Friday, February 16, 2018

A leading newspaper Hindustan Times recognizes VSSM and its humanitarian efforts for NT-DNTs..

Hindu, Muslim and homeless: Gujarat’s nomadic tribe Mirs stuck in no man’s land

The Mirs are a nomadic tribe in Gujarat who are both Hindu and Muslim. Caught between pressures of religious hardliners, they make a case for a third religion, like a third gender.

Vagabhai Lalabhai Mir writes his name with his fingertip in the soft brown sand on the outskirts of Deesa, Gujarat. The patriarch of the Mir tribe is a turbaned, beedi-smoking septuagenarian with a sense of humour. Despite never having been to school, he can read and write Hindi, Gujarati, Arabic and Kathiawadi, a Devnagiri script in which he maintains records. The Mirs are illiterate on record, and sign all government documents with a thumb imprint. Ask him how he reads if he was never taught and Vagabhai taps his head. He trained his mind to. Where did he learn to write? He points to the ground, finger in the sand. Vagabhai asks his son to bring the book.

The Book of the Mirs is a carefully wrapped, leather-bound sheaf of pages that has been updated for centuries by the tribe. Passed down from father to son, it maintains hand-written records of the tribe’s births and deaths, and important incidents in their lives. The book is wrapped in plastic, to protect it from the rain, and again in embroidered cloth, to protect it from the dust. It records what the government fails to: that the Mirs belong to the nomadic de-notified tribes, or vicharti jati as they are known in Gujarat, with a rich 700-year-old tradition of being both Hindu and Muslim. The Renke Commission of 2008 updated the Gujarat state list of nomadic tribes with the Faqirs as only the Muslim tribe.

The Mirs are classified instead as an economically and socially backward class, and tagged as Muslims, along with the Mirasis and Dholis. This does not only fail to record their true religious and social identity, leaving them open to pressure groups, it also takes from them the benefits of the nomadic status. Since they don’t have a permanent address, this would enable them to claim rations, reservations and loans.

A Rabari shepherd dressed in white shows up at the bramble-encircled Mir settlement. He will not sit down with these, his closest cousins, because he is above them clan-wise, since they embraced another religion. The Mirs exist like a third gender, neither here nor there, says Mittal Patel, of Vicharta Samuday Samartan Manch, an organisation that has worked to get the Gujarat election commission to include those without address proofs on the electoral rolls.

Gujarat was the first state to implement this process of inclusion for homeless people and nomads in 2005, making way for national policy changes to election lists. All the subsequent identity, ration and Aadhaar cards for these tribes were made possible because of this.

The lack of a nomadic tribe certificate leaves the Mirs unable to settle. They must prove their address to gain even the basics, such as the registration of births and deaths, and state aid during natural disasters. They can be evicted from the plot of land they live on near Deesa, as they often are from other places to make room for rapidly expanding cities. Their settlements, on once-vacant plots, are increasingly seen as encroachments. Their last spot was taken up by a builder who rented out the open-air space for weddings and parties.

The Mirs are also susceptible to pressures from religious ideologues —both Hindu and Muslim. Most Mirs have two names, a Hindu one and a Muslim one. The Book of the Mirs, on which each page begins with the word ‘Kaaba’ written in Devnagiri script, traces their history back several hundreds of years. It dates back to a time when their births were registered under the Rabari tribe during the rule of the Solanki or Chalukya king Jayasimha Siddharaj. By historical estimation, that would date the records back to the 11th century. The book gets a physical upgrade with every generation as the pages fall apart.

According to SR Khan and Radhey Shyam in the Encycopaediac Ethnography of the Indian Muslim, the tribe’s conversion dates back 700 years. Nomadic tribes do not have a concept of dates and years and function by noting the passage of Uttarayan and Dakshinayan, the winter and summer solstices.

Other versions claim the Mirs are descendants of Kashmir’s Butt tribe, which migrated into Gujarat. The Vishwa Hindu Parisad (VHP) has in the past claimed that they were originally Gandharvas, or Hindu temple musicians. “They are noted for playing the shehenai, a practice that continues in the Vaishnavite Bet Dwaraka temple where Mirs are crucial to the morning and evening aratis, according to anthropologist Professor JJ Roy Burman, at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. “The confluence of multiple influences makes theirs a ‘liminal religion’ representing the unique syncretic cusp of both Hinduism and Islam.” In other regions, they were known as the breeders of Kathi horses. And with mastery over Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati and Hindi, they became major influencers of poetry in the region.

The Rabaris, who clashed with filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali over his alleged misportrayal in the film Ram Leela, are a nomadic clan predominant in the Kutch region of Gujarat. Legend has it that they were appointed guardians of the goddess Parvati’s camels, and remain a fiercely orthodox tribe.

The Gulf of Khambat was one of the first regions to receive Islamic influence via trade. Mir legend has it that a Muslim leader or tradesman wanted to marry a beautiful Rabari women. Raja Siddhiraj refused to allow it. By some confusion or trickery, as Vagabhai’s group tells it, some members of the clan ate the food and drank the water at a feast thrown by the Muslim suitor. In those days of forbidden intermingling, this was taken to mean that the part of the tribe that participated in the feast had been converted. The Rabari tribe refused to accept them back into the fold and Raja Siddhiraj banished them from the temples. The Mirs then began wandering, and became scribes and bards in the courts of the kings and sultans.

They became the keepers of Rabari genealogy, writing in books with wooden styluses dipped in ink. The Mirs survived on the patronage of their clients, and as kingdoms broke up, the Mirs became attached to various Hindu or Muslim families and clans.

A battle over the Mirs has been underway in Gujarat for two decades now. In the 1990s, the VHP convinced several thousand in the Kutch region to “come back to the fold” and embrace Hinduism. Sometimes, local mullahs who stop by to read the Quran with the Mirs try to convince them to discard their overtly Hindu ways and embrace the Islamic pyjama-kurta and other modes of life. But for many humble Mirs like Vagabhai’s family, they are comfortable being both.

