When I graduated from college as an engineer, I did not take a job in the corporate sector or go for higher studies abroad as all my other classmates did. Instead, I joined the huge informal sector of this country where people live from hand to mouth and and from day to day!! And the most informal of all in this sector have always been the Adivasis. So I went to live and work with the Bhil Adivasis in Alirajpur and that is how the organisations DGVK and KMCS came to be set up because in the modern world it is not possible to fight and survive without a minimal organisational presence. After a decade of great fights and great living at the margins in Alirajpur, I got married to Subhadra Khaperde in 1993. She insisted that I must move out of Alirajpur and work with her for the gender rights of women and girls. So we moved out of Alirajpur and began working in Khargone and Dewas districts from 1994 onwards. From 1994 to 2001 we worked in these areas setting up more organisations, the most notable being Kansari Nu Vadavno, which translates as the "Felicitation of Kansari", Kansari being the powerful life giving Goddess symbolising the cereal jowar or sorghum, which is the staple food of the Bhils. This was a women's organisation that fought for reproductive health and rights. We were also simultaneously working for the establishment of Gram Swaraj or Village self rule for the Adivasis under the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas Act. The Government of the day liked neither the women's mobilisation which had completely stopped the illegal sale of liquor nor the mobilisation for village self rule which had marginalised the administration in the villages in which the organisation was strong. So in a massive armed police operation it cracked down on the organisation and killed four of its members in firing and clapped dozens of others including me into prison. That was the end, for that time at least, of both the women's and village self rule mobilisations.
This made us roll again back to the city of Indore, as in the mean time a son had been born to us in 2000 and Subhadra also had decided to take a sabbatical from activism to pursue higher studies having been only a high school pass out earlier. I too had to begin doing consultancy work to garner funds for the huge legal expenses that kicked in after the Government crack down on our organisation. Moreover, it had become almost impossible to work for rights given the huge repression that the Government resorted to against mass mobilisation for rights and justice.
Then from 2005 onwards the years of struggle for rights by many grassroots organisations across the country began to bear fruit and we had legislations like the Right to Information Act, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act and the Right to Food Act being enacted, thus giving legal force to basic rights which earlier we had to fight and go to jail for. Our Adivasi colleagues in Alirajpur asked me to help them to reactivate DGVK which had been lying dormant as it had become increasingly difficult for them to survive and fight just on ad hoc contributions from the people and well wishers and the odd fellowship. They said that if advantage were to be taken of the new legislations, then institutional grant funding would have to be accessed through the registered trust DGVK. So from 2007 onwards grant funding came into Alirajpur and work took off with a bang again. Within a space of just four years we set Alirajpur afire with significant implementation of the legislations mentioned above and also a big campaign for justice for migrant labourers some of whom had died after contracting Silicosis in quartz crushing units in Gujarat. DGVK was awarded the Times of India Social Impact Award for its exemplary mobilisation of Adivasis in Alirajpur in 2011. The trade union KMCS has always been a force to reckon with in Alirajpur and it has now gained in considerable strength. A picture of a typical rally of thousands of people that periodically shakes the earth and the air of Alirajpur is shown below.
However, our work on gender rights and especially reproductive health and rights of women had lagged behind and had become almost zero in this time. So, Subhadra once again has started this work in Indore from January this year. Once she got into the work, it became clear that it is a very difficult exercise and will require full time commitment from both of us. Moreover, the work in Alirajpur should ideally be led by the Adivasis there in all respects. Even though most of the programmatic work is directed by them, the work of managing the DGVK accounts and legal compliances was being handled by me. Now even that is going to be done by the Adivasis and to make sure that there is no dependence whatsoever on me, I have decided to move out of the organisations there completely. After two decades we are going back to reproductive health and rights work that we had first done in Khargone and Dewas, to try and reinvent ourselves working with some of the most deprived and oppressed people in this country - economically disadvantaged Dalit and Adivasi women.