Solidarity, Tour

For a Just Society – Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan [photos]

Visit to Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan
Dalit Women’s Collective

Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective, formed in 1999-2000. AID has supported the group through projects, fair-trade marketing as well as solidarity to the Sanghatan in various phases. Along with AID-Bangalore volunteers Chetana, Karthik, Disha & Tamia, Ravi, Khiyali and I recently visited the women to hear their own reflections on their experiences and successes over the years, fighting oppression based on caste, gender and class, as well as ongoing challenges on all these fronts. Here are some photos from our visit with these grassroots partners. Continue reading

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Tour

Jewelry without hazardous working conditions

Chiguru Enterprises, Potnal

To support themselves and the organization, women of Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan started making terra cotta jewelry and home decor and selling it in local colleges and exhibitions.  This contributes to the self-sufficiency of the organization and key activists.

When villagers are displaced and wars are fought over gold, diamonds and other precious metals and gems, the world needs to appreciate the peaceful beauty of handcrafted terra cotta goods. Chiguru has been a regular supplier to AID tables and the products are quite popular and help connect conscientious consumers to eco-friendly, fair-trade products.

Proceeds from sale of terra cotta ornaments handcrafted by the women of Chiguru Enterprises supports the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatan, a Dalit women’s collective working in Potnal, Raichur District, Karnataka.

Edited to add: In July 2016 The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) released a study on jewellery and gems, noting that the those in the industry suffered under “inadequate working conditions and limited compliance with health and safety standards.”  Detailing some of the hazardous working conditions jewelry and gem workers face, ASSOCHAM noted that “Excessive and prolonged exposure to lethal chemicals and gases can lead to ailments like lung tissue damage, kidney damage and lung cancer.”

Read:  Avg. salary in gems & jewellery sector lowest across manufacturing sector: Study (accessed February 2017 from ASSOCHAM website)

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Questions

“How would they know?” Dalit women talk about caste discrimination (part 1)

While having lunch with some of the Sanchalakis (coordinators) and karyakarthas (activists) of the Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatana, a Dalit women’s collective in Potnal.  We mentioned that while coming on the bus from Raichur station, we passed a number of elaborate temples.

Were these temples open to all?  We wondered aloud.

Yes, yes, they said.  Anyone can go there.  The temples don’t ban anyone.

“So you can enter any temple, if you wish?” we asked pointedly.  Mariamma replied that she was not very familiar with the rules of the temples.   Narsamma said, “other than in our own village, we can enter any temple.”

“And in your own village?”  we wanted to know.

“In our own village we can come to the steps of the temple but not inside the temple.”

“What will happen if you go inside?”

She laughed and said, “People will say, look at these people, they think they are so great they are brazenly going inside the temple.”

They said this so matter-of-factly that I felt I had to explain why we were asking particularly about this.   “When we talk about Dalits being denied entry into temples, many people don’t believe that it still happens today,” I said.

“How would they know?”  Narsamma asked me.  “We are stopped at the steps, so we know.  They are not, so they don’t see it.”


These Dalit women had begun organizing 15 years ago, a story they have told often and recently documented in a photo essay and video.  They united and gained the courage to speak up at panchayat meetings, to demand rations and anganwadi services, housing loans and access to other government services.  They were kind enough to share their stories again when we went to meet them.

[To be Continued]

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Questions

In Kotayya’s place, what would you do?

The Setting: 

Two families.  One wealthy, landed, and upper-caste.  The other landless, untouchable and surviving on daily wages.  As expected in the world of 1950s Telugu cinema, the children of the two houses, Papa and Sekhar, fall in love.   After various scenes and turns of the movie play out, the jamindar family consents to the alliance with a condition.  Kotayya, the poor man, must agree never to see his daughter, Papa again.  Then the rich family will accept Papa as the daughter-in-law of their house.   Kotayya finds the condition too hard to bear.

In this scene, Sekhar’s uncle persuades him to consent to the condition for the sake of his daughter’s happiness.   Finally Kotayya agrees and turns to leave the house.  On his way out,  another elder relative of Sekhar’s stops Kotayya with an offer he can’t refuse.  Or can he?  Should he?

