Apolitical NGOs

•October 30, 2011 • 6 Comments

I have spent two decades campaigning for causes I care deeply about – an end to caste discrimination, gender equality, and fighting against divisive and non-secular politics. In this blog post I want to explore the curious occurrence of political apathy in the NGO sector in India. Time and again, when working with colleagues in the ‘social sector’, I encounter a reticence to engage with politics; from the politics of gender to the politics of wealth distribution, the politics of education to the politics of caste.

Let me share a short anecdote with you. A while ago I was invited to evaluate the programs of a very large and very well respected microfinance NGO in India. The evaluation coincided with the NGO’s annual meeting – an occasion which saw the coming together of over 5,000 women (all members of self-help/MFI groups).

Around lunchtime I heard a commotion in the kitchen area. I went over and found a group of 30 or so women having a heated discussion with some of the volunteer organizers. The women were refusing to eat the food that had been prepared. When I enquired as to why this was the case, they answered, ‘because you have already served a bunch of Dalits’. The volunteer organizers were trying to pacify the women, ‘lets not disturb the event, we will make sure there are separate lines for queuing for food and separate seating arrangements for eating’. So I went up to the main organizers, the top layer of management at this large NGO, and I said ‘you have to disband this meeting right now – it has to be called off. This incident is an attack on your basic principles, which I am sure are not negotiable. If your empowered and conscious women are still holding forth their sense of high and low, then you need to rethink your social empowerment strategies. But right now, we have to communicate to them that this cannot, and will not, be tolerated. Everyone needs to be sent home and told that they will be communicated about the future of the SHGs in due course. Your message to the women should be loud and clear.’

Interestingly, the meeting was not disbanded but the organizers agreed to take this matter up with the women in the next meetings. However, the NGO realized how serious I was about my suggestion of not tolerating this nonsense, which resulted in a very interesting discussion with the NGO about the role that our sector, the development, social, voluntary sector, whatever you want to call it, plays. When do we start intervening in which situations? This country has thousands of organizations working for the underprivileged.

Under what circumstances is it fine for these organizations to work on economic empowerment but not be concerned with challenging the politics of power that give rise to the very poverty they are trying to combat? This tendency to avoid active political engagement is most apparent in organizations that are concerned with ‘service delivery’. Their mandate is not political transformation or empowerment – their mandate is ‘let us reach water to X number of villages’ or ‘let us set up X number of micro finance units benefiting X hundred women’. These type of organizations do not want to engage in work that shift paradigms or subverts the status quo – this is seen as too activist. They say ‘we are not jhandadhaaris (flagbearers) – we do not wear the badge of a political movement’.

It is this, this literal aversion to ‘politics’ that I do not accept. An NGO providing microfinance (or any other) service to its ‘beneficiaries’ stating that it will not engage in politics is a very political stand! By taking such a position they are clearly stating that they are interested in maintaining the current castiest and patriarchal power structures.  Very unfortunately, there are a large number of such NGOs with big budgets (and some even have been awarded for their social empowerment work!) that refuse to subvert the existing power structures and take the easier path. They don’t seem to realize that this apolitical easier path they take now is going to cost all of us very dearly in the long run.

Casteism, like patriarchy, racism and violence, should not be tolerated no matter what the consequences are.

Social Media and Revolution

•April 28, 2011 • 4 Comments

It is undisputed that the social media, unlike newspapers, radio, telephone and television makes many-to-many communication possible. And therefore, it is more democratic. But the technology that social media rides on – the Internet and telephony – are grids that needs to be laid out. The discussions, and the contentious issues now, are no more whether the medium is allowing for democratic participation or not, but rather that of access.

We need to be acutely aware of the fact that access to this powerful and apparently democratic social media needs large amounts of investment in fiber optic cables, satellites, transponders, antennas, servers, technologists, software’s, steel and land. Through out the first, second and third world, these investments are largely made by private corporation supported and facilitated by respective governments through their taxation and subsidy policies, land allocation rules and even immigration policies to set up these information and communication infrastructure. And since this is the case, profit remains at the center of such endeavors, and the purpose and objective is not to foster protest or social movements. The corporations and governments only invest in technology where it suits its needs and agendas. Therefore, it is not surprising that Egypt can and did shut down Internet access for a week during the recent revolution and that China has the most stringent control over Internet access in the world.

