Kudumbashree: Where women anchor peace and harmony
By Dona John
I work for a German political foundation and an interesting aspect of my work is the potential of changing lives.
The inherent belief that lives can be impacted with quality civic education, participative governance and rule of law is what gets me through a hard day. I manage the human rights and governance portfolio for my organization and that gives me the chance to meet a variety of liberal practitioners.
I met one such group when I went to Kerala recently under a European Union co-funded program that I am in-charge. Our partner organization, Praja Foundation took a group of Mumbai municipal councilors to Thrissur and Cochin, two cities of Kerala.
The study tour was designed to give the councilors an opportunity to learn from and interact with the highly decentralized governance elements in the state. Due to an ailment, I could only join when the team visited the municipal territory of Cochin.
As shameful as it may seem, Kerala — God’s own country — is also my parent’s home state but I know very little about its political or cultural history. However, the Cochin visit caught my intellectual interest. I saw how a politically aware citizenry shaped public policy in the most literate state in India.
I’m a Delhi born, metropolis addicted girl who is increasingly discovering that there might be a strong misanthropic shade to her. Ironically, nothing fascinates me more than human emotions and gender and the trip evoked strong emotions for me to write this article.
Since May 16, 2014, a part of me has slipped into political depression (if that is a term at all). We seem to have managed to destroy every independent institution in the country while tearing apart its unique social fabric.
There are many who stay in denial but the truth is that our societal spread will need years of mending to be restored. Political divisions and heated discussions around political affiliations have permeated every social interaction in the last four years. This is no longer the country I was brought up in and this is not the country that I would like to bring up my child in.
With this contextual background, my experience of interacting with the Kudumbashree members was a reassurance that some parts of the country still value our cultural and religious diversity.
The Kudumbashree program is a state financed women empowerment program where members collect thrift money to either start their own start-up or use for personal matters.
When I took the picture of those women I found myself in a surreal moment.
I saw a group of not just economically vulnerable women who have come together to change lives but an alliance which has withstood all political churning in the country. I saw something powerful and comforting.
As they introduced themselves I instantly saw religious diversity without the mix of deadly religious politics. I saw cultural harmony and religious harmony which is increasingly becoming a global rare commodity. I saw a group of ordinary women who with their indomitable spirit are working to improve the quality of their lives. The anecdotal stories these women shared with humility and excitement reiterated my belief that women are the anchorages of peace and communal harmony.
And isn’t that extraordinary?