a 35-year-old transgender, migrated from Kolkata to Chennai 26 years ago and has been working for the welfare for her community members. She lived with a partner for 13 years and brought up a destitute girl along with him. Five years ago, she was forced to leave her partner and her adopted girl in a crisis. She decided to leave her house and other belongings to them. She started life from scratch and since then has been making ends meet by begging and dancing. She lives in a rented accommodation. She advises other transgenders not to become addicted to alcohol and tobacco. She is concerned about government apathy towards the welfare of transgenders while actively engaging with like-minded individuals to advocate on their behalf with various government departments. She emphasises that the government should focus on the education and employment of her community members as they are crucial to ensure lives of dignity for them.