Collectivism, Cooperatives and Unionism – Empowering Women on Natural resources
11-12th November 2014, Bharati Sadan Nagal Mafi, Saharanpur, UP, India
On the occasion of 61st birth anniversary of our departed beloved women leader Bharati Roy Choudhary “ All India Union of Forest Working People” organized a two day mass education programme of women community leaders on the issue of building cooperatives on NTFP (Non Timber Forest Produce) and strengthening the Union to empower the forest women economically and politically. Secondly it was also aimed at awarding “Bharati Fellowship” to new women community organizer, from the savings of Bharatiji. The programme was organized in “Bharati Sadan” (Women Empowerment Center), Nagal Mafi, 40 km from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Around 250 women and men participated in this two day mass education programme from various states such as Uttarakhand, MP, Jharkhand, UP, Bihar, Odisha and Delhi. Large number of women was present in this programme.
The programme started by paying tribute to the departed leader in Bharati sadan where a stone is laid in her memory. On this occasion Union's President Jarjum Ete, Working President Sanjaya Garg, Gen Sect Ashok Chowdhury, Dy. Gen Sect Roma, Organizing Sect Munnilal, Treasurer K.N Tiwari, EC members Rajnish, Matadyal, Sokalo, Shyamlal, Nabada Rana, Ramchander Rana, Lalti, Kamla, and many more were present. There was a very active participation from fraternal organization, Delhi Forum, Programme for Social Action, Sabla Sangh, Action India, Vasundhara by three members represented by Pushpanjali ffrom Odisha . From Delhi Bhatti mines the representation was by Anita Soni and Sito Majoka.
The inaugural session was started in the afternoon. Many senior activists and sympathizers of the local area movement of forest area of Saharanpur were present in this inaugural session. The session was compared by Mehboob bhai a veteran from nearby town Behat. With his exuberant poetic style he enriched the inaugural session with lot of vibrant deliberation by the speakers. Many of the speakers the post holders of Union, Chanu Ram ( Ghad Kshetra Mazdoor Morcha), Kazmi sahab, paid tribute to Bharati ji, Guest speakers from Vasundhra Puspanjaliji also paid tribute and spoke about the cooperative initiative by their organization in Odisha.
The objective of mass education programme was –
1.Formation of women cooperatives in many forest regions.
2. Unionizing the women forest workers in the forest region of India.
3. Taking up various economic-political programme to empower the women leadership to take up challenge to fight the patriarchy, feudalism and international capitalism.
Though a very detailed training programme could not take place but this programme was organized basically to create an atmosphere where the masses get emotionally charged to take up this task themselves. Our experience says that if any such programme that is imposed from above ultimately gets institutionalized and concentrated in the hands of middle class or many times by the vested interests. This is a process of building of a new institutional mechanism in the forest area the target being to replace the 200 year old control of the colonial institution of Forest Department on forest, forest land and forest produce. So it is important that the concept of building up of these new and fundamental institutions should be internalized by the masses than only a new institution could be built. The two days programme in Nagal electrified and charged the participants who now believe that it is they who have to take the task of building this historical institution themselves and for that they need various kind of support from various institutions like government, people’s organization, trade unions, administration and common people.
In the inaugural session 10 women from various regions were honored with shawls for the struggle they did in their area: Next day also another 10 vibrant leaders were honored. The honored leaders name are :
Sokalo Gond from Sonbhadr, UP
Kamala Kharwar from Adhoura, Bhabhua, Bihar
Nabada Rana from Palia, Lakhimpur Khiri, UP
Anwari from Buggawala, Haridwar, Uttarakhand
Phulbasi from Sonbhadra, UP
Dhanpati from Naugarh, Chandauli, UP
Sabina, Dilawar nagar, UP
Fatima bi, Bharaich, UP
Shivkumari, Manikpur, Chitrakoot, UP
Phulmati, Palia, Lakhimpur khiri, UP
Shimla, Haridwar, Uttarakhand
Rajkumari, Sonbhadra, UP
Lalti Paswan, Sonbhara, UP
Bharati Fellowship programme started from Bhatti Mines Delhi-
Sito Majoka, from Od nomadic tribe, Bhagirath nagar, Bhatti mines was honored with “ Bharati Fellowship” , she was presented a certificate and shawl by our Union President Ms. Jarjum Ete and Working president Sh. Sanjay Garg.
