25, Dec 2021 | Karuna John
It cannot be called a typical scholarship, given how the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) Grassroots Fellowship completed its first year in 2021, is unique in many ways. The four young people chosen this year have displayed rare talent and helped showcase stories of real people living with limited resources, often crushing poverty, in India’s heartland.
The fellowships are awarded to young men and women, from the communities who are often overlooked in national policy. It is not awarded to an “expert” rather it is awarded to someone who belongs to the community of migrant workers, Adivasis, forest workers and the urban poor. This year, four young citizens who were awarded the fellowship worked hard, under guidance of mentors, and grew as on-ground researchers and community leaders. They looked at issues that impacted their communities, and in some cases helped others deal with social, medical, legal and administrative challenges.
CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.
Meet the Grassroots Fellows of 2021
Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
Born and raised in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, Ripon has a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University. He is a natural researcher and reporter, and wants to one day be a ‘journalist who makes a difference’ with his reports. He has been travelling across rural Bengal and documenting the trials and tribulations of people living there. Here’s a report by Ripon about the struggles of wives of migrant labourers:
As a CJP Grassroots Fellow, Ripon has also helped uplift others in need. It was his report on Churki Hansda that led her from being called “didi” with respect, instead of being called “dayan” because her family had been dubbed “witches” by the deeply superstitious community of her village. Ripon met the young woman and wrote about her journey from being shunned as a witch to becoming a Corona Warrior.
It was after Ripon’s piece titled Meet Churki Hansda: Once branded a witch, now hailed as a Corona warrior was published and read far and wide, that Churki Hansda too started being treated with the respect she has always deserved. She was soon hailed as a youth icon. She told Sheikh after publication of the report that many people approached her and offered support for her work, and heard parents say they were inspired to encourage their daughters to study and follow in her footsteps into social work.
A young woman hailing from Maharashtra’s indigenous Warli Adivasi community, Mamata Pared, who is striving to earn the highest educational degrees possible, is also a keen journalist. She has travelled and taken the CJP readers deep into the hamlets which are almost off the maps in many ways.
Here’s a report by Mamta about the challenges faced by the Adivasi community during the lockdown, especially with respect to earning a livelihood and putting food on the table:
Mamta Pared’s reports have shown the everyday life, challenges, and celebrations of the Adivasi communities of Maharashtra. For example, her report on the Katkari community showcases their isolation, while this report tells the success story of two men who were born into abject poverty in Jawhar. Click here to read and watch more of her reports.
One of the coolest way Meer Hamza likes to introduce himself is by saying, “I was born in a jungle. Literally!” As a CJP Grassroots Fellow, he has grown as a community leader of the pastoral Van Gujjar hill tribe of Uttarakhand.
Pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work, he has shared the rare stories that were earlier only passed down by word of mouth within the nomadic tribe. For example in this video interview with community elders, Hamza showcases just how complicated it is to “resettle” the traditional nomadic community that has its own way of life:
He showed the world the migration patterns of the community that not only rears milch animals and sells milk for a living, but also acts as the conserver of the forest. As a CJP Grassroots Fellow, Hamza also helped the community gain access to solutions by approaching the government’s forest department and administrations. He has been hailed by officials, and he has helped open a window into the lives of Van Gujjars whose stories are now being shared widely.
Tinku Sheikh: A migrant labourer, who works in Maharashtra, and hails from a village in West Bengal, Sheikh ‘reports’ in Bangla. During the lockdown, when Tinku was facing tremendous difficulty, CJP got in touch with him as part of our ‘CJP against Hunger’ campaign. Sheikh documented his journey back home to his village in West Bengal as part of our Migrant Diaries series in 2020. You can read the story of his challenging journey here.
He survived the tough conditions of Covid lockdown, to return to Mumbai, find work, and also help other migrant workers he works and lives with. He wants to eventually start his own poultry farm. In 2021, Tinku Sheikh has reported from a construction site, where he has been working amidst lockdown. Perhaps a first of its kind report by a migrant worker himself, that shows how they workers have been feeling overworked and malnourished, but have no options.
Watch his video report here:
Over the course of the year, these four Grassroots Fellows also documented their work with their communities, and built an archive of articles which were an exclusive peek into the lives of Adivasis, artisans, forest produce collectors, and migrant workers.
As the fellowship goes into its second year, some of them will move on to pursue professional courses, and continue to grow as community leaders Meanwhile, new faces will join the program and learn more about human rights, the Constitution and more. We aim to strengthen their struggle and explore solutions for their fight to claim back their land and livelihood, all thanks to your contributions.