In India, the lack of access or the digital divide is the result of general poverty and the traditional rich-poor, urban-rural divide. India has more than 790 million cell phone subscribers as of Feb 2011 but only 100 million internet users (only 11.4 million of those have access to broadband). Though India is the third largest Internet user in the world (but then everything in India, with 1.2 billion people living there, can very easily be in the top ten charts of nearly anything) it is only 8.4% of its population. Yes, Internet is mostly accessed through cell phones and 40% of Internet users in India do so from their phones. But India is largely a 2G country making accessing internet over mobile phones painfully slow, not to mention hurtfully expensive. So, it will be a long time before more than 800 million people in India can drag themselves out of the internet black hole.

They key to conflict resolution and peace building, I believe, is listening, and not, contrary to popular belief, talking. Definitely not chatter. What FB offers is a ready group of ‘friends’ and ‘likers’ who we may perceive to be listening to us. Our posts and tweets being commented on or re-tweeted, or our status being liked, or we being poked, gives us a sense of belonging and being cared for. There is no denying that there is instant, if not deep, gratification to be had from plastering our inanities on the great wall of Facebook. I will not be surprised if, in the near future, shrinks (who we pay to listen to us) may go out of business. Or if a new breed of shrinks will make millions for weaning us of our net-addictions.

Can social media create a movement or revolution? Good question. To me the answer is no. Revolution is created by radicalized communities who are tired of, and extremely angry at, the established power structures or regimes or policies or even attitudes. So, to that extent the ‘creation’ of movements comes from the hearts of living human beings who are not afraid to challenge and oppose. From their aspiration and desire to change and transform their immediate future for themselves. Social media, however, plays a crucial role in organizing and sometimes strategizing, and definitely a great role in publicizing and galvanizing. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did just that in Egypt. According to one Cairo activist : “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.” It is rather interesting to note that there is nothing about passion, oppression, desire, change, future in this articulation, which is crucial and center-stage for revolution. But, what it does have is ‘management’. And there is a big difference between managing and creating.

What can create social movements is people’s right and freedom to voice so that they can be heard unadulterated and unmediated. Their ability to participate in the decision- making processes of matters that govern their lives and future. Voice is a funny thing –it is simple to understand (and some of us take it for granted) yet it is not as simple too. For a vast section of Indian population voice is denied to if you happen to be the wrong caste, wrong religion, wrong region, wrong class or wrong gender. And at times, you may have a strong voice but you are so far away from those whose ears matter, that it is as good as not having a voice. This is the case with many indigenous peoples in India merely because they live in very ‘remote’ places or have been pushed back into remoter areas with successive development projects. Some communities, like Dalits, have traditionally no voice in their village administrations. This scenario is fast changing because of Dalit assertion and affirmative actions (known as ‘reservations’ in India). But such assertions almost always come at a very high price. The cost can be an arm, a leg, a nose or your dear life. In such a scenarios, which unfortunately are not limited to India, there is a need for empowering voices and sometime to build voice-bridges.

Here’s where my work at Video Volunteers comes in, where we work with the most disadvantaged communities and empower their voices and teach them how to use the power and potential of video, audio, internet, discussions, debates, story telling etc to connect to the world and force it to listen. More about that on VV’s website.

Perhaps the most important role of social media, and which it has proven to do very successfully in some cases, is distribution. Viral has a different connotation in today’s social media era. It does not, unlike a few years back, evoke images of a sick and feverish person. Instead it now means a cause or campaign hitting feverish pitch. Campaigners would give their left arm if their cause went ‘viral’ – which is, all who came in its way would be infected and will happily pass on the infection to hundreds more, and they to thousands more. Since social media enables many to many, which is a radical shift from the traditional one to many, a relevant piece of information or story has the potential to be circulated ‘virally’ by thousands of connectors. And since the world is increasingly shrinking, at least for some of us, these connectors are not, and need not be, from the same country or cultures. It is this fact that makes every company, even those in the business of transporting news and information like news media, to very prominently display two logos, and unwittingly advertize the two respective private companies – Facebook and Twitter.

With 500 million active Facebook users and 75 million (as of Jan 2010) Twitter users, with liking, un-liking, friending, tweeting, re-tweeting etc become part of every day lingo, the conventional media giants have no other option but to ask their readers, listeners and viewers to ‘follow’ them on Facebook and Twitter. They are all gearing for the eventuality that the future eyeballs will all be on computer screens and smart phones and tablets. They realize that ‘mainstream’ media, as we understood that word till 10 years back, is dead or nearly dead. And with that mainstream news and content creation or mainstream journalism too is on its deathbed. But then, that’s another blog.

