I was born in India in 1947, and am the Co-founder and Secretary of GRAVIS (Center for people’s Science for Rural Development). GRAVIS is a non governmental organization founded in 1983 to promote self-reliance and improve the social, economic and political situation of desert communities in Rajasthan. Before founding GRAVIS, I have worked in tribal areas of North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for more than ten years.
I began working as a school teacher and for women empowerment in tribal areas and understood the life-style and hardships women and girls faced in the Thar Desert. In 1980, I started my journey towards Rajasthan, where we have founded GRAVIS with the efforts of my late husband Shri L.C. Tyagi. I studied at Meerut University and had worked as a school teacher and later specialized in female child education and empowerment.
During the course of my journey towards western Rajasthan, I have understood various problems like scarcity of water, education, medical and health related problems. In the Thar Desert, rural people – especially women and children – did not have proper access to medical facilities. I have found that the caste system is also a major problem in the rural society.
Opium addiction in Rajasthan is also a severe issue, and drought is very common in the Thar Desert. After seeing these deplorable conditions, we have started organizing opium rehabilitation camps which received strong support from the rural society. After that, we have motivated rural women and formed a cadre of Village Health Workers (VHWs); a challenging task as women did not used to work, were not allowed to leave their homes, and remained veiled. However, with the coordination of village social workers we have started programs to train the women as VHW.
Yet challenges persist in remote, rural areas particularly the lack of proper education and access to schools. Since girls used to help their mothers in fetching water and other chores, they were not able to study. To ameliorate this deficit in education, we have opened schools closer to their homes. We also helped improve the ease at which clean water can be accessed by using a cylindrical structure water tank known as Taanka.
Water availability in the house helped girls save time and attend school
GRAVIS started construction of Khadin (farm bund) for small farmers so that rain water can be retained in their farm land and hence increase crop production. The Rajasthan government, impressed by this agricultural improvement, initiated a Silent Conservation Scheme which helped many farmers. Communities learned about developing Orans (village forest) and Gochers (pastureland), and with the help of the Panchayati Raj Institution (local government), more improvements were achieved.
Subsequently, our focus shifted to develop the Village Development Committee to get the support from the community. The Committee was formed with the participation and representation of every community, every religion and 50% of membership was reserved for women.
To remove the caste system ,we have taken efforts by meeting people of each community, organizing campaigns and removing gaps and disparities. GRAVIS’s efforts contributed in removing veiling, increasing literacy among women, and empowering women’s confidence in the Thar Desert.
But our journey was not easy. There were several hurdles in way like the conflict and resistance by the upper class community who were not happy with the development of lower class people. There was also several attacks on GRAVIS field centers by these upper class members and several efforts made by them to end our organization. But the efforts, dedication and devotion of the GRAVIS team and volunteers never stopped the process of development. Today, GRAVIS has continued working successfully in the rural villages to empower and strengthen poor and marginalized communities. It is our wish that our accomplishments will carry on into the near future.
I’ll close with my favorite quote:
“I have a dream where all men and women have equal right and participation.”
Shashi Tyagi is the co-founder and secretary of GRAVIS. GRAVIS is a non-governmental organization founded to promote self-reliance and to improve the social, economic and political situation of desert communities in Rajasthan, India.