The Mirs bury their dead, are circumcised and marry by nikaah the Islamic way, but they do not practise polygamy. Some eat meat and beef, but not of the cow. Most men and women both smoke profusely. They celebrate Moharram and Bakr-Eid, but “we do not sacrifice the goat, we milk it” they say. They read the Namaz every Friday but also perform godhbharai ceremonies and celebrate Janmashtami and Navratri the Hindu way. Holi is a major festival for them. “When we die, we are all the same, so why can’t they let us be both?” Vagabhai asks, as he gestures to show that if you cut his hand the blood would be the same.

Others seem more concerned about what religion they belong to. Some upper-caste Hindu communities don’t like them to settle on open grounds near them. Some Muslim communities are overeager that they join the fold. The incessant wandering means the Mirs are left vulnerable to whosoever’s kindness they may need at the time. They take up manual labour where they can find it.

An endless cycle of being thrown out from one clan to another over a choice of religion has shadowed the Mirs through the centuries. As long as they must choose, they remain in No Man’s Land. Perhaps ‘third religion’ needs to be a valid policy option for them.

For full article CLICK HERE.

A leading newspaper Hindustan Times recognizes VSSM and its humanitarian efforts for NT-DNTs..

A cooperative bank that gives loans to Gujarat’s nomadic tribes based on trust

Most financial institutions don’t want to lend to denotified tribes as they have no ID proofs. That’s where this Gujarat co-operative bank comes in to help .

At the Kalupur Co-operative Bank in Ahmedabad, an estimated 600 of the 4,500 accounts dedicated to microfinance belong to members of the vimukta jatis, or the nomadic tribes, of Gujarat. It is the only independent bank in the country that issues loans to these tribals, many of whom do not have address proofs or stable permanent addresses let alone bank accounts or a steady income. Since 2006, the bank has issued loans of Rs 50,000 to 100 nomadic tribals to purchase houses under a government scheme, and disbursed loans of a maximum of Rs 25,000 to others to expand their small businesses at a 10% rate of interest.

The bank is able to issue loans on trust alone, based on the long-term relationships that the Vicharata Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM), an Ahmedabad-based organisation run by Mittal Patel that devotes itself to nomadic denotified tribes, has established over 15 years.

Ambubhai Patel, the 76-year-old chairman of the bank, says he sends representatives to accompany the social workers from VSSM into the tribal bastis. The tribals are so far removed from the banking system that they do not know what a bank is, and would not enter one for fear of being arrested or evicted from the premises. They also do not have a strong concept of months and dates, so to get them to pay Equated Monthly Instalments (EMIs) for the loans that they take is a task in itself.

Ambubhai Patel encourages them to open savings accounts and shows them how to accumulate money in their accounts.

The VSSM workers collect instalments from the tribals who take loans outside Ahmedabad, where the bank has no branches, and make deposits on their behalf towards their monthly payments. Within Ahmedabad, the bank officials make the rounds to remind the tribals about payments. The bank also has a mobile van unit that travels into the rural areas, encouraging tribals to deposit whatever savings they may have accumulated into their bank accounts.

It’s a project that Mittal Patel has single-handedly taken up since 2004, when she began a movement to get tribals voting rights and identity cards, which are vital for their participation in public distribution schemes and reservation and welfare programmes. Apart from inducting them into the banking system, VSSM runs a corpus fund of Rs 2.5 crore raised from donations, out of which they give interest-free loans to nomadic tribals.

While several government schemes across states have similar loan schemes on paper — such as the 1984-launched Vasantrao Naik Vimukta Jati & Nomadic Tribes Development Corporation in Maharashtra, and the two-decade-old National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation New Delhi — they require nomadic tribals to provide proof of address, be familiar with the banking system, and have a minimum monthly income ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. These schemes also involve filling forms, making visits to government offices, and verification procedures.

The Kalupur Co-operative model is more practical and more in sync with the needs of the tribals. As more private institutions are taking it upon themselves to educate and include tribals who are indigenously efficient at creating and selling goods, some nomadic tribes are taking to entrepreneurship by turning traditional practices into small businesses.

Vijaylakshmi Das, founder of the Friends of Women World Banking, an Ahmedabad-based institution for inclusive financial growth, calls tribal microfinance “the ultimate mystery of microfinance no one has been able to crack”. She says: “Barely one or two organisations across the country are providing microfinance for nomadic tribals. VSSM is one of the few.”

Other models attempted in undivided Andhra Pradesh failed. It’s a sector that has major potential for financial inclusion, but will need private players who will invest in building networks and long-term relationships with this floating population of about 110 million people.

Dr Saibal Paul of the Association of Community Development Financial Institutions, New Delhi, points out that VSSM today occupies a space that government and other private players have not been able to. “Firstly, nomads cannot opt for government schemes because they have no KYCs. Secondly, banks do not take such low-ticket customers seriously. Thirdly, the government rule keeps changing — sometimes it is voter card, pan card, now they seem fixed on Aadhar. And fourthly, there is apathy from financial institutions on seeing that they belong to the de-notified tribes.”

Mittal’s involvement in this context goes beyond that of lender. She noticed that the nomads, with no sense of permanence, purchased food, groceries and raw material for one day at a time. This increased their travel and procurement costs, and lost them valuable discounts that they would get if they bought in bulk. One condition that the VSSM lays for the disbursement of loans is that the nomadic tribal taking a loan must purchase grocery items in bulk for a month and stock them.

This ensures that they are eating nutritious food and have a place where they stock their grain, inadvertently giving them a base. Second, the VSSM insists that they buy business supplies such as raw materials in bulk, which saves them multiple procurement trips, allowing them to focus on creating and earning through sales. The third condition is that they must put aside some savings. The tribals know that loans will only be issued to those who repay the previous loan, and this provides the incentive to repay.

With experience, the VSSM has learnt that tribals do not usually turn defaulters because they are dishonest, but because they don’t understand the system. So they step in with phone calls and site visits to remind them of last dates, with spot collection, and with tracking the wandering nomads’ locations. “What the government is doing is very little and banking systems are not tuned to the needs of these people. It’s not easy to teach them the ins and outs of banking,” says Ambubhai Patel.

