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In War And Peace, Heal

Hope must be the only song sung in times of siege. Some brave women in Gujarat show how.

In War And Peace, Heal
Dilip Mehta/Contact Press
In War And Peace, Heal
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
They don’t seek publicity. They are just one among many who are trying to heal the wounds in post-Godhra Gujarat. Jahnvi Andharia of the NGO Alternative Networks for Development Initiatives (Anandi) makes this very clear. "I read in the papers about Time magazine giving us recognition. We did not approach them for it," Jahnvi says. This steely humility perhaps explains why Time has put Anandi right on top in its list of 20 Asian individuals and groups who have done extraordinary work in recent times. Anandi’s hard work in times of peace and the goodwill it earned through years of "empowerment campaigns" helped in the relief tasks during the 2001 earthquake and the communal riots in 2002. After the earthquake, they started work in Maliya taluka, among the five most backward blocks of Gujarat, launching rehabilitation schemes with the village women themselves handling reconstruction and livelihood projects.

After the riots last year, the smell of death and violence was thick in the air. There were perpetual threats of mob violence. The Anandi women braved it all as they plunged into riot relief work in the Panchmahals district (of which Godhra is the HQ). Working with the Citizens’ Initiative (an umbrella NGO which has done a lot for the riot-affected), they played a crucial role in re-establishing dialogue between Hindus and Muslims. They distributed ‘food and non-food items’ to 10,269 people and helped them raise their destroyed houses.

Says Sumitra, "While doing this, we interacted with riot victims and learnt about their problems and fears. We spent a considerable time opening up dialogue between the villagers. To improve relations between the communities, we organised a cricket match between Hindus and Muslims on August 15, calling it the Ekta Cup." Volunteers with Anandi moved around in Godhra, Halol, Kaalol, Rajgadh, Napania, Lunawada and the surrounding villages and joined the collective efforts of the Citizens’ Initiative. Recalls Sumitra: "Our most satisfying experience was when we distributed sewing machines to Muslim women who at that point of time were battling a very low sense of self-worth. They suddenly found their life support in the sewing machines. One of them even gave a name to the group we had provided the sewing machines with—the Aakruti group, later rechristened Aakaar."

Together with the Citizens’ Initiative, Anandi was actively involved in the reconstruction of 189 houses of riot victims in the Boru village of Halol taluka. "We also distributed 200 livelihood kits to people according to their profession," says Jahnvi.

The rapport with the locals helped in many ways. The rural women trained by Anandi have emerged from their veils, taking up development issues on their own. And villagers in orthodox Saurashtra and in the tribal pockets of Panchmahals are more aware of and assertive about their rights now. Two local women’s collectives with more than 3,000 members have been created. In Saurashtra, Anandi is collaborating with six development groups to empower women, and have succeeded in mobilising 2,000 women till date. Clearly, a journey from despair to hope.

The Anandis can be contacted at: Chabutra Sheri, opposite SBI, Devgadh Baria, Dahod-389380. Or: G-3, Akshardeep Apartments-A, Jalaram-3, University Road, Rajkot-360005. E-mail: anandiad1@sancharnet.in.

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