“When The Police Didn”t Listen To One, We Went In A Group Of 12”: THIS Is The Power Of Collective Action

Posted on February 19, 2014 in Specials

By Sukhmani Grover and Maya Bhardwaj:

Do you throw garbage on the road? Do you pay a bribe when caught for speeding or crossing a red light? Do you exercise your right to vote? Do you have that chalta hai attitude? Unfortunately, many of us would answer yes. Our indifference towards what is happening in our communities and the assumption of public apathy can become a way of life

In 2011, with Anna Hazare’s “India Against Corruption” movement, masses mobilised to demand a less corrupt Indian society and we began to see the power of people to create change. This change was dependent on collective action — but it was only when people became truly organized, from rallies into committees and groups, that they started developing a platform and theory of change. Everyday participation in the community and the nation-state was a start — but turning that into what we call community organizing is critical for a unified nation. Through Haiyya’s lens, sustained social change is possible only when people use their power together to isolate their demands and take action, based on a sense of community and shared values. This sense of shared identity and values allows citizens to form teams that work on the issues they care about and mobilize the resources that already exist in their communitiies. This is the backbone of community organizing.

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Haiyya’s past campaigns on Public Safety, Women’s Rights, and the Right to Vote in Mumbai and Delhi, and our ongoing Mumbai campaign, Vocal, reflect this sense of shared values and collective action. Our campaigns bring together ordinary citizens to deliberate on neighbourhood issues, devise action plans, and strengthen democracy through active participation. We have seen through our experience that this is the strongest step towards organising for exerting pressure to lead to a structural change.

Our campaigns, based on range of issues like sanitation, women’s access to public spaces, neighbourhood safety, and other local problems, are led by community leaders. These leaders are identified and trained by our organizers, and participate in community research, meetings with experts, and strategy sessions to determine the strategy, target, and tactics to a public issue. In one case, our community leaders on our first Public Safety campaign in Mumbai talked to their neighbours about pressing public safety issues. After asking over a 150 residents, they found out about an increasing spate of robberies and chain snatching in a small area of Bandra.

However, following the patterns of apathy and isolation, each citizen saw the robbery as their personal problem and they were often apprehensive going to the police to file complaints. While the bravehearts were doing their survey, another robbery happened — this time to an older lady while she was in her house. When she went to report the crime, the police refused to file her complaint and told her that nothing could be done.

This time, the citizens decided to take matters into their hands. Twelve team members — none of them experts, but all of them concerned — came together to accompany Delia to the police station. Seeing the citizens get together for one robbery jolted the police into action. The DCP, Chhering Dorje, agreed to meet them, and the team updated him on the worsening safety situation in Bandra. From then on, the police supported the bravehearts. Her FIR was filed, the robbers were caught within 15 days and she received all her robbed items back!

This action showed two ways of tackling apathy and indifference: one by creating a cultural shift and showing people their comments are shared — and urging them to do something together about their issues, which we call “power with.” The other tactic involved organising citizens against existing power structures and holding the officials accountable for their work, thereby ushering in a sense of political will, which we call “power over.” With these two powers, by strengthening our own collective power and putting pressure on ineffective institutions, we see ordinary citizens combine “power with” and “power over” to create “power to”…power to act, power to rise up, power to come together and fight and win.

The burgeoning movement of Right to Information has expanded the horizon of democratic space; it empowered the ordinary citizen by giving them far greater control of state/nation power. Many citizens, empowered by RTI, want to work to counter corruption and create change, but they do not know how to start. This is where Haiyya comes in — we equip these citizens like you with training, technology, tools, and resources, thus connecting them to each other and creating a platform to act. Haiyya, actively involved in Power of 49, reached out to more than 10,000 women in different parts of Delhi so as to engage women, who are 49% constituent of the country into active leadership and participating in democracy by leading them for ‘Get Out To Vote’. This is a truly democratic way of participative citizenship: if you, too, sense something wrong and want to make a change, you can do it. We have seen ordinary people from all walks of life be able to spark movements they never had imagined before — like you, they started with the will, and through their work with Haiyya and their community, they discovered the way. Particularly with the elections coming up, we have an opportunity to come together as citizens of India and speak to our government about what we really want. Our power comes from the people all around us — people powered change.

Do you believe in people powered change? Are you ready to break out of apathy and be the change you want to see? Learn more here.

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