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Life Stories

The drum beats and dance chants grow louder. Soon this would be over. The sun would have set and it would be time for the daily meal. Only that meal becomes lesser everyday. I am the woman sitting next to this pot of rice. My heart beats along with the dance steps and drum beat. This is the dance of triumph, joy and pride of men who returned with prize. The dance is Firkaal. But since long the joy has lessened, the triumph is missing and the fear has replaced pride.

Do you ask why??

Hungry stomachs can't convey joy and a community faced with migration cannot display triumph.

But there is an untold story of Sarala, Pramila, Ashrita, Subola... & others ... - who wanted to bring change in their life as well as of those around them.

It is Janumdih's story ... A small remote village in Potka Block of East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand

Morale was broken. One crop farming, lack of irrigation, poor landless laborers, exploitative brick-kilns and Road contractors had converted the tribal people of the region into debt trapped reja and kulis. Thus being socially and economically marginalized, the tribal had lost their self esteem in their own land.

This was the state of Janumdih a few years back but the desire and will of a woman and a man changed it all. The resolve of two people and a band of activists coincided. The woman, Sarala, with a charming smile and steel resolve began with the slogan "Save life! Save green!" begun an initiative to grow green patches. The man, Raghunath, a firkaal dancer and an intermediate educated tribal youth became a passionate activist. Raghu found right direction in Kalamandir, a Jamshedpur based organization working for the revival of traditional art and culture.

Motivation made mute faces talk. Conducting meetings and hearing each others problems in group meetings broke inhibitions. Homebound and shy tribal woman heard stories of other brave women. With the support of a core group of facilitators begun the realization that the individual could bring ideas but the community was the real strength. Sarala took the lead, and started a yaatra in her own village: moving from one household to another, convincing members to come out to start working together: enthusiasm grew and was visible. So what could be their work?

The people of Janumdih re-discovered their life in nature and tradition. Just as the men were artistically equipped with dance so the women could weave. From the locally grown gondha grass they would weave chatai (mat). Two Self-Help Groups were formed. Kalamandir pitched in the initiative through disseminating finer aesthetic sense to polish up the rough edges of their craft and becoming the bridge between market and product, modern technology and traditional skill. Moreover it was important to make every individual realize his/her potential as an individual and as a group, along with checking the rural population's dependence on forest woods and also to help villagers realize the worth of forest for their life.

Raghu and Sarala became the leaders and convinced the Gram Sabha to a build a mud house for weaving looms where they would train under master trainers. They started taking DECISIONS about any thing and everything of village. SHGs deposits was increasing, so was usage of loan by members. The grass mat weaving centre came up in that mud house without any Government or non government help and from loom less weaving it graduated to shuttle-less loom weaving. Soon SHG members started visiting melas along with their favourite Rashmididi and Rekhdidi to sell their own products. This was slow social CHANGE which met resistance from established social structures with landowners discouraging labourers to change profession. But weaving dreams had soared enough now and refused to look back. Because people like Sarala and Raghu knew this was just a drop in the ocean. Support stated pouring in. Department of Welfare and Rural Development created necessary infra-structure.

Team work brought them empowerment and independence. Transformation attracted more SHGs and Industry Department of state government appraised this bold and unique initiative by marketing the quality products. Now trainer dada doesn't teach them anymore. Women themselves became Master Trainers and Sales Girls. Tribal women, who did not talk earlier, now discuss design of thread, come in time, clean their space, collect raw materials from stock and starts either cutting and processing grass or weaving or stitching. Men have also joined in. They still choose to labour but now on their own village land, borrowing money from SHGs to develop irrigation, sanitation and forestry projects. Income generation has lead to the self sustenance because a man and a woman willed.

I am the man. My feet can work the steps but my heart does not beat with it anymore. Dance is in my blood so it cannot escape me but I have to escape it to work at a distant place to feed my family. I am not alone. There are many young men like me and when we return after months to our wives, elders and children, our infants have grown enough to not recognize us. Live and desire change. But how?

The drum beats and I, Raghu dance with my heart as I see my son responding to this beat. I am not alone; there are many men like me. This is the dance of triumph, joy and pride. This dance is firkaal.

Soon the sun would have set and it would be time for dinner. It is a new and fulfilling phenomenon in our lives. My wife and children along with other family members would eat their fill and rise tomorrow for a new day eager to work. The dance chants grow louder and there is joy in my house and in my village.

I am Sarala, the woman next to rice pot on fire. I sustain my family and this is my joy. My husband who stopped beating the dhol, now joyfully plays it as he sees that I am confident to educate my children and that is my pride. Our village is self sustained and that is our triumph. I, Sarala Sardar wish every village in Jharkhand should be a Janumdih. JOHAR!