Ekta Arthik Manch

Ekta Arthik Manch, The Economic Wing

In order to clearly separate activities related to developing the people’s economy from political and social activity, Ekta Parishad has set up an organizational wing solely focussed on this area, Ekta Arthik Manch.

Despite some successes in the battle for land rights, many adivasis and dalits are unable to learn a living in their villages and are forced to migrate in search of work. Unfortunately, land on its own is not enough to ensure a livelihood for these families. Even if the land allocated can be successfully cultivated, it is extremely difficult to provide food and basic necessities for a family if agriculture is the sole source of income.

According to the government of India, the average minimum salary per person varies between 40 and 60 rupees per day according to the states on a basis of 25 worked days a month. That makes an average of 1,250 rupees a month, i.e. around 20 euros. These numbers show that the average income is far from being sufficient to be able to live in dignity and fulfil all of one’s needs.

Unemployment and underemployment are major problems in rural India. At least 10 % of the workforce is known to be unemployed. In addition to this, nearly 30 % of the Indian worforce is made up of casual workers who work as day wage labourers. In rural areas, these are agricultural labourers and have no steady source of income and no access to social security systems.

Local natural resources, such as forest produce, stone and minerals, provide a potential source of additional income but many poor communities lack control over them. They are forced to access the resources illegally or they are exploited as poorly paid labourers by the government and rich landowners who control them.

In most areas, money lenders play a major role in controlling the rural economy by being the only available source of credit – 72 % of agricultural credit is from private moneylenders. Adivasis and dalits are particularly vulnerable to this form of economic exploitation. Not only do they borrow money at crippling high rates of interest, but also they are often forced by the terms of the loan to buy inputs from the lender at a high rate and sell all their produce to the lender at an unfairly low rate. In these circumstances, they rarely make enough profit to xcover their repayments and are forced to borrow even more money, or in some cases mortgage their land.

The problems of rural poverty, unemployment, exploitation and migration can only be tackled through development of a rural “people`s economy”. By helping poor communities gaining control over land and natural resources and by freeing  them from the exploitative lenders and middlemen, successful small enterprises can be established, enabling families to earn a living without migrating in search of work.

Ekta Parishad`s mass base in rural areas, strong national network and decades of experience working at the grassroots level with marginalized and economically exploited communities mean it is well positioned to support development of the people`s economy and improve the lives of the poorest of the poor.

This is why Ekta Parishad’s support intervenes, because in addition to the fight for the landless people, it contributes to the economic development of populations so that they can be autonomous and aspire to a fairer and more decent salary. At the grassroots level, Ekta Parishad is involved with many economic and development activities that compliment the work being done with the land rights struggle. Ekta Parishad supports community/group based production and sale of handicrafts & village industries products like khadi, honey, rice, oil, and wool etc.

Ekta Parishad wishes to develop different work practices in order to follow a model of sustainable development, environmentally conscious so that it can maximize the local production and the benefits, but also to minimise the negative impacts on ecology and the communities. Consequently, it encourages the marginalised populations to create organic farms, to make sure that water is well conserved, to use organic products, to protect their ecosystem (by initiating for instance projects of tree plantations).

The objective of Ekta Parishad’s economic wing has been to establish a network of small and medium-sized community enterprises among Adivasi (Tribal) and Dalit (Scheduled Caste) communities in rural areas of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarrh. This was extended through CESCI in Madurai to Tamil Nadu and also in Kerala.

The success of this work can be seen in two recents studies in our media section:

Katherine Weedon and Mike Crisp, Case Studies of 20 Livelihood Activities, 2004 and

Lou Crevel and Sandy Courjal, “Une economie aux service des populations rurale (An economy serving the rural population, A Study of Economic Programs)” 2009