The future is and should be what the industry calls user-generated content or consumer-generated-media and what I call community created content. The community video producers, the community journalists and community radio reporters I am working with are doing just that. They are radicalized individuals rooted in their communities, not fearful of questioning the established powers, challenging norms, revealing uncomfortable facts, not afraid of putting their hearts out, with cameras and recorders, sharing their stories of triumph and loss, piercing our very short-spanned attentions and inspiring us to take action for a better world.

– This article is an edited version of a lecture on Social Media and Revolution I gave at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego, on 28th April 2011.

Anna Hazare’s Foot in Mouth

•April 12, 2011 • 6 Comments

Anna Hazare, after a short but successful ‘fast’ run in inspiring people to stand up for the Jan Lokpal Bill, seem to have put his foot in the mouth by praising two totally un-praiseworthy characters. Or should we say, he put his heart in his mouth and spoke his soul?

By now we know that Anna, in a press meet in Delhi, asked Chief Ministers in India to emulate the Chief Minister of Gujarat, apparently for his role in rural development. The truth of Narendra Modi’s development is for anyone to verify, provided one takes the trouble to go to rural and coastal areas. For those who cannot, my friend Mallika Sarabhai has briefly but aptly described the facts. (Full text of her response to Anna is below). Perhaps the old Gandhian, like many others in the country, was dazzled by the urban prosperity in Gujarat. He should have at least checked on the fact that the Lokayukta in Gujarat has been defunct ever since Modi has taken over as the CM!

When reporters reminded Anna about Modi’s role in 2002, he clarified that “I do not support communal politics, riots or any such thing. I am only talking about decentralisation of power.” Decentralization! If anything Modi is the opposite of decentralization. Of the 26 ministers in his cabinet, 17 have no independent charge and are mere Ministers of State. Of the remaining 9 who do have independent charge, 8 manage more than one ministries. Modi himself holds more than 10 ministries, including Home, Industries, Mines, Minerals, Energy, Petrochemicals, Ports, Information & Broadcasting, Narmada, Kalpasar, and Science & Technology. Some decentralization!

What is more shocking than Anna’s praise for Modi, is his soft corner for Hitler! In the same press meet on Monday he praised the former Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler. “The kind of model that the Third Reich has presented, that model should be emulated by all other world leaders…. I am saying this on the basis of the kind of works the German Chancellor has done in the field of development.”

When forced to clarify he said that “I have described the Chancellor as good only partially. While I admire the efficiency with which Herr Hitler has gassed 6 million Jews, alongside I have clarified that I am opposed to any form of communal disharmony.”

He makes it sound as if he supported genocide as long as it was conducted without causing disharmony! If Anna Hazare was German national he would have been prosecuted right away for this ridiculous utterance and stand.

In her letter, Mallika has warned that if Anna does not retract his statement she and others will be forced distance themselves from the Lokpal movement. I totally understand Mallika’s pain and frustration but what we need to do is to distance Anna Hazare from the Lokpal movement.

Zindabad.

Stalin | 12 April 2011|

MALLIKA SARABHAI’S LETTER TO ANNA HAZARE
Dear Annaji
We are deeply shocked by your endorsement of Narendra Modi’s rural development. There has been little or no rural development in ths state. In fact gauchar lands and irrigated farmlands have been stealthily taken by the government and sold off at ridiculous prices to a small club of industrialists. There has been no Lokayukta in Gujarat for nearly seven years so hundreds of complaints against corruption are lying unheard. From the Sujalam Sufalam scam of 1700 crores to the NREGS boribund scam of 109 crores, the fisheries scam of 600 crores, every department is involved in thousands of crores of scams. The poor and rural peoiple are being sold to Modiu’s friends the industrialists. The state is in terrible debt because of his largess to industry while 21 lakh farmers wait for compensation.
Your endorsement is apalling and we will be forced to distance ourselves from the Lokpal movement unless it is irrevocably retracted.
Sincerely
Mallika Sarabhai
11.4.2011
8.23am

IndiaUnheard – Pushing Marginalized Voices to the Mainstream Media

•December 3, 2010 • 5 Comments

I was recently asked why we set up the Video Volunteers’ IndiaUnheard program. It is a straightforward question with a multitude of replies. Let me briefly outline the IndiaUnheard program before I articulate our motives.

