Home India News AID: Twenty-five years of Sangharsh, Seva, and Nirman

AID: Twenty-five years of Sangharsh, Seva, and Nirman

By Suresh Ediga for TwoCircles.net

Courage, Commitment, and Change or Sangharsh, Seva, and Nirman are the guiding principles of Association for India’s Development (AID). AID recently completed its twenty-five years of existence.This piece is to reflect back on the twenty-five years of AID.

Bhopal gas disaster was a tragedy that happened in 1984 but the tragedy still continues and the Sangarsh for justice is still going on.

Recently, Chennai saw unprecedented floods damaging the houses, disrupting the lives of thousands of people, especially those from the lower economic background. The Nirman of the houses is critical for reviving their livelihoods

While Seva, in the literal sense means service, AID refers to Seva as the personal responsibility we take to “first do no harm”

examine our own role in benefiting from the unjust development policies and paradigm. another point is that while seva literally means service,

examine our own consumption, waste, exploitation of the poor and powerless through our lifestyles, etc.

Be it the fight for justice in Bhopal or rebuilding the houses in Chennai, should the people have a voice in these issues, should this be these right or should the services be provided to them?

AID found that the stand taken by the most effective, mass-based groups was to link the two, both on principle and as a matter of strategy. Organizations that provided services worked in solidarity with those that trained people to monitor and advocate for public services, and also questioned the policies and practices that led to denial of rights to basic needs such as food, water, health, education, land and livelihood.

Movements questioning unjust policies and paradigms of development supported efforts to practice alternatives and demonstrate models that the government could adopt at a large scale. Creating alternatives, known as Nirman, went hand in hand with challenging injustice, known as Sangharsh.

In these approaches, the poor, marginalized and oppressed people are not passive beneficiaries but active agents of change whose results will benefit society as a whole. The non-oppressed who join hands in struggle learn to speak truth to power, even if it means asking uncomfortable questions about their own role in social, economic and ecological system.

This leads to the third component of holistic development: responsible living, known as Seva.

The Sangarsh, Nirmaan and Seva thus became the three fundamental principles driving AID India for the past 25 years. The AID India conference on its 25th year was a culmination of the project’s , partners on the ground, the volunteers, the guest speakers working on aspects of the these three principles.

The AID conference was held at the physics department of the Maryland university, where it all began 25 years ago. With aim to do something for India, Ravi Kuchimanchi, the Ph.D. Student got a few students together, had a few meetings going, a few follow ups and few take aways. In the first ever cultural program, the volunteers or the founders, did a play called “What is India’s biggest problem?”. To mark the occasion, the then volunteers came together to do the same play yet again.

Starting with a simple idea that problems are interconnected, so must be the solutions, AID grew into a big network with 36 chapters and close to 1000 active volunteers, as people came together to be part of the solution.

The idea of the conference, an annual event of AID, is to build synergies among the volunteers and the various chapters, connect the ground partners and their work with the volunteers, bring the issues closer, get families and kids closer to AID and vice versa and most importantly the keynote speakers.

The key note speakers:
Obalesha asks “Why is Swach Bharat, despite spending hundreds of crores doesn’t talk about the safai karmacharis and most importantly manual scavenging?”

Thenmozhi asks “Why are the words Dalit and untouchability targeted to be removed from the textbooks?

Medha Tai warns “If the height of the dam is raised 17mts, then the flooding will be enough to drown everything from DC to Philly”

Balaji urges “Education is not just about reading the ABC’s but it’s also about becoming confident and feeling good about oneself”

Hiremath provokes “Be it the mining mafia or the land grabbers, we need to look them in the eye and confront and challenge them”

Ashish & Kamayani reveal “MNREGA guarantees 100 days of work, but since there is no auditing and accountability, people don’t get work but the money’s already spent and when people do work, they don’t get the money”

Kiran ponders “The problems of farmers aren’t problems for farmers alone, they are everyone’s problems and this connection needs to happen”

Geetha Amma shocks “Bonded labor is still a shocking reality where hundreds of thousands of people are still languishing with no respite”

Rachna skypes “Bhopal Gas Disaster was not only the worst industrial disaster in 1980’s, it still continues to be a disaster several decades later because DowChemicals refuses to own up its responsibility. The question is should we refuse to own our responsibility too?”

While the adults in the conference were keenly listening and drawing inspiration from all the interactions, the kids were engaged in the youth conference. As part of this, the kids interacted with the key note speakers, drew art, sang poems of Sangarsh and most importantly they met new friends and had loads of fun.

Handling the food logistics for over 200 people 3 times a day and then repeat that for 3 days requires a great deal of planning, coordination and hard work. I witnessed that live in action during the conference. With volunteers encouraged to bring their own cups and plates, a great attempt was made towards zero waste.

The edible spoons certainly contributed to this attempt. Oh, almost forgot, the food was definitely different with quite a bit of variety and it was tasty.

Obviously food breaks were not just about food. It was about informal interactions, conversations that led to some great ideas and future collaborations. Not only did the volunteers enjoyed these interactions, even our guest speakers.

Geetha Amma potentially working with Balaji, Obalesh working with Hiremath and hopefully more was indeed a great feature of the conference.

Ravi was at his hilarious best taking all of us down the memory lane, reliving every moment of how it all started. The first meeting to the first cultural problem to the first T-Shirt to the first logo, many of these incidents were truly the first time many of us had heard.

As the conference reached its end, volunteers started to leave and I could hear the goodbyes and the saw the shake hands and the friendly hugs. The corridors and the hallways, which were very often the meeting ground for many, now began to feel very empty. The well designed posters of AIDs work displayed on the walls started to come off.

Until the next conference, it’s a good bye. In the meanwhile, if you are interested in learning more about AID or joining AID as a volunteer, then please visit http://aidindia.org.

Suresh is a volunteer with AID.