Bhiku Ramji Idate, chairman of the Nation Commission for the Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, has attempted to address this problem in the final report submitted by the National Commission for Denotified Tribes, Nomadic Tribes and Semi Nomadic Tribes this January. “The tribes were not able to take up schemes that were introduced, due to the lack of identity proofs. There has also been exploitation of tribes by those who take away funds allocated to them. There is a need to change what is accessible on the ground,” Idate says.

One government that has been attempting to break the deadlock is Telangana, through its finance minister Etala Rajender.

This January 5, Rajender announced that the state budget would allocate loans of Rs 1 lakh each for nomadic tribesmen. “We were unable to take many schemes proposed in undivided Andhra Pradesh forward due to a lack of follow up from bankers, so we are now working on ways to overcome these obstacles the nomads face,” he says. Their schemes will bypass banks and offer direct transfers to the tribals.

There is clearly a need for governments to work with the banking system and private players to understand the challenges unique to the nomadic tribals of India, experts say, to provide them financial literacy and inclusion at least at a basic level.

For full article CLICK HERE.

A leading newspaper Hindustan Times recognizes VSSM and its humanitarian efforts for NT-DNTs..

Electoral inclusion: The tide is turning for these tribes in Gujarat

In 2004, Mittal Patel hopped off a state transport bus at Necknaam, a nondescript intersection an hour away from Rajkot, where her parents believed she was working with a local NGO. It was the site of a large basti of nomadic tribes. Then a 20-year-old journalist and aspiring civil servant who thought the only difference between urban living and nomadic living would be the use of tents, she had brought just two changes of clothes.

As she stepped into the settlement, two bloodied men ran in. They were father and son. They had been beaten by two men on a motorcycle, who had abducted the man’s wife.

There was chaos and uncertainty in the settlement. Mittal says she kept waiting for the police to be called, an FIR to be registered, and the culprits to be found. But the tribe was too afraid to go to the police, and having no identity cards to prove who they were, believed they would be locked up instead. So everyone returned to their homes to wait helplessly. The woman came back the next morning, raped and assaulted. And that’s where the matter ended.

Horrified, Mittal who had initially thought of going home the next day, made giving tribals identity cards and making them a vote bank that mattered her life’s mission. She stayed in the settlement for the next two months, in one of the tents, eating what food was available, bathing in the dirty gutter water they used. Today ‘Mittalben’ – Ashoka Fellow and multiple award-winner — is a major influence on the denotified tribes of Gujarat. For the first time, in December 2017 prior to the Gujarat assembly elections, the leaderships of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress held meetings with the denotified tribes to seek their votes. “For the first time, there were enough of them registered as voters to swing an election,” Mittal Patel said. The denotified tribes had finally started to count.

It was not been easy getting here. Patel’s first step was to insist that the then chief electoral officer Vinod Kumar Babbar accompany her to the bastis. On seeing how many people lived undocumented, with no access to rations and not part of any Census, Babbar was moved enough to suggest relaxing stringent address-proof norms for the tribals. However, for cards to be issued, they still needed to show a place of residence, a constituency in which to cast votes. As nomads, they had none and were prone to repeated evictions.

Babbar agreed to start the process on the basis of a letter issued by a gram panchayat that stated these tribals camped in the vicinity of their villages or were known to the villagers. Most panchayats refused out of fear that the land would be usurped and temporary bastis would become permanent ones. Patel went back to Babbar, who modified the norms to say that anyone who knew the tribals could vouch for them through a letter saying they knew they lived in a certain area.

Patel personally signed over 20,000 letters over the next decade, she says. Even so, she quickly realised that when submitted at the gram level, office bearers from the local panchayats held the paperwork up. When she moved to get the tribals Below Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards, on the basis of whatever voter cards had come through, getting approvals from panchayats proved to be an obstacle as well.

In 2009, the state government empowered district collectors to assign plots for tribal settlements. Babbar had resigned in 2008, but Anita Karwal, who replaced him, continued to support the cause. By then, officials such as the district collector of Mehsana, Ajay Bahadur, had stepped in to ensure all the tribals in his district were found and documented. Within the government, IAS officers such as Raj Kumar began to move to issue permanent residential plots to the nomads. There was slow but systemic change.

Ten years after the fight began, however, the process was still painstaking. You could force paperwork on villages but, Patel found, you could not enforce acceptance. The tribals, allocated plots and voter cards, were often shunned by panchayats and banned from using anything from water to shops to transport. When a nine-year-old boy died because none of the village auto-rickshaws would take him to the hospital, Mittal realised the fight needed to be a different one – for inclusion, not enforcement.

Though not particularly devout, she decided to use religion, and approached the famous Gujarati preacher Morari Bapu. She briefed him about the plight of the denotified tribes, and took him to various sites through the state. Moved by what he saw, he began to mentions the tribes in his discourses. In 2011, Morari Bapu did an entire series on the denotified tribes. Given his large TV audience, public empathy began to grow. What was a trickle became a flow.

The battle for the enfranchisement of the denotified tribes in Gujarat is considered a landmark in electoral inclusion. Former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi says that it reinforces the “dharma of inclusive democracy”. “Not one person should be left out is our effort. It’s not easy to locate denotified tribes but special efforts have been taken by the commission to mainstream them in the electoral process,” Qureshi said.

In his book, ‘An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election’, he writes how the state election commission coordinated with Gujarat’s social justice ministry to ensure that welfare officers accompanied district election officers to register denotified tribes where they could be found. “A system was devised under the directions of the commission for fulfilling the requirement of being an ‘ordinarily resident’ of a place to be enrolled as a voter. Grassroots-level officers were empowered to do panchnamas of such persons wherever located on the day this exercise was done,” he said. Just before the 2007 elections, says Qureshi, 3,393 members were registered as voters. In 2011, when about five thousand assembled for a Ram Katha, they were all registered too.

