Project Compassion: Advocating for change in India

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Dhaniram creating change in his village. Photo: Filmbooth India
Dhaniram creating change in his village. Photo: Filmbooth India

Dhaniram is driven to help create change in his village. Through the grass-roots Hamara Haq (‘our rights’) project, run by Caritas India and supported by Caritas Australia, he’s gained the skills to help his community claim what’s rightfully theirs and develop their plan for a better future.

Dhaniram, 24, lives in the state of Chhattisgarh in central India. The state is part of a region, known locally as the Tribal Belt. More than 7.8 million people live in Chhattisgarh including people from 645 distinct tribes.

For generations, people from scheduled tribes have been marginalised and discriminated against and today they are among the poorest of the poor in India.

In Dhaniram’s village, there are 117 households, and nearly every family lives hand to mouth, with no food or money in reserve. Many, like Dhaniram, work as labourers for daily wages, constantly searching for work and living without a secure income. “I am only able to support my family to some extent,” says Dhaniram.

Like many communities across the Tribal Belt, Dhaniram’s village were unaware of the many flagship social security schemes that the Indian government has in place to support its most vulnerable communities.

“There is a low rate of literacy in my village and a low level of awareness of our own rights and entitlements,” says Dhaniram.

Bringing to life the teaching of Preferential Option for the Poor, supporting tribal rights is a key focus of Caritas India, aided by Caritas Australia. As a result, the Hamara Haq (‘our rights’) project has been implemented across five districts in the Tribal Belt. The project actively helps communities learn about their rights and entitlements. And, it helps them to strengthen their traditional governance, so that rather than relying on others to make decisions for them, communities can plan and direct their own development.

When Dhaniram’s wife told him about the Hamara Haq project, he immediately joined. “I joined the program and began attending different training sessions,” he recalls.

“I became more interested and drawn in to the implementation of the program as I got to learn new and important things from this project.”

Dhaniram received training in human rights, leadership, local governance, legislation and forestry rights, and soon realised the potential for change in his village.

So passionate is his belief, that sometimes he spends his time learning and sharing his knowledge, rather than seeking daily labour. “I may live a day without having food, but if I miss this knowledge sharing and capacity building program I will lose my livelihood forever, and will be deprived of what I am entitled to get, and the rights to secure my future,” he says. “For that I can sacrifice today.”

Using his new knowledge, Dhaniram took the lead, and helped bring electricity to his village. And, in an even bigger project, he navigated complex administrative processes to ensure a stalled government housing project was restarted. “It was because of his untiring efforts that the 84 villagers have stopped waiting and now have houses of their own under Indira Awas [entitlement scheme],” says Caritas India project co-ordinator, Noorul.

Empowered by his learning and experience, Dhaniram has persuaded many community members to join local government planning meetings, so villagers have a voice and can direct the development of their own communities.

“I am passionate because I feel that this village is mine and we all should live a good life,” Dhaniram tells.

“Resources are available for us. The only thing that we need to do is to come together and actively participate in decision making.”

Through Caritas India and Caritas Australia’s support, the Hamara Haq project has been invaluable in empowering people like Dhaniram throughout the Tribal Belt to learn more about their rights and to create a path out of poverty.

“I say Namaste to all Australian people,” he smiles. “We are now empowered to speak up and ask for our rights.”

Call 1800 024 413 or visit caritas.org.au/donate to donate.