Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Zahirabad: A Summary

We kicked off our third course of the semester—Environment, Ecology & Sustainable Livelihood in Zahirabad, Andhra Pradesh. We stayed at an NGO called Deccan Development Society (DDS). DDS is a grassroots organization that works with poor women living in rural areas—most of them Dalit (lowest group in the caste system). Women form into groups called sanghams and work to become autonomous communities, especially in terms of food sovereignty and media.

It was a very cool campus. The building was in a ring shape with a courtyard in the middle. Unfortunately, there were a lot of monkeys. The monkeys liked to guard the bathroom, which was a little troublesome at times. I tried to stay as far away from them as possible, but I think they enjoyed chasing after me.

We had four field visits during this trip—each one to a different sangham. Our first field visit was to a sangham-run seed bank. The group is now in its 30th year with about 50 women. They have some 30 varieties of seeds, which has enabled them to grow enough food to sustain themselves. They practice what is called agroecological farming—organic, biodiverse, and with the health of the community and environment in mind.

Seed Bank

View of the field
Later that afternoon we visited an herbal farm run by sangham women. This land is common property and is essentially a government wasteland that the sangham women have the right to use. It took them 15 years to build up the herbal garden to the way it is today. The herbs are used for Ayurveda—a system of traditional medicine that originated in India. These women use traditional knowledge and with that are able to cure between 70-90 different kinds of ailments.
They treat about 10 people each day from the surrounding villages. The hospital is not close to the village—traveling times and time spent at the hospital make it an all day affair. Arranging transportation to and from the hospital is also very expensive.

There were two more field visits the next day—one to a social forest and the other to a community radio station. The social forest is common property—the women don’t own the land, but they have the right to use it. The land provides fruits and firewood for the nearby village, which has about 250 households. The community radio station broadcasts in about a 20-mile radius. They resist mainstream media and instead have programs that focus on local traditions, traditional knowledge, and the local dialect. After talking with the women for a short period of time, we went back into their studio and sang “Lean On Me.” After deciding on this song, we learned that the last three or four SJPD groups have also chose this song—it’s basically a tradition now.

I really all the field visits on this trip. The first two classes have been heavily focused on injustices within our society: child labor, domestic violence, and all sorts of other things. This course does have that component, but most of the focus is put on what communities are doing to act against these injustices. You could say it’s even hopeful, which has been a nice change of pace.

Our last day in Zahirabad was reserved for touristy activities. We visited Fort Bidar in Northern Karnataka, which was built in 1424. Here are some pictures:

View from outside

The mosque
Inside the palace
Close up of details

Graffiti on the fort
View from the balcony

This course is quickly coming to an end. We’ll be leaving for our final field visit next week already. It’s a two-week field visit to New Delhi, Varanasi, and Bhopal. The end of the semester is quickly approaching—less than 6 weeks…



  1. EMMA this is so cool! We've been talking about similar topics in sustainable agriculture and community living. I will have to look into sanghams more!

  2. Here's some more information about the sanghams: