Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

Bravehearts Champion Villagers' Right

Giduraha village, Chitrakoot, UP, 14 August

Two tribal sarpanches are determined to make the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme a success in their part of Uttar Pradesh, whatever the odds.

Sanju Kol, a 30-something woman with short hair, wearing a kurta pyjama and a bullet mark on her temple, is unlettered but is the darling of Kols in her village of Giduraha in Chitrakoot district. She has fought the menace of dacoits in the nearby jungles and has managed to achieve her goals for the village despite resistance from the upper caste landlords who preferred another candidate.

She has made 175 job cards and men and women have started working on two different projects. There is a well being dug and a bunding is on in a field under the NREGP. The panchayat secretary has not been visiting the village and his seal is not there on the job cards. But she couldn't care less, she says. "I have already finished work on a pond which began a month ago. I cannot keep waiting for officials," she says.

Sanju gets this courage from her eight-year-long work as an activist of the Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan (ABSSS) which has been working among the Kol tribals for decades in the Chitrakoot-Manikpur area.

Sanju says she does not keep a cell phone as she fears calls from the notorious Dadhua bandit gang. She stood for elections on the villagers urging her to do so and she got 300 out of 600 votes. The rest got split among four candidates supported by the dacoits and upper castes.

To her credit, since then not only the job cards, but also 58 Antyodaya cards and 73 BPL cards have been okayed. I have demanded 133 Antyodaya cards for all as we have land but no irrigation. The BDO has agreed to 58 and has promised to add 20 later, says the sarpanch. She has also asked for anganwadis.

Another rebel sarpanch is Rajan Kol, also a former activist of ABSSS, and a prodigy of the founder of the organisation Gaya Gopal Prasad.

Rajan Kol also has no signature form the panchayat secretary who is missing in this village of Sarjat as elsewhere in Chitrakoot. "I have signed on my cards. It doesn't matter if he doesn't sign," he says.

Rajan, who leads the Patha Kol Vikas Samiti, started with the help of Gopal Prasad in the stony low-water retention terrain of the"patha" blocks of Chitrakoot district. He started NREGP in the village with a drain after he got 124 job cards for villagers. "I have not distribute dthem as pohotos are not ready yet," he says. "Five families are working now as digging of a pond is on. I am paying on the basis of the mud dug out by each group," he says.

Sreelatha Menon, Business Standard, August 15, 2006

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