The Shoshit Kamgar Sangathana was founded by Pandurang in 1999 and has been working on issues of PDS, NREGA, health and education in two blocks in Latur district. After working in a sangathan in Pune for three years, Pandurang came to the conclusion that this was the way to fight against poverty and injustice. He returned to his hometown and started running night schools for the children of bonded labour. He also actively participated in the Campaign for Human Rights in the movement against caste-based atrocities. This earned him and his associates the reputation of a group that “instigates people”. They stood up to the rich and powerful and showed that it was possible for the so called weaker sections of society to raise their voice against exploitation and discrimination. One of the turning points was the way in which they took over the Tehsildar’s office for 3 days to demand that the administration implement the state government’s Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS Training in Nilanga) properly.
These experiences prepared the ground for the Shoshit Kamgar Sangathana to come into being. The sangathan decided to take up those issues that are most important to the lives of ordinary people – food, employment and education. There were already government schemes such as PDS, NREGA and scholarships in place for the benefit of the poor and the downtrodden, but the unwieldy and corrupt system was coming in the way of proper implementation. The sangathan undertook a systematic approach whereby they first collated all the information about a scheme, disseminated the information to the people in a form that was easy to understand, and then helped them claim their entitlements. Seeing that the sangathan was addressing their most pressing everyday problems, people began to trust the process and join the collective. The sangathan is now active in all the 54 villages in Shiroor Anantpal block and more than half of the 118 villages in Nilanga.
The sangathan noticed that PDS was not being taken up as an important issue even though it was related to the poor person’s basic need of food. They felt it is crucial and so began making interventions to make PDS more effective and accountable. In every village that the sangathan works, they have demanded (and in many cases ensured) that the correct rates, license number, timings, etc. be written clearly on the display board outside the ration shop, that the dealer gives receipts for all sales and keeps a complaint register. Using RTI, they have got the complete list of APL, BPL, Antulya and other categories of families and shared this information with the people, most of who did not know in which category they were placed. (PDS Battle in Senda Village) The Shoshit Kamgar Sangathan has also taken the initiative to form a Marathwada-wide group called the Samajik Nyay Andolan to tackle the PDS related issues in a bigger way.
The scholarship scheme for the socially disadvantaged girl child is another scheme that the sangathan has taken up in a major way to ensure proper implementation. (Scholarships for Girl Students) Apart from the obvious benefits of the scheme, the sangathan also sees this as a means of reaching out to children and initiate them into the process of politicization. The plan is to have sanagthans of students so that they get trained at a young age to identify and articulate their problems and seek solutions through collective action.
One of the greatest achievements of the sangathan has been the extent to which it has succeeded in mobilizing women to not only be participants in but leaders of social change. By forming the mahila sangathan exclusively for women and encouraging SHGs (SHG as a means of economic and political empowerment), the foundation has been laid for the next step i.e. capacity building of women to take up political leadership roles in the Gram Panchayat and Zila Parishad.
Structure of the Sangathan
The sangathan has six main karyakartas, four in Shiroor Anantpal and two in Nilanga block. Each block has a Taluka committee with 1-2 representatives from each village. At the village level there are village committees and ration committees that take up local issues.
The expansion of the sangathan has been a steady process and the structure has evolved out of people’s needs. The effort has been to develop local leadership in a village to such an extent that they are not dependent on the main karyakartas to sort out their everyday problems. The karyakartas, in turn, are encouraged to take initiative rather than just execute a plan. Since they belong to the same milieu as the people they are working with, they face the same problems and have a good understanding of what the community’s primary concerns are.
One of the main challenges the sangathan is facing today is the diminishing youth participation in its activities. The young people of today seem to prefer becoming associated with political parties who woo them with money, food and drinks. In the long term, the sangathan aims to expand its reach to a district level, to involve the youth, to develop and enhance the common person’s decision making capacity, and to mobilise the poor to claim social, economic and political power.