स्वधर्म (SWADHARM) Initiative

The lives, livelihoods and very existence of many of our fellow citizens have been uprooted by the COVID -19 (Corona) pandemic and our reaction to contain it. The Indian economy runs on the literal blood, sweat and tears of our brethren who need more than temporary relief in this time of distress. It is our unsaid collective duty to work with those right now who have always carried our economy on their broad shoulders. 

SWADHARM’ is an initiative to facilitate sustainable livelihoods of our fellow citizens (Sahabhagis) and to mutually share, learn and work with those who have been expertly and efficiently managing the day to day functioning of our economy for decades now but who have largely remained invisible, and have been devastated in the current times of crisis.

‘SWADHARM Thela’ is one such effort in this direction:

The ubiquitous Thela (Manual Rickshaw/cart) is the highest symbol of ‘Atma Nirbharta’, self-reliance. This most simple of vehicles is also the most multi-functional. It is used as a mobile vending cart, transport vehicle for people, cargo mover and for various other hyper local economic activities. It is also the epitome of the notion of “Make In India”. Every single part of this vehicle is, and has always been, locally sourced and manufactured proudly in India, in a Mohalla shop around the corner. The Thela is the essential, hyper visible, yet invisible part of our economy that embodies all the vital elements that are needed urgently to address the economic distress caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Thela and its operator, as a collective symbol of the erroneously termed “informal economy”, had hitherto been marginalized in a global, capital driven, institutionalized economy. It is a matter of grave concern that only when hundreds of lives are lost, thousands more are on the verge and millions continue to languish, that we are forced to take notice of a situation that needs to be addressed in fundamental ways.

With our ‘SWADHARM Thela’ initiative, we intend to:

  1. Identify Individuals/Families whose livelihoods have been severely affected by the lockdown and in partnership with each, set up a Thela-based enterprise as suggested by our Sahbhagis. 
  2. Continue working with each individual and support wherever it is necessary like setting up bank accounts, assisting with daily business needs and being a community partner.
  3. Start a social security program partly funded from their own generated income that will assist with emergencies like loss of livelihood due to unforeseen situations and long-term benefits like retirement savings account, education support and a fund to cover medical expenses. 
  4. Hold regular community meetings to exchange ideas, listen to mutual issues and plan actions collectively. 
  5. Cover operational and team cost for running and sustaining this initiative.

A Thela (Manual Rickshaw) with a basic set up is currently estimated to be between INR 15000 to 30000 depending upon the enterprise chosen by the Sahbhagis (fruit/vegetable selling, loading/unloading, rickshaw pulling, tea/food stalls, ware sales etc.). We aim to setup a minimum of 20 businesses initially through contributions raised by this fundraiser.

 Moving forward, we intend to make this initiative self-sustainable with the contributions made by the Sahbhagis themselves. Any excess revenue generated out of this initiative will be used in starting new Thela units in consultation with the community apart from incurring operational costs. The specific arrangements of work, remuneration and repayment will be finalized only after mutual agreement and exploration with the Sahbhagis. 

PAIGAM has cultivated and continues to cultivate deep, meaningful relationships with organizations and collectives like National Hawker Federation (NHF), Basti Suraksha Manch (BSM) and Bandua Mukti Morcha (BMM) who have years of experience in restoring the rights of disaffected workers and addressing their key concerns. Working with such groups has proven invaluable and we intend to continue the partnership with them in this new effort. 

Our work during the lockdown period with the waste pickers’ community of Delhi is paving the way in providing alternate livelihoods (through initiatives like the SWADHARM thela) and diversifying their income source through providing better access to wholesale purchasers at competitive rates for their products. 

The lockdown to contain COVID-19 (Corona) has laid bare more than just the economic inequalities that exist in our society. It has also exposed its deep political, technological, cultural and social inequalities. ‘SWADHARM’ in addition to the economic, also intends to understand the political, technological, cultural and social fissures and how they can be bridged.

Dialoguing with our Sahabhagis will play a central part in this initiative. Through regular dialogue, we intend to understand their everyday realities, challenges and provide a platform to voice their concerns that might arise out of these dialogues. PAIGAM pledges its unconditional support to this initiative by facilitating media advocacy by creating hyperlocal media platforms led/run by Sahabhagis on new media outlets such as facebook, twitter, youtube etc. 

We invite you to contribute generously to this effort. Contributors will be regularly updated on the process and we guarantee that all our processes will be genuinely transparent and subject to regular audits and queries as they arise. 

Let us work together to expand democracy to its full potential!

For any other information, contact:

Akriti Bhatia
Founder, PAIGAM

Email: [email protected]
Phone: +919899974346

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