Insights from a Youth Camp – Ekta Parishad, Katni
A report from Dominik Gross, April 2013
A Ekta Parishad Senior Leader Training and a Youth Camp have taken place at the Manav Jeevan Vikas Training Center (JVTC) outside of Katni in Madhya Pradesh from the 24th to the 30th of April. The JVTC is run by the NGO Manav Jeevan Vikas Samiti and is hosting beside the training center the Ekta Nursery, the Institute for Rural Collectives Initiatives (IRCI), the Chetna Prawa Sansthan (CPS) and the NCVT training center. Foreigners can enjoy here Agrotourism Activities too (www.mjvs.org).
The first two days at the JVTC, which used to start with prayers and songs and ended with plays out- and inside the center, were dedicated to the Senior Leader Training. 35 Ekta Parishad activists out of the state comittees from seven states gathered, including Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Kerala.Together with the President of Ekta Parishad, Rajagopal PV, other members of the national committee and of the International Initiative (II) of Ekta Parishad, they worked on their improvement in terms of leadership and community building, advocacy work and networking with government and business representatives, other members of the civil society or the media and mobilisation of people for actions. Extensively discussed during these two days were the following issues: women rights and women's participation inside of Ekta Parishad and in villages in general, the move back of Ekta Parishad from the national and the state level before and during the Jansatyagraha of 2012 to the grassroots and the villages and the awareness building in villages for voters in the perspective of the general Indian elections in 2014. The discussions then focused on how these tasks can be achieved through social practices of non-violence and equality.
Concerning the women rights it was brought up, that even though the extensive women participation in Jansatyagraha was a big success and the image of EP is very good in terms of women participation, the advocacy work on the national level for tasks which focused on women was very low in the aftermath of the big march. Furthermore a concern was expressed, that the restructuring of Ekta Parishad through a focus on the new state committees could weaken Ekta Mahila Manch (the women wing of EP), because Ekta Mahila would loose its connectivity to the decision making places inside EP. In consequence, Ekta Mahila Manch has to strengthen its position by rebuilding itself in respect of the new structure of EP. Secondly, proper women leadership on the village level has to be built up, which in the long run can’t be achieved without a change in the society itself.
On the third day around 150 activists from the already mentionned states arrived to join the then starting youth camp. It was impressive to see such a crowd arriving at the center, considering that some of the attendees have been ready to take a long trip under their «feets» to take part in the camp and become Ekta Parishad village workers. The next five days were following a strictly daily structure: the day started at six in the morning with a collective prayer. After the morning tea, people went on the fields for some voluntary physical work, like sweeping and cleaning the common grounds in the center, harvesting crop or digging a new well. After a break at 9.30 for tea, showering and washing, the morning sessions were held, following by lunch at 1.30pm and a rest until three in the afternoon. Then the five different groups went for the second session, which ended at six and was followed by games. From seven to eight in the evening another prayer was held and the day was reported. After that, everybody went for dinner and attended the cultural programs such as film screenings or dance performances. At 10pm it was finally time to prepare for the night, which some of the attendees passed on the lovely rooftops in the center. Enjoying the fresh air of the night, after days with the temperatures even over 40 degree celsius.
The five days training was structured into five different stages: on the first day the trainees were learning how to identify specific village problems through discussions in the villages and how to figure out the reasons for the specific situation in one village. On the second day, the groups discussed how to deal with these specific problems and transform them into social action. Examples for such issues were brought up, like failing property rights on land and water, border conflicts with the forest department, questions of women empowerment through land ownership and problems related to administration duties, which can be very difficult to handle for illiterate people. Day three was dedicated to a review of the two big marches in 2012 and 2007, Jan Satyagraha and Janadesh, and to the question, what the benefits were of these two big events. While on day four the groups discussed how and in which direction every individual village worker should act in the future, day five was used to review the whole event. The youth camp was predominated by an impressive practice of teaching and learning, which included a lot of songs and other forms of repetition of the discussed topics. This repetitional character of the camp was strongly needed, since almost half of the attendees of the youth camp were illiterate. It was therefore very true, when one of the attendees in a discussion on social action said, that even this youth camp is an action in itself, because it contributed a lot to the self empowerment of the marginalized people in India. Last but not least see the text of the evening prayer in Hindi and English held at the camp below:
Na yah tera na yah mera (it’s not yours not mine)
Iswar ka hi rajya hain (it’s god’s own)
Iswar ka tan easwer ka man ( the body and the mind are god’s)
easwar ka hi awaz hain( the voice is god’s too)
Iswar ka thal easwar ka jal (land and water belong to god)
easwar ka hi aakash hain (and even the sky too)
Bin sram khaye chor kahaye
Geeta ki awaz hain
Na yeh tera nay eh mera iswar ka hi rajya hain