Chittorgarh district lies in the south eastern part of Rajasthan and has a population of over 18 lakhs. 85% of the people live in rural areas, agriculture and mining being the main sources of livelihood. Most of the land is owned by the jats, and the dalits and tribal communities, owing to the insignificant size of their land holdings, are forced to work in mines or on the lands of others often as bonded labour. Feudal attitudes and practices continue to have a strong presence in the region.
Maati started as a small group of women who came together in the mid 1990s to protest against rampant alcoholism. In 1994, within one month there were two cases in which husbands in their drunkenness had burnt their wives to death, but there was a conspiracy of silence around these shocking incidents with nobody willing to speak up. Malika, Basanti and a few others got together, held meetings in several villages and mobilised women, writing post cards to people’s representatives in villages all around. 1000 women came forward for a meeting in Munsiyari where they put forth a memorandum to the SDM asking for the sale of alcohol to be stopped. This protest became a seed from which the sangathan grew into a space for women to meet, talk, express themselves, and share their joys and sorrows.
Dhenkanal and its adjoining districts were under feudal rule before independence. This region is rich in its forest and mineral resources. The tribals being forest dwellers settled in these forests after migrating from Singhbhum and Santhal Parganas in search of habitation. The kings during those times settled the tribals to protect the forests from fire and smugglers. Those settlements were then declared as forest villages by the king.
Dhenkanal is one of the centrally positioned districts of Odisha and is surrounded by Keonjhar, Jajpur, Cuttack and Angul districts. Surrounded by mountains and dense forests, these regions are abundant in natural resources. The economy of the districts is predominantly agrarian. A larger section of the rural population (mostly adivasis) holds very little or no agricultural land. They work as agricultural labourers and depend on daily wages.