The Road to Maharashtra

By Alice Stout

Early morning commuter traffic in Nashik, Maharastra

Early morning commuter traffic in Nashik, Maharastra

HCR is back in India! It’s been six months since Jon visited, and he’s excited to see the progress that Seva Social Welfare Foundation has made. HCR is about journeying with partners as they build capacity, equipping local people to make a meaningful social impact within their communities. Just as HCR is journeying with Seva (meaning ‘service’), I am journeying with Jon. 

I’m Alice, a freelance journalist. Jon kindly invited me to document this trip. I’m primarily here to take photos and videos, but I’d love to share my experiences with you as I walk alongside HCR and Seva to the Adivasi villages of Maharashtra.

I’ve never been to India before. I have experienced snippets of the culture when visiting the homes of my Indian friends. But it is such a vast country of over a billion people. There are 22 official languages spoken here; cities are filled with the descendants of countless tribes. It’s a country of reliance – it has endured foreign invaders, colonialism, and numerous natural disasters. But today, India has the fastest growing economy in the world. Towns are melting pots of multiculturalism, as I discovered when we arrived in Nashik, three hours north-east of Mumbai.

Holy man sells talismans under the shade of an umbrella, while people bathe in the River Ganges

Holy man sells talismans under the shade of an umbrella, while people bathe in the River Ganges

Welcome to Nashik

Old and new clash together in Nashik. The rise of Western secularism and technology is somehow moulded to fit in with the ancient, predominantly Hindu city. Modern medicine and black magic dolls are used together; gaudy fashion shop signs depict scantily clad women, yet inside you can find the most beautiful saris and kurtas (tunics); cows and tuk-tuks dominate the streets.

The city is home to Seva’s headquarters, headed by Shilpe Shinde, Chief Executive of the Foundation. It is an ideal location as it is a gateway city for many Adivasi tribes with a close, cosmopolitan link to Surgana – the main town situated within the Adivasi territory. The transport links and resources available in Nashik mean the team is readily equipped for work in the remote villages.

Adivasi family outside their mud and straw house in a typical village in Maharashtra

Adivasi family outside their mud and straw house in a typical village in Maharashtra

Visionary partners

HCR and Seva began working together in January 2018. Seva’s vision is to see positive educational, health, and social development in the Adivasi villages of Maharashtra. The social class system does not even consider the Adivasi; they are the often overlooked indigenous tribes who are living in some of the most remote areas of India with many villages receiving little help from the government. Their illnesses are due mainly to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene as well as harmful superstitious practices.

It’s for that reason that HCR and Seva set up the Adivasi Voices project, where audio content on “speaker boxes” support field activities such as health and sports camps. The speaker-MP3 players, provided to every family, are filled with local-dialect dramas, music and audio programmes that educate, inform, and entertain. The project is an innovative way to help communities that are isolated from mainstream Indian society with no means to access basic needs.

Six months on

After an initial base-line survey, the Adivasi Voices Project began in September 2018. Now six months on, Jon is excited to learn how successful the project has been, identify areas to be improved, and encourage the dedicated Seva team in their endeavours.

We will be journeying from Nashik to Surgana tomorrow, spending six days there and visiting two villages that have been Seva’s focus for the past six months.

Thanks for reading and joining us on this journey. Stick around for updates!

Stigma – a personal perspective!

Day 12 of #16DaysofActivism

By Shilpa Shinde

Let’s face it, India doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to valuing women! We rank 174th out of 189 on the gender inequality index.  As the leader of a small NGO I can tell you, it’s a man’s world and I have to work very hard to make my voice heard!  But the issue that has been bothering me most lately is the issue of stigma and particularly how women are affected by it.  

Take my close friend Anugrah*.  She got pregnant before marriage and was unaware that she had been carrying a child for 3 months.  She admits she was very naïve and not aware of much in those days but she was very afraid that her parents and her community would reject her.  

After she and her boyfriend discovered that Anugrah was pregnant, he secretly gave her a drug which he had been told would induce an abortion.  The effect however was to make her very ill, which raised the suspicion of her family, who eventually found out.  Anugrah and her boyfriend’s family then entered discussions and she was put under great pressure, particularly by his family, to abort the baby.  Augrah felt compelled to go through with the abortion, with the promise from her boyfriend’s family that they could get married soon afterwards.  Sadly, not only did they not keep their promise or help her through the procedure, which made her very ill, but they rejected her. They seemed more concerned for their image in society and the church.  

Anugrah was blamed for not ‘not keeping her purity’, while the son was exonerated from any blame, stigma or shame. She has endured rejection and shame from her church and community and even been kicked out of her youth group.  Many of her friends rejected her.   

Thankfully the story doesn’t end there.  Anugrah is now one of our key workers, helping our charity, Seva, serve poor and marginalised indigenous or Adivasi communities in our state.  She has amazing empathy, especially with girls and women, who suffer greatly.  And they love her… they know she feels their pain. 

Seva is a key HCR-partner in India, using a community-centred media approach to bring about holistic transformation among tribal communities (see

*Not her real name


Village Gets a New Voice

By Jon Hargreaves

It’s hard to find many places on the planet today that don’t have access to some form of media.  However in remote parts of India’s Maharashtra state, many indigenous tribal or Adivasi communities don’t have access to radio, television or even mobile ‘phones.  Many can’t read.

It’s for that reason that HCR, in partnership with Seva Social Welfare Foundation, has begun a project to distribute “speaker boxes” with content that will transform lives.  With local-dialect dramas, music and audio programmes that educate, inform and entertain, the ‘Adivasi Voices Project’ is an innovative way to help communities that are very poor and isolated from mainstream Indian society. Many are deprived of the basic facilities of life such as clean water, food, sanitation and healthcare.   

Seva team Members distribute speaker boxes to remote Adivasi villagers in Maharastra, India (Photo used with permission)

Seva team Members distribute speaker boxes to remote Adivasi villagers in Maharastra, India
(Photo used with permission)

“This project will help lift our community as we have suffered for too long from the effects of ignorance and poor education,” said the head of the village, Mr Ramdas Warde.  Another community member who didn’t want to be named, spoke of how they felt forgotten by the government, who had promised a lot during election-time, but the promises had never materialised.

A major research project conducted in partnership between Seva and HCR in July 2018, revealed that the low level of health and well-being was due largely to poor water, sanitation and hygiene as well as harmful superstitious practices.  One lady showed scars on her stomach from where she had been burned by a witchdoctor who said the burning would drive out the evil spirits.  One of the medical doctors spoke of how many girls in the region were married off soon after their first periods so that when the first children came along both the mother and child were malnourished.

Seva’s Chief Executive, Ms. Shilpa Shinde, said that changing attitudes and mindsets would take a long time, but that the powerful combination of information and education via the speaker boxes, as well as on the ground interventions such as health camps and sanitation programmes, would begin to change things. She added: “We are committed to seeing the lives and livelihoods of Adivasi communities across the state transformed and we believe this powerful combination of media working with service providers will bring hope to the poorest and most marginalised in our country”.

For more information or to partner with us to reach more tribal communities in India, please contact