Chronicles From The First Month In Bhuj

by | Aug 19, 2023

There’s a well-known quote by Thomas Hardy, “Happiness is an occasional episode in the general drama of pain.” Why not reverse this saying, especially on the tougher days? As I type out my first blog after a meal of poha and chai, I look out of the only window in my tiny room. A slight drizzle falls outside and squirrels prance about on the balcony next door. The people here are simple. They show their love in warm cups of chai, by sharing pieces of information, and making themselves available and approachable.

I am doing my fellowship with SETU Abhiyan in Bhuj, Kutch, Gujarat. Interestingly, we can trace back India’s notion of decentralization or local governance to 1700 BC with self-governing villages known as Sabha. SETU works on implementing the 73rd and 74th amendments of the constitution. It plays a key role in facilitating local governance in both urban and rural contexts.

Exposure Visits In Month One

My recent assignments have been about collecting data and understanding key concepts to draft SETU’s annual report for the year 2022-23. This helped me learn about the fundamentals of local governance infrastructure and the systems formed around it. I also got to know about SETU’s role in bridging the gap between the government and its citizens.

During a ward committee meeting, representatives and other participants put forward pressing issues and the progress achieved so far. The organization also hosts internal staff meetings where team members present updates on their respective blocks, and a panel offers constructive criticism. I got to attend two of these until now.

Bhuj
Lata ben on the right with women in the community

My visit to the PRC (Panchayat Resource Centre) offices was enlightening. I learned how the gram panchayat receives funds from the central government annually. Additionally, I also got to know how 5-8 gram panchayats come together to form a cluster and each cluster chooses their representative who form a governing body and meet once every two months. Then there are Social Justice Committees, Mahila Nagarik Juths, and Baalika Panchayats that support with amplify issues.

On one visit to Urban SETU office, Karman Bhai (a team member) looked so tired and worn out that I rushed through my conversation with him. The complexities of working with migrant workers dawned upon me. It’s a tedious and an ongoing process with constant highs and lows. My perspective shifted the next day, thanks to insights from the book, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie‘.

Field Days And Group Hugs

My field days start at 7 am. While waiting for Bapu (our team member who drives the car) to pick me up, Asif often greets me. He is a cheerful man pushing himself on a wheelchair. The vast landscapes of Kutch provide a visual treat. The dry desert stretches on endlessly. The community meetings, facilitated by the experienced Lata Ben, are a blend of learning and connection.

Women sometimes have no platform to speak for themselves, they repress so much, that its nice to see them vent, talk, argue, disagree, agree upon something, or just simply attend these meetings.”

Lata Ben

The discussions with adolescent girls often unfold in schools, amidst playful children and the natural allure of sparrows and refreshing rain. The proactive approach of girls, especially within the Baalika Panchayat, is commendable. Through SETU’s guidance, they prioritise issues, from educational needs to sanitary provisions. We discuss their likes, dislikes, and aspirations as well as matters like legal age for marriage.

At the same time, they are encouraged to pursue their education and discuss these issues with their families. During these interactions, aspects of being overburdened with chores, or being repressed come out. Their presence during Gram Panchayat meetings ensures their voices are heard, emphasising the necessity for their empowerment. SETU helps them formulate ideas and crucial steps to take.

It could be about availing transportation facilities to attend school regularly or installing a vending machine in the school for sanitary napkins. Or the need for a library or a beauty parlour in the village. The Baalika Panchayat then presents their proposal in the Gram Panchayat meetings. This helps village community to understand that the girls can speak for themselves.

Our interactions culminated with strategic planning for future meetings, group hugs, and a touching gesture from a young girl. She got a handful of pebbles for me, a stranger from Kerala. It was symbolic of the lasting impressions we leave on each other’s lives.

बदलाव की क़ीमत?

बदलाव की क़ीमत?

मेरी संस्था खमीर देसी उन पर कुछ सालो से काम कर रही है। हमारा उद्देश्य था कि हम...

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5 Comments

  1. Mahema Ananthakrishnan

    Loved the simplicity of this blog!!!!

    Reply
    • Udhisha

      thank you Mahema! Sending love.

      Reply
  2. Vikram Kandukuri

    Are girls in Balika panchayat given exposure and support to pursue future leadership roles and education and training to support the same?

    Reply
  3. Udhisha

    Hi Vikram! They are encouraged to pursue higher education. The Ballika Panchayat itself functions as a support group by voicing concerns and battling prevalent social norms such as child marriage , gender roles etc.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      Good effort… Carry on boldly.. This is a good field to help the needy. only thing the helping tendency should come out of your heart. It should not be for earning money. Hope you understood…… Sakthi dharan ….

      Reply

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