Chaitan Ram Rathia
I studied till class 5 in the village and then at Girsa till the 8th. No one from my village had studied till class 8. After passing out of school, I took a decision then and there. Now that I have studied till class 8, I have to become a “somebody”! People should know me for my work. I felt this responsibility very strongly – that I should do something to earn the respect of the people of my village. Even today, I am still the most educated adult in my village. I come from an adivasi area. The one thing about my community that I am most proud of is our independence. We handle our own affairs through our gram sabha. No dispute ever goes to the police or to the courts. We solve our problems ourselves through our gram sabha. We are doing better than before now, but our situation is still not very good. Our fields support us for six months. The rest of the year, we gather and sell forest produce or work under MGNREGA etc. The Antyodaya scheme [ that distributes rations at the cost of Rs1 to the poorest] has brought us a lot of relief. People no longer starve. But things are still tough. MGNREGA doesn't do the work it is supposed to. The companies in my district are breaking all the laws associated with coal mining. Plants are being forcibly set up. People's voices are not being heard. I began working as an activist in 2005. My community was going through a very bad time then. People were starving. This was before the government started the Antyodaya programme. Famine had struck our region. I joined the Chattisgarh Adivasi Vikas Karyakram as a secretary. It was a food for work programme. I thought that this programme will at least help us get through the most terrible months. That's why I joined. I was overseeing the distribution of rice and money. We worked on creating agricultural infrastructure – mehr nirmaan, paner bandhi etc. This programme ended in 2010. After that I joined the NABARD Badi Karyakram. I was with them for two years. I helped 40 families plant mango and kaju trees. The area I worked in under NABARD has now become green and fertile. This is my life's greatest achievement and my also fondest memory! I joined Jan Chetna around 2012. It is from Savita Rath who supervises my work in Jan Chetna that I first heard of Video Volunteers. I look over the Jan Chetna's work in 15 villages. I visit one of these villages everyday – and monitor the working of ration shops, anganwadis, schools, MGNREGA, health services etc. Jan Chetna also works on adivasi rights to jal, jangal and jameen. We are part of the Koyla Todo Abhiyaan. I have seen how mining works in the rest of my district. The companies produce mountains of excavated waste. There is always dust flying in the region near a coal company. It settles on trees. It harms our crops and our water. There is plan to set up a coal company 4 kilometres from my village. But they have not been successful so far. So far, no company has been able to set up a plant in my block. It is true that the mainstream media in my region has partially supported us in our struggle. But they can never reach at the right time because the reporters don't live in our villages. I want to become a Community Correspondent to help my village progress. To remove their problems and to chase away the outsider company! This is the issue closest to my heart. I want to expose these outsider companies for breaking the law and bring justice to the poor adivasi families facing the threat of displacement.