The enduring power of Satyagraha

Satyagraha is never finished because it is a fight for truth and justice.”
Ramesh Sharma, Ekta Parishad

As well as working for Jeevika, I also volunteer for the Gandhi Foundation, which exists to spread knowledge and understanding of the life and philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi, who led India to independence from British rule.

He did so by mobilising the nation to take part in campaigns of non-violent protest and civil disobedience based on the concept of Satyagraha (which can be translated as “adherence to truth”).

Gandhi in India

March for Justice

For Gandhi, just as important as independence from the British Raj was socio-economic reform to liberate India’s masses from extreme poverty. His life and message continues to inspire the new generations who seek to address it.

Through Action Village India, I came to know about Ekta Parishad’s “March for Justice” or “Jan Satyagraha”.

This campaign mobilised tens of thousands of India’s landless poor using non-violent methods. On Gandhi’s birthday (2 October) last year, they started a march to Delhi calling for a fairer share of land and resources.

Fighting for Truth

As a result of the march, and the supporting campaigns around the world that it generated, the Indian Government signed an agreement with civil society to take forward the marchers’ demands.

However, the hard work is only just starting and many challenges lay ahead. A joint government-civil society task force has been set up to implement the agreement through an agreed timetable, allocation of resources and institutional mechanisms.

As Jan Satyagraha co-ordinator, Ramesh Sharma, says in a Christian Aid podcast:

“The campaign is not yet finished. Satyagraha is never finished because it is a fight for truth and justice and we know, even after the commitment, we need a lot of strength and energy to percolate all the promises to the ground, to the people”.

Photo courtesy of the Gandhi Foundation.

Giving Thanks: What harvest festivals and Jeevika have in common

This week on the blog, our programmes officer Judith asks, what do harvest festivals and Jeevika have in common?

The harvest festival of Pongal is celebrated by hundreds of thousands of people during the third week of January in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where Jeevika and its partners undertake village livelihood activities.

This four-day festival of thanksgiving to nature takes its name from the Tamil word meaning ‘to boil’ and is held during the season when rice and other cereals, sugar-cane, and turmeric (an essential ingredient in Tamil cooking) are harvested. For as long as people have been planting and gathering food, there has been some form of harvest festival and Pongal is one of the most important popular Hindu festivals of the year.

Pongal Festival, Tamil Nadu

Tamilians say ‘Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum’, and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of Pongal Day. This is traditionally the month of weddings. This is not a surprise in a largely agricultural community – the riches gained from a good harvest form the economic basis for expensive family occasions like weddings.

Jeevika’s work with the most impoverished villagers in the districts of Namakkal, Madurai and Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu ensure that crops and other agricultural activities such as beekeeping and goat-rearing can be carried out during times when employment, rains and other resources are low.

Some of these activities include organic composting, organic seed collection, the harvesting of water and support for revolving funds which enable women in Self Help Groups to borrow funds to support their income-generation activities which they can repay when they have a surplus and are able to make sales. This support from Jeevika and its partners keeps the cycle of village life turning.

Beekeeping projects in India

Similarly, here in the UK, many people join in a harvest celebration on the Sunday nearest the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. Celebrations usually include people bringing in produce from the garden, allotment or farm and decorating their church. The food is then distributed among the poor and senior citizens of the local community. This is just another way of sharing what the Earth has to offer and what we are prepared to give.

With your help, Jeevika can give more to our partners to enable them to help some of the poorest people on Earth. If you want to know more of what we do, please look explore our website and if you want to help, click on http://www.justgiving.com/jeevikatrust/donate.

Meanwhile, let’s all thank the Earth for providing what it does and send the best of Pongal celebrations to our 1,038 women beneficiaries and their 12,110 family members:  may it be a good harvest in 2013 both in India and the UK!

First photograph used courtesy of Family Tour Packages India.

Trade and Aid to India

When the Indian government decided in February last year to award its multi-billion £ military aircraft contract to the French, a months-old comment by an Indian minister about UK aid to India being a dispensable ‘peanut’ in India’s budget was suddenly dredged up.

This sparked a fierce UK debate around aid and trade. Andrew Mitchell, then head of the UK Department for International Development (DfID), had his back against the wall justifying aid to a country with its own space and overseas aid programmes. However, it emerged that the whole DfID programme was already set to expire in 2015 and had been restricted to the three poorest states.

These three states include Orissa, where DfID is supporting our ‘Madhu Network Project’ to build, with our local NGO partner Jeevan Rekha Parishad, a honey-producing and marketing FairTrade network among hundreds of isolated rural bee-keepers.

Beekeeping in India

Now Mr Mitchell has been succeeded by Justine Greening, and the main change regarding India is that no new projects will be sanctioned in the remaining years to 2015 (resulting in a £200 million reduction over the remainder of the 6-year £1.2 billion cost of the programme).

However, her welcome new accent on private sector investment and technology puts a new slant on the trade vs aid debate, and Boris Johnson’s promotional trip to India before Christmas bangs the same drum.

DfID’s Press Release in December about our project quotes Justine Greening: “DFID already works with larger charities, but I want us also to work alongside smaller organisations like Jeevika Trust. It is a good opportunity for us to see different approaches delivering real results on the ground”.

It was particularly encouraging to receive a personal letter from Ms Greening to the same effect. And at our corporate reception in Westminster on 31 October – ‘India: Should trade and aid be linked?’ – Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable had likewise endorsed Jeevika’s work as a matter of ‘basic humanity – doing practical things in a good way’.

Vince Cable and Jeevika Trust

So here we are in the New Year! Jeevika is a strong supporter of the UK government’s targetted ‘aid’ to India (though of course we regret the expiry in 2015 of the current programme). We will demonstrate that the grant which DfiD has given us for the Madhu Network project is precisely the kind of aid that puts UK tax-payers’ money to good use, and really helps ‘the wretched of the earth’ – specifically in rural India, the world’s largest single poverty trap.

Photo of our corporate reception with Vince Cable is (c) 2012 SJL Photography.