We are Indians, firstly and lastly

These words by B. R. Ambedkar echo with each of our efforts to reach out to people to build and broaden their perspectives. It gives us immense encouragement and motivation to keep going forward when people share their experiences and stories with us.

When a group in Mariammanagar in Mumbai went through the programme, they wanted to focus on slum rehabilitation – an issue they had grappled with for some years. They learnt about their constitutional rights, went through the Slum Rehabilitation Act and understood the procedures for implementation. They then used the RTI Act and got more information on the implementation of the scheme in their area. Using legitimate tools of complaints and petitions, they were able to ensure better implementation.


Vikalp Foundation and Amit Mohan’s Persistent work

WTP partnered with Vikalp Foundation, Meerut – A national NGO working for the stoppage of environmental depletion with a special focus on the conservation of water on earth. Amit Mohan our Anchor from Vikalp Foundation is working on various issues related to Environment and also in the field of Education.They also are spreading awareness among large numbers of people on ways to make use of polluted water in day to day life by using simple techniques of boiling or filtering and also ways to treat water for further use.

The Road to responsible citizenship is replicable! How Akanksha worked on roads and then sanitation.

Literacy India has schools which provide education to students of different age groups who have no formal education. Aakanksha, a student from this school, participated in the citizenship programme conducted by We the People when she was in her 7th class. The programme aimed at making students understand the importance of the Indian constitution and also about how their rights apply to real life situations.

Aakanksha talks about how understanding her rights made her realize the fact that instead of always complaining about the government it is also our responsibility to take actions and pressurize the government to work for us. It is often assumed that students aren’t taken seriously in such endeavors but in reality no one is taken seriously. As citizens it is our duty to stand up for ourselves and demand work to be done irrespective of our age

Uma’s Story – Ration at home is my problem too

I am aware of the problem which my mother was facing for about couple of months but I could not help her due to lack of interest and time. After attending your workshop, I realized that being a citizen, I am supposed to be helping myself on such issues. I immediately picked up the phone and called on to complain against this ration shop. I gave them all the relevant info and made sure to get the complaint number as well. After a few days, we got a call from the officer asking her to meet them. I wanted to go on behalf of my mom but couldn’t do so owing to my busy schedule. In order to make the case stronger, I googled everything about the Ration office, procedures and complaints and got all the relevant information. I collected all the relevant papers & gave them to my father.

When my father went to their office & showed the documents I gave him, you would not believe the kind of expression that officer had on his face. He was shocked & thought how could a layman get these details? He started asking him questions about where he got all these details and who gave him. My father told him that I found out all these details & lodged the complaint. He immediately wrote in the Ration card to release the Ration. Next day we got full Ration for the first time. I dont know whether or not we are going to get proper ration but now I know what to do, where & how.

She says happily,“At least find out the details about the problem and file a complaint. Don’t believe in ‘Suna tha, Dekha tha, Usne kaha tha’ etc. just find it out yourself”

Issue of missing street lights around school, Majalgaon, dist

M. Phule Vidyalaya at Majalgaon, dist.Anchors trainings followed by review sessions at school occupies the first half of the academic year. Just before approaching the Diwali vacation, the students were given a survey to accomplish.Post Diwali vacation, however, the issue of missing street lights around their school was selected by students. An application supported by well researched documents and a territory plan was submitted at the municipal council of Majalgaon. During their research, students noted down all the pole numbers, other technical details and exact locations of the pole. The residents of the area were interviewed by the students. One of the questions to the residents in the interview was, have you ever contacted municipal council for the same? Officially nothing of this sort had ever happened.

Students at BOSCO Institute, Jorhat

WTP also partnered with BOSCO Institute, Jorhat. In this exciting journey, our first from the North East, we have trained 68 MSW students over the span of 2 years. These sessions were
conducted with the help of our anchor Probin Topno, who teaches these MSW students. Right after the training session, the students facilitated Citizen Cafes in various villages of Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and other sister states reaching out to villagers and youth groups.Meanwhile, 20 first year MSW students were placed for their field work in 4 different villages across Assam. The student groups with regards to finding of the issues, conducted an activity;
Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which is one of the technique of community organisation in order to find out the actual problem that they were facing.The social work students learnt ways of how to deal with the community people, to access their needs and to respect a different society without any bias. The social workers also realized that theory classes helped them gain knowledge and using that, they were able to apply and utilized it in the field. It also helped them to develop a way of thinking and shaped the personality as

Stop Littering; get a dustbin for our school

What happens when students take matter in their own hands ?Rohit, a student of class 8 th at Literacy India, Gurgaon, the need of a dustbin near the school as there was always a lot of garbage accumulated on the road due to constant littering by students. He then took the help of his teachers and submitted an application to the Nagar Nigam with the signatures of the Sarpanch and all the students. As a result a dustbin was quickly set up near the school.

