Anna Kujur: A beacon of hope for tribal empowerment

Prameyanews English

Published By : Prameya News Bureau | June 25, 2024 IST

Bratati Baral

She is a selfless social activist, an eco-revolutionist and, of course, a braveheart who has dedicated her life to the betterment of tribal people. Meet 53 year old Anna Kujur, a torchbearer for the tribals and forest dwellers of Sundargarh district. She has consistently raised her voice for their rights, to enable them to live a life of dignity.

Anna took up social work when her son was merely one month old. Educated only till Class VIII, she did not allow that to deter her. In the year 2000, she created the organisation, Athakosia Adivasi Sangathan to work for tribal rights. However, later she decided to expand the organisation to include non-tribals and renamed it Athakosia Loka Sangathan.

So far, Anna has helped about 2,000 tribal people obtain their rightful  land ownership. She works in seventy villages in Sundargarh district. She also works with the Pesayat gram sabhas that are held in tribal areas and helps (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Emploment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) workers who are not getting their wages properly. She helps people take their cases to labour court so that they can get justice.

Initially, Anna worked in the various areas of Sundargarh district. Now she has extended her work to other tribal districts like Mayurbhanj, Malkangiri, and Kalahandi and even outside the state, to Kerala, Gujarat, Hyderabad and Bhopal.

A simply-dressed woman with firm determination, Anna has been working persistently for the implementation of the 2012 amendment to the Forest Rights Act that restores the rights of forest dwelling communities by giving them claim to titles of their land, so that they can look forward to a sustainable future for their children.

“I had a keen desire from my childhood to work for the poor, downtrodden people who were denied their rights and justice,” she says. “I saw my landless parents work day and night to make ends meet. After I got married, I met people at my in laws’ village who were completely unaware of government schemes for them and of their rights. So, in 2000, I set up the Athakosia Adivasi Sangathan and began fighting for tribal rights under this banner. After interacting with people during meetings and visiting several villages, I was determined that these simple forest dwellers should get justice and live with dignity. In 2003, I connected with the Campaign for Survival and Dignity (CSD), a national platform of tribal and forest dwellers’ organisations, and participated in a three-day training workshop on the rights of the forest dwellers.”

She continues: “To peruse files in various offices for the land ‘patta’ is a challenging task, but it became easier and successful when I connected with CSD activities. I could move forward more easily. I get immense pleasure when I see people get the rights to their land and begin cultivating it.”

For her selfless social work, Anna was awarded by the Sundergarh district collector and felicitated by the state government on March 8, 2013. More recently, the government of India felicitated her in September 2017.

Anna, who has been successfully bringing about positive change in her little community, recalls the initial difficult days. “When I first stepped out from home, leaving four children behind, to work for the betterment of others, my family was not supportive. I felt sad when I did not get the support of my husband Nicholas because he felt that I was neglecting my children and household duties to do social service without earning any money. But I refused to give up. Instead, I persuaded him to come with me to different village meetings with the hope that his attitude would change. Once, at a meeting in Puri, we were welcomed with a shower of flowers and high praise. Nicholas was praised by several people as the husband of such a great worker. Then he realised his mistake and began to appreciate my work. From that day, he has been supportive.”

Anna also faced opposition from some villagers. While many villagers supported her, there were others who did not and harassed her. But she did not give up, and, instead, went on meeting and advising people. Her quiet persistence gradually brought those had stood against her to her side. “Now the people of Sundergarh district are my support,” she says, with pride. One incident she cannot forget is when she took a flight to Delhi. The villagers did not take kindly to her journey, as they felt that women should not be travelling alone to distant places. They held a meeting and decided to ostracise her family.

“No one came to our home and with the restrictions in place, we could not be in contact with others either. Those days, it seemed like my family was in prison,” she remembers.

Anna and the members of her group finance their work and trips from their own money. “Nicholas, who has a goat farming business, sells goats sometimes to give me funds,” she adds.

“I work with the sole aim of helping the simple forest dwellers live with dignity and pride. I have struggled a lot to achieve my aims, and I will continue this work till my last breath,” Anna says.

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