Samanvaya initiatives are innovative ideas to address or highlight some societal issue that is not being addressed adequately by anyone else. Some of these like disaster response are time bound initiatives, whereas the Freedom Lecture and Swaraj events have become annual. Original and innovative when they were started, these ideas have inspired others to start similar initiatives. The Indi-Quest Institute and Dharampal.Net have become institutions in themselves today. Our initiatives today define our stand on issues and have generated considerable interest and have had reasonable impact. One question that often we face is ‘how do you sustain your initiatives?’, none of our initiatives are funded and all are sustained through our own interest and resources.
Response to Disaster
At times all it takes is a phone call to launch a Samanvaya initiative and the entire venture is formulated and put into action in just a few hours! Like when we responded to the Gujarat Earthquake through our ‘Friends of Bhuj’ initiative or later the ‘Tamilnadu Tsunami Relief Initiative (TTRI)’. Both these were relief measure initiatives, started and managed by us, with a large number of volunteers who joined and worked with us for the duration of this initiative (two months in both cases). We at Samanvaya hold that with effective knowledge management and coordination, this voluntary participation of people at times of disaster can ensure its success, strength and sustainability. The voluntary efforts that we encountered in both cases are in our view, examples of the true spirit of seva that is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche.
Related: Friends of Bhuj Meeting Report, 2002 | Post-Tsunami Relief Work as TTRI,2005 | Relief Work Volunteer Guidelines | Uttarakhand Relief Work, 2014
If these immediate response are during disaster times, slower societal changes inspire other responses from us, like the ‘Thinnai’ youth forum, which we initiated after the Gujarat communal riots. Thinnai conducted a series of dialogues on current social issues that often ended up creating heated debates. Whether it be the understanding Gujarat communal riots, inter-linking of rivers, the role of religious institutions in society or the debate on GM crops, Thinnai provided a platform where young minds can think deeply and share their thoughts / apprehensions / queries on social issues.
While Thinnai had a broad canvas providing scope to discussion on any issue and was participant dependent, we realized the need for a more focussed group on education to understand the changing realities of education in the country. An early effort launched by Sangati group in which we participated regularly becoming inactive, provided us with an idea to sustain this interest through our own initiative, thus was born, ‘Paatashaala‘. The focus of this forum as well as in Thinnai is to enlarge and expand ‘understanding’ as the beginning of ‘action’. With due respect to many of our ‘activist’ friends, we do believe that the lack of right understanding combined with our own tendency for ‘action’-filled life ensures that we end up undertaking ‘self salvation’ projects against social evil, neither contributing nor learning.
While working with civil society organizations too, we often see that there is a need on their part to review their work and re-define their fundamental assumptions and understanding. With rapidly changing international funding priorities, often non-governmental organizations are at a loss to understand whether they are being shepherded to promote someone else’s agenda. A framework then becomes necessary to review their work and determine their role. At Samanvaya, we function within the framework defined by Gandhiji in ‘Hind Swaraj’ and offer this approach to all those who are grappling with the conflicts of development, progress, modernity, etc. We organize periodic events under the title, ‘SwaRaj’ through which we share our own exploration and invite others to share their views within this framework.
Contemporary Gandhi programmme for Technology Students (2017-19): In 2017, a fellow traveller asked Ram to organize a training programe on Contemporary Gandhi for the B.Tech students of IIIT, Sri City in the outskirts of Chennai. Ram, along with Prasanna, a long term associate, started a 13 week programme consisting of 26 classes. The Sessions were uniquely modelled where there was neither an attendance and all students assured of maximum credits.
Related: Hind Swaraj Online | Check under Education in the Services Section
View from the Ground
Samanvaya ‘Freedom Lecture’ (SFL) was started on the occasion of the Indepenence Day. Each year our minds get clogged with monopolized versions of Independence Day messages, all emanating from an elite class who dominate our media on any issue. What does ‘freedom’ mean to somone who is working in the field and without access to media except as a stereotype? What are the thoughts that surface in minds that are doing their working and thinking about their freedom on that day? Is it possible to create a space for at least one such person to share their experience and thoughts in the midst of an urban audience? Since 2003 each year, the weekend before August 15th, Samanvaya brings one persona to deliver the freedom lecture on subjects that are common and perspectives that may not be very common.
