IDR Interviews Social Worker And Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Deep Joshi

By Sneha Philip, Ayesha Marfatia

Deep Joshi is a social worker, recognised for his role in professionalising development work in India. As a young professional, Deep was inspired by medical doctors Rajanikant and Mabelle Arole, who combined advanced medical training with empathy for the poor, while providing healthcare to marginalised rural communities.

Based on the conviction that young graduates—engineers and management professionals—had a role to play in creating transformative change in rural India, he co-founded Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN) in 1983 with Vijay Mahajan. Deep retired from PRADAN in 2007 and today is the CEO of the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust. 

Deep was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009 and was also awarded a Padma Shri by the Indian government in 2010. 

India Development Review (IDR): You’ve spent many decades working in the social sector, and based on that experience what do you think our society needs to focus on today? 

Deep Joshi (DJ): Our constitution is built on four pillars—liberty, equality, justice, and fraternity. Increasingly, I believe the challenge that faces us is building a society that is fraternal. The state can play a role in ensuring liberty, equality, and justice. But it can do little, if anything, to make its citizens feel more fraternal towards each other. Fraternity essentially exists in people’s hearts and minds and enables us to think of our fellow citizens as an extension of ourselves. 

The state can do little to make its citizens feel more fraternal towards each other. Fraternity essentially exists in people’s hearts and minds.”

If I had to start all over again, I would wish to have the capacity and the courage to affect things of this nature—to create a society which is concerned about the planet and the future, which thinks of human life as having more meaning than just consumption and accumulation, and in which people are concerned about each other.

And these constructs have existed in our society. Take our Adivasi communities for example—not too long ago, there were villages in our country where no one person owned land. It belonged to the entire village community, and there were mechanisms in place which ensured that everyone could cultivate this land. Forests weren’t cleared to grow more food, just to be sold elsewhere. There are people who may call this primitive and dismiss it, but was human happiness any less then? 

Illustration of Deep Joshi, PRADAN_Aditya Krishnamurthy
Illustration: Aditya Krishnamurthy

 

IDR: So how can we build a society that’s more fraternal?

DJ: I don’t think there is a silver bullet or any single way to do this. It needs to happen at multiple levels. The state, civil society, philanthropy, and our education system all need to play a role in building a more fraternal society. 

We need more people to raise questions about these basic values that are so beautifully encapsulated in our constitution.”

Fundamentally, we need more people to raise questions about these basic values that are so beautifully encapsulated in our constitution. There isn’t a more forward-looking and modern concept than that of fraternity. So, how do we take it forward?

If we can imagine a society where all human beings thought of ourselves as being connected to a larger goal, I think other things would begin to fall into place. For example, if I were a school teacher and I related to my students and the rest of the school community in a fraternal sense, then I would be driven by a sense of belonging. I probably wouldn’t need a supervisor to keep an eye on me. This would be true in any vocation—whether I ran a business, worked at a bank, or at a government office. Human society doesn’t have a great future if we can’t relate to each other as human beings.

I think we have lost some sense of being a part of a community by overcentralising. Mahatma Gandhi had a construct of how we could create a new nation—where power and decision-making are decentralised. The 73rd amendment brought in Panchayati Raj, but we have not really empowered these institutions in most parts of the country. And so, at a state-level, we need to create a system where public institutions are more community-based, community-governed, and community-led, as Mahatma Gandhi advocated. 

I think we have lost some sense of being a part of a community by overcentralising.”

And unfortunately, our education system creates and cultivates tunnel vision. This happens in every discipline, be it technology, law, history, and others because that is how our education system is structured. It doesn’t really allow young people to explore ideas, issues, and challenges beyond the tools and tackles of the specific discipline that they choose to pursue a career in.

