A winter reflection workshop was organized by Aman Biradari in collaboration with Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan and was held at the School for Democracy, Bhim. The participants in the workshop included women and men, young and old, who work in various sites of communal conflict – Bhagalpur, Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar – and many are survivors of violence themselves. There was a team of young people from militancy-ravaged Kashmir. Additionally, there were people working with urban homeless people and street children, including many formerly homeless people themselves. Finally, there were activists from the MKSS, who work for the right to information, as well as rights of rural poor populations to food, work and pensions.
The objective of the workshop was to create a space for dialogue on the broad themes of rural poverty, urban poverty, good governance, secularism and social equality. Delving deeper into these themes, the five day workshop focussed on generating a common, shared reflection on some of the major concerns of the times we live in: the idea of a good state, the competing themes of economic growth and public welfare, the framework of universal rights, secularism and pluralism, minority rights, rural poverty, hunger, distress migration, the crisis in agriculture, and rural workers, urban poverty, homelessness and unorganised workers, caste discrimination, violence and social equality, and gender violence and equity.
Resource persons for different themes were called in to share their perspectives with the participants. Panel discussions were held with the participants to facilitate sharing of their personal experiences in the field. Audio-visual material was also used as a tool during the workshop. Short clips were shown during the sessions and feature films such as Gandhi, Sadgati and P.K. were screened during the workshop.
Experiences from the workshop:
The experience of the workshop was a positive one that saw people from different geographical and social contexts come together to share learnings. Joint action plans were also created. For instance, the action plan that was formulated by the teams that work with homeless people on urban poverty has moved ahead and connections have been formed between the teams from New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai.
There were lively discussions on the issues of caste, gender, communalism and poverty. The participants enriched the talks given by resource persons by sharing perspectives based on their personal experiences, thus contributing to a more nuanced understanding of the issues. They also patiently heard their fellow participants as they shared their difficult but inspiring life stories. A short skit titled ‘Aman’ by the members of MKSS was a call for unity among those who have been marginalized. With references to the inspiring poem by Bertolt Brecht (Brecht was himself inspired to write this poem after he read the words of Emile Niemoller), “First they came to take the gypsies….” the skit elicited loud applause.
In an effort to deepen experiential learning, the participants were taken to an MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) work site where they were asked to form groups and work for half a day to understand the working conditions. The work required was manual labour: a square pit had to be dug out and the soil and rocks after digging out the pit had to be deposited on the edge of the designated area to form the wall of the small dam type structure that was being built. The reflection session after this activity was a very powerful one where a lot of participants shared their realizations about their notions of work and about the opportunity that MGNREGA was giving villagers in search of work, but of how this opportunity needs to be enhanced.
These diverse ways of learning made the workshop an enriching experience.