Approaches to Swaraj

Shubhamurthy talks about work in Bihar at AID-India conference 1999.

Shubhamurthy is a co-founder of Samudaya, an organisation inspired by the movement of Jayaprakash Narayan in Bihar.

Let me tell you how we are situated in Bihar. Some time ago I could not have imagined life there, just as now there, people cannot imagine there that here we can live without sweaters and without a sheet in the night. It is 7-8 degrees where I come from in Bihar. This morning I was talking to Kalpana, who is the head of our organisation, and she was surprised to hear that I was not wearing any sweater in Chennai.

I am drawing you a map. When Charan Singh was the prime minister, he did not know for months where Meghalaya was. So we are very weak in Geography. I hope that at least because of Lalloo Prasad many of us would know where Bihar is situated. Here Ganga, here is Patna, here is Rosera, 130 km from Patna, but it takes 5 hours by bus. If you have your own jeep, you can save only 30 minutes it will take 4.5 hours. The roads are like that.

Organisation started in 1980. Before that Kalpana and I had been involved in some movements (not together, though we did know each other) We had worked for some time together during the Bangladesh war. We were working in different contexts. That context is very important for understanding Samuday. When we started, these words were famous social work, or social service. But we were thinking in terms of social change. What can social change mean? When India became free, social change was given a name by Gandhi: swaraj. If you don’t want to change the society, then it was called suraj. There is a great difference between swaraj and suraj. We were committed to swaraj. We were participating in many movements which were oriented on this basis.

When we came to form our own institution we thought, how should we work on this line. Because when you institutionalize things you can very easily go to the suraj line, making things better. There were many problems, poverty, illiteracy, etc.

There was JP’s movement in 1954, many of you must not have been born at that time.[from audience] Jayprakash Narayan
Yes Jayprakash Narayan. It had begun only to combat inflation and corruption, but JP molded it into a movement for total revolution and social change.

For swaraj it was clear that we needed a total revolution. In all aspects educational aspect, economic aspect, political aspect, cultural, he even had the spiritual. You have to change all these perceptions and form anew. It was a great movement, on a very wide scale. It was limited to Bihar, but its impact was national. Perhaps many of you know about this, I won’t go into detail.

From this point we selected a type of work according to our well not exactly expertise, but skill and ruchi interest. So we began with NFE (non formal education) or as one person very rightly said yesterday, AFE (anti formal education). For us it is really AFE. For us we were thinking in that way. I had completed MSc when I realized that it is futile to continue in that way. Now we do not send our children to schools.

Then it was working on income generation. Many activities are joined with that. For example training of adult girls for our health program, which also comes in categories of health and NFE.

Then something we realized when we started the work, but which became crystal clear was that all these works are futile unless we have awareness at the center [draws diagram]. Without awareness, for example in the income generation program, they started to make beedis, and one person said, we will call this Bapu Beedi. Without awareness, income generation will fall into that type. The market situation is such that you cannot produce cost effectively for your community. You have to produce for the market. Maybe national or international. If you produce for your community it is not remunerative.

If we have to work in this context, how will we work for health, income generation , NFE, how will we use all these activities to change the society. I will give only one example, which is health. When we started people suggested, we want you to start a good clinic. Kalpana was a homeopathic doctor so we thought we can do this. But how will we do this in a way that will also change the society. We decided to work among the illiterate women. So how can we communicate with them in their language. We wanted to talk not only of diseases, but of health. But we were also concerned with treatment. We talked with the women and developed a system of symbols to represent the diseases, which they would accept and adopt. This way we trained the illiterate women to become health workers. At first we worked with women above 45, because that woman has more time, she does not have as much household work. She has a new daughter-in-law who takes care of the house, so she is a bit free. But we soon realized that this is not the way. People hear her talk, it is good, but they do not apply it because they do not see her applying what she teaches on herself. She is allowed to go house to house in the context of the purdah system, so there was no hesitation in suggesting her name.

We changed it, we made a condition that the health worker must be a new daughter in law. So what she learns and teaches, she will practice on herself and her children. Also the purdah system does not allow her to go house to house. The purdah system is such that there is more restriction on a daughter in law, especially a new daughter in law. But when we started this system we had a dialogue with the villages and they accepted it. So the purdah system is breaking and health is improving. So in this way in our health activities we inserted the element of social change. That is the functioning of Samuday.

I would like to share with you some of our experiences. One is regarding the institution. If you institutionalize the institution, one can easily become trapped in the management of the institution. This is the experience of many of my friends. Problems in how to pay so many people.These problems were expressed yesterday as well. Therefore we did not spread Samuday much. We kept it working in about 50 villages. But there are 7-8 groups whom we inspired. What they can learn from us they are free to learn, but we insisted that they start their own organisation and work according to their vision and their choice. Because of this we are much freer than many of our friends.

Another woman there she is [points at Deeptha] was telling that Balaji was selecting some emotionally susceptible boys and girls. That strategy is very correct. This is the basic thing for the social worker. If he is not emotionally susceptible, he may not be committed. Commitment cannot come from intelligence, commitment cannot come from knowledge, or even experience. This is the basic. Of course, three more points must be added. One is intelligence.You must be able to respond to the things that you feel. Knowledge and experience are also very important. What knowledge?. It is not easy to say. And very important is experience. Experiencing different things, responding, and getting enriched from your experience. But if you limit this experience only to yourself it will not get you very far.

Experience comes from heritage also. What is your heritage? If I am talking only of individual personal experience, then Ravi or Balaji is only half my age. They have little experience compared to me. But if you think of heritage, India has at least 4000 years heritage. I have experience of 4050 years, and they have 4025. So heritage lessens the age gap. So experience for me is heritage, you have to understand this also. .I was just talking to Mohan and he told me, that he got down in Wardha, to inhale Gandhi there. I asked him, do you still hope that Gandhi’s air is there.He said, I am sure of it. This is undersanding your heritage. This is very important for a social worker.

So there are many questions on all these, for which we have worked. We are not only working for Samuday but also with other organisations in Bihar. How to create a, if you like, network, or friend’s circle, to do something that change the society.
One thing I must tell about vision. tIyer was talking about social vision, what kind of vision of civilization you have, is important. He mentioned that at some point community disintegrated when ownership went to the state and management went to technocrats. So what should be our strategy for community? Your vision should be clear, of what you want to achieve. Our vision was that we had to create a community based on human values, such as equality and many others. How was this community disintegrated, how was its ownership usurped by state, nation state, which means military. How its management was snatched by technocrats, supported by state, and MNCs supported by militaries. You can see what is happening in Iran, and may happen to India too if we do not sign the CTBT or these treaties. It may happen to India also in the name of Kashmir or some excuse, Clinton is very clever on that. Clinton is a symbol of development of today.

Aravinda: You suggested that you might like to have questions in Hindi
Shubhamurthy: yes that would be nice
Venkat volunteers to translate.
Prasanna: you have said that you do not want to expand your organisation, but how can you say that what is happening in Samastipur should not also reach your brothers in Ranchi, etc.
Shubhamurthy: We can invite groups which are active in other areas. Our methods are so easy that they can be learned in 5-6 days. You can adapt this and make changes in your own areas. So we do not need to expand.
Mohan: What he is talking about is called replication, instead of expansion. He is following the replication technique, which is just as good. Create a separate nucleus of activity. That is how nature works. Cells replicate.
Krishna Kumari: What he is saying is, think locally and act globally.

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