IndiaUnheard is the first ever community news service launched by Video Volunteers. This new initiative is constituted of a network of community correspondents who are trained to tell unique stories; stories about their own communities; stories which are otherwise left untold. By feeding this community-produced content to national and international outlets, such as mainstream television channels and social networking sites, IndiaUnheard links rural communities with a truly global audience.

Relaxing with some of our Community Correspondents at the first IndiaUnheard training

NB IndiaUnheard is designed as a community news service but we don’t see news only as events – it is also stories and features. The reason why we do this is more logistical. It is not possible in India today, for very remote communities to give instant news to a central hub because they are on the wrong side of the digital divide.

So why did we start this program?

Typically information dissemination around the world is on the vertical and top down so there is always something – a state, a powerful person, a market, a religion – talking down to people. Information dissemination is very seldom bottom up. So that is one context.

The other is the way news is generated around the world and particularly, in this case, in India. It is what we call the fishing method, or the pull out method, where the media is already aware of an incident happening because it is so big, or there is a propensity of a story happening and they are stationed their to capture it; just like the fisherman goes to the spot where his propensity to catch fish is high. But it is never adventurous; it is never ‘let me go and see if this place has news’ – no, there are no foot soldiers like that in journalism. Journalists are stationed in front of parliament houses, stock exchanges, sports stadiums and film premieres. So, in a pull method of creating news, the intrinsic problem is that you have already decided what needs to be pulled.

IndiaUnheard tries to subvert this top-down, vertical information dissemination model to a bottom up, ‘push’ model. With this in mind, we are trying to create a network of community activists who we are training as Community Correspondents; their job is to push up content from rural areas. Video Volunteers then facilitates and distributes this ‘pushed up’ content to mainstream media and a global web audience. The aim is to enable stories of the real India to be seen and heard.

Abhay Deol - Video Volunteers Ambassador - hangs out with our Community Correspondents

The success of the program therefore resides in the global audience’s willingness to consume content produced by IndiaUnheard’s Community Correspondents. There are a number of reasons why I have faith in our existing audience and why I think our viewing numbers will steadily increase.

Firstly, I believe that media habits are formed by what is consumed. People don’t enter the media world with existing habits.

Secondly, I do believe that, going by the comments that reside on mainstream news companies websites, people are tired of sensationalist news. With IndiaUnheard we can give our audiences something different; something real.

In this vein, and as a brief aside, I don’t think journalism has to have reporters being unattached to the issue; that journalism has to be ‘objective’. That is what we are taught when we study journalism. However, very soon you realize it is not possible to be objective. What they mean by ‘be objective’ is ‘present multiple points of view’. But, ‘multiple points of view’ do not equate to ‘objectivity’ – that is where the confusion seems to lie.

Nevertheless, traditional journalists will always keep themselves out of the frame. We, on the other hand, encourage our Community Correspondents to be subjective. We want to know how they are connected to the story; for example, in a story about untouchability we want to know if the Community Correspondent has experienced it or seen it and if yes, how did it feel?

People say we live in the age of disbelief. It is sometimes said that with increasing channels of communication and information, this disbelief will decrease. Conversely, people’s skepticism about content has only risen.

It is therefore vital for Community Correspondent’s to place themselves in the frame – it is not, ‘I am totally outside of this and I am therefore going to give you the complete bare facts.‘ I would much rather have someone go ‘I know, I have faced this and I am going to tell you a story about not my facing it but someone else facing it’. That becomes more compelling. And to me that becomes more real.

Our Community Correspondents!

To find out more and watch our videos click here.

Gujarat is NOT Equal to Modi

•November 11, 2010 • 3 Comments

Gujarat is a state that has experienced more than its fair share of devastation. The genocidal carnage of 2002 decimated the city of Ahmedabad. Political and religious tensions continue to simmer. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, came to power in 2001. As the chief minister at the time of the carnage, it is believed by many that Narendra Modi sanctioned, if not designed, the violence. Nevertheless, Modi was reelected, not once, but twice. NB In 2001 Modi was not an elected Chief Minister – he was brought in as a replacement of Keshubhai Patel, who was held responsible for his party’s (BJP)humiliating  defeat in the by-elections. He was elected in December 2002 and again in 2007.