Students’ push puts cops at a busy junction
When awareness comes into play
The students of School of Inspired Leadership, Gurgaon took up the cause of poor traffic management at sec 44-45 crossing in Gurgaon, There are no traffic lights at the crossing and also no traffic police to manage the traffic. This led to a lot of traffic congestion at peak office hours. The traffic jams are as long as 1 km most of the times. After spending months , approaching officials with possible solutions to manage traffic at the busy Sector 44-45 crossing, the students from the School of Inspired Leadership have finally been able to get traffic cops deployed at the spot.

Action after the Citizenship Program – Heritage students’ work

heritageThe students of Heritage Class 9 took up the issue of sanitation at the busy Sadar Bazaar. As part of preparation for working on the issue, they identified the Government rules and regulations related to the issue and the authorities responsible for ensuring compliance. And then the action began. The students put together a complaint referring to the citizen’s charter and the MCG’s stated rules related to sanitation. They then went to the MCG Assistant Commissioner who was responsible for sanitation at Sadar Bazaar. After which the authorities agreed upon putting up dustbins at selected spots.

Empowering Public Transport Commuters of Hyderabad
Another example is of a group of young citizens in Hyderabad. They worked on non-compliance of meter fares by auto rickshaws – an issue they grappled with on a daily basis. Through the programme, they acquired information on the laws that governed transport and traffic. They then got further information on the authorities that are responsible for of the enforcement of these laws, looked up rules, met officials, filed complaints and were able to ensure that fare cards are put up in every auto-rickshaw and a compliance drive was undertaken. They also ran an awareness campaign asking citizens to act responsibly and not pay more than the authorized fare charge.

Gurgaon’s Tryst with Cleanliness
A group of women from Sheetla colony in Gurgaon, decided to work on improving public sanitation in their locality. Their first complaint to the Sanitary Inspector of the Municipal Corporation resulted in a cleanliness drive.  But this enthusiasm was short-lived. There was no cleaning for a month after that. The women then again filed complaints with the Commissioner.  This resulted in a major shake-up. A new team of sanitation workers was brought in. For the first time, a small truck started coming everyday to all the streets and collecting garbage. And three months after the women began their initiative, the cleaning has been going on regularly – twice a week.

Mamta Shares Her Story
She says that even her parents are very proud of her. She is determined to help the society, her friends and family. She says she will never give up and make citizens realize how important it is to uphold themselves as responsible citizens of this country. A resident of Bajghera gaon in Gurgaon, Mamta is a student at Literacy India School and part of a class that has undergone a Citizen programme. The infrastructure in Bajghera gaon limits people in various manners and for the children, it was the concern about the road leading to their school.

alka The students reflected on how difficult it was to reach the school every day. Mamta, a student of standard VIII tells us that the road was in such a bad condition that during the monsoon season it would be filled with water for days. They would have to walk on the sides of the road, over the drains to reach school. “Every other day I would trip and my uniform would get spoilt” complains Akanksha Singh, a student of class VIII. The students were motivated and enthusiastic to go to school every day. But what can a young student do when the path that takes them to the place of learning is restricted.

This issue was taken up as an action project in the Citizenship Programme that Literacy India was conducting in partnership with We, The People. Empowered by this understanding of their rights and also the method of how to work with the government machinery, the first step that the students and their teacher Ms. IndramaniSabarwal, took in June 2012, was writing a complaint letter to the lady ‘Gram Sarpanch’, Kamlesh. She told the teachers that in spite of herself being the ‘Sarpanch’ she would ask her husband before accepting the complaint.

However, disappointingly this complaint letter was not accepted by her even later on. Next, the students and teachers filed a complaint in the District Collector office but after following up, the DC office informed them that they were not sure Bajghera came under their purview or the MCG’s purview. This really stumped the students! How could it be that the DC office was not sure! They should be having a list of villages under their purview. But this was not available. But they did not want their complaint to end up in endless red-tape between DC office and MCG.

They had to get the road made fast and they were not giving up!! So, they did a very smart thing. They went to MCG office and got the Superintending Officer to write a statement that Bajghera did not fall in their purview. They took this statement to the DC office and met the Area Superintendent. She immediately accepted the complaint and directed the BDO to look into the matter immediately. The students and teachers then met the BDO where it was shockingly revealed that Rs, 20, 00,000 was already sanctioned to the village for the construction of that road. This was taken in writing, with the BDO’s signature. This information was also shared with people from the village. Finally, after facing many difficulties, including petty village politics, the construction of this road began on 19th Dec 2012. It took a month to finish building the road and it is fully constructed now.

