What is the Birsa Movement
United to protect the indigenous community: The women's project B.I.R.S.A.
This change began around 6 years ago, when a mining project for the extraction of iron ore was about to open barely a kilometer from Santi's village. The mining area was located in the midst of a diverse natural landscape and would have permanently destroyed the local river, which is the most important lifeline of the surrounding villages. That is why Santi and other villagers organized resistance, held meetings and organized blockades. Through persistent commitment and solidarity, it finally actually succeeded in preventing the project.
There are many stories like this in the Noamundi and Jagannathpur blocks on the southern border of Jharkhand. The first iron mine opened in the area as early as 1920; Since the legal regulations were relaxed at the turn of the millennium and the international raw material prices increased, the mining industry is spreading more and more - with fatal consequences for people and the environment. On the one hand, families are being resettled or driven out directly to make room for the mines. On the other hand, the opencast mine destroys land, forests and water and thus the livelihoods of the local village communities, which depend on an intact environment.
Against this background, the “Bindrai Institute for Research and Study” (BIRSA) was founded in 1990 with the aim of opposing the suppression of the Adivasi and the exploitation of natural resources in Jharkhand. The 55-year-old Ajitha George is the general secretary of the kfb partner organization. She grew up in a well-off, educated family in Kerala in southern India. When she came to Jharkhand at the beginning of the 1990s, she was impressed not only by the spirit of resistance and cohesion of the people, but also by the culture of the Adivasi: “Actually, the way the Adivasi live in community with one another and with nature, Far superior to the urban, 'educated' culture in which I grew up ”. However, this way of thinking and living is threatened today by the profit interests of the mining industry and an aggressive majority culture in which the Adivasi are only seen as obstacles on the way to national progress.
“My endeavor was and is to make the villagers understand what is happening around them and to recognize the forces that are trying to take away their land, forests and other resources from them” - Ajitha George - General Secretary of B.I.R.S.A
To this end, BIRSA reactivates and supports the so-called Gram Sabhas, the traditional village councils. These have extensive rights in the Indian constitution and have thus become important nodes in the resistance to mining. In addition, the organization has set up over 30 women's committees and almost 10 girls' groups. They form the basis and heart of the project. Here the women exchange ideas, discuss their everyday problems and develop solution strategies together. In this way, the organization remains directly linked to the needs and concerns of the villagers: At BIRSA, all important decisions are made collectively and almost all employees come from the women's committee themselves. Through the regular meetings, the participants gain strength and self-confidence, they attend training courses on their rights and political backgrounds and thus mature into local leaders who are actively involved in the village community and resolutely defend their concerns as Adivasi and women.
In addition to this political work, BIRSA is promoting the development of independent livelihoods in the villages. Because of the destruction of the mining industry, but also the advancing climate change, the traditional structures for nutrition and health care are increasingly out of balance. And the area is far from a functioning state infrastructure - for example in the health sector. Most of the villagers live on their own small fields and what the forests and rivers in the area have to offer. With the loss of land and the increasing pollution and destruction of the natural environment, food self-sufficiency has become increasingly difficult. At the same time, the agricultural industry lures with hybrid seeds, fertilizers and weed killers - technologies that promise rapid increases in production and income, but at the same time drive people into dependence on market prices and agricultural corporations and destroy the soil in the long term. In contrast, BIRSA strengthens traditional and locally adapted cultivation methods and carefully supplements them with newer technologies in order to be prepared for changing conditions. In addition to agricultural training, model farms and exchange sites for natural seeds are being set up - seeds that humans can propagate themselves and thus form an important basis for an independent food system.
The degradation of the environment has also led to health problems such as malaria, anemia, diarrhea, and an increase in child and maternal mortality. BIRSA counteracts this with its own health centers, in which traditional Adivasi medicine is revived and strengthened. Locally anchored health workers * provide preventive information in the villages about risks, treat the sick and produce herbal medicines from the herbs of the surrounding forests. One of these health workers is 32-year-old Raimuni Boipai. As a girl she took part in a BIRSA medical training course and quickly discovered her passion for this work. Today she is an experienced midwife who has successfully accompanied around 150 births in recent years. The holistic health care from BIRSA shows impressive results. Malaria has now been reduced considerably and anemia among women has fallen from 48.5% to 8.8%.
In retrospect, Ajitha is happy with all the fruits of her labor, but remains vigilant. The cohesion and commitment of the residents is more necessary than ever to defend village life against the mining industry's unbroken hunger for raw materials:
“The seeds that we sown together have grown into plants, but they still need time and a lot of food to become strong trees”.
In the next few years, too, the aim will continue to be to create sustainable survival opportunities for indigenous families.
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