NK’s core activity is organising the poor and landless1 into single sex groups of 16-30 people. Out of this innocent beginning comes momentous change. After two or three months, groups can organise their own meetings without NK staff help. Later, they can help organise other groups.
Groups meet weekly for an hour or so, and decide actions by consensus. Where agreement is not forthcoming, decisions are sometimes reached only after extensive discussion running over several meetings, and possibly with the advice of staff or village or other committee members.
The Secretary (necessarily someone literate) reads minutes from the previous meeting, which are approved by applause from the group
The agenda is collectively set by all members
Brief discussion of theoretical issues – exploitation, may include national, international issues, news items
Discussion of practical issues – eg organising campaign events, resolving local conflicts
The treasurer reports on savings and economic activities, management of these may be discussed, savings collected.
The meeting is closed with another ‘mass song’
Currently there are more women’s groups than men’s groups. This has not been a deliberate strategy but is likely to be a result of the following: men work in fields all day, so staff can only sit with them at night, while women are more available during the day; men’s seasonal out migration; and women are more oppressed so may be more inclined to take the risk of organising.
Numbers of female and male groups organised
Number of groups formed
Number of group members
(figures as of December 2003)
Some groups include both Muslims and Hindus, others are only one or the other, but work with other groups across these differences. As one member of a mixed Muslim- Hindu women’s group said ‘we may have different religions, but we’re all exploited by the same economic system’.
Once two thirds of the poor and landless people in the village are participating in such groups, a village committee is formed. Committee members are elected, and are mixed men and women. As women are less frequently elected, a minimum of seats are reserved for women candidates at each level. A similar system is adopted for the committees of the larger areas of Union and Thana. If a critical mass, but not yet a two thirds majority have joined groups, an area committee is formed. The number of women elected is increasing year by year, as can be seen in the tables below.