The process, however, is limited in the hands of the Election Commission of India (ECI), which does not record caste, community or tribe data. Since the last census of denotified tribes was done as far back as 1931, the government does not know how many denotified tribals there are in any given state, and the ECI cannot know how many have been excluded. With the 2018 Idate Commission Report estimating 15 crore denotified tribals in India, several of whom have never been enfranchised or counted in a census, it means an estimated 12 per cent of India’s population may deprived of basic rights.

What happened in Gujarat inspired others in different parts of the country. In Delhi in 2013, chief electoral officer Vijay Dev worked with local NGOs to ensure the homeless had a methodology that would allow them to get their names on the electoral lists -- election officers could identify their belongings in any public space. The rule was then extended to include the homeless across India.

Today Patel is using a quid-pro-quo system to give eight villages what they need in exchange for accepting denotified tribal bastis in the vicinity.

In Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, where the alleged misuse of the Narmada river has left lakes and ponds dry, Mittal’s organisation has invested Rs 1.5 crore in building water management reservoirs for villages in exchange for the paperwork and social inclusion that will allow the tribes settled on their outskirts to become an integral part of the village ecosystem.

The Supreme Court in 2017 asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to explain how the homeless would get Aadhar cards. In Gujarat, an estimated 60 lakh tribals, are better prepared than most thanks to two decades of work done by the ECI. The voter cards have opened the doors to BPL ration cards, and nomadic ration cards that give them grain and aid, along with access to the public distribution system and other welfare schemes.

In most other parts of the country, the tribes remain at the mercy of local panchayats, tehsils and the police. Haryana has now announced ration cards unique to nomads, but unless the tribes have a system by which they can establish their identity, and become a valid vote bank, they will never quite count.

It may not be a bad idea to replicate the Gujarat model, at least in this instance, across the country.

For full article CLICK HERE.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

VSSM supports Nomads to recover from Flood destruction..

Mittal Patel addressing nomads at Shihori village
During July 2017, thousands of family lost their homes and family members during the flood. Their homes, business, farms everything was destroyed. When the flood situation became normal but, life didn’t become normal for the flood affected families. Their hard earned money and the homes they made out of hard earned money destroyed. Flood affected people were broken financially and mentally with the worries of the future. How to start and from where to start? They all were unhappy and crying. Who would come forward to wipe whose tears?
Mittal Patel with MLA Shri Kirtisinhji and other well-wishers
They were fed up eating biscuits and mixtures. This was very painful situation for affected families 
specially related to food requirements. VSSM directly Rs. 45,00,000 Lacs and indirectly offered nearby Rs. 1.5 Crore material to flood affected families. They were offered interest free Rs. 75 lacs loans to restart their business.

The Kankrej area MLA Shri Kirtisinhji promised us to
sort out the problems of the Nomadic and De-Notified
Tribes of Gujarat
They have lost their shelter so started to building their houses. As of now, Total 36 families have received help of Total 16,73,000 to build their houses. Still the work is going on and as you know it is the difficulty generated out of flood. It is not going to come at a normal state overnight! We estimate minimum two years of time to get the things inline.

On January 30, 2018, VSSM organised a programme at Shihori village of Banaskantha District to distribute the cheques of loans to restart the business as well as financial help to re-construct the lost houses during the flood to the flood affected people.

Mittal Patel gives cheque of interest free loan  to nomadic
The Kankrej area MLA Mr. Kirtishinhji also remained present in the programme and he promised us to sort out the problems of the Nomadic and De-Notified Tribes of Gujarat. He is a wonderful human being who offered a genuine help to contact him for help even at midnight. He will be with us at any hour of need. We express the heart felt gratitude to Kirtisinhji.

Nomadic and Denotified tribes at Swawlamban programe
People have a lot of expectation to VSSM. We don’t know how we will meet to the expectations but as our respected Rashminbhai says, “Nature will not give us the work beyond our capacity.” So I feel that we still have capacity and the society is with us! Everything will be possible…

You all offered your hand and see… how beautiful work we are able to do. I am grateful to each and every one to become co-traveller on this path!

My heartfelt Gratitude to all the supporter in this noble work.

જુલાઈ 2017માં ઉત્તર ગુજરાતમાં આવેલા પુરમાં હજારો પરિવારો બેહાલ થયા. પૂરના પાણી ઓસર્યા પણ પાણી સાથે આવેલું દુઃખ જરાય ઓછુ ના થયું. ક્યાંક માંડ માંડ પુંજી ભેગી કરીને બનાવેલા ઘરો સાવ જમીનદોસ્ત થઈ ગયા તો ક્યાંય જેના ઉપર રોજી રળતા તે સાધનો તણાઈ ગયા કે પડી ભાંગ્યા. લોકો માનસીક રીતે સાવ પડી ભાંગ્યા. બધાનીએ દશા ખરાબ આમાં કોણ કોના આંસુ લુછે?

