What would be possible if nothing came in our way of doing what we wanted? What if we dedicated our complete self, awake, asleep and in dreams, to work? What if we went all out and dived headlong into solving issues, with a bullheadedness and madness affordable only by those who are completely free? What then, would be possible?
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This is what got Bhaskar and I to start our initiative, Community Matters.
We started six weeks ago with little idea of what we should do, but being very clear of what we should NOT do. Despite having worked in the social space for over three years and having experienced CSRs, deadlines, targets and tangible results, we decided to do it differently this time around.
We did not want to become people who, without fully understanding issues and without involving all stakeholders, randomly go about deciding outputs. We did not want to set fancy outcomes only to regret later that they could not be achieved or cover it up with charts and stats. So how else can things function in the social space?
Hard social realities
Every issue is governed by natural principals, more so in the social space, since it concerns people at every stage. The more we have read and learnt about theories and ‘isms, the more incapable we become of working naturally. Work in the social space requires us to throw away all that we have known so far, and be stripped of all conditioning, so that we can see the reality in the eye. And only if we allow ourselves to see the reality can we act meaningfully.
As Bhaskar keeps saying: “The gaps in implementation of policy happen when those who are working at the ground are not involved in the planning and decision making.” Most often, we inform and instruct them and take it for granted that they will implement it.
The reality is quiet different, as we found, while working with the garbage auto drivers, pourakarmikas and supervisors when we took on the solid waste management project in our ward. Every idea that was presented was rubbished by them as something that will simply not work. It is from them that we learnt where the problem really lies and how high level officials are disconnected from these realities.
Feeling the pulse
I once heard a senior corporate head speaking to an audience of social workers, activists and corporate leaders: “It is not difficult to find issues in India. You could close your eyes and throw a stone and it will fall on a wonderful issue.” It kept bugging me; is this how we should take up issues?
We wanted to hear from the people what needs to be done. So without any preset agenda, we set out to meet all the relevant people, including elected representatives, bueroucrats and citizen groups. We spent days almost living on a scooter, with a book, pen and camera experiencing the ward where we live, as a starting point to understanding issues and priorities of the people.
We allowed ourselves to experience everything- the high rise apartments which flaunted the criminal misuse of resources to the narrow lanes and small houses which get treated as if they do not exist; the vulgar abuse of lakes and natural spaces contrasting with the beauty and innocence of the birds and urban wildlife which quietly take whatever humans throw at them.
Before we went any further, we thought it would be useful if we met the ward counsel and took their help in gathering more information. Afterall, they are our representatives, here to help us, right? We visited ward offices in four different wards to get a better idea of how these things work.
When it came to my ward (No. 195, Konanakunte), the lady corporator’s official phone (the one displayed on the yellow boards) was with her husband and she was not present even at the office when we turned up to meet, that too after an appointment.
The person we got to meet was her husband, who suggested we meet with the Joint Commissioner (office at Begur) to get a better understanding of what needs to be taken up. When we met the JC, he asked us what we wanted to do. And we said that we wanted to know what his priorities are. Then he wanted to know if we had a card and a brochure.
However, the only issue which the JC and the corporator (her husband actually) showed interest in was garbage and solid waste management. Incidentally, Konanakunte happens to be one of the Kasa Muktha wards. I guess all the pressure put on the government for at least one issue seems to be working. This is how we arrived at Solid Waste Management as the first issue we would undertake in our ward.
The future posts will give insights into how we went about understanding and addressing this issue and other issues that emerged.