There are however, myself included, a huge number of Gujaratis who vehemently oppose Modi’s divisive right wing politics, hate speech and violence. He has an uncanny ability to convert anything against him and his government as a statement against the people of Gujarat; in this way, he has successfully created a feeling in Gujarat that ‘if you talk against me, Modi, then you are talking against 5.5 Crore (55 million) Gujaratis’. That is his strategy. A lot of Gujaratis  have fallen for this and therefore feel that when human rights activists criticize Modi’s right wing politics, they are also criticizing the people of Gujarat. In brief, Modi’s polarizing stance is saying ‘Modi = Gujarat; you accuse me, you accuse Gujarat.’

Interestingly, many human rights activists seem to be playing another politics of polarization, which is Gujarat is equal to Modi. There are several examples of how the rights activists have done this; one is the reaction to the current advertisement promoting various tourist destinations in Gujarat and featuring Amitabh Bachchan. This advertisement has generated multiple accusations on both sides. The human rights activists seem to feel that Bachchan has committed a major crime by appearing in an advertisement that promotes Gujarat and their point is, ‘doesn’t Bachchan know better than to promote Gujarat’. The right wing is obviously saying ‘what is wrong with Bachchan promoting Gujarat?’

Now, in spite of Bachchan’s opportunistic politics, he has, I think, not done anything wrong by appearing in an advertisement which promotes Gujarat’s tourist destinations (although the ad itself is a pathetic – it is nothing creative – it is simply shots of beautiful places with Bachchan in flowing kurtas). Regardless of whether or not Bachchan was paid to appear in the advertising campaign (the media suggests he participated for free) – the question is; why do activists feel that Bachchan did wrong by promoting Gujarat? Are they saying that the entirety of Gujarat should not be promoted or talked about in a fair manner; that everybody in Gujarat is a clone of Modi? Talking of clones, Modi, for the first time ever in the history of elections in this country distributed masks of his face in 2007 and many were happy to wear them. Going by the activists’ reactions to the Amitabh Bachan ad, it looks like this branding exercise was a success.

This controversy also brings to mind a phrase made popular by the media – ‘Modi’s Gujarat’ – another very problematic supposition. It is not without a reason that Modi has kept the reins of Tourism Ministry (along with Home, Mines, Industries, Energy, Ports, Petrochemicals, Information & Broadcasting, Narmada (dam) and Science & Technology) with him and not appointed independent Minister in his cabinet for these portfolios.

As I said earlier, Modi believes ‘me is equal to Gujarat’, in other words, ‘I am the only one that knows what is best for Gujarat’. And some activists are playing into that by saying the reverse ‘Gujarat is Modi’ which in fact, means the same. They are playing into each others power/polarization politics which is ridiculous and dangerous.

The question here is – why do activists forget that the promotion of Gujarat, just because Modi continues to be the Chief Minister, should not be the point of attack. Because I for one, the person who is writing this blog, am a Gujarati and there are millions of people like me who have not voted for Modi. We are not talking about hundreds, we are talking about millions of people who did not vote for Modi in both the elections.  He does not represent me or millions of people like me and I would not do anything that would suggest he represents me, forget he is me.

So I think we human rights activists need to be extremely cautious of not continuing to play the politics of polarization. We should have attacked that ad for the merits of that it, which are few. Let us not reduce a whole state (and its people, history, struggles and aspirations) to a single man. Doing that is only contributing to the creation of a fascist.

Pepsi’s Cola Coloured India

•October 28, 2010 • 3 Comments

The new Pepsi TV commercial – the ‘Youngistan’ series featuring Hindi film industry’s latest heart throb Ranbir Kapoor, is really very interesting.

Scene 1: The girl tells her father ‘papa I am not interested in this marriage (proposal)’ and the father exerts his power by walking out of the door, shutting the girl in (or out).

Scene 2: The girl is sitting next to the prospective groom on a sofa with their respective parents peering on – a classic scene all Indians will recognize from the million times they have seen the setting in films and TV.

Scene 3: Ranbir Kapoor walks into the room to his save his female friend from an arranged marriage she is not interested in. ‘How could you do this to me’, he says from the doorway. Of course the audience expects that he is the girl’s lover, or acting as one. Instead he goes to the potential groom and pretends to be his jilted lover. The audience is now thinking, ‘wait a minute, a gay lover! Did they just show gays on TV?’ When the bewildered guy, who speaks with a distinct NRI accent, says that he does not know him, another young man walks into the scene and asks him, ‘will you deny to remember me too?!”