‘ખાવા આપો. બિસ્કીટ, ચવાણું નથી ભાવતું’ ની રાડ ઊઠી ને રુપિયા 45,000,00નો સામાન VSSM દ્વારા સીધો ને આડકતરી રીતે લગભગ દોઢ કરોડનો સામાન અસરગ્રસ્તોમાં પહોંચતો કર્યો.
ધંધા ફેર બેઠા કરવા રૃપિયા 75 લાખ વગર વ્યાજવા આપ્યા. 
ને હવે જેમના માથેથી પાકી છત જતી રહી છે તેમના ઘર બાંધવાનું શરૃ કર્યું. આજ સુધી 36 પરિવારોને 16,73,000ની ઘર બાંધકામમાં સહાય કરી ને હજુ આ કામ આગળ ધપ્યા કરે છે.આ તો પુરની થપાટ. એમ કાંઈ થોડા બેઠા થવાય. કાંઈ કેટલા હાથ મદદ માટે ભેગા થશે ત્યારે જતા આ બધુ એકાદ બે વર્ષે થાળે પડશે. 
તા.30જાન્યુઆરી 2017માં #બનાસકાંઠાના શિહોરી મુકામે પુરઅસરગ્રસ્ત પરિવારોને નવા ધંધા માટે લોન આપવાનું તથા #ઘર બાંધકામ માટે #આર્થિક સહાયનો ચેક વિતરણ કાર્યક્રમ આયોજીત કર્યો.
કાંકરેજ વિસ્તારના ધારાસભ્ય શ્રી કીર્તીસીંહજી પણ આ કાર્યક્રમમાં ઉપસ્થિત રહ્યા ને #વિચરતી જાતિના પ્રશ્ને આપણી સાથે ઊભા રહવાનું #વચન આપ્યું. અદભૂત માણસ. જરાય મોટાઈ નહીં અડધી રાતે જરૃર પડે આવજોની વાત તેમણે કરી. તેમના પ્રત્યે કૃતજ્ઞતા. 
લોકોની અપેક્ષાઓ ખુબ છે ખબર નહીં બધે પહોંચાશે કે કેમ? પણ આદરણીય રશ્મીનભાઈ સંઘવી કહે છે એમ, ‘કુદરત તને તારા ગજા બહારનું કામ નહીં આપે’ એટલે એમ થાય છે કે હજુ ગજુ છે ને સમાજ સાથે છે એટલે બધુયે થશે...
તમે સૌએ હાથ લંબાવ્યો ને જુઓ કેવું સરસ થઈ રહ્યું છે. આ કાર્યમાં સહભાગી બનનાર આપ સૌનો હૃદયપૂર્વક આભાર..

#2017Banaskantha #Floods, #NomadicTribes, #InitiativeByVSSM, #MittalPatel, #nomadsofindia, #VillageinBanaskantha, #VSSMforNomadicCommunity, #VSSM #Housing, #મિત્તલપટેલ #housefornomads #Interestfreeloan

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The application to provide the plot is lying in the Collector’s office. Hope that the application may be granted, so that the Allarakhabhai Dafer may get his own house...

Aaisaben Dafer sharing her problems with Mittal Patel 
Allarkhabhai Dafer’s family lives in Shiyani village of Surendranagar District of Gujarat, since many years. From whatever he got from the village boundary, the boundary-keeper Allarakhabhai built his ‘home’ which we call ‘shanty’ in our words. The material to construct the house was twigs, sticks of cotton tree, sesame plants and some plastic sheet to make a roof. Some plastic banners discarded by Ad Agencies like Chitra become the roof for free for the house of this Dafer. People can see the advertisement on hoardings but who bothers to see his entire household beneath that ad? 

Allarkhbhai Dafer's children 
VSSM fieldworker Harshad got tired running to get the Voter’s ID, Ration Card, Aadhar Card issued for these people. He also worked hard to open the bank accounts. “We don’t have that much money to deposit in the bank. Please drop the idea of opening a bank account”, said Allarakhabhai. 

Allarakhabhai was happy when he got his Ration card. He thought that he would get grains and food now but when he went to the government ration shop, he came to know that he was given the APL card which is a mark of prosperous and rich, Above Poverty Line people. 

Dafer family with thier APL Ration card
What do I do with this Kerosene? Earlier there was no light in my hamlet, now I can light a lamp in my hamlet by this Kerosene, otherwise there is no use of this card.”

You can see the plight in the photograph. If they get BPL or Antyoday Ration card, Allarakhabhai’s children can go to school instead of going to collect the cow dung cakes in the morning. 

Allarkhabhai had taken a loan of Rs. 10,000 in order to open the Tea Shop but his wife Aaisaben had some problem in uterus so those money he spent for her treatment. Their poverty is conspicuous but they don’t have the ‘MA’ Card or ‘Vatsalya Card’ to get the medical treatment for free.  

If he may be given the plot, he may built a house for him but if he doesn’t fit in the criteria of the government ‘Below Poverty Line’, he is not getting plot as well.  

The living condition of Dafer families
The application to provide the plot is lying in the Collector’s office. Hope that the application may be granted, so that the Allarakhabhai may get his own house. 

I was sitting with Aaisaben. She asked, “When will I get the house?” I did not have an answer…
Else, we can see their house and APL Ration cards in their hands…  

સુરેન્દ્રનગરના શિયાણીમાં વર્ષોથી અલ્લારખા #ડફેર નો પરિવાર રહે. સીમરખા અલ્લારખાને સીમમાંથી જે સંશાધનો મળ્યા એનાથી અમણે ઘર આપણી ભાષામાં કહીએ તો છાપરુ બનાવ્યું. કપાસની સાંઠી, તલના છોડના સાંઠીકડા એ ઘર બાંધવાનો સામાન ને એની ઉપર પ્લાસ્ટીક. ક્યારેક તો ચિત્રા કે એવી કોઈ જાહેરાતની એજન્સીએ ઉતારી કાઢેલા પ્લાસ્ટીક આ છપરાં માથે ઢંકાય ને સાવ મફતમાં જે તે કંપનીની જાહેરાત ડફેરનું છાપરુ કરે. જો કે આ જાહેરાત આભમાં ઉડવાવાળાને જ દેખાય. બાકી એમના છાપરે કોને કામ હોય તે જાય?

