Teachings From An NGO Desk

Well, not much has changed over my desk except the calendar page and my laptop’s icon density. But this untethered desk has taught me lessons, lessons specific to this city, work and most importantly CSJ (Centre for Social Justice).

CSJ is the organization that gave me this desk. They are a two decade old entity started off as a program by Janvikas. Now, Janvikas is an interesting body, they have given birth to about 12 social organizations and CSJ is one of them. While CSJ works on facilitating access to justice in vulnerable communities, Janvikas hosts a variety of programs(like Abolishing Manual Scavenging, Vocational Trainings, Educational Interventions etc) each having the potential of becoming a separate entity.

Moreover, let me give you a list of things that became the highlight of my first month at CSJ –

1. One e-Mail a day, keeps the anger away – In the pursuit of meeting deadlines that were passed even before I joined CSJ, I learnt this golden rule of working in a big organization. Any work done without dropping an e-mail is equivalent to no work done. At the end of each day, just copy them on whatever is your present draft. It will make your life easier by hundred times. So if you are a science student, the new definition of work done would be,

Work done is equal to force (efforts made) multiplied by the number of emails sent, i.e; W = F x (No. of E-Mails).

2. Rape of minors is common – While we all find it hard to accept that a three – four year old can be an object of attraction for rapists. Such cases are constantly happening all over the country, cities and villages alike.  After reading a good amount of CSJ’s field reports, these cases don’t surprise me anymore.

3. Fight against Gujarat riots still continues – First realization of entering CSJ is that 2002 Gujarat Riot victims are still fighting for justice. The reception News bulletin reads – ‘Gujarat Riot Survivors Fight For Justice Still Continues’. Many Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) are yet to attain house rights. Janvikas even has program called Buniyaad, which gives special focus to the upliftment of IDPs.

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4. Twinkle twinkle little star, Ganpati Bappa superstar – I witnessed my first Ganpati Visarjan at one of my colleagues’ home. Although the whole experience was a happy retreat, few phrases and instances stood apart. Firstly, to see aunties shouting interesting phrases like “Garam Garam fafda, Ganpati Bappa Aapda” (‘Fafda’ is a Gujarati Snack and ‘aapda’ is gujarati word for ‘mine’). Secondly, the enthusiasm of my co-workers  while dancing on the tunes of Ganpati Bhajans. I was seriously embarrassed at my sophisticated dance steps while these middle aged women danced like ‘no one’s watching’.

5. Caste Segmentation can be a barrier to entitlement access – I was first introduced to caste segmentation during India Fellow induction in Udaipur. While conducting a caste mapping in a village, one of my significant observations was that high castes lived on village boundaries, closer to the roads and highways. Whereas the lower castes homes were in interior parts of the village, disconnected and inaccessible to the outer world. This all came right back to me, while proofreading a report on CSJ’s work for Amreli flood victims.  In Amreli, Government surveys did not have any data on the lower caste homes, as they were present in the interior sections of the village. This negligence deprived the lower caste victims of government aid, while they needed it the most

6. JAIN ‘Garlic’ bread exists – I was told that Gujarat is a heaven for Vegetarians. After a month of living here, I think by vegetarians they meant Jains. You can find anything Jain in this city, from Pizza, Sandwich, Namkeen, Temples to even colonies and pols (gates). Ahmedabad is on of the most polarized cities I have seen. Even today, Muslims are looked down in Hindu colonies.

7. Community leadership is the core of CSJ – One of the inherent fact in CSJ’s working model is the focus on developing local leadership in target areas. Each project involves the mention of identifying local volunteers and training them as paralegals( person trained in subsidiary legal matters but not fully qualified as a lawyer). These paralegals are then aided by CSJ team to lead intervention in the target areas. Many of such paralegal volunteers have become a part of CSJ. Interestingly, one of these paralegal volunteer Urvashi Ben works as a program manager in the office where my enlightened desk is. (I am yet to unravel her life story, maybe the next blog!)

8. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere – This quote is stuck at too many places in CSJ, that you just can’t ignore it.

This month has been a steady ride with a bag full of learning and I hope that coming months will have a similar taste. Going back to the question posed in my last blogpost – “Have I become reluctant to work?” I think not, but I have certainly learnt how to tune with the CSJ’s work pace. This brings us to my 9th learning of the month,

  If we are conscious of our threats, we will overcome them!

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