Empowering Women Of The Bhunjia Tribe: A Journey Towards Equality And Progress

Within the lush forests and rolling hills of Odisha and Chhattisgarh reside the Bhunjia tribe. This ancient community, with its unique traditions and way of life, has long been hidden from the outside world. One striking aspect of their societal structure is the marked gender disparity, where men hold a dominant position, relegating women to a solitary existence within the confines of their homes.

September 27, 2023: The Bhunjia people also communicate in a language that sets them apart, creating an additional layer of separation from neighboring communities. Here, we look at the remarkable journey of Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan, an organization committed to empowering the Bhunjia tribe and bridging the gaps that have hindered their progress.

Building trust: A fundamental step

When Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan initiated contact with the Bhunjia community in Hatmauha, located in the Gariaband district, LASS faced an enormous challenge. The Bhunjia women, accustomed to their secluded lives, were initially hesitant to engage with outsiders. Building trust was the first crucial step towards empowering these women. To achieve this, the organization focused on involving the community men, as their support and trust were essential to any meaningful progress.

Meetings and training sessions were a regular feature, covering topics ranging from land rights to government schemes and leadership. These initiatives gradually paved the way for the Bhunjia women to open up and engage with LASS.

The struggle for forest rights

A pressing issue that had plagued the Bhunjia tribe for over a decade was the recognition of their individual forest rights claims. For 15 long years, they had submitted their claims, only to be silenced by the authorities. Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan realized that addressing this pending claim was a critical pathway to improving the lives of the community, especially its women.

Immediate needs: A path to progress

Simultaneously, the organization recognized that while the long-term goal was to secure access to and control over land, immediate needs were required to be addressed and resolved to facilitate empowerment. Many Bhunjia women could not access essential government programs, such as the Public Distribution System (PDS), due to a lack of ration cards.

Similarly, job opportunities through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) were out of reach for those without job cards. Additionally, several Bhunjia women were unaware of or unable to avail themselves of entitlements like widow pensions.

For resolving these issues, Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan encouraged the women to visit their district collector and articulate their concerns. The organization supported the women in preparing relevant applications, and easing the daunting task of interacting with government authorities. Despite their initial apprehension, the Bhunjia women mustered the courage to visit the collector’s office. The positive response from the collector dispelled much of their fear and distrust.

Advocates for change

The experiences of the women from Hatmauha had a profound impact. They emerged as advocates for Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan’s work and played a pivotal role in persuading Bhunjia women in other villages within the district to collaborate with the organization.

A promising beginning

The early months of 2023 saw a significant milestone as a few individuals from the Bhunjia tribe received land deeds recognizing their individual forest rights claims. However, this is just the beginning of a transformative journey. Women in the community have begun to assume leadership roles, asserting their rights and inspiring others to do the same.

Through persistence and collaboration, Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan continues to empower the Bhunjia tribe, fostering equality, progress, and a brighter future for a community that had long remained isolated and unheard.

Empowering the Bhunjia tribe has been marked by perseverance, collaboration, and a commitment to bridging the gaps that have hindered their progress. Lok Astha Sewa Sansthan’s efforts have led to the recognition of forest rights and a transformation within the community.

With women assuming leadership roles and advocating for their rights, the journey towards equality and progress is a tribute to the power of determination and the potential for positive change in even the most isolated and marginalized communities.

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