#મતદારકાર્ડ, #રેશનકાર્ડ, #આધારકાર્ડ અને બેકમાં ખાતા #VSSM ના કાર્યકર હર્ષદ થકી થયા. 
‘અમાર પાહે એવા પૈસા ક્યાં સે તે બેકમાં મુકવા જાઉં પડે. રેવા દયોને ખાતા ખોલાવાનું.’ એવું અલ્લારખાભાઈએ કહેલું. 
રેશનકાર્ડ મળ્યું ત્યારે રાજી થઈ ગયેલા. હતું કે હવે #અનાજ મળવાનું. પણ જ્યારે દુકાને ગ્યા ત્યારે ખ્યાલ આવ્યો કે, સરકારની સુખી લોકોની પરિભાષામાં તેમનો સમાવેશ થયો છે એટલે એપીએલ રેશનકાર્ડ મળ્યા છે.
‘બેન નકરુ ઘાસતેલ મળે ઈને હું ધોઈ પીવાનું. હા અમાર ડંગામાં પેલા લાઈટ નોતી તે હવે આ ઘાસતેલથી દીવો તો જગાવી હકાય સે. બાકી આ કેડ કાંય કામનું નથ..’
ફોટોમાં સ્થિતિ તો જોઈ જ શકાય છે. બી.પી.એલ. કે #અંત્યોદય રેશનકાર્ડ મળે તો અલ્લારખાભાઈના ટાબરિયા સીમમાં સવારથી છાણ વિણવા નીકળી જાય છે એની જગ્યાએ નિશાળ જવાનું કરે. 
દસ હજારની #લોન ચાની લારી કરવા અલ્લારખાએ લીધી પણ પત્ની આઈસાબેનને ગર્ભાશયની તકલીફ થઈ તે બધા પૈસા એમાં ખર્ચાઈ ગ્યા. ગરીબી તો નજરે ચડે છે પણ એમની પાસે ક્યાં ‘મા’ કાર્ડ કે ‘વાત્સલ્ય’ કાર્ડ હતા તે મફતમાં સારવાર થાય...
રહેવા પ્લોટ મળે તો ઘર બાંધી આપીશું. પણ જુઓને સરકારે જાહેર કરેલી ગરીબી રેખા નીચે આમનો સમાવેશ નથી તે એનોય મેળ પડતો નથી.. 
પ્લોટની માંગ સાથેની અરજી કલેક્ટર કચેરીમાં વર્ષોથી પડી છે.. આશા છે એ અરજીનો હકારાત્મક નિકાલ આવે ને અલ્લારખાભાઈનો પરિવાર ઘરવાળો થાય...
આઈસાબેન સાથે બેસી. એમણે પુછ્યું, ‘ઘર ક્યારે થાશે?’મારી પાસે જવાબ નહોતો ...
બાકી મળેલા #એપીએલ રેશનકાર્ડ સાથે એમના #ઘર તો આપણે જોઈએ જ છીએ.

#BPL #APL #Mittalpatel #Commitment, #ConditionOfNomads, #HumanApproach, #MittalPatelWithNomads, #nomadsofGujarat, #DaferFamilies, #DenotifiedTiebs #Livingconditions

Monday, January 08, 2018

VSSM Helped a Nomadic Community Member Govind Build hid Dream House

“You have done more than a family member, I can never thank you enough!!”

Govind with his current shanty
“I can never thank you enough, Ben. You are my guardian angel! You were kind enough to notice me and take care of my problems. Can you imagine Govind building a pucca house without the support you have provided? Even relatives wouldn’t care as much as you have...” Govind was overwhelmed by  the fact that he will now be living in a pucca house and his debt ridden life is a problem of past.

I happened to meet Govind or rather Govabhai Bajaniyaa, a resident of Totana village during 2017’s floods that devastated Banaskantha. Govind earned his living through selling balloons, hairclips, rubber bands, hairbands etc.  The death of his mother had required Govind to borrow Rs. 7,000 from a private money lender. The money was to be spent on the last rites of his mother. Govind kept paying the instalments but,  somehow the amount just did not decrease.  The interest and principle amount kept increasing and ballooned up to Rs. 70,000. VSSM helped him free from this debt.
Govind delightedly showing his new home to Mittal Patel

The floods had taken away his shanty and the dream of a house remained as shattered as his present. But, the kindness and support of the well-wishers of VSSM helped Govind realize his dream of a pucca house. Mumbai based Chainikabahen extended support of Rs. 25,000 to help build a house for Govind. Very soon Govind will move into his new home, a development that is still very surreal for him!!  

We will always remain grateful for your  support and kindness.  
 In the picture, an extremely delighted Govind showing the ongoing construction and the other picture is his current home.

ગુજરાતી અનુવાદ

‘તમે મારા #માવીતર સો બેન. તમે મને હોભળ્યો અન મારી હોમે તાચ્યુ. નકર આ ગોવિંદનું તે ઈમ કોય પાકુ ઘર થાય? હગાય ના રાખ એવી લાગણી તમે અમાર બલ્લે રાખી. તમાર તો ઓભાર મોનુ એટલો ઓસો..’
ગોવિંદ સાચુ નામ ગોવાભાઈ #બજાણિયા ટોટાણાનો વતની. બનાસકાંઠાના પુર વખતે તેને મળવાનું થયું.
મા મૃત્યુ પામીને એનું #કારજ કરવા ગોવિંદ વ્યાજવા સાત હજાર લાવેલો ને એ સાત હજારના એણે સીત્તેર હજાર ચુકવવાના આવ્યા. કમાઈ કમાઈને વ્યાજ ભર્યા જ કરે પણ મુદલ ઓછી ના થાય.. અમે મદદ કરીને એ વ્યાજમાંથી મુક્ત થયો. #ફુગ્ગા, બોરિયા, બકલ વગેરે વેચવાનું ગોવિંદ કરે.

પુરમાં છાપરુને બધુયે તણાઈ ગ્યું. પાકુ ઘર એતો સ્વપ્ન જેવું હતું પણ સંસ્થાને મદદ કરનાર દાતાઓના સહયોગથી ગોવિંદનું ઘર થયું. મુંબઈના ચૈનિકાબહેને પણ ગોવિંદને ઘર માટે 25,000ની મદદ કરીને. જુઓ ગોવિંદ હવે ટૂંક સમયમાં જ પોતાના અને એ પણ પાકા ઘરવાળો થવાનો...

આભાર પ્રિયજનો...

ગોવિંદ હાલ જ્યાં રહે છે એ છાપરુ તો જોવું જ રહ્યું ને બે મહિનામાં ગોવિંદ જે ઘરમાં રહેવા જવાનો એ પણ દેખાય.. 

‘તમે અંદરથી ઘરનું બોધકોમ જુઓ’ એવો હરખ ગોવિંદનો એટલે ગોવિંદનો એ સ્વપ્ન બંગલો ચણાતો અંદર બહારથી જોયો....