Related: A Feedback – Freedom Lecture
5th Samanvaya Freedom Lecture – https://photos.app.goo.gl/9amDFKNZo9ZynFPv5
6th Samanvaya Freedom Lecture – https://photos.app.goo.gl/vc2YCgyVJeekX8QK6
7th Samanvaya Freedom Lecture – https://photos.app.goo.gl/17Cd9Ed1XYVWJyt79
10th Samanvaya Anniversary Celebration – https://photos.app.goo.gl/bnUjWFcve6M8AYEa8
Indian World View
One of the major blessings of Samanvaya has been our consistent engagement with deep thinkers from different parts of the country, key among them Sri. Dharampal, the late Gandhian scholar. The Samanvaya team met with him in 1999 for the first time, and from then on until his demise we were constantly in touch with him and a part of many of his research and activist work. Indeed much of today’s perspectives and ideas are shaped through the understanding and insights gained through the research work with him. Our involvement in assisting him with compiling the archival material that he had compiled resulted in about 15 volumes of archival compilations started in the year 2000 and finalized in 2005. All of these need further work before they can be published. One of the ideas that Sri. Dharampal felt needs to be further researched was an understanding of the historical connections (particularly of the period before the arrival of European powers by 1500) of the countries that surround the Indian Ocean. A small effort in that direction was initiated in early 2004 in Chennai and Samanvaya has been since then anchoring the Indi-Quest Institute.
Serious look at India often dawns when young energetic minds travel far from the country. The quest for authenticated knowledge on the past of the country that came as a request from a few such friends resulted in us initiating an on-line learning course based on the works of Sri. Dharampal as an e-course. Though, e-Course, ‘Dharampal’s India’ (2002) was the first one we organized, we intend to launch more of the same in due course. Keep watching our e-Course page for announcements.
Dharampalji had reluctantly give us permission to put up some of his material on-line a few months before his untimely demise in Oct 2006. It also became our responsibility to share all of his material with us after his demise. This resulted in formation of a small committee consisting of his daughter Dr. Gita Dharampal, Sri. Pawan Gupta of SIDH and Sri. P.M. Tripathi, AVARD, New Delhi to put together a website through which all of Dharampalji’s published and un-published material can be shared. Formally Dharampal.Net was launched on 19th February 2007, the birthday of Sri. Dharampal. Subsequently at the request of Dr.Gita, the website was taken down. However, all the materials compiled that we were associated with are available for reference at our office. We also have all the published works of Dharampalji available online thanks to the Other India Books and the Multiversity Project.
Methods and Tools: Capacity building
It is the day-to-day limitations of having to manage projects, funding agencies, public relations, governmental agencies and the million other problems that encounter anyone working in the social sector that occupies the minds of those with whom we work. ‘Quick Whiz’ was initiated to provide low cost skill inputs to the development sector. Several weekend sessions have been organized in our office and a series of programmes have been organized in colloboration with CIOSA and TNVRC for their member organizations.
Information Service on Food
Samanvaya Food Updates (SaFu) was an e-magazine that was brought out by Samanvaya between 1999-2003. This fortnightly news magazine compiled issues related to food, food policy, organic farming, farmer’s movement, etc. used to reach close to about 400 groups and individuals across the country in the early days of internet by email. With the increase in the usage of the internet and websites and later reliable broadband connectivity, many more organizations and news agencies started their e-magazine and news services on the alternate agriculture scene and agricultural policy in India. Hence SaFu was stopped in 2003 formally. The archived copies of SaFu though are available online at IndiaTogether. One of the outcomes of this effort was the compilation of all the issues around the Genetically Modified Rice, named as the ‘Golden Rice’ by biotech industries was compiled and published in the portal IndiaTogether.Org. which till today remains a reference material on this issue.
Another outcome of SaFu initiative was the ChennaiOrganicFood.com website, a free website that was used to provide the chennai consumers information on organic food. The website (between 2002-04) provided the consumer with all details including that of where to buy organic food, what are the issues related to the organic food that consumers should be aware of, the benefits of organic farming, etc. Apart from regular market information, the website also had columns by scientists, dieticians, activists and farmers. With the growth of city-centered and city-focussed websites this initiative was given up. During its brief existence it managed to be quoted repeatedly in the local news and generated quite a few business queries. The archive of the columns that were in this website are being made available shortly in the Samanvaya website Learning section. Much later since our engagement with OFAI, we managed the setting up and management of their internal communication on anti-GMO campaign.
Related: Samanvaya Food Updates Archive | Golden Rice Report | Organic Farming Association of India