Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti
|Founder||Laxmi Chand Tyagi
|Type||Non Governmental Organization|
|Focus||Sustainability, Self-reliance, Empowerment|
|Method||Gandhian Sarvodaya approach|
|Slogan||Working with Desert Communities for the Empowerment of the Poor|
Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS) (Hindi:ग्रामीण विकास विज्ञान समिति), or the Center of People's Science for Rural Development, is a non-governmental organization that employs Gandhian principles to serve the poor inhabitants of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India. Active since 1983, the organization implements an integrated approach towards community development. It runs projects dealing with many facets of rural society, including water, agriculture, health, and education. In all of its initiatives, the organization actively promotes community empowerment and the inclusion of marginalized groups.
GRAVIS works for "the collective rise of men, women, and children, regardless of economic situation, caste or religion."
The organization draws its inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi's Sarvodaya movement, Vinoba Bhave's Bhoodhan mission, and the practical strategies of community development espoused by Jayaprakash Narayan. It also addresses social imbalance through the application of Gram Swaraj, or village self-rule.
GRAVIS believes that a practical approach, bolstered by community support, is the most efficient method of integrated development. Under this philosophy, it works with rural communities to improve their quality of life, encouraging them to take ownership of their environment and institutions. It strives to empower the rural populace to become self-reliant, despite a growing set of challenges, and it consistently engages in projects that promote independence.
GRAVIS was founded in 1983 by Laxmi Chand Tyagi and Shashi Tyagi, two social activists from Uttar Pradesh. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Tyagis learned from prominent social leaders such as Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan. With their firsthand experience in activism as well as their formal training in agriculture and education, the husband-and-wife duo set out to work on rural development in an area that severely lacked resources yet received little attention from existing development organizations. They decided on the Thar Desert, a harshly arid region in western Rajasthan.
When the Tyagis started GRAVIS, it had four staff members, working out of a mud hut in Gagadi village. For the first few years, the Tyagis focused on forming relationships with the inhabitants of the Thar, listening to their concerns and garnering their respect. By 1987, GRAVIS had the capacity to work on externally funded projects. It increased its staff, established the Gagadi Field Center as its center of operations, and partnered with the Central Arid Zone Research Institute in Jodhpur to develop structures for effectively harvesting rainwater. The earliest projects were primarily related to food and water, but several dealt also with health and education. In all of its early initiatives, GRAVIS sought to involve the villagers themselves, encouraging them to play an active role in the issues that affected them.
As a pioneer organization in the development of the Thar, GRAVIS often encountered animosity from those who were resistant to change, especially the upper castes. In 1991, this animosity turned violent when group of 100 upper caste youths attacked and set fire to the Gagadi Field Centre, destroying the building and everything inside. Several staff members were injured, and as a result of the incident, most of the staff decided to leave. Despite the pressure to stop, GRAVIS continued its efforts, and the attack served as a critical turning point. For the safety of the organization’s staff and property, the center of operations was switched to the city of Jodhpur, and in 1993, GRAVIS moved into its current headquarters in the neighborhood of Milk Men Colony. By 1994, the Gagadi Field Center was rebuilt, and new field centers were built in Baap and Kalron.
During the next several years, GRAVIS increased its size and scope as an organization. It conducted projects in every region of the Thar Desert, placed a greater focus on building the capacity of its staff, and formed new partnerships that helped to refine and advance its objectives. For instance, partnering with InterCorp, a Swiss development agency, helped GRAVIS to fit its food and water projects into a larger framework of integrated resource management, and partnering with the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) helped GRAVIS to develop its health initiatives. In 1993, GRAVIS became a founding member of the Rajasthan Voluntary Health Trust, working to improve medical care and increase awareness of proper health practices. GRAVIS also expanded its efforts for mineworkers’ rights, launching the Mine Labour Protection Campaign (MLPC) in 1994. That year, the MLPC organized two round-table conferences to draw attention to the plight of mineworkers, and in 1995, the campaign founded the first mineworkers’ trade union in Jodhpur.
In 1998, GRAVIS received an influx of younger staff, led by Dr. Prakash Tyagi, the son of the organization's founders. The new generation brought a more organized form of management, making it easier to access information and track projects. In 1999, GRAVIS became a founding member of the Health, Education, and Development Consortium (HEDCON), leading to the publication of a variety of reports and pamphlets that communicated the organization’s efforts to the rest of the world. In 2000, the organization further improved its communications by launching a website. In addition to enhancing the management and documentation of its projects, GRAVIS also enhanced the projects themselves. In 2000, it opened a hospital in Tinwari village, focusing on eye care, tuberculosis, malaria, and lung diseases. Other projects that developed over the next several years included the establishment of primary schools for marginalized communities, the creation of a Food-for-Work program during times of drought, and the introduction of income-generating schemes for women’s groups and mineworkers.
When L.C. Tyagi died in July 2005, GRAVIS underwent another period of transition. Tyagi had been the practical and ideological head of the organization, so his death was an influential loss. However, the younger generation was prepared to continue his legacy. Prakash Tyagi took over in the role of Director, a position that he continues to hold at present. Despite the change in leadership, GRAVIS kept growing as an organization. In 2006, it launched a new program called KRIYA, which united its income-generating activities for women under a single brand, and in 2009, it initiated the L.C. Tyagi Fellowship, which supported the education or rural youth planning to work with community development.
