Bidyut Mohanty set up the organisation SPREAD more than 20 years ago in response to his outrage at the exclusion of the ancient forest living tribal communities from the Eastern Ghat hills of Odisha state, 5 hours drive inland from the eastern coast of India.
Over time, colonial and government policy, dam projects, mining and extractive agricultural projects and social exclusion have devastated the traditional lifestyle of these indigenous tribes. In many cases, they have been forcefully displaced from their original forest lands. National policies are in place that highlight the plight of these excluded people, but in reality families and communities are not made aware that they exist, nor are they given the awareness or skills to lobby government at a local level.
SPREAD has supported these communities to fight for their land rights and to find ways of improving their livelihoods. They have empowered tribal groups to advocate for themselves, engaging with local government on health, education and livelihoods initiatives and helping families to secure their social welfare entitlements. Educational levels are low in these remote villages and the self-reliant culture of the hill tribes has been steadily eroded. The work of SPREAD is helping to restore a balance and secure these vulnerable people a place in the new world.
The situation of people with disabilities or mental ill-health and their families in these isolated areas is desperate. Excluded even more than the rest of the already marginalised communities, even basic services and support have been non-existent. Bidyut is a fierce advocate for the rights of the disabled and mentally ill in the area, seeing them as doubly excluded, and asserts that supporting their primary carers is the way to achieving lasting change and development for these families.
“Carers are one of the most vulnerable groups in the society,” he says.
“If the carers are from underprivileged, low-income groups, if they are landless farmers, daily wage labourers and indigenous people living in inaccessible difficult forest terrain then the load of caring is manifold. In Koraput district, the majority of carers are from these groups and they are facing countless challenges in their daily life.”
Bidyut goes on to praise the resilience of carers, and pledge the support of SPREAD to further strengthen and empower carers.
“SPREAD has a dream for a strong carers movement at district and state level. With the support of Carers Worldwide, we will go on to link these isolated carers with national and international level carers organisation so that they can achieve a collective identity and fight for their rights.”
With the support of such committed advocates as Bidyut, we are sure this dream will become a reality.