Monday, January 01, 2018

Albelabhai shall try to give up tobacco

Albelabhai Saraniya contemplating if to give his promise to
 Mittal Patel
"Promise me you will quit taking tobacco!”

“You do so much for us, how will the poor like us ever repay!!

The moment Albelabhai Saraniyaa uttered these words, I brought my hand forward and asked for my reward. “Promise me you will give up your habit of tobacco!”

“This is very tough promise you have asked for! It is difficult to function without tobacco, I feel weak without it. Ben, I wouldn’t be able to give it up just like that!!”

“I will not listen to these reasons, you will need to give it up!”

“Promise me that you shall give it up,” I asked as I stood there with my hand stretched for a commitment from Albelabhai.

Albelabhai Saraniya barely touched Mittal Patel's hand
Albelabhai stood there, smirking and confused watching my hand that contemplating on what next.

“Why think so much, you will have to promise. I am not taking this hand back without a commitment from you!” I insisted.
The entire settlement that was watching us got confused. “He cannot leave the addiction so easily. It will make him sick!” they said in chorus.

Finally, after almost five minutes Albelabhai barely touched my hand “I cannot promise but, shall try,” he said.

After a fortnight, I called Meera, Albelabhai’s wife to inquire about his half-hearted promise. “Ben, good you took this promise.  I have tried so hard to make him give up but, he never listened. He hasn’t stopped yet but, am sure he will quit this time.” Meeraben spoke with a hearty laughter. “The moment he picks up tobacco packet he stares at it and mentions your name…” she continued speaking and laughing at the same time.

Strange are these warm relationships with these communities. We cannot rob people, we cannot fight like this, what will people say about Mittal’s relatives, your actions can embarrass me!! Such nudges and sweet threats do make an impact and I am enjoying these moments to the core! Pray to Almighty that I always find strength to serve them….

struggle to get the Bharthari community name updated on the official list of NT/DNT communities in Gujarat

Maniben Bharthari telling Mittalben about the flood
situation in 2015 in Banaskantha
“Ben, please do something to ensure our community’s name enters the official list…. Maheshbhai tried so hard to get us plots but, the officials simply refused by saying our community is not on the list of nomadic communities. But Ben, you were saying that we are on the list so how come the officials refused, why is our community still excluded?”

The Bharthari of Banaskantha, Patan and Mehsana survive under abject poverty. They earn their living by singing cradlesongs to the newborns, play the one string Ravan-hatta and make do with the alms they received.

The Banaskantha floods of 2015 were devastating for the homeless families like Bharthari who stayed in makeshift shanties in the banks of the village lake.

Recently, I happen to meet Maniben Bharthari, who had lost all her belongings to the floods. “There was no question of saving our belongings. We barely managed to save our Rationcards, Voter ID cards, raise our hands over the head and walk out of the flood waters. (she describes us how they managed to save their precious documents).

Maniben stays in a shanty and was dreaming of a house, the Bharthari have been included in the official list and they were to receive residential plots. Obtaining the plots would require caste certificate but, when the families reached the government office they found their community missing. The government has added this community to the list but the online update is yet to be happen. Hence, the applications were not accepted and the entire process once again got delayed…..

We have written to the government in this regard. Hopefully there is a solution soon….  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What a lie and what false image people who do not know carry about Vadee community!!!

Vadee woman gives blessings to Mittal Patel
 Vadee women come dressed in black, they practice black magic, abduct children and engage them in begging!”

What a lie and what false image people who do not know carry about Vadee community. The black the Vadee women wear might scare the ignorant but, the Vadee have enough children of their own to feed lest they abduct children of others. Yes, people who abduct children do exist in our society but they aren’t these Vadee!!
Vadee women flanked Mittal Patel during her visit to
Juna Kakar settlement.

Recently, I had an opportunity to interact with the children of a school in Valsad. The teachers there asked this question, “Don’t Vadee abduct children?”

As a matter of fact, when I meet these women dressed in black, they shower me with tons of blessings, these women who beg as means to earn living give me the right to pick up a Rs. 5 coin from their begging plate.

They are humans to just like you and me, try to think empathetically and you wouldn’t be afraid of them!
Look at how these black dressed women flanked me when I visited their Juna Kakar settlement, they even blessed me … am so glad I am one of them!!

‘વાદીની બાઈયું છોકરાં ઉપાડી જાય. કેવા કાળા કપડાં પહેરે. એમને જાદુ ટોણા આવડે ને છોકરાં ઉપાડીને લઈ જાય પછી એમની પાસે ભીખ મંગાવે...’

લો બોલો કેવી વાહીયાત વાતો #વાદી અને #મદારી સમાજને જરાય ના જાણનારા કરે. ડર પેલા અંધારાના કલરનો (#કાળા કપડાં)નો લાગે.... બિચારા વાદીના ઘેર એના છોકરાં ઓછા છે તે આપણા ઉપાડીને લઈ જાય... બાળકોને ઉપાડીને લઈ જનારાય સમાજમાં પડ્યા છે પણ એ અમારા વાદી નહીં હો...

વલસાડ પાસેની એક નિશાળમાં બાળકો સાથે વાત કરવાનો મોકો મળ્યોને શિક્ષકોએ વાદી તો આપણા બાળકોને ઉપાડી ના જાય? તેવો ભય દર્શાવીને પ્રશ્ન પુછેલો...

મને તો આ કાળા #કપડાં પહેરેલી બહેનો મળે ત્યારે ઢગલો #આશિર્વાદ આપે ને ભીખ માંગનાર આ બહેનો પ્રેમથી એમની થાળીમાંથી પાંચ રૃપિયા ઉપાડી લેવાનો અધિકારેય આપે...

