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The Power of an Independent Organisation

for example: Jan Chetana at Raigarh


 Informing villagers.

One thing is clear: to be independent is the most important thing, when you want to support the Adivasis in their struggles against land grab. We talk with Ramesh Agarwal and Rajesh Tripathi from the small organisation Jan Chetana in Raigarh in the Center-Indian state Chhattisgarh. The situation in the Raigarh district is almost hopeless. There are 21 iron factories in this district only. With all the land grab, terrible pollution and heavy traffic these factories bring with them.

 At a Public Hearing.

Jan Chetana is not an official ngo, it almost doesn’t get funding. So the activists can criticize the government and the companies whenever necessary. They can start directly a court case when they find out a letter of consent of the sarpanch (village head) is forged. And inform the national newspapers. They can tell the villagers freely about their rights and instruct them how to file a request according to the Right To Information Act. “A ngo or a church cannot do such things”, declares Ramesh. “We have no bank account, no building, and no possessions. Nothing. We don’t have the fear the administration will stop their permission to get funding from abroad. Because we have no funding.”

Off course some money is needed. The poor villagers contribute themselves. When there is a meeting all the villagers who attend it give one rupee or a fistful rice. “When there is a demonstration in Raipur (state capital, 250 kilometers from here) everyone pays his own travel expenses, his own food and also gives 10 rupees for the organisation.”

 At a demomstration in a village against police violence.

Jan Chetana activists not always attack the government. Often they cooperate with the administration. For example, they are trainers in a government program to explain the Adivasi people how to use their rights of the new village law (PESA).
When there is a conflict in a village, one of the activists rushes there for mediation. Everyone knows the Jan Chetana activists are completely on the site of the villagers. The people trust them and tell them about their problems. Then the activists do a proposal to the police officers or administration to prevent violence. Rajesh: “We are a peaceful organisation, we are not propagating violence. Everyone knows. That is the reason we are successful.”
Local police and administration officers are fed up with the companies. Because they are so ruthless, they terrorise the tribals and marginalise the administration. Still they get from higher level persons instructions ‘not to do too much’.

 Discussion with a high burocrat.

Every morning Ramesh visits the website of the National Department of Environment to look for new applies for iron factories. After five years of doing this sort of work, he knows exactly where to look for. When he finds out the company ‘forgot’ something, he informs the department and it will not accept the application.
Jan Chetana activists work nicely together with some officials from the government, but still they filed a complaint against the minister of environment. The minister was convicted and got a fine. Also a police officer got a fine after a complaint of them at the Central Information Commission. He had not given the information they asked for. The police officer had to pay Rs 40,000 (650 euros). Now they get an answer on every question they pose.

Rajesh: “We have no money for lawyers, but we have a network of dedicated lawyers who work for us for free, to help the people.” Jan Chetana also has a good contact with a national activist advocacy group in Delhi and also with the Delhi High Court.

Last year Rajesh participated in the elections, with Ramesh as his manager. From the beginning it was clear he would not get the seat, but it was a nice opportunity to visit many villages, discuss their problems and to inform them about their rights.

Go to next page: article about police violence against Adivasis
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Photos: Jan Chetana, Raigarh and Peasant Autonomy - Creative Commons