Next day on 12th November 2014, the discussions started with the people’s experience on the cooperatives that is being practiced in various regions. It is to be mentioned here that in regions like Kaimur, Bundelkhand, Trai of UP/MP/Bihar/Uttarakhand, thousands of hectare of the land has been reclaimed by the forest people and the land is being held collectively in many places in the leadership of women. There are many experiments going on these lands like collective farming, plantation of many useful trees for the community, construction of school, formation of people forestry, formation of cooperatives on NTFP, plantation of medicinal herbs etc. The possession of land by the tribal/dalit and other poor sections has empowered the communities to fight directly with the FD. Various leaders from Sonbhadra, Adhoura, Manikpur, Chandauli, Lakhimpur khiri talked about their experience that focused on-
-reclamation of land
-formation of collectives on reclaimed lands
-initiating the process of cooperatives on NTFP in their own way and
-Formation of women councils.
Matadyal said that first they acquired their land that belonged to their ancestors collectively and gave resistance to the control, repression and atrocities of the feudal-upper caste-police-FD nexus. That led the poor tribal people to fight the other issues also. The major issue was of NTFP, it was Bharatiji who provide them loan of Rs 10,000 some ten yrs ago, with that money women started a small cooperative on Amla, they collected and made amrethi out of that and sold in the local market. This brought lot of income to women and gradually 20 such “Women VanJan Sahkari Samiti” (Women Cooperatives) are operating in the area, each cooperative having 20 members each and all of them women. He said that it is now time that we should make our own laws and this year we are concentrating on Tendu leaves and will take control of it from contractors, mafia and Forest Corporation that is minting million of rupees from our forests.
Sokalo Gond from Sonbhadra said that we got lot of strength by reclaiming our lost land from forest department. We have reclaimed thousands of acres of land from FD that is in collective farming and collective cultivation of forest. After we got the land and fought with monopoly of the FD, we also planned to take control of forest produce. Government has given us Act but they are giving by one hand and taking by other. Therefore in this struggle women have to come in the front. This year I took contract of Tendu leaves from Forest Corporation to get an experience of how to take the control of NTFP and became first woman to start this work. We have now formed our own cooperative committee in the village, Matadyal helped us in this and this year we will take control of tendu leaves through our union and cooperative. By doing these we will learn and take full control on everything that exists in the forest and oust FD and Forest Corporation. We will open our own hospital, our school. We have opened a primary school in our collective and soon we are also going to have a doctor in our dispensary. My Child died due to medical negligence of Hindalco hospital doctors for negligent in transfusing blood to him. We will not let our children die like this, they will have a best health care through our efforts of unionizing and cooperatives.
Anwari, Phulmati, Dhanpati, Phulbasi, Kamala also spoke on cooperative, collective and women council to check on women atrocity. The woman leadership from various areas spoke of why women have to come forward in controlling the natural resources collectively that is a big livelihood resource for women. Women also emphasized on the need of formation of “Women council”. They said if women are coming in fore front they are facing various kinds of attacks more are sexist and castist violence that needs to be dealt with. Women council will also look into the matter of problems of women in the family as well. Leaders from Sonbhadra, Khiri, and Bihar said they are constructing a separate mud house or their office where women members could sit and do their meetings and consultation. They also said that we have everything for earning our livelihood but that is in the hands of mafia, contractors, capitalist and feudals. We need to take back all our forest produce and stop the control of FD and will establish our control. They said our ancestors were great traditional healers and we never went to any hospital. We know that traditional knowledge, we will develop our own medical community and treat ourselves with simple and serious ailments as well. We are fighting our struggle, there are many dalals or brokers after us they will never want that we should get good treatment from the hospital. Sokalo’s son was murdered by these dalals, police and FD who connived with Doctors not to transfuse blood to the child. We will prepare the list of the herbs and the plants available in the forest and will take control of it and will not go to these big hospitals who do not care for us.