GRAVIS considers community participation to be a top priority, in line with its guiding principle of Gram Swarajya, or village self-rule. Accordingly, people’s organizations play a critical role in GRAVIS’ community interventions, offering platforms for collective decision-making and the participation of marginalized groups. GRAVIS often engages people's organizations in education, advocacy, and income generation.
GRAVIS facilitates the following organizations:
- Village Development Committees (VDCs) are present in every village where GRAVIS works. They act as intermediaries between the village and the organization, overseeing development projects and allocating funds. Each committee has equal representation for women and lower caste individuals.
- Village Education Committees (VECs) are present in every village where GRAVIS has established a school. The VECs plan the schools’ administrations and curricula, with women and parents comprising over half of the representatives.
- Self Help Groups (SHGs) consist of ten to twelve women, often from different religions and castes. The women discuss gender-specific issues and pool their funds in order to be economically self-reliant. SHGs often engage in income-generating activities, such as the production of handmade goods.
- Village Older People Associations (VOPAs) gather people of age 60 and older to discuss age-specific issues and projects. The topics covered in these groups often relate to health. Each committee is divided into an Older Men’s Sub-Committee and an Older Women’s Sub-Committee.
- Village Eye Care Committees (VECCs) organize eye care projects, educate the community about eye health, and connect potential patients with treatment institutions.
- Farmers’ Clubs meet to discuss government programs, financial management, and agricultural technology.
- Mineworkers’ Trade Unions bring mineworkers together to advocate for better conditions and to seek legal aid for ailments and disabilities. They also raise awareness about workers’ rights, health treatment, and alternative forms of livelihood.
Many of the organization’s longest running projects involve the construction and renovation of rainwater harvesting structures. These structures include taankas (underground water storage tanks), naadies (village ponds), and beries (percolation wells). For naadis and beris, GRAVIS often clears the silt from existing structures rather than building new ones. In a few extreme situations, the organization has built tube wells, which use electricity to pump water from underground aquifers. This method is less sustainable than rainwater harvesting, because aquifers rarely recharge at an appreciable rate. During periods of intense drought, GRAVIS distributes supplies, such as drinking water, food, and animal fodder, and runs a Food-for-Work program, in which people engage in short-term employment in exchange for food.
GRAVIS works to revive traditional and sustainable techniques for achieving food security in the Thar Desert. In association with institutions such as the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), GRAVIS has worked to develop and disseminate the most effective techniques for desert farming. A widely promoted technique is the construction of khadins (earthen bunds), which hold moisture more efficiently than normal plots. In addition to building khadins, GRAVIS also produces, stores, and distributes the seeds of crops that are well suited to the desert environment and helps people to create their own seed banks. Other GRAVIS farming projects include maintaining of domestic fruit orchards, conserving communal forests and pastures, and holding participatory training sessions at demonstration farms.
GRAVIS also works to ensure that rural communities maintain healthy populations of livestock. Its animal husbandry projects include holding training sessions on effective animal care, preparing youth to serve as volunteer veterinarians (paravets), distributing dairy cows to the elderly, and providing animal fodder during times of drought.
GRAVIS has greatly expanded its health programs in recent years. In 2000, it established a hospital in Tinwari village, which focuses on ailments such as malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and malnutrition. The hospital opened an eye care unit in 2003, because eye problems are very common in the Thar. In remote areas, GRAVIS trains Village Health Workers (VHW) to provide basic treatment and diagnosis. Most of these workers are female. In order to jointly deal with the issues of health and food, GRAVIS runs the Integrated Nutrition and Health Programme (INHP), which works with the Government of Rajasthan to administer immunizations and nutrition supplements. In order to educate people about common and preventable illnesses such as tuberculosis and occupational lung disease, GRAVIS often holds awareness camps. Many of GRAVIS' health programs target groups with the highest need for medical care, such as mothers, adolescent girls, infants, young children, and the elderly.
GRAVIS engages in a variety of activities to better the lives of mineworkers. Most prominently, it has established four mineworker’s trade unions, allowing the workers to join together to discuss relevant issues, raise concerns about their well-being, and when necessary, take legal action. GRAVIS focuses especially on women and children in its mineworker efforts, helping the women to find alternative forms of employment and giving the children access to education. The organization's other mine-related projects include raising awareness about health risks, publishing newsletters, and assisting with legal cases.
GRAVIS has set up primary schools in many of the rural communities where it works. These schools are operated by Village Education Committees, and many of the students are girls, which is not typical for rural areas. In villages where a large amount children are part of socially marginalized minorities, GRAVIS runs non-formal education programs that provide meals and healthcare in addition to education. Additionally, for all of GRAVIS' development initiatives, it runs a variety of outreach programs to educate people about beneficial practices.
- "Mission & Vision". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Kantor, Hayden (2008). The Story of GRAVIS (PDF). Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Aims & Objectives". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Blackwood, Zoie; Thijssen, Philippe (2007). GRAVIS Annual Report 2006-2007 (PDF). Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Bhatt, Soham (2009). GRAVIS Annual Report 2008-2009 (PDF). Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "People's Organization". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Schmitt, Eva (2011). GRAVIS Annual Report 2010-2011 (PDF). Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Water Security". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Drought Relief". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Agriculture & Food Security". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Livestock Development". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Health". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Mineworkers' Rights". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- "Education". GRAVIS. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
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