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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