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How MUKTI Is Liberating People from Poverty, Illiteracy And Darkness In The Sundarbans

From empowering youth, farmers, women and everyone else in the village to working towards good healthcare system and livelihood options, MUKTI is bringing a holistic development to Sunderbans through its various initiatives. Read along to know how they manage to do so many things simultaneously.

The Sundarbans, to most Indians and people across the globe, epitomise the largest mangrove forest in the world. Hundreds of thousands of tourists throng the forest each year for a mere sight of the Royal Bengal Tiger and the deadly crocodiles.

This beautiful (Sundar) forest (Ban) is also home to four million human beings. For the inhabitants here, life is extremely dangerous. The Government’s welfare policies hardly reach the villages. The place is under threat from tidal floods, coastal cyclones and other natural and ecological calamities.

Hence, the Sundarban inhabitants suffer from poverty, illiteracy, poor healthcare facilities, a lack of good infrastructure and common awareness. However, a son-of-the-soil Sankar Halder and his team are slowly showing the ways of MUKTI (liberation) from poverty in these villages.

Roads are Luxury: One of the main roads of the village. Think of monsoon or a travel by patients
Roads are Luxury: One of the main roads of the village. Think of monsoon or a travel by patients

MUKTI truly believes and works for the ‘Right to Education’

Halder, from one of the villages of Sundarban, went on to study in the prestigious Jadavpur University and is now working as an IT Manager at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He remembers how he struggled to get text books during his school days. He wanted to end this burning issue and thus in 2004-05, he started the Book Bank project.

MUKTI provides text books to underprivileged students for free. Till date, it has distributed books to 7,000 students in 22 higher secondary schools. The Book Bank is the resource for all the course books for class 5 to class 12 students. It provides all enrolled students with course books for a year.

MUKTI Book Bank at Ambika Nagar Haripriya high school, Maipith, Sunderban.
MUKTI Book Bank at Ambika Nagar Haripriya high school, Maipith, Sundarban.

Making the school lessons easy

Most of the youth in the Sundarbans are yet to complete their 10th grade education. It is not a lack of interest; but without the help of a mentor, they find the lessons difficult.

MUKTI’s coaching center program was started to solve this issue. Morning and evening classes are conducted throughout the week in makeshift classrooms at eight centers. At present, nearly 1,600 students are benefiting from this program. It charges Rs. 10 per month from a student upholding the ancient values of ‘Guru Dakshina’.

Watch this video to know more about the initiative –

[embedvideo id=”yngw7Dwva0E” website=”youtube”]

Nurturing bright students

Talented Students Sponsorship (TSS) is a sponsorship program, in effect since 2006, through which students across several districts in West Bengal are provided with the support required for higher education.

The selection is based on both the merit of the student and his/her financial situation. MUKTI believes that being sponsored by a kind person will make better human beings out of the students themselves, and that someday they will reciprocate with kindness to another needy person. In 2013, MUKTI was able to gather financial help for 650 students.

Annual TSS event organized by MUKTI
Annual TSS event organized by MUKTI

In the education front, to bridge the gap of modern education, MUKTI has started the Village Computer Literacy Program. This project helps students to know more about various computer courses and gives them a chance to prepare themselves for competitive jobs.

Making food taste the way it is supposed to

In 2009, MUKTI Organic Farmers Association (MOFA) was formed. It is part of the worldwide revolt against the harmful yet common inorganic farming. 852 farmers have joined hands, and with the help of MUKTI, have brought 2,000 acres of land under organic cultivation.

MUKTI is working on the market linkages of the organic products, supplying the much needed cow dung for organic farming and making people aware of the benefits. Till date it has granted Rs. 1 lakh to organic farmers. Very soon, this project will become profitable for these ‘natural farmers’.

An organic farmer shows brinjals from his field. Notattractive but tastier & healthier than inorganic brinjals.
An organic farmer shows brinjals from his field. They may look smaller but are tastier and healthier than inorganic brinjals.

MUKTI Coconut Project NaRKEL (Natural Revolution with Koconut for Ecology and Livelihood). MUKTI is promoting Coconut planting in Sundarban, to fight against climate change and global warming and to promote livelihood of the common people. The NaRKEL project is a real success and the idea of planting coconut trees on clay roads was brilliant. Indeed, coconut trees avoid soil erosion and this is a better way to avoid broken clay roads after heavy rains. Learn more about it here: SaveTheSunderban.

