Saathiyon salaam hai…

The Community Development Exchange defines ‘community development’ as: “The process of developing active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect. It is about influencing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives…Community workers (officers) facilitate the participation of people in this process. They enable connections to be made between communities and with the development of wider policies and programmes…Community development expresses values of fairness, equality, accountability, opportunity, choice, participation, mutuality, reciprocity and continuous learning. Educating, enabling and empowering are at the core of community development.”

Community development, and struggle for the rights of the downtrodden that are embedded in Gandhinian philosophy have their manifestations in present day India. Mahatma Gandhi was a man of the masses – ready to take up the cudgels on behalf of the oppressed. This endeared him to the Indian masses. When he started the ‘Non-cooperation Movement’ in 1920, many academicians, teachers, students and professionals – both men and women – left the urban areas to go to the rural areas and impart knowledge to the peasants. The community work that Gandhi began years ago continues till this day in India. There are many organisations there that work for the rights of the lower classes, both in the rural areas and the urban areas. During my visit to India last year in November in a media exchange programme organised by Panos South Asia, we (six journalists from Pakistan) were taken to the offices of one such voluntary development organisation called Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA).

YUVA primarily focuses on issues related to the marginalised lower classes, mainly in the urban areas. It works on the rights of the slum-dwellers and those residing on the pavements, such as their housing rights and livelihood. The organisation is involved in addressing issues like health, education, gender equality, access to civic amenities, etc. YUVA tries to create awareness among the masses, tells them how to organise themselves, take action and show a united front. Like many other such organisations, YUVA aim at strengthening people’s participation, to teach the masses how to defend their rights and secure their resources.

The YUVA offices were located in a municipal school in Mumbai. After meeting with some members of YUVA, we were taken to the community hall to have a discussion on the social and political situation in Pakistan. The audience mostly consisted of members of YUVA and what intrigued me was how diverse the audience was. From an elderly sadhu (an ascetic holy man in Hinduism) to a young 16-year old student; from an elderly woman from a slum to a young and vibrant female, the mix was quite interesting. When we started conversing with the audience, it became quite apparent that they were well aware of their rights and each and every one of them was involved in the community development programme in his/her own way. Whether it was someone who came from Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia, or someone who came from a small slum, they were all united in fighting for their rights. It has been seen in the world over how people move from the hinterland to metropolises. Nowhere in India is it more prominent than in Mumbai and there has been a large resentment from parties like the Shiv Sena who want to turn the immigrants out of Maharashtra. YUVA and other development organisations, among other things, work for the rights of these slum dwellers. The slum-dwellers themselves are acutely aware of their rights and are actively engaged in fighting for their rights, be it getting ration cards, property rights, etc.

When we visited Dharavi the next day, our guide was a young boy (about 15 or 16-year old) who lived there. He took us around to see the slum, how people lived there and survived. It was interesting to see how aware that young boy was and how active he was in fighting for the rights of the slum-dwellers. Though Pakistan has some civil society organisations working in the rural and urban areas, what is lacking is that they have not been as successful in creating awareness as their counterparts in India have done.

In Pakistan, in the presence of strong feudalism and top down bureaucratic approach to development, community development could not gain a foothold until the 1990s after the end of the Afghan war. During this period developmental funds started flowing to Pakistan’s non-governmental sector from the West, which was a departure from initiating development through the governments hitched to the US’s strategic interests. The alternative channel of development led to participatory development at the community level catering to the natives’ basic needs. Most projects deal with the environment and women economic empowerment. Pakistan’s hilly northern areas and backward provinces like Balochistan and Sindh are the epicentre of the community development effort. Southern Punjab is also the target of such projects. Slowly but surely Pakistan too seems to be falling love for the Gandhinian model of community development.

I would like to end by putting down the lyrics of an inspiring song that the members of YUVA sang before we took our leave from there. It had a beautiful tune. The words are:
Saathiyon salaam hai, salaam hai, salaam
Iss desh ki azaadiyan hain tumhay bula raheen
Jati, vadi, berriyaan jhanjhana ke gaa raheen
Kabool ho azaadiyan, torr do yeh berriyaan
Pran karo yahaan abhi, pran karo yahaan sabhi
Tumharay hee haath mein desh ki mashaal hai
Saathiyon salaam hai
Bhayyion salaam hai, beheno salaam hai
Dhun samaaj hai zameen dur tum ussay karo
Bujh raha jala diya pyar se isse bharo
Yeh desh lehlaha uthay, bharatiya gaon uthay
Vishwa mein awaaz hai vishwa mein pukar hai
Tumharay hee haath mein desh ki mashaal hai
Saathiyon salaam hai


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