In Desia, a local language used in Odisha, Halia means people who work under the king. Sahi refers to a small part of the village. So, Halia Sahi is a small village near Mandibisi in Rayagada district of Odisha. Back in the late 1980s, the people of Halia Sahi were bonded laborers under a king in Mandibisi. They were working on king’s farms and were rarely paid. Rather, they were given minimal food to survive. Agragamee played an important role to make them free from the king. After a long time of ongoing major disputes between the two, in the end, the king gave up. His son still holds a significant amount of land near Mandibisi.
Once the people were free, they had no sources of livelihood or any means to find food. They started working as laborers at construction sites or in farms or in fact at any place where they could work and get paid fairly. Agragamee also offered one goat each to seven families so that they could generate income in the long-term. After a couple of years, each of the families had sold a few goats and still had nine on an average.
In the early 1990s, Agragamee started a night school in Halia Sahi. Nandlal Majhi*, one of the students who had then studied there is now a teacher at a nearby school. Kosi Majhi*, another resident of Halia Sahi had held the position of Sarpanch a few years back. Overall, Halia Sahi village has seen immense transformation in the past three decades.
Today, if you look at the village, it may seem very similar to any of the other villages in Kashipur. However, it has been a struggle to reach the ‘similar’ stage.
A Mahila Mandal was also formed in Halia Sahi. It was headed by Subari Majhi*. This Mahila Mandal later joined the Ama Sangathan, a movement of tribal women, or rather, tribal people to protect their rights and their natural ecosystem. The group started to venture into forests to collect produce like wood, Siali leaves, and raw material for brooms. Back then, they did not have a license to do it. A case was filed against Ama Sangathan and consecutively, all the produce was confiscated by the police officials listening to the complaint filed against the group. Later, they procured the license to buy and sell the forest produce. Apart from selling raw materials as a means to earn livelihoods for their families, they have worked to shut down local alcohol shops so that the violence and unnecessary nuisance in the community can be prevented.
The group has worked with Biju Patnaik, the then Chief Minister of Odisha. They also knocked on the Collector’s office multiple times and fought relentlessly for Adivasi rights year after year. As a result, three hundred people were given parts of forest land by the Government.
The members of Ama Sangathan are from the villages of Siriguda, Halia Sahi, Potesh and Pipalpadar. Most of these villages come under Khurigaon, Siripai, Godipari, Mandibisi, Talajhiri, Renga and Gorakhpur panchayats of Kashipur block in Rayagada district. Today, 2500+ women from 50+ villages are associated with Ama Sangathan. They collect raw materials from the forests and come to Mandibisi to sell the items. A few women also work at the processing unit which is run entirely by women. The last few years have not been the best for the group. However, there is still a lot of potential. Agragamee has been supporting them for more than three decades. Odisha Livelihoods Mission is also assisting the group.
Ama Sangathan started with brooms sticks and other forest produce. Initially, all the it was sold to local vendors who would offer extremely low prices. The group eventually started manufacturing finished products along with selling the raw material, and demanding fair price for both. There is now a sorting machine for millets like Ragi. Farmers bring their harvest to sort Ragi from the crop. Today, Ama Sagathan has a Dal producer group and has recently started a Siali leaf plate producer group.
Siali leaf is a large creeper that grows mostly in Sal forests. It is an important NTFP (Non-timber forest product) in different parts of Odisha. The rich moisture content of Sal forests is conducive to Siali’s growth. It is also one of the most abundant Indian climbing species and commonly grows in the south and western Odisha. Siali has a high regeneration capacity and is also seasonal in nature. The plate made from this leaf has many more advantages over other leaf plates, such as low cost, large size, hygienic, non-odorous, non-toxic, lightweight, heat resistant, natural and biodegradable. The weight of each plate is only 60 grams, and the capacity to hold is 1500 grams.
Six different products are made from Siali leaves:
- Loose leaves (used for dry snacks)
- Rough-stitched plates (from low quality leaves)
- Close-stitched (Used in temples, weddings etc. for heavy meals)
- Moulded plates
These are eco-friendly and a great alternative to plastic plates. The Odisha Rural Development and Marketing Society (ORMAS) has been helping Ama Sangathan to market the products. If you are interested to know more about Ama Sangathan or Siali leaves and brooms, please drop an email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
*Name changed to protect identity