In 1984 a Bhil tribal, Lalia, was bleeding from his anus after having been brutally beaten up by a forest guard for not paying him a bribe for cultivating forest land. In a subsequent emergency meeting held by the people when they were hesitating to act in a concerted manner to demand cultivation of forest land as a right and take on the forest department, Lalia stood up painfully and said that he would commit suicide if no decisive action was taken as without the land he could not survive. That prompted the people to act cohesively and decisively leading to the formation of the trade union Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath. However, it was decided that just fighting for the right to cultivation would not do and it must go with a campaign for communitarian natural resource conservation works so as to improve the quality of the environment to which access had been gained and so contribute to long term sustainability. From then onwards the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, which was created for this purpose and the people have together waged a long campaign for forest rights and natural resource conservation that has finally come to fruition through a conjunctive implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. From the beginning this programme has had huge women’s participation because land and forest conservation contribute immediately to the reduction of drudgery for women. This lengthy and sustained process of women’s mobilisation has led to the reduction in patriarchal oppression among the Bhils.
The Organisation has developed gradually and the timeline is given below:
1982 : Commenced mass organisation, legal and policy advocacy work with Bhil adivasis for their right to a livelihood in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh which is still continuing and has spread to the whole of western Madhya Pradesh.
1986-94 : Commenced organisation work with the oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Dam being built on the Narmada river which later evolved into the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
1987 : Formed the first ever Trade Union of Bhil adivasis, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS).
1987 : Rural Development work started in the fields of primary education, community forest management and watershed development that is continuing.
1994 : Commenced work in the important sphere of conservation of indigenous land races of crops and traditional agricultural practices which is still continuing.
1996 : Commenced work on adivasi women’s reproductive health and rights and their economic empowerment through the formation of Self Help Groups that is continuing.
2000 : Commenced work on the rejuvenation of traditional adivasi culture which has now evolved into the organisation, Adivasi Riti Badhao Tola.
2001 : Commenced collaborating with the Deenbandhu Samajik Sanstha on various actions related to the right to housing of the poor in Indore city.
2006 : Commenced organisational and legal support work with adivasi migrant workers which is still continuing.
2008 : Commenced work on water governance and research with action and study in the Man River Basin.
2009 : Commenced work on systematic implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) which has now assumed huge proportions spanning the whole district.
2010 : Intensification of work on the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006 and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act 1996.
The organisation Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra is a local NGO with only ten full time staff while the trade union Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath is a totally membership based Bhil tribal organisation of about 3000 dues paying members. So these organisations have to depend heavily on partnerships. The most important partnership is that with the people of the area who put in a considerable amount of voluntary work to implement the campaigns of the organisation and also contribute in cash and kind to various programmes. The contribution of time, labour and cash and kind by the people is many times more in economic value than the funds sourced by the NGO.
The operational plan of the organisation is given in the graphic below and it explains the roles the different stakeholders play: