The silver lining that helps us survive

Tags: Op-ed
The silver lining that helps us survive
FOR A CAUSE: In this 2009 file photo, children from impoverished families take part in a mobile study programme of the Chalta Firta School, funded by the Indian charity Salaam Baalak, in a slum neighborhood of New Delhi
Everything that could be wrong has gone wrong in our democracy and yet we survive. Let no one fool us, we just barely survive, as a nation, as a people and as an economy. There have been innumerable budgets since we became a sovereign nation, but none has had any impact on the battle we wage daily, just to be able to survive. None has been able to empower the poorest of the poor and the weakest of the weak. All the textbook symptoms that lead to revolution and anarchy exist in Indian society and yet there has been no revolution. India has survived, by the skin of its teeth, but survived nevertheless.

In the past few years, I have gone on many journeys discovering what makes India tick, what enables its people to survive; a journey to discover the soul of India. I visit places like the slums of Mumbai, Panvel, Kolhapur, Ahmedabad, Ajmer apart from many in the rural hinterland whose names are difficult to recollect. During the journeys, I visited many organisations and met many individuals who have dedicated their lives to make a difference in the lives of the hopeless. These are some of them:

In the slums of Mumbai, men and women have formed self-help groups. They have come together according to their abilities, some sew, some embroider, others hand print and dye textiles. They all work under two umbrella organisations called Marketplace and Share based in the slums along the Western Express Highway in Santa Cruz East. Helming these organisations are the Freitas sisters from Santa Cruz West, who now live in the US. They send patterns, prints and embroidery designs according to fashion trends from the US and the various artisanal groups produce the finished goods based on these requirements. The finished products are then shipped to the US. The Freitas sisters sell the produce of these Mumbai slum dwellers through their mail order business ensuring that their artisans get the best prices.

Mumbai Mobile Crèches is an organisation that has been working with construction labourers. They provide crèches and day-care centres for the children of construction lab­ourers at construction sites. Some builders now provide them with facilities in their construction sites, so they are able to provide the labourer parents an assurance, that their children are safe and taken care of. Construction sites are most perilous for unsupervised children as a great amount of abuse happens there. Mumbai Mobile Crèches serves the needs of such construction labourers in Mumbai and Thane.

Women’s India Trust works with women from poor families. WIT has a large training and production facility in Panvel where they produce jams, pickles, table linen, bed-spr­eads, quilts and clothing. Wo­men are also trained in making puppets, stuffed toys, tea sets, while their children are taught in a school run by WIT where young women are trained as nurses too. A master craftsperson cuts and prepares the kits for every item and women take these kits back home and prepare the finished products. They do block and screen printing, embroidery and appliqué work. The people at WIT ensure quality control, so that all the finished products are of uniform quality. WIT has made a difference in the lives of thousands of women and continues to bring hope to many more.

In a small town Derol, in the Halol district of Gujarat, two sisters Rekhaben and Prernaben run Sneha Setu, (meaning ‘bridge of affection’). They provide training in various crafts to young women from rural poor families. They have converted a part of their ancestral family home into a training centre and work with empowering poor young girls training them in tailouring, crafts and also in basic English-speaking. Skilled crafts teachers train the young women in crafts and the organisation provides the raw material so that they can produce finished goods. It’s a small effort, a labour of love of the two sisters, but it makes a difference in the lives of women from poor families.

Anuradha Bhosale, works for children’s and women’s rights, in the Kolhapur Sangli belt of western Maharashtra. Anuradha is an ardent follower of Bapu, but when she encounters child or women abuse she turns into a tigress, albeit a non-violent one. She has single-handedly brought down exploitative child labour in the numerous brick kilns of Kolhapur. She, along with other volunteers, runs Anganvadis, shelters and nurseries for children of brickyard labourers to provides them education, shelter and nutrition and to insulate them against the lure of child labour. In her organisation AVANI, she shelters 50 permanent resident children, who are extremely vulnerable to being criminally and dangerously exploited. She has provided hope to children and mothers in Kolhapur and in the villages around Kolhapur. She takes on child exploiters and she takes on a lackadaisical administration and makes them both behave, stopping one from exploiting children and women and the other from conveniently turning the blind eye and not doing its duty.

Anuradha also enlightens rural women about their rights and the various central and state government schemes for their welfare and helps them avail of these; her work has empowered many widows living in villages around Kolhapur. Thanks to Anuradha’s crusade, the lives of many children are secured making the women feel empowered and lead a dignified life.

(The writer is founder president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

(This is the first of a two-part series. Part 2 will be published in tomorrow’s edition)


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