What do you need the most? Knowledge and Education.

Its been over an year now since I started working at, what they say, grassroots level on projects around livelihoods in Rural India. Well mostly UP and then Bihar, Rajasthan. When I look back at my very first interaction with the villagers on a project I was assigned the picture in my mind is still fresh mostly because of the conversation I had. It remains firmly etched in my memories.

May 26, 2010: I went on to meet the people of Ramkola Village, which happens to be surrounded by water on all 3 sides and gets submerged (read: flooded) with water every time there is heavy rain or a flood situation. Its like a “for granted” situation for them which they have accepted as their fate every year. They also have their own coping mechanism and mostly survive the after effects of flood each year.

I went to meet the men, women, elderly and kids to understand the situation there to plan and implement an “Early Warning System” which I had been assigned. I interacted with them as an outsider so that they could feel free to talk and share complains about the organisation I worked for, in case they had any (fortunately they didn’t 😉 only complaints about the government).

After the hour long conversation with the group, I happened to ask one question to them in the end.

“What is it that you need the most here?”
The First Interaction
Response from one of the male members (around late 30’s or early 40’s) who appeared to be the smartest or wisest,  was

“अब क्या बताएं, यह बाढ़ वाढ़ से तो हम निपट ही लेते हैं॥ हमें तो चाहिए ज्ञान और पढ़ाई लिखाई॥ उसी से हम सबका भला हो सकता है और तरक्की हो सकती है हमारी”

Translation: We know how to deal with floods each year. All we need is education, knowledge. Its the only thing that can really help us develop and bring good to our families.

Knowledge. Education. They know how to survive and cope with floods and they don’t really need help there. They understand where there real upliftment lies in.

TEDxShekhavati – Bhawri Devi & Mishri Devi – The Illiterate Entrepreneurs

One of the privileges I have had while working at GDS was working with these women farmers as part of our project in Rajasthan. So when Masarat and me met, and she told me about her plans to do another event in 2011, I was excited and was able to invite Bhawri Devi & Mishri Devi (Founder/Directors) along with my dear friend and colleague Shivraj Vaishnav (CEO) of the company Grameen Aloe Vera Producer Company Ltd (GAPCL) to share their story.

Bhawri Devi and Mishri Devi belong to the Jawaja Block in Ajmer, Rajasthan. They own a company that makes aloe vera juice and accompanying them is Shivraj Vaishnav who is the CEO of their company. These women who can barely write their own name are an inspiration to everyone who think that lack of education is an obstacle to achieving their dreams. In this TEDxShekhavati 2011 talk, they share their story and inspire everyone else to follow their heart.

You can view their talk here (with English subtitles) on the official TEDx YouTube channel. The women also appear in the TEDx promo video by TED.

Other speakers at the event included Manpreet Kaur, Osama Manzar, Avika Gaur (Baalika Vadhu fame), Rajvardhan Rathore, Nusrat Naqwi, Omer Mewati and others. Pictures from my camera are here and the other official pictures from the event are here.

The event attracted a huge audience (5000+) and it was bigger than the last edition and it was organised against all odds. Read Masarat’s post on the event here and Chris Anderson’s (TED Founders) post on the story of the event here.

TEDxShekhavati, is an independently organised TEDx event curated by Masarat Daud-Jamadar which takes place in the Shekhavati region of Rajasthan. This event is attended by Shekhavati people: parents, children, school students and others who will be coming from different parts of Rajasthan and India. It’s the first TEDx in Rajasthan and also first TEDx in India for a largely-illiterate audience, which makes it even more interesting!

Does this irk you?

I have been trying to recollect and blog things I have experienced and witnessed during my extensive travel throughout India. Recently(December 30, 2010) during one of my travel “dramas” where I took the wrong direction train, I witnessed something really weird and discomforting, to say the least. When the train was standing at this station, I saw this married couple get into the train and stand at the doorside for a moment. And suddenly the man started cursing the lady. Curses of the most ugly kind one can imagine and which, as I would put, can make your ears bleed out of shame. It was obvious from the way they two were dressed and came together, they were married. However, after the “cursing” episode, I was in doubt.

Why? Because the lady didnt utter a word in response to this man insulting in public among a lot of people.

Usually, the kind of women I stay around or work with would at least utter something back and some would just give him a stfu. But noone would just sit there and be insulted. So that left me with a lot of “Why’s” because hearing all those words outraged me.