Dharavi get a Clean Up

In July 2012, Nirmala, a middle aged housewife residing in Transit Camp no. 2 in Dharavi’s Rajiv Gandhi Nagar went to a local municipal corporation station asking the cleaning staff to de-choke an overflowing drain that ran past her house. Dharavi, situated in Mumbai is known as one of the biggest slum settlements in Asia and is densely populated with people from various social segments and regions. Nirmalatai (as we know her) is a part of this population and has inhabited her 15 feet by 10 feet house for more than forty years now.

She has been part of a citizenship programme conducted by We, the People and is also a member of Sagar Mahila Mandal, a savings group encouraged by community coordinators working with SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action). Nirmalatai has always been concerned about the sanitation situation in her locality.

Armed with her understanding of citizens’ rights and responsibilities, she took on the mantle of getting her lane cleaned and constructed as per the needs of the residents. The lane where Nirmalatai’s house is situated used to be at level with an overflowing gutter. Everyday people would have to walk through dirt and filth that spilled on to the road. School children were some of the worst affected since their socks and shoes would get soaked with filth as they walked through the filth everyday to get to school. There was no way municipal staff could clean up the drain since an array of illegal pipes filled up the two main drains adjoining both sides of this road.

This was a very complex situation since it involved more than one issue. Most residents in the transit camp have illegal pipelines attached to their houses and this is their source of daily water. The plumbers’ network as well the municipal corporation ward office is completely aware of this. They also know that stricken with poverty, most residents would not be able to afford a legal water meter. This implied that any construction to be done must involve a dismantling of all the water pipes that would leave people with no water.

After a preliminary meeting with six to seven people from the locality, Nirmalatai decided to go door to door, ask people to gather for a common meeting, discuss all the issues and come to a consensual decision.

People’s zeal inspired the corporator to contribute more to this process and he promised to get the lane constructed as an elevated concrete road. As work began, the community members divided their roles and responsibilities. Two men were responsible for handling the money collected to be paid to the contractor. Quite a few women took turns to supervise the work during the day. Workers from the municipal corporation initiated building the lane using up the corporator’s local area development fund.

The process that began in July 2012, got completed in March 2013.

According to an old resident of the community, “the overflowing gutter was a menace for everybody residing in these lanes and therefore, the process of addressing the issue brought together Hindus, Muslims, Christians as citizens”. Nirmalatai’s tireless follow up with officials and more importantly, her role in mobilising public opinion for a consensus on the issue has made this a land mark case story in the locality. A current visit to the locality will show no trace of an overflowing gutter since one would come across a clean concrete road. There are drains on both sides of the lane and the pipelines that had obstructed these are now underneath the concrete road, thus making cleaning easier. WTP anchors who guided this issue narrate that while the most difficult part was to draw people out of their houses to discuss the issue, what really worked was questions related to health concerns. Once people realised how an overflowing gutter added to filthy water becoming stagnant and adding to health woes of malaria and leptospirosis, they joined together to do something about this menace.

It must be reckoned that the issue of illegal pipelines may strike a discord with some of us who feel that citizenship processes must be bound by law. However, it is important to understand all these processes in their given contexts. The city of Mumbai and especially Dharavi abounds in transit camps with dismal basic services accessible to people. The state has been turning a blind eye to this huge population except for when it comes to inviting builders to take away these lands to build townships for the rich. To bring people’s voices across from these transit camps:

“It was important for us to engage in building people’s consensus and while we are aware of many irregularities in such settlements, we did our best to involve the people’s representative and local ward office to resolve the issue.”

Struggle on PDS in Jogeshwari

“Section 4 of the RTI Act gives us the right to seek information from all public offices including ration shops and we wish to know the amount of stock you have received for this month”, said Ajitha, even as Fatima, Sufiya and Amuda went ahead with examining the grain samples in a ration shop in Jogeshwari East. As part of Mumbai based SAHER’s interfaith women’s initiative, this group was going through the WTP Citizenship Programme. They had identified malpractices in the PDS system as a public concern and were visiting ration shops, meeting rationing inspectors and officers and seeking information on monthly GRs and PDS rules.

Over the course of two months, this group of 15 women wrote out complaints and RTI Applications seeking information about grain samples allotted to each ration shop in Jogeshwari East. They checked notice boards at these shops, insisted that rates of grains be displayed and also insisted that the correct amount of supplies be provided to citizens. Concerned about a particular shop where the owner refused to share information and said that all supplies were over, these women registered a complaint with the concerned circle inspector. They influenced the Chief Rationing Officer to instruct inspectors to carry out surprise inspections in Jogeshwari East.

The outcome of this process was that each ration shop in the locality displays the GR in the shops and a surprise inspection led to exposure of grave embezzlement of PDS stocks in a particular shop. The owner was suspended for a period of time and had to pay fine for indulging in malpractices.

The same group has now initiated further action to access slum rehabilitation schemes in order to develop their residential settlement.