I saw hundreds of Coconut trees planted by MUKTI under the NARKEL project.
I saw hundreds of Coconut trees planted by MUKTI under the NARKEL project.

Using RTI as a development weapon

In Rights and Governance program, MUKTI has been operating a Right to Information project funded by AID since 2011-2012, covering grassroots people in Nagendrapur, Kankandighi, Ramganga and Laxmijanardanpur GP Area of Mathurapur-II Block in South 24 Parganas district.

It has conducted 60 to 70 camps till date to spread awareness about health issues and smart solutions. The functional areas MUKTI has tackled using RTI are: stopped public distribution scheme, mid-day meals, senior citizen rights, BPL benefits, 100 days of work, SSC exam results, health department absence, etc. Till date it has filed successfully more than 60 RTI applications. Through this program, 2,000 people have benefited so far. Know more and support this initiative here.

The ground level RTI activists enabling ‘Mukti’ from injustice and poor service at Sunderban.
The ground level RTI activists enabling ‘Mukti’ from injustice and poor service at Sunderban.

Bridging international borders for the betterment of the people

MUKTI, in partnership with CUTS International and with support from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is exploring bilateral trade possibilities of HYV rice seeds between India and Bangladesh.

Project RISTE (Addressing Barriers to Rice Seeds Trade Between India and Bangladesh) is being implemented in four states in eastern India (Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal) and three regions in Bangladesh in partnership with different NGOs.

Project RISTE analyzes the barriers of seed supply and paves the way for involving farmers in production and marketing, and promotes rice seeds entrepreneurship which would ensure economic empowerment of the poor, who MUKTI stands for.

RISTE – where old friends bring down the obstacles for rice trade.
RISTE – where old friends bring down the obstacles for rice trade.

Paving a Healthy Sunderban

MUKTI has a strong focus on the health and hygiene domain. Under the Village Sanitation Project, Sankar Halder and his friends have taken up the challenge of providing low-cost latrines for the needy.

Watch a video to understand their work better-

[embedvideo id=”xqsFCDB0FsI” website=”youtube”]

Further, MUKTI conducts medical camps on an ongoing basis. The program is aimed at awareness building on health and sanitation issues and public-private-partnership development for provisioning health, water and sanitation support.

Mukti from Darkness

MUKTI, in collaboration with TERI and Bangiya Parishad Qatar, started a successful campaign towards bringing solar-based lighting into the lives of the rural masses in the Sunderban area. They established a sustainable model for distribution of solar lanterns to villagers at a very low cost for replacing kerosene consumption. Use of solar lanterns has found enormous potential in these areas as they are very low cost (expenditure on lighting is just Rs 60 per month instead of Rs 280 p.m. which was spent on kerosene previously). Students can study for more hours and housewives can work on handicraft work for more hours increasing the household income. Shop owners are finding it easier to extend their business hours into late in the evenings, thus increasing their revenues.

Watch this video to understand about their solar programme-

[embedvideo id=”mZcn1iHpB94″ website=”youtube”]

Thus, the village boy Sankar Halder and his enthusiastic group of friends in MUKTI have brought an air of optimism around the inhabitants of the Sunderbans.

MUKTI has termed its all-round development for the community as HEALER. The 360 degree programs encompasses H – Health, Water and Sanitation, E – Education & Empowerment, A – Agricultural Reforms, L – Livelihood & Economic Security, E – Environment Economy and R – Rights & Governance.

MUKTI brightening lives and bringing smiles among the rural folks in the Sunderban.
MUKTI brightening lives and bringing smiles among the rural folks in the Sunderban.

To know more and to support their work, please visit the website here, Like or Follow.

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About the author: Saunak resides in Chennai and is a business consultant with an IT company. He has around 7 years experience of volunteering work with rural orphanages, down-syndrome NGO’s and corporate volunteering teams. Saunak is also a happy social investor with various community development funds aimed at poor women entrepreneurs. Lastly, he is a student of development economics who likes to learn the psychology, finance, risks, policies & use of technology associated with the lives of the poor and marginalized of the society.

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