Scene 4: The girl thanks the two boys for having saved her from a possible arranged marriage.

This advert is extremely interesting comment on today’s India, as most ads and images always are. On the one hand homosexual relationships are respectfully normalized in this ad. There are no snide looks or jeers by the four parents who are shocked to realize this fact about the boy; their reactions never stoop to mockery. There are no ‘hai hai, ya allah, yeh zamana kahan ja raha hai’ (O my god, where is the world headed too) looks or reactions. From the point of view of accepting people with different (or multiple) sexual orientations, this ad is truly celebratory and the makers need to be commended for it.

Interestingly, however, the girl in this seemingly ‘progressive’ ad continues to be denied her agency to decide what is good or bad for her. Her power relation with her parents continues to be in the previous century, though she has 21st century friends who are cool enough to act (very soon ads will have normal homosexuals too and not just pretenders) as gays without demeaning gays. If we use Pepsi’s cola colored lens to understand young India, it looks like it is saying ‘homosexuality – okay’, ‘girls having wild male friends – okay’, ‘parents deciding who their girls should marry – okay too’.

The ad is a good representation of India today – the convenient co-existence of multiple eras. The modern and the primitive, the independent and the submissive all at the same time. Often I describe India as a primitive elephant disguised as a cheetah. We want the world to perceive us as sleek, shining and fast but in reality we are old and slow, though with our own charms. This ad is one reason why I describe it so.

‘Development’ is Political

•October 23, 2010 • 2 Comments

As a human rights activist, I have spent two decades campaigning for causes I care deeply about –gender equality, secularism, an end to caste discrimination. In this blog post I want to explore the curious occurrence of political apathy in the NGO sector in India.

Time and again, when working with colleagues in the field of social development, I encounter a reticence to engage with politics; from the politics of gender to the politics of wealth distribution, the politics of education to the politics of caste.

Let me share a short anecdote with you. A few years ago I was invited to evaluate the programs of a very large and very well respected microfinance NGO in India. During the period of evaluation it was the NGOs annual meeting – an occasion which saw the coming together of over 5,000 women from the hundreds of savings groups promoted by the NGO. Around lunchtime I heard a commotion in the kitchen area. I went over and found a group of 30 or so women having a heated discussion with some of the volunteer organizers. The women were refusing to eat the food that had been prepared. When I enquired as to why this was the case, they answered, ‘because you have already served the same food to a bunch of Dalits’. The volunteer organizers were trying to pacify the women, ‘lets not disturb the event, we will seat you in separate lines for food’. So I went to the top layer of management at this large NGO, and I said ‘you have to call off this meeting right now. This has to be a non-negotiable. If your ’empowered’ women are still saying we will not eat because of issues of caste, we have reached our tolerance threshold. We have to communicate to them that this cannot, and will not, be tolerated. Everyone needs to be sent home and told that we will communicate about the future of the self help groups in due course’. Of course they did not disband the meeting but they realized how serious I was which resulted in a very interesting discussion with the NGO about the role that our sector plays. When do we start intervening and in which situations? Do we really want economically empowered people who continue to be casteist and sexist?

This country has thousands of organizations working for the underprivileged. Under what circumstances is it fine for these organizations to work on economic empowerment but not be concerned with challenging the politics of power that give rise to the very poverty they are trying to combat? This tendency to avoid active political engagement is most apparent in those organizations that are concerned with ‘service delivery’. Their mandate is not political transformation or empowerment – their mandate is to reach water to X number of villages or to set up X number of micro credit units benefiting X number of women. These types of organizations do not want to engage in work to shift existing power paradigms – this is seen as too activist. They say ‘we are not jhandadhari (flag bearers) – we do not wear the badge of a political movement’. This aversion to ‘politics’ is dangerous because tomorrow we may have, as a result of all the effective NGO programs, a huge number articulate and economically strong people who continue to practice and perpetuate social inequities.

Social entrepreneurship is becoming a big thing these days, which is great. But any project that seeks to address poverty without dealing with the ‘politics’ of deprivation is bound to fail. And it should fail.

You may call yourself NGO, non-profit, social sector, development sector, voluntary agencies or whatever else, if you are in the business of bettering the life of the ‘poor’, then you are, whether you want to be or not, in the business of politics. We need to take this responsibility seriously.