ANTODAYA was borne out of a movement fought against the issue of land alienation of tribals of Thuamul Rampur by group of committed people in 1989.
The Thaumul Rampur Block of Kalahandi is one of the most backward blocks in the state of Orissa according to development indicators and the Planning & Coordination Department of the Government of Orissa ranks it 3rd from the bottom and in the 1980s it came under the “tribal sub-plan” which focused on starvation deaths, child selling etc. During this period that an attempt was made to interact with the people of Thuamul Rampur block and Sri R.B. Pattanaik (who was the collector of Kalahandi) advised the group (which was later to become ANTODAYA) to explore the possibilities of initiating community development work in either Lanjigarh or Thuamul Rampur Block. As Lanjigarh block already had the presence of some of the NGOs, the group opted to explore possibilities in Thuamul Rampur Block where there were no NGOs at that time. The initial strategy was to gain experience by living with the tribal community and to address those issues which would have a greatest impact on the living conditions of the tribal population. Even during 1985 it was found that a large number of tribals were succumbing to selling or mortgaging their lands in spite of being provided with the benefits of "Land Reforms Act" (Art-22, 23,23A of regulation 2).
It took almost 2 years to take up the issue of land alienation with the concerned authorities resulting in the District Administration coming forward to help the tribals in get back their land. A P.I.L. was also filed in the High court of Orissa which led to a Commission of Inquiry by Justice Baidyanath Mishra. The High court also advised the administration to allow tribals to plead without the services of advocates. As a result more than 175 acres of alienated lands were restored to the tribals.
By the end of the campaign, the group had learnt the following lessons:
- Their emotional involvement in the issue led them to lead the entire process rather than supporting the tribals to take the leadership; and
The group had got carried away and started responding to anyone who came up with problems related to land alienation.
This realisation led to formation of ANTODAYA and registered as society in 1989 and since 1991 ANTODAYA has been working with the inhabitants of Thuamul Rampur Block, with financial support received from different funding agencies. The issues outlined above proved to be so challenging and captivating that ANTODAYA found itself plunged in to a fray against the powerful groups of moneylenders and land grabbers. They worked with little but the support of the poor tribal people for whom they fought and a firm conviction in their struggle. Our work during these early days led to the restoration of lands of tribals and a realization that things could be changed if people were organized. The media, the local Government agencies and the judiciary had supported the organisation at the outset on the issue of land alienation. However, subsequently ANTODAYA had to fight with the self-same Government officials for the rights of tribal women over selling of NTFP.
Local issues of the tribal people has always guided the strategies of the organization and staff have waged battles, often against the odds, relating the inaccessible terrain, frequent malarial attacks and exploiters in order to help the poor tribal people. There were moments when the resilience of the organization was severely tested. The founder member and the late Chairman, Mr.B.Saleem Farook, as well as some staff succumbed to malaria and the present Chairman, Mr. Dillip Kumar Das, had to withstand a near-fatal attack on him by the moneylenders and vested interest groups. But these difficulties and intimidation's only served to strengthened the will of the organisation rather than weakening it. One policy after another affecting the basic issues of food security of the tribals in the region was brought to the fore.
Key interventions included a right to food campaign which was organised and pursued together with a local level network, Loka Adhikar Sammukhya, in 2002 and Action Aid provided the much needed financial as well as moral support along the way.
However, just a things looked set for a happy ending, the verdict of Supreme Court for evicting the forest dwellers from their land further stirred people. ANTODAYA organised the people through a mass signature campaign and mass meetings to place people’s appeal before the Forest Department and the Supreme Court of India where people put forth their demand for the Rights over Land & Forest Resources. Realizing the importance of participation of tribal men and women in the political process of the area, some of the target group members were encouraged to take part in the elections. Many of them won panchayat elections and became ward members and Sarapanches too and the process is going on smoothly.
Further activities since these early days our outlined in the Case Studies pages of this site.