Eliminating Exploitation through Empowerment

Ekta is a hamlet that is inhabited by 20 tribal families. It’s located outside the town. Most of the adults are non-literates. Women and children are anaemic due to malnutrition. Children have primary education. Legally, tribal land cannot be sold or bought. But practically in this village these people are made landless. This story of exploitation is heart-wrenching.

Traditionally these people had land and worked their farms following their traditional irrigation methods. Trouble entered in the form of money lenders. The traditional irrigation system was meeting their needs, but to gain more profit, they began borrowing from the money lenders by mortgaging their lands to invest in fertilizers and seed. However, the profits were not big enough to pay the sky-rocketing interest levied on their loans. Each year, the tribal people got further and further in debt; their land was slowly occupied by these money lenders. This didn’t happen overnight but took place over three generations. Now around 100 acres of their own land has been removed from them.

These tribals now work their own land as day laborers managed by middlemen. Now seed, fertilizer and all the necessary items for cultivation are supplied by the money lenders. After harvest, 50% belongs to the money lenders and 50% goes to the tribal people. Money lenders make sure these people remain in debt so that they will remain victims. These tribal people don’t know when or how to break their cycle of debt and be released from their bondage.

This whole story of exploitation came to light when we went to this village to conduct FAITH Garden training which helps the people to fight anaemia and malnutrition. When we asked for a portion of land to demonstrate a FAITH Garden, they replied that no portion of the land belonged to them. Thankfully, the money lenders did not oppose our training. Twelve women participated in the training. We taught them the need of balanced diet for good health and how this FAITH Garden in their backyards could help them grow different kinds of vegetables throughout the season without using chemical fertilizers and chemical pest controls.

When we introduced Transformation Groups for economical upliftment, this revealed another story of exploitation. A few years back a middleman from the nearby town came to this village and encouraged the people to form Transformation Groups and promised loans from government. Believing him, people saved money and gave it to the person to deposit in the bank. But he swindled the money and never returned to the village. This bad experience broke the trust toward the whole idea of Transformation Groups. So for us to introduce Transformation Groups…. this was a big challenge. But after continuous visits and guidance, the people were again willing to form a Transformation group. Since there is no Christian presence in this village, the trust was won back because the appeal was made through a local church that is not far from this village. The tribal people know that these local church people will not run away.

These exploited tribal people are not far from the main town which has 5% of Christians and several churches. There is a vast need. We are praying that our holistic approach to reach these tribal people will result in healthy, reproducing churches in the coming days . . . and help them get out of debt!

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