The best way to know the self is feeling oneself at the moments of reckoning. The feeling of being alone, just with your senses, may lead you to think more consciously. More and more of such moments may sensitize ‘you towards you’, towards others. We become regular with introspection and retrospection. We get ‘the’ gradual connect to the higher self we may name Spirituality or God or just a Humane Conscious. We tend to get a rhythm again in life. We need to learn the art of being lonely in crowd while being part of the crowd. A multitude of loneliness in mosaic of relations! One needs to feel it severally, with conscience, before making it a way of life. One needs to live several such lonely moments. One needs to live severallyalone.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

‘I AM AN ACTIVIST, NOT A FIGHTER’

Sitting in her office I was talking to Dr Jaya Arunachalam when she had said ‘I am an activist, not a fighter’ on mention of Sandeep Pandey and her approach to protests on infamous ‘Khushboo episode’ and women’s rights issues in Tamil Nadu. I still feel its relevance and attached dilemma in my day to day life when I come across something that disturbs me and demands my engagement.

Dr Jaya Arunachalam is Founder President of Working Women’s Forum (India), a Chennai based Development organization working for social empowerment by targeting women subjects. The organization is largest trade union in unorganized sector in country with its nearly one million women members who are associated with its microfinance initiative. Jaya ji started all this way back in late 70’s. Before that she was an active member of Congress and someone close to Rajiv Gandhi. She has used this political acumen well with her activist penchant to significant benefit of masses, which is manifest in success of her initiatives to bring about change. So when she said it, it mattered, and it still matters, for, I now find myself facing this question whether I should act like an activist or a fighter whenever life demands something like that from me.

This sub-plot of the journey called life is really interesting. I had coordinated the survey study of the Working Women’s Forum in Banaras to assess the feasibility of a model that it has successfully implemented in Kanchipuram to revive the weaving tradition of Kanchi silk to see if same could be applied to initiate the process of revival of tanked profession of Banarasi Saree tradition. After the study, a group of weavers from Banaras were taken to Chennai and Kanchipuram to mobilize a small group of weavers with first hand experience of Kanchipuram practices so that the process could be initiated in Banaras. I was there with Pradeep on the trip. Unfortunately, for some reasons that cannot be validated, the project could not take off and I still lament when faces of those weavers come before me I had interacted with during study pushing me to the guilt feeling that I, too, became one of the many breaching their trust once again. And this is certainly not interesting. I wish and hope the day will come when a relevant initiative will see light of the day.

It was an evening of that visit when I was there sitting in her office discussing commitment to ‘cause’ with my reservations about organizations working in the Development sphere and their rampant practices of manipulation and corruption. I had reservations even about Working Women’s Forum and I needed to talk to her as I was working on something which I had doubts about. And I can say my stay in Chennai and Kanchipuram was helpful in clearing much of my doubts about treating every such initiative in the same vein.

Discussing about approaches to work for Development, we came across this interesting dilemma of ‘being an activist or fighter’ when Sandeep Pandey emerged as point of discussion. In fact, I brought him as he was someone I have great respect for after his crusade against Coca Cola exploiting ground water in a Banaras locality. I knew Sandeep Pandey as an activist who keeps on fighting incessantly to undo the wrong, be it against the state, be in against the industry, or be it against the state-industry collusion, not compromising even an inch on ideology. I felt comfortable with this approach accepting some of the prices paid in the fight. She had a different take on it. She said she, too, had great respect for Sandeep Pandey but she could not adopt the approach Sandeep and others like him would follow. She said, ‘I am an activist and not a fighter’. Though she could never favour the maniacs out on the road to deface some liberate voices of women talking openly on sex and extramarital affairs in the largely orthodox Tamil society, she kept it to her to concentrate on her primary objective, empowering the marginalized women for whom such issues were virtually non-issues. She said she had a large women base to cater to and a conflict with state and opinion leaders may hamper the timely deliveries of initiatives and that would be the worst case scenario for a family dependent on daily earnings and meager or no savings. She would try to bypass the conflicts in legitimate ways but it didn’t mean she would not raise her voice. Rather, she said she believed in a dialogue that would not impede her objectives. For her, empowering the deprived was of utmost priority and she could not afford the prolonged misery that would be inflicted upon them had she been engaged in fighting the system. And I was listening to her in attention. I had my reasons to believe her. Working Women’s Forum doesn’t accept any govt aid.

Modern Management practices say if you are stuck in a deadlock with all the straight outlets trapped, try to find a way out of the crisis to concentrate on the next task. She seems to have mastered this situational approach to deal with the system preserving her conscious. And she has delivered. Still, I have reservations about organizations, specially in my part of the country, but her approach first led me to think and then to accept that she was right. Now I am comfortable with this dilemma of ‘being an activist or a fighter’. I am learning to balance the reaction of my conscious with the situational approach. Jaya Arunachalam and Sandeep Pandey both have to be relevant. The focus should be the person first and ideology should come next.

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