I usually carry my camera around so I had thought of clicking his picture. I asked him, “Sir! Can I click a picture of you?” And he gave me a strange shocked look, but agreed (in a non-verbal way), so I clicked his picture. I guess as an effect of this action, he calmed down a bit and went out of the train to get some fresh air. I quickly asked the lady who this man was and how was he related to her? She told me, it was her husband. The husband was scolding her because he had asked her to stay at a certain “spot” until he went to buy the tickets and instructed her to not move. And as the train arrived, she might have just moved a little away from the spot. And hence, the husband bombarded her with insults in public.

It was a silly reason in my opinion. I told the lady, the village women I work with would have thrashed and beaten up such a man by now. She giggled and the husband returned.

Other co-passengers started telling the husband that “Its OK, and its not a big deal. Everyone makes mistakes etc and he shouldn’t be cursing bad words in public to her wife..” which was nice, but the husband still tried to make a point.

Anyways, the important point is it left me with a lot of questions:

  • What could be the reason for the lady to not voice back? Why the silence?
  • What could be the reason of her giggling when I go and question her being silent? I have met rural women who “command” the house & are confident however this gave me a different picture.
  • What would you have done in such a situation?
  • And finally, does the look of this man’s face irk you? (apologies for not posting the uncut picture, not sure if the anger on his face his visible)

TrainDelayHusbandPicture_129814943493652_2

Celebrating the Rural Spirit – TEDxShekhavati 2011: Think Ahead

the rural spirit is free. the urban is not. the rural tongue says things that the urban tongue cannot.

– Quote from Masarat Daud-Jamadar’s blog

This quote caught my eyes the first time I read this and since then have been embedded in my mind. I keep telling people that I am a strong advocate of the free(as in freedom) culture and this is exactly what I mean when I say that. Maybe I am a rural spirit as well because of my small town roots connecting back to the villages. Or maybe there is some other connection here…

I heard about TEDxShekhavati last year in 2010 while I had just started working on the first assignment at this organisation. I was working (still am) in the Jawaja (Block) in the district of Ajmer, Rajasthan primarily helping women farmers.

Primarily there were two reasons this event attracted me: first, it was a TED event happening in Rajasthan and second, “it’s the first TEDx in Rajasthan and also first TEDx in India for a largely-illiterate audience”.

I mostly kept track of the event over Twitter and later the talks were released on YouTube as well. Since then I have been keeping track of Masarat’s work over twitter and have interacted with her until I finally met her in London during my visit last year. I was glad to know that TEDxShekhavati was planned for 2011 and I wanted to make sure I am attending this one 🙂
The best part being there would be two events on the same day, TEDxYouth@Shekhavati along with TEDxShekhavati! From what I hear from Masarat that so far everything is going as planned and there have been no major issues like last year (Do read this post on TED Blog).

A lot of people have offered support for the event and I thank them all as well as Masarat for making it happen this year again.

This year’s theme: Think Ahead

Date: 5th February 2011

Venue: Kishan Paathshaala, Fatehpur Shekhavati (Rajasthan, India) [Read: Story behind the venue]

Website: www.tedxshekhavati.com

Fortunately I will be attending the event and live blogging! (yes thats me in the picture).

I am going to be there witnessing the people and be inspired by their rural spirit at TEDxShekhavati 2011. You?

Sahana’s Response to Bihar Floods

The Sahana team is currently working on setting up custom deployments as per the requirements specific for the Bihar floods. Currently, we are working on Translating Sahana to Hindi, that could be used in the deployment.  As you might have heard there are about 1-2 million people who have been affected by the Bihar disaster. A team in Kolkata (Calcutta) has just been initiated for the deployment effort.
If you wish to join us and contribute to this response effort please select the appropriate communication channel:

Communication Channels to be followed in case you are willing to contribute:

  1. Join the Localization Group for Sahana @ Google Groups for any communications and updates!
    All translation related discussions go on the localization mailing list. [An important update on collaboration has been posted there for people working on the Hindi translation. So please join & check. Update: This thread]
  2. For people using Sahana and working on it, for issues relating to generic Sahana installation etc and usage can join and post to this mailing list. We have a wider range of support available here.
  3. In case you wish to work on the Bihar relief work going on you should co-ordinate with the Group Dedicated here: Sahana Bihar Google Group
    Please note your credentials will be verified by the group to ensure that information here is not misused. In case your a new person and wish to help with translation ONLY join the first group, in case you want to contribute with the Sahana development, join the developers mailing list instead mentioned below in the links section. Update: Its seems lot of people trying to work on the translation and are joining this list instead. 🙂 Please do not join this list. That is for the team and people who are working with the Government agencies @ Bihar scenario, NGOs, Sahana developers etc. I understand you wish to help, and hence request to join the appropriate channels of communication! 🙂 Continue reading