Anita soni from Bhatti mines spoke regarding the problems in the Bhagirath nagar, bhatti mines that is inhabited by the Od nomadic tribe community, who has been served as eviction notice by the Forest department.
Pavitra, from Sundarban, West Bengal said that no one is bothered about our forest and fish rights in the typical area of Sundarban that is surrounded three sides by Bangladesh. The area is typical with sea back water and creeks and only place that house Royal Bengal white tiger. The West Bengal govt has not even started the process of implementation of this Act. There are many forest produce, very common is “honey” that is taken in throw away rate by the FC from the forest people and sold at a very high rates in the market. We will also form these cooperatives in the Sundarban and will launch a massive struggle to oust Forest Department from Sundarban.
Ramilan, from Chitrakoot, UP said that we have formed some 20 women cooperatives in our area of Chitrakoot. We are not afraid of Sancturay, FD and the authorities. We are collecting tendu leaves, fuelwood, amla. Our problem is that we are not getting good rates in the local market. We are not trained in the marketing also. We need to know various laws. This task is being done by tribal in Satna, MP also.
Chanuram from Shivalik forest spoke that the control on NTFP is only the weapon for our development. Some three decade before when we started the political and labor rights in the forest area we started producer cooperative on the “Bhabbar grass” (used for rope making). It was a very successful experience. But the experience could not sustain very long as we could not make union. At that time we did not have FRA also but now we have it and I congratulate AIUFWP for getting this act passed in Parliament. The shivalik forest is full of hundreds of variety of NTFP, we have also made the list also. We also need to focus on what trees should be planted for the environment, we don’t want to plant commercial trees. Due to massive deforestation the rivers are leaving our lands barren we need to also take up this matter. We have to protect and take care of the forest ourselves.
Pushpanjali, Chitranjan from Odhisha, talked about their experience on the cooperatives in their area on cashew. Community leader Kaushaliya who is a post holder in one of the cooperative spoke about their experince in oriya language. They said that they have taken control of various NTFP such as Mahuaha, sal leaves, Cashew, amla, harra, bamboo, bel etc and sell it through their cooperative.
Munnilal said that FRA is a big weapon in the hands of the forest people, through this Act we have to file our claims and decide what kind of forest we have to plant. He talked about recognition of taungiya forest village, van gujjars nomadic tribe who are still not considered as citizen of this country. The claims will be filed to take over the forest.
KN Tiwari said that it is great honor that many women leaders have been honored in the Bharati memorial programme. He also expressed great happiness that a community leader from Bhatti mines Sito Majoka was honored and offered Bharti Fellowship. Such initiatives will empower the community women. He said we should encourage more women like Sito so that they can work for the community rights. We should build up the Bharti fellowship so that more community women leadership could be honored with fellowship like this. He promised to raise money for the fellowship.
Sanjay Garg made a very emotional speech, he congratulated the organizers for honoring Sito with Bharati Fellowship and said that Sito will carry forward the work and dream of Bharati. He also said that we will appeal to the likeminded people to contribute to the fellowship amount and strengthen the women community leaders. He also strengthened the need to build up the cooperative movement. He said that forest people in many places are reclaiming the land but it is important that simultaneously through cooperative movement the corrupt forest corporation should be ousted from the forest. If forest people start this movement that they also are able to fight the market forces and plans how to overcome that also. Along with cooperative to fight the wide scale of corruption and onslaught on the collective effort of the forest people and strong Union is essential. He expressed his worries regarding the union membership going on in snail’s space. It is important to build up a strong union to fight the giant forces that are opposed to such community initiatives. We need to build producer cooperative, also we need to work to bring pro people changes in the cooperative policy. We can suggest the UP govt regarding building up the cooperatives to make the govt aware of these initiatives.
