In March 2015, Freedom Fund staff met with residents of Ghurghura village in northern India and heard about conditions of bonded labour and child trafficking that were extremely prevalent. A new Community Vigilance Committee had been formed at that time and was beginning to make progress on accessing economic entitlements, opening bank accounts and accessing food rations, but they had been deeply frustrated by the negligence and corruption of village elected officials. Even the elected official who represented their part of the village and came from their own dalit (“low caste”) community didn’t speak up for them.
But when we met some of the community members again in July 2016, there had been some important changes. While her father-in-law holds her baby, one of the Community Vigilance Committee members, Kiran (in purple saree in photo), explained that they feel more unified and are pushing for improvements. She said that they had backed a different person to represent them, but when this woman candidate actually won the election, the earlier representative organised a gang who tried to burn down the houses of those who had voted for her. During the attack, the community members rounded up a large crowd, locked up the arsonists in a room and fetched the police.
When the police would not file a case against the attackers, the group contacted the Superintendent of Police, explained the situation and he then instructed that the legal case must be filed. When the police came to the village to investigate, the group members made sure the police were writing down the facts correctly. They aim to make sure that the person whose house was burned gets proper compensation.
A sign of progress is that they were able to get 34 housing sites provided by the government, and the land was given in the name of the women. Having secure housing helps them feel less vulnerable to eviction if they stand up for their rights. They had struggled for this land for several years, and to push their case, they took community elders as a group to the District Magistrate’s office. Kiran said “Our unity helped us do this.”
Pictured: Kiran, a member of the Community Vigilance Committee in Ghurghura
Photo credit: Ginny Baumann