પોતાના માની વાત કરજો... પછી એમનાથી ડર નહીં લાગે... એય માણસ છે મારા તમારા જેવા ને સૌથી અગત્યનું પ્રમાળ પણ....
જુઓને કાકારની વાદી વસાહતમાં કાળા કપડાંવાળા આ બહેનો મને ઘેરી વળ્યા ને મારા દુઃખણા પણ લીધા... આનંદ આનંદ ને તેમનામાંના એક હોવાનું ગૌરવ

#મિત્તલપટેલ #વિચરતીજાતિ #Madari #Vadi #NomadicTribes #NomadsOfIndia #VSSM #Love #Snakecharmer #DNT #MittalPatel #HumanInterestNews #HumanApproach #BlackCloth #Blessings

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hamirbha Dafer has a heart of gold…..

Mittal Patel with Hamirbha Dafer and his wife Meghaba
Hamirbha has a heart of gold…..

“Benba, Jai Bhagwan!”

“How is everyone at our dear daughter’s home?”

“Every few days, Hamirbha calls up to inquire my wellbeing and begins his conversation with a ‘Jai Bhagwan’ and showers me with loads of blessings, if he happens to meet me in person.  During his calls, he makes numerous appeals for the wellbeing of the others, “Ben, please present XYZ before the police, fellow X is very ill, he has no money for treatment please find someone to support his treatment, please give Gulab a loan to buy a camel cart, he is very hard-working fellow I guarantee he will repay each and every penny of the loan!” Hamirbha advocates for each and every person who called him.

Hamirbha is a kind of human being who believes every individual is humble and good at heart hence, he advocates for all. When he recommends someone for a loan and if I raise my doubts on the repayment capacity he assures me saying, “He will repay for sure ben, you have my word for it. Also, not a single Dafer will ever default your money. You are our daughter and we all know we cannot keep daughter’s money!”

Hamirbha has unbelievable confidence in his tribe and till now that trust has never broken. “No one believes or trusts us, no one has chosen to stand by us but you have put tremendous faith in us, have made us human…” and he would just continue talking……

Yesterday they were in Ahmedabad, “Ben, this old couple has turned old yet the old age pension remains a distant dream. Please help us with this!” he said with a gentle laughter. I saw a white patch on his palms and asked if he has had tobacco…..and before I could complete the question, “Ben, look it is just some spot I assure we do not do anything that you wouldn’t approve!” and showed me both his palms.

This is the kind of affectionate relationship we share. Megha Ba was accompanying Hamirbha that day. “Megha Ba is such a modern name…..” and we all had a hearty laughter. “She wanted to see Ahmedabad, so I brought her along.”

And you know what, this 70 plus Hamirbha is very fond of dancing, he can easily defeat us… want to bet?

‘એ જય ભગવાન બેનબા..
કીમ સે અમાર ભાણી બા ને ઘરના બધા?’
હમીરભા દર થોડા દિવસે ખબર અંતર પૂછવા ફોન કરે ને શરૃઆત જય ભગવાનથી કરે. રૃબરૃ મળે તો સૌથી પહેલાં માથે હાથ ફેરવે ને ઢગલો #આશિર્વાદ આપે. હંમેશાં ‘બેન ફલાણાને #પોલીસમાં હાજર કરાવી દયો ને, ફલાણો બહુ બીમાર સે ઈની કને ફદિયોય નથ દવા કીમ કરાવશે તે તમારાથી થાય ઈ મદદ કરો, ગુલાબને હાંઢિયા ગાડુ હાટુ લોન દયો ને ઈ મેનતુ સે એક એક પાઈ ભરી દે સે.’ જેટલા માણસો એમને ફોન કરે એ બધાની જ વકીલાત હમીરભા કરે.

આખી દુનિયાના માણસો નેકદીલ એવું હમીરભા માને. ને એટલે જ નિસંકોચ ને જરાય શંકા રાખ્યા વગર ભલામણ કરે. ઘણીવાર કોઈકને લોન આપવાની #વકિલાત કરે ત્યારે હું કહુ પણ ખરાં કે, એ નઈ ભરે તો? ત્યારે દૃઢ વિશ્વાસથી કહે, ‘ઈતો ભરી દેશે બેન મે જીભાન આલી સે ને અને અમારા #ડફેરનો એકેય બચ્ચો તમારો પૈસો નો રાખે. તમે અમારા દીકરી. ને દીકરીનું નો લેવાય એતો અમને હંધાયને ખબર પડે સે.’ 
કેવો અદભૂત વિશ્વાસ ને એ વિશ્વાસ આજ સુધી તૂટ્યો નથી. ‘અમારો ભરોષો કોણ કરે અમને કોણ રૃપિયો ધીરે બેન? પણ તમે અમને સુધાર્યા અમને મનેખ(માણસ) બનાયા...’

આવું તો કાંઈક કેટલુંય બસ બોલ્યા કરે.

‘ગઈ કાલે #અમદાવાદ આવ્યા, બેન ડોહો હોડી ઘૈઈઢા થ્યા પણ પેલું સરકારનું પેલશલ(પેન્શન) નઈ મળતું. તે ઈનું કાંક કરી દયો ન.’ એવું હસતા હસતા કહ્યું. મે કહ્યું હાથમાં સફેદ તમાકુ ઘસ્યા જેવું દેખાય છે તમાકુ ખાધુ છે? એકેય કામ નઈ કરુ તમારું જો તમાકુ.... વાક્ય પરુ થતા પહેલાં જ ‘આ જોઈલો બાપલા આતો ક્યાંકથી ધોળો ડાધો લાગી ગ્યો સે બાકી તમને ના ગમે એવું એકેય કામ નો કરુ.’ એમ કહીને હથેળી બતાવી...

આવો અદભૂત પ્રેમ હમીરભા ને અમારી વચ્ચે. કાલે મેઘા બા એમના પત્નીને લઈને હમીરભા અમદાવાદ આવ્યા હતા. મે કહ્યું, બાનું નામ મોર્ડન છે.. મેધા બા ને હમીર ભા બેય જોરથી હસી પડ્યા.. હા ઈને અમદાવાદ જોવું તું એટલે લઈ આયો તો...

સીતેર વટાવેલા હમીરભા નાચવાના જબરા શોખીન. તમને ને મનેય હરાવી દે.. સાચે... શરત લગાવવી હોય તો લગાડીએ...

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