This profile was prepared when Paromita Goswami was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001.
The New Idea
Paromita is building a grassroots movement to help the rural poor secure the fundamental civil and economic rights they are lawfully entitled to. She designed Shamrik Elgar (The Worker's Push) based on her belief that although the labels tribal, non-tribal, Dalit, and Hindu describe real social divisions, people must look beyond these categories, recognize their common predicaments, and work together. Debt-ridden small landowners, renters toiling for their landlords, and landless laborers earning a daily wage face similar abuses and exploitation at the hands of landowners, employers, police, and local government officials. By bringing them together in a united effort, Paromita is replacing social division with solidarity.Paromita pairs Shramik Elgar with a second group that plays an important supporting role. The second group, Elgar Pratisthan (The Push Foundation), is a network of volunteers from the rural middle class who help the disenfranchised secure their rights. Paromita believes that is important to keep the organizations separate and to encourage the volunteers to strengthen the struggle without taking over. This approach offers mutual benefits: volunteers, most of whom are young people, gain experience, travel from village to village, and contribute to society while remaining active in their own communities. At the same time, the poor gain the basic rights promised by law but denied in practice. These include the right to hold land titles, to receive fair pay, to participate in government employment schemes, and to have just relations with institutions like the judiciary. Realizing these facets of citizenship will require a long and complex struggle, Paromita's strategy is to build a broad grassroots movement capable of achieving this long-term mission.