She emphasized on creating and strengthening the public health system in the forest areas through using various herbs available in the forest area. She also alarmed the members regarding use of tendu leaves for smoking that is a major health hazard also. Besides launching a cooperatives on collection of tendu leaves she also stressed on the need to check on smoking also.
Matadyal said that in our area the upper caste section formed 11 cooperatives in the name of tribal to loot our land and use to earn huge profit out of it. When we formed our own organization we dismantled the cooperatives in control of upper caste people and reclaimed all our lands. We took over around 4000 acres of land, we are cultivating and also establishing ownership over the forest produce. If we have land and ownership on the forest produce we can earn a very dignified livelihood for ourselves, we don’t need anyone’s mercy. We have formed women cooperatives on the NTFP, we are still at a very preliminary stage. The main problem that we are encountering is of the credit. If we get credit we will be able to run a very good cooperative and every member will benefit out of it. We will also ensure that we return this credit, we have to look for these arrangements. We are also not given Minimum support price also for our forest produce, we are forced to sell in the lower price. All such issues need to be addressed. With our vast resources we can eradicate our poverty and also build up a very good public health care system.
Roma stressed on the need of conducting an indepth training on the cooperatives including the legal and the policy issues. A concept note to be developed in collaboration with New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) and create new institutions in the forest area to replace colonial institution Forest department and forest corporation.
Ashok Choudhary - We are gripped under inequality and disparity, we need to understand that the root cause of this problem is rooted in the state power. We need to always remind ourselves that we are fighting the struggle of equality and end disparity among the citizen of this country. This is a long battle, we need to develop critical understanding of functioning of the government and state power. Both are not same they are different, we need to develop a critical analysis of the same and accordingly build up our political programme. We need to break the vicious circle the government that has been created around us, we need to break this circle then only we will be able to bring our issues very strongly. We have seen from our experiences that where the working people are reclaiming the land and resources collectively the feudal, the oppressive forces in the village are getting alienated and subdued. The ball is in our court due to our collective struggle so we are in the commanding position. It is only the strength of the union that can break the vicious circle of the state power and challenge this state power. We need to build our programme to challenge this state power. Government wants to give all the natural resources to the companies where as our demand is that there should be equitable distribution of the natural resources as enshrined in our Constitution. Here is the conflict between us and the government, or any other government that comes in power they have this agenda of shrinking the democratic space. Government and state power has monopolized the natural resources and treats it as their eminent domain. All riots, caste-communal violence that is taking place are due to the control of these resources. We need to bring our struggle in the center against the state power. We will tell the government that give us our rights or go back, this strength we need to develop. We need to strengthen the cooperative movement, we need to build All India federation of cooperatives, for this we need to strengthen our union and take it to every nook and the corner of our country. We need to convene meeting every month in our areas and strengthen our union membership. We all will gather in New Delhi in Parliament street on 15th December 2014 to challenge the government and will seek answer from the government regarding not showing political will for implementing the Forest Rights Act.
Release of Bharati Fellowship Poster
A set of posters of Bharati Fellowship Programme was released by the President of the Union Jarjum Ete and by our community leaders from Sabla Sangh, New Delhi.
Programme for future
Appeal to raise the Bharati Fellowship amount to support more community women leaders
Exposure programme to be conducted for the women leaders to visit Odisha where Vasundhara is having cooperatives on the forest produce.
In month of February 2015 an intensive training programme on Union and Cooperatives law, policy to be conducted with 50 community leaders.
A concept note on Union and Cooperatives to be developed with help of NTUI and circulate it widely among the union members for debate and developing the programme.
Mobilization for the forest rights on 15 December 2014 in Parliament, Delhi
National Committee meeting to take strong programme of strengthening Union and building cooperatives in the forest area on 16th December 2014.