[2012 update] Building democracy within

Maturity of an organization can be measured by the way information flows in it and how it leads to the decision making process. Our vision for JJSS was to create a decentralized system where decisions are made at the local level, based on a two-way information flow from rest of the organization. The last update mentioned the formation of the first unit in Choukta; we are now over 26 units strong and closer to the vision of decentralized planning and local decision making bodies.

1.       Connected at all levels

During the past six months, meetings were held at all the levels of the sangathan. At the district level, a karyakarni meeting was held in Araria on Sep 22-23, 2012. This was attended by the core committee of JJSS, working committees of 20+ local units, and many regular members. Terapant bhavan, a regular venue for sangathan’s yearly meetings, had aptly morphed into sangathan’s headquarter, with posters adorning its walls, and 200+ members in its premises. Despite the crowd belonging from different parts of Araria, Katihar and Purnea, one could sense the familial atmosphere, and a bond that develops over regular interactions and joint efforts. Over eight sessions spread over two days; attendees discussed work done during the last six months, challenges faced, and developed near-term action plan. Some of the other highlights of the meeting included release of Sangathan’s first book, and two external attendees: Madhuresh bhai, National organizer for NAPM and Pasharul bhai from Bengal.

At the block level, working committees from Araria met in Kismat Khabaspur on Nov 11th to follow-up on their September resolutions. This meeting was attended by the local P.R.S. who wanted to be relieved of one additional panchayat that was placed under him, and also informed us that the delays in measurement and opening of works stemmed from having only one Junior Engineer (J.E.) for the entire block, while four are officially sanctioned. This overloading of implementing agency staff is a major reason for delays and the same was highlighted in our meeting with the Secretary, Rural Development.

2.       Our flags, our cards

Sangathan members have proudly carried their membership cards as a link to a larger association. This year, the link has been strengthened by the addition of the membership flag. These flags were distributed to the unit-level working committees, and it has been heartening to see them hoisted over member’s houses across the district. Additionally, membership renewal drive was conducted in several GPs, and new cards were issued to recently joined members. Some lessons – increase the size of the flag and every member should fly a flag not just committee members.

3.       Growing through local units

Another step in sangathan’s evolution is when its growth becomes a distributed process. This year, we noticed lessening of dependence on full-timers for membership drive as same is being taken-up by active local-level volunteers. Family and village-based connections carry a lot of weight in rural India, and as members talked about JJSS within their circles, requests for holding awareness meeting started coming-in. Following this process, unit in Choukta led to the formation of new unit in Pachiyyari Pipra, and Amgachhi unit reached across relatives in Kursakata block to organize an awareness and membership drive in Laxmipur and Shankarpur panchayats.

Parihari: Finding a balance between the Hare and the Tortoise

Most Parihari villagers heard about JJSS for the first time during this summer’s padyatra. By September, over 600 membership cards were issued by handful of local volunteers, and a large contingent reached the working committee meeting in Araria, onboard a tractor! They followed it by a meeting in Parihari on Sep 28th where six local units were formed, and their working committees elected. But it became evident during the meeting that many had got the card out of a habit of getting such cards (job card, smart card, aadhar card – Govt. does its bit to inculcate this habit). So another meeting was called for Oct 18th, and an open discussion followed about sangathan, what it stood for, how it works etc. It was decided to temporarily stop membership enrollment, and focus on getting full NREGA entitlement for the existing members.

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