Watch

Imagine:  You are Kotayya.  What would you do?   Accept?  Walk away?  Another course of action?

Explain the reason for your choice.

 

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Conference, Tour

Education and Socio-Economic Inequality at Asha-24

For two days in Gainesville, Ravi, Khiyali and I had the opportunity to attend the Asha conference and absorb a sense of the prevailing concerns that volunteers felt regarding education.  For example, Anurag Behar, one of their speakers Saturday morning stated that “education is fundamentally a socio-political issue.”  What then would be the indicators of a good education?  Could we apply these indicators not only to individual students but to the social and political climate in which they pursued education?  Could we look also at the socio-political climate of the classroom itself – who questions, who answers, who listens, and who learns? Continue reading

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Conference

Speaking of Caste

In chapters and at annual conferences, volunteers of AID have discussed forms of injustice stemming from various social identities such as gender, patriarchy, and sexual orientation and our own role in questioning the injustice and understanding how we take part in perpetuating them.  Two years ago discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation led to a conference session as well as an amendment to the volunteer code of conduct.  While amending the code volunteers included caste as a basis of prejudice to be eradicated. Continue reading

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Letter to Editor

Not only toilets

Dear Editor,

While I agree that “access to sanitation and water are fundamental human rights”  the assertion that  “a lack of these services is putting hundreds of millions of children, girls and women at risk each and every day.” where the risks refer not to health and hygiene but rather risk to personal safety and freedom from violence, takes attention away from basic equality and humanity.   Continue reading

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Reflections, Report

Studying Society the Sangati Way

What do children study in social studies?   Sangati is a program that encourages children to study society, starting with themselves.  Avehi-Abacus has trained teachers in more than 900 schools of the Bombay Municipal Corporation to implement this program.  I had the opportunity to visit some of the classes during their Sangati session.

The Sangati curriculum is designed with the aim of helping students make sense of their personal experiences at home and in their neighborhoods in a broader social, political and historical context.  The students I met had learned about Savitri bai Phule who worked for the cause of education for women and girls, and read stories raising caste issues such as Premchand’s Thakur ka Kuan (Thakur’s well) and Eklavya.

In the course of the discussion, the teacher asked them questions such as,

“What have been the conventional roles expected of men and women?”
“How has society changed?”
“How does education play a role?”
“Was Dronacharya a great teacher?”  (क्या द्रोणाचार्य महान गुरु थे?).
“If your teacher asked you for such a guru-dakshina what would you do?”

In their discussion we could see that while the material they discussed challenged social conventions and power structures, their ideas of how to challenge these in their own lives were yet forming and would take many more such discussions for them to articulate.
The politics of the classroom and the politics of their present reality layered upon one another, complicating the questions that the teacher asked based on the lesson.   It poignantly revealed how far the students were willing to go in challenging issues of caste and gender which we like to think are settled.
I read some of the textbooks and teacher’s guides, including descriptions of their classroom exercises designed to facilitate introspection on questions of caste and gender.  It would be interesting to try out these exercises ourselves in chapters.  There is so much that we in AID can learn from this program, as travelers along the same journey towards a just society.

Related: 
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Article

The Ambassador and I

Behind me, on the stage, were Balamurali Krishna, N. Ramani and Ravi Kiran, preparing to perform together for the first, and (the announcer opined), possibly the last time. In front of me were 1000 people waiting to hear this trio in concert. I had come to the center of the front row of Waetjen Auditorium in Cleveland to talk with the Chief Guest of the Tyagaraja Aradhana, Deputy Ambassador Srinivasan.

Why was he the Chief Guest? Apparently the Indian Ambassador is regularly invited for this slot. Is this mixing of classical music and nation-state innocent? Is Srinivasan merely a fan of Tyagaraja? He told the audience that Clinton and Vajpayee had signed a mission statement and with Clinton’s visit to India, “we have really entered a new chapter in Indo-US relations.”

Continue reading

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