Darbar Sahitya Sansad — How A Literary Magazine Became A Force For Good In Cyclone-Prone Khurda

January 4, 2017
By Rang De Team
Khurda is a largely agricultural area where over 2,300 rural individuals have had their loan requests fulfilled by willing lenders on the Rang De platform

In Khurda, 30kms away from Bhubaneshwar, our partner Darbar Sahitya Sansad (DSS) helps us reach out to hundreds of farmers, construction workers, dairy farmers and goat rearers.

The whole area depends on just one road. Along this single-lane road lies an office that around 15 social workers, led by Kedareshwar Choudhary, operate out of. They help generate livelihoods, get them access to affordable micro-finance, support migrant workers, rescue villagers during floods and promote organic farming.

They were inspired by the government officials who used to enlist their help to gather villagers in the school library after floods hit the region in the 1980s.

When they went to college, they decided to open a magazine — Gramanya Darbar (the village court) — that would promote development, sports and literature.

The magazine transformed into a non-governmental organisation in 1993 that is now a household name in the region.

From a stock photo celebrating International Woman’s Day, DSS commands considerable respect in the region

DSS gathered the poorest women and formed self-help groups in the 1990s with NABARD backing. Going against conventional wisdom, they would mix women from scheduled and backward castes as well as women from the ‘upper’ castes because they wanted to improve the social fabric of these poor hamlets and erase the divide.

They realised that they could not depend on banks as officers would only extend credit to these poor women before the end of the financial year to meet quotas.

Introduced to Rang De in 2011, DSS was happy to find an organisation that would help women from these low-income communities get access to credit.

“Now, these women carry out transactions worth Rs 30k. This was simply impossible twenty years back,” Kedareshwar told us.

Spending on home tuition, buying assets to improve their homes (almost all the women have kuccha houses) and even purchasing health insurance, DSS has seen rural women improve their outcomes on all fronts.

At the DSS office, social workers tell us about their work in the region

After the 1999 Supercyclone when more than 15,000 people died, DSS realised that flood preparedness (contingency planning, resource mapping, social mapping, forming rescue teams, mock drills etc) should be a vital component of their efforts in the region.

Annually, they carry out disaster management programmes teaching villagers how to mobilise during times of flood. They stock dry fruits and other food items to help marooned villagers and place them in schools and other public areas for safety.

After the floods subsidise, DSS helps rehabilitate these individuals by offering them seeds, fertilisers and even loans.

They initiate cash for work and food for work programmes. People don’t have money nor do they have work during natural crises — the daily labourers especially are hard hit.

These programmes allow villagers to rebuild the infrastructure in their villages in return for wages taking care of their daily needs for a short while.

Moreover, the villagers are advised on how to move away from paddy or other flood-prone crops, raise their homesteads and ensure new homes incorporate flood-resistant features.

Many migrant workers don’t have identity cards and leave their homes after dropping out of schools to far-off cities to remit money back home

Khurda is also an area suffering from outbound migration as many houses are devoid of men who go and work in the cities in low-wage informal jobs.

“Many of them come back with no savings, physical injuries, TB and poor health,” Kedareshwar told us.

Some of them have the strength to continue work as construction labourers or they operate as foremen. They use Rang De credit to buy construction tools that they rent out to other young men.

As very few people can afford to study beyond 12th Std and there is no work for the youth, leaving the villages for employment is the only choice.

But many of these migrant workers don’t even have identity cards.

Working in factories in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra or Karnataka as illegal workers (they are rarely recorded in the wage lists), they might receive money but are often harassed and underpaid. Without an identity card, they cannot complain. If the police would raid the factories that had illegal workers, they would extort money from managers who would fine the workers.

If they were caught then these workers would be stuck in prison and would not be able to get out. Without an identity card, neither could these migrant workers open bank accounts or transfer funds back home, get a gas connection, notify doctors about their blood type after injuries etc.

In the years before Aadhar, DSS decided that it was their responsibility to ensure thousands of migrant workers got their own version of an identity card. District Level Officers now have a way to help these migrants get back home or get support if they were ever in trouble. Moreover, they teach these migrant workers about their legal rights and the importance of keeping a record of their work so that they can claim compensation.

DSS teaches returning migrants and potential migrants how to use the computer, operate simple machines, driving or mobile repairing services. Many potential migrants have now decided to stay and work in the region.

An invaluable partner, Kedareshwar’s team have helped women in the area get an alternative to high interest rate loans and helped inculcate respect for women ensuring their participation in local decision making and family decisions; atrocities against women have reduced considerably.

The government officials who came to help rehabilitate the area three decades past could not envision that the seeds they implanted would grow into such a sturdy tree that anchors the communities of the region.

A great example of how kindness begets kindness, we are happy to have partnered with an organisation that does so much for men and women in rural Orissa.

Please do consider contributing to the 250+ individuals from Orissa currently seeking low-cost loans on the Rang De platform. Do check our Field Trip calendar for upcoming trips that you can join if you are a social investor.

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