Bhubaneswar: A lender offering money to needy people in an attempt to secure the cheap labour of their children is a common incident in most of the tribal pockets of the State.
However, when such instances come to the notice of Lalita Majhi (35), she takes all possible measures to rescue the ill-fated children and makes sure that he/she is rehabilitated properly.
It was 2008, when Mangala Samartha, then a 12-year-old boy, lost his father. Mangala’s mother borrowed some money from the local money lender to perform his last rites, said Lalita, who hailed from Baliguda village under Maoist-dominated Khairaput block in Malkangiri district.
Soon after the rituals were over, Mangala’s mother eloped with another man leaving Mangala to work as a bonded labourer of the money lender to repay the loans and support his younger brother who was 9-year-old that time, she added.
Lalita was sharing her experience at the community leaders’ conclave organised by the Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), a Bhubaneswar-based NGO, to mark its 41st Foundation Day here on Thursday.
“I was a naïve and timid girl at that time. Though I was keen to rescue Mangala, who had to work days and nights without proper food and rest, I was clueless about how to do it. After a few months, I came across some human rights volunteers and sought their help. The proactive volunteers instantly swung into action and with the help of the district administration rescued the hapless boy,” narrated Lalita.
With the support of the district administration, Mangala continued his studies and now he has completed his graduation along with his brother. Both of them are now leading a decent life, said Lalita.
“Nothing makes me happier than seeing the two brothers flourish. I cannot control my tears of joy when they come and express their gratitude,” the woman leader said.
So far, the iron lady has rescued at least 11 boys and girls working as bonded labourers in the area.
Lalita led the women’s movement in her region to make several villages in the block alcohol-free.
A number of eligible people in her village received social security pension and benefits of several poverty alleviation schemes of the government, thanks to the support of Lalita. Her initiatives also resulted in ensuring proper education of children of single parents, she said.
She was elected as the sarpanch of Podagota gram panchayat for two consecutive terms starting from 2012 till 2022. During her tenure as a sarpanch, Maoist activities reduced drastically in the area as she took all initiatives for development.
Currently, Lalita is pursuing mushroom cultivation and organic farming to earn her livelihood. A group of women, motivated by Lalita, are also pursuing an organic way of cultivation.
She is now working for the formation of a Farmer-Producer Company to improve the economic condition of the people of the area.
Aparajita Nayak (33), belonging to Sunduria village under Anandapur block of Keonjhar district spearheads the anti-liquor campaign. She has been spreading awareness for chemical-free organic and natural farming in the area.
Around 30 such community leaders from interior pockets of backward districts like Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Nabarangpur, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj shared their experiences during the programme.
They chalked out strategies to work collectively to address issues like distress sale of agricultural and forest produce, child marriage, malnutrition, distress migration, girl child education, poor road communication facility, poor electricity and internet connectivity, lack of irrigation facility, massive chemical farming, deforestation, drinking water scarcity and deprivation from government benefits.
Community leaders not only have a thorough understanding of communities’ needs and aspirations, they have the potential to address the problems faced by the community, of which they are a part, said CYSD co-founder Jagadananda.
In order to drive socio-economic transformation and build sustainable communities in backward areas, CYSD has been engaged in developing and nurturing leadership qualities among the people in a systematic manner, he added.
“So far, CYSD has created 177 community leaders including 119 women. They review their community situation, identify associated problems, facilitate implementation of the statutory provisions available to address the issues and mobilize community members to raise their voice to assert their rights and entitlements,” mentioned CYSD co-founder Jagadananda.