India is home to 80 million Tribal people. Tribal communities are disadvantaged, marginalised and excluded from many mainstream services. They experience poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, poor mother and child health services and the absence of health education.
Twenty-three year old Basanti is from the Kutiya tribe, one of the most excluded Tribal communities in Orissa, eastern India. Basanti was abducted and forced to marry at a young age. When she was 22 years old, her husband committed suicide. Labelled a curse and the cause of her husband’s death, Basanti was driven out of her marital home and her poverty-stricken parents did not want her back. It was then that Seva Bharati, a Skillshare International partner organisation, stepped in and provided her with shelter, food and a job so that she can earn a living.
As a widow denied the right to both parental and marital property, Basanti also works with Tribal women to claim their land rights. She is actively involved in challenging multi-national companies who have displaced thousands of people in her village and many other villages. Basanti comments “So what if I don’t have land, I will fight for the rights of other women and men!”
Activism has now become Basanti’s life.
Skillshare International believes that the voices of the community must be heard and listened to in policy debate. We supported Basanti to attend and speak at the 2010 Asia Regional Expert Committee Meeting on Gender and Land Rights organised by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in New Delhi. For Basanti, who has never before travelled beyond her home State of Orissa, this was a great opportunity to speak to academic specialists from other parts of the world. She spoke with conviction, sharing her experiences and asserting that women must have equality in land rights, creating a lasting impression on those she met.
As someone on a low income, Basanti was thrilled when she, along with other speakers, received a fee by UNIFEM for her 15-minute speech. The fee was more than a month’s wages, yet Basanti donated half of it to Seva Bharati to support their work with the tribal communities.
Julie George (Programme Director - Asia) says: "Working with indigenous people is at the heart of what we do. Indigenous communities are often the most vulnerable and excluded, with unequal access to productive resources like land, water and forests, low food and economic security, illiteracy and poor health, each factor begetting and aggravating the other, and leading to a vicious cycle of poverty. Our work with these communities through our community-based partners, is led by our vision of a world without poverty, injustice and inequality and is aimed at empowering indigenous communities to strategically lead the course of their own development."