And maybe as a result of this, I find ignorance is growing in our country. For example, India has such tremendous diversity, yet so few among us seem to be aware of it. Take Uttar Pradesh—we think of it as one large, homogenous state. But there are so many subcultures, so many ways of looking at things. The same festival or ritual is conducted in many ways, each of which has a different meaning and different roots. And when you look at the northeastern part of our country, it is more diverse than all of Europe, which is divided into more than 40 countries. It’s unfortunate that our people are so ignorant about our diversity and the value of fraternity to build on this diversity. 

IDR: As more people start thinking about giving and getting involved in the development sector, what are some things that these actors need to consciously be aware of?

DJ: Often, the concern that people express comes from pity. They see poor or homeless people around them who don’t even have two square meals a day and want to do something about it. And so, they may try to feed them or find them shelter. Now the sharing of materials and resources is a great idea, and it is needed. But what we see—homelessness, for example—is not the fundamental problem that needs to be solved; it is rooted in something larger.

If we are to think about the larger challenge of transforming our society, then we need to ask and answer some difficult questions. Why is there poverty? Why is there gross inequity? It is not simply because poor people are helpless or because they don’t have access to capital. Can we address these larger issues, rather than simply playing a visible, ameliorative role? Can we find ways to use our resources more fruitfully?

IDR: What can non-profits and civil society do differently?

DJ: Nonprofits tend to focus on ameliorating things. Vijay and I were both trained as engineers and so at PRADAN too, in the initial stages we took a techno-managerial approach to improve livelihoods and reducing poverty. But over time, we learned that instead of asking, “What can we do to remove or reduce poverty?” we should be asking “What can be done whereby people themselves can take care of some of these challenges?” Instead of encouraging people to find ways in which they can help themselves, we often end up saying, “I’ll do this for you.” Couldn’t we instead encourage people to find ways in which they can come together to change their lives?

I can’t empower somebody else. Power is something that is within everybody.”

Let’s consider the concept of ‘empowerment’, the latest entrant into the nonprofit lexicon. I can’t empower somebody else. Power is something that is within you, within everybody. The question to ask is, how can people be helped to discover that power, realise that power and therefore put it into practice.

Let’s say I’m working with rural women, organising them into self-help groups, something many nonprofits have been doing. Can I imagine that the women themselves can be the drivers of change? Can they become partners in driving the process of change forward in new places and new communities? Why must I look for ways to go to every village, to reach every woman? 

It’s been my experience that when you bring 10, 15, or 20 women onto a single platform, and they meet a few times, there is a gradual shift that happens—in their stances, their beliefs, how they engage with the rest of the world, and what they believe they can do. So, the question that follows then is, can we begin to ask women, “If just 10 of you coming together has given you this sense of agency, this sense of power, wouldn’t that expand if there were 100 of you or 1000 of you?” And if the answer is, “Yes” (and in my experience, it has always been “Yes”), then the next question should be, “So, what are you going to do about it? 

This is especially important in the field of social transformation that nonprofits often talk about. By definition, it implies change on a large scale. And when we think about scale, instead of thinking about how we are going to take a program to more geographies, we can think about how we can embed scale into the process of change itself, such that it becomes community-led. We need to unleash processes that will have a life of their own or have a multiplier effect.

This article was originally published in India Development Review.

About the authors:

Sneha Philip: Sneha leads content development and curation at IDR. Prior to IDR, she has worked at Dasra and EdelGive Foundation, across research and diligence verticals, on issues such as public health, sanitation, gender, and strategic philanthropy. Sneha also worked at AIESEC—the world’s largest youth-run nonprofit organisation, and was a founding member of SELTI International (now Educate Learning Center), a language training company in Budapest, Hungary. She has an MA in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex and a BA in Economics from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

Ayesha Marfatia: Ayesha is an analyst at India Development Review. At IDR, in addition to writing and editing, she handles research-driven reports and curated content. She also supports the team with website management and digital marketing. Her work has been featured on The Wire, Scroll.in, and Quartz India. Ayesha holds a BA in Sociology and Anthropology from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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