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A Karnataka NGO bridges gap between rural public and the govt with hands-on initiatives

The Concerned for Working Children (CWC) — run by a network of media experts, anthropologists, sociologists, advocates and social workers — is helping amplify rural distress during the lockdown in Karnataka

May 11, 2020 7:40:39 pm

BENGALURU: A few days into the nationwide lockdown, the villagers of Agumbe Panchayat in Theerthahalli Taluk of Karnataka’s Shimoga district, found themselves in a fix. While in their part of the world, a patchy mobile network is part of every day, the lockdown had brought its own set of complications. Rations shops were refusing to hand out essentials to the villagers unless provided with a one-time password or an OTP. According to the rules, a ration card holder receives an OTP, which he/she has to show to avail the ration. Unfortunately, for the villagers, no network meant no OTP — and that meant no ration.

This is when The Concerned for Working Children (CWC), an award-winning grassroots NGO, stepped in — they raised the issue with the Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (RDPR) after which a revised order was issued: OTPs were no longer mandatory to provide ration and instead, a signature and phone number would be sufficient. And just like that, thousands of citizens in rural Karnataka — not just the folks at Agumbe Panchayat — breathed a sigh of relief.

Stepping in and stepping up

“Several such ‘practice-to-circular’ initiatives have made lives easier for many,” said Kavita Ratna, Director – Advocacy, CWC, “This has contributed towards ensuring that practical gaps in governance at the grassroots levels are bridged.”

Set up in the late 1970s as a not-for-profit organisation recognised for its work in the child rights sector, CWC has extended its support to Gram Panchayats, rural communities, migrant workers, workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) during the lockdown.

The NGO claims to have coordinated with over 2,300 elected local government representatives (Grama Panchayat members) of 1047 Panchayats belonging to 23 Districts and 105 Taluks of Karnataka since March 24.

MGNREGA work underway in Naganur Gram Panchayat, in Hukkeri Taluk, Belagavi. Social distancing measures and usage of masks are overseen by volunteers. Express Photo

“Once an issue is reported to us, we try to raise it to the nearest official level first, mostly to the Gram Panchayat or local elected members and officials. If they fail to respond, we escalate the matter to the attention of senior state-level bureaucrats and elected members, including the office of the Chief Minister of the State,” said Kripa Bhat, Co-ordinator of Gram Panchayat Hakkottaaya Andolan (GPHA), a CWC-fuelled platform for Grama Panchayats and Grama Sabhas.

A three-time Nobel nominee for Peace Prize in 2012, 2013 and 2014, team CWC includes media experts, anthropologists, sociologists, advocates and social workers, who have been involved in various verticals.

In the last month, the team has contacted officers (who are part of the task forces as per the government order) over the phone to provide them with inputs about the colossal responsibility of the local governments in relation to disaster management.

“However, this was not easy initially,” Ratna said. “In areas where the governance system has been slow to respond, the organisation has stepped in to provide the required services, such as food, medicine, and transportation, as an emergency response, as well as getting the state machinery activated to provide these services in a sustained manner.”

In other areas where CWC has field presence, it is working directly with rural and urban poor communities, migrant workers (those in their areas of work, those in transit and returnees to their villages of origin), children, elderly and other vulnerable communities to provide them with food, subsidised grocery and health care.

To generate awareness on a host of issues related to the pandemic, several collaborations have been implemented with community members and local governments. For instance, the organisation helped children facing trouble to access mid-day meal in their Panchayat as their school is situated kilometres away in another area.

“This is when we requested Commissioner for Public Instruction K G Jagadeesha to direct schools to distribute mid-day meals to children in their place of residence,” Bhat said. Later, the Commissioner directed that this be replicated in all Gram Panchayats across the state.

Communicating with the masses

CWC has also tied up with the Doordarshan Kendra of Karnataka under the Prasar Bharati to design a wide range of programmes creating public awareness during the lockdown.

The organisation had suggested programmes themed around relevant issues concerning the rural population such as various health concerns, MGNREGA scheme-related guidelines and troubleshooting, children’s psychological well-being, womens’ well-being and addressing domestic violence and abuse, and e-Governance: how to report and monitor COVID-19 management.

The NGO has also submitted its 40 video programmes for children to be broadcast on the ‘Makkala Vani’ YouTube Channel run by the Department of Education in Karnataka.

These broadcasts, Ratna added, have a state-wide reach, and are available for global online streaming.

Helping migrants, vulnerable children

As several migrant workers have been desperate to return home, CWC has held direct interactions with them elucidating the difficulties and challenges they are likely to face if they make the journey.

“We focussed on informing them about the aggravated health risks they may be subjected to during the transit. Children and women of these communities have been counselled,” Bhat said, adding that “The concerned local governments have been facilitated to provide these communities with proactive support in the rural areas so that they feel reassured.”

For those in urban programme areas, the organisation has collaborated with workers’ unions and associations, government officials and donors.

A recognised ‘fit facility’ under the Juvenile Justice Act, CWC provides residential care for about 50 children from vulnerable communities on its campus in Udupi, providing them required medical protection in relation to COVID-19, nutritional care, emotional support, opportunities for creative outputs and educative engagements.

The organisation is also operating a 24×7 helplines in Bengaluru (9449031270) and in Kundapura, Udupi (8105247409) to provide rapid responses to requirements of communities and individuals in need.

The organisation is now working on following up with top officers at the state level to bring about policy-related changes in pressing matters faced by rural communities and to inform them of the concerns that are likely to arise in the near future.

“It is important that the local governments at the Gram Panchayat levels realise their capacity and ability to try to create better livelihoods for rural communities, especially migrant workers in their natives itself,” Ratna said, “This would, in turn mitigate reverse migration and hence, post-lockdown crises can be avoided to an extent.”

Also in this series: ‘I take the front line when there is danger’: Meet the Collector at the helm of Tiruppur’s Covid fight