Dear A Andavalli,
First of all heartiest congratulations for emerging victorious in the local body election and being elected as the block president in the same block you have been serving for 10 long years. Your story has been a source of inspiration because it ensures that a person from an extremely underprivileged background can make it big, irrespective of the hardships. The amount of exemplary courage and self-confidence you have shown in taking up this important role is noteworthy.
What also struck us glaringly is the role of the comrades in your party, the peers in your family, your neighbours and the people of the block you are serving in having faith in you and motivating you to take up the big responsibility that altogether contributed towards making this change effective.
These people have set up an example to rise above the mentality to discriminate individuals based on their caste, gender, formal qualification, etc. Breaking the stigma and setting example becomes a lot more effective when society changes for good, where lack of privilege is considered with empathy.
In our organisation Utthan, we, the survivors of human trafficking, work as community leaders to help other survivors of trafficking and their families come out of the stigma and lead a healthier life. We also talk to different stakeholders to ensure our rights: social, legal, judicial, basic rights, etc. Therefore, we could connect with your story at a personal level. With the emergence of your story, we have been motivated to prepare ourselves to represent our people at a significant rank someday.
Bringing this change calls for a lot of hard work. We want to talk to the people and sensitise them regarding how and why underprivileged people need to represent themselves in policymaking. We often tend to forget that people with lived experience of discrimination are the best people to know about what people living with similar discriminations need and what policies could help them for real. They often develop simple and practical solutions that people with vast academic knowledge tend to miss out.
In order to bring this change, we’ll also have to let our community know about the existing privilege hierarchy and the forms of discriminations that are predominant in our society and prepare them to face the upcoming difficulties. Our community leaders have been discriminated, stigmatised and subjected to humiliation on several occasions for being trafficking survivors when they went to meet with the stakeholders. These are the instances where self-doubt emerges, which takes us several steps back.
However, your story has boosted up our confidence by leaps and bounds. We have started to consider that if some of us occupy the stakeholder’s posts, someday, they would become a safe space for the other survivors and underprivileged people to reach out to and discuss their problems and demands. We are willing to share your story in our awareness campaigns to let them know that with passion, self-determination and positive support from the allies and peers, the most underprivileged people can become people’s representatives.
We need more examples like you — the survivors of discrimination due to lack of privilege concerning caste, class, gender, religion, physical ability, etc., to come forward with inspirational stories and motivate more people.
In the public sector, duty bearers often fail to comprehend the underprivileged people’s struggle and the survivors of violence because they have never been at the receiving end of the problem. Most of them have a majoritarian privilege which stops them from seeing things from the perspective of the discriminated. By placing people, whose survival depends on fighting these social atrocities, the whole dynamics of the working relationship between the people in power and the people needing support is going to change.
Skills can be developed; experience grows over time. However, empathy and understanding cannot be taught. It comes from within, from bearing the wounds of discrimination for being a woman/gender minority or being born poor or belonging to Dalit/Bahujan/Adivasi communities or being a survivor of violence.
Therefore, people with lived experiences should be given the priority in assigning them the roles of public sector officials because no equality exists without its foundation being in equity and equity begins from prioritising the underprivileged and giving them facilities to beat the discrimination.
There is a set idea that politics corrupt people and individuals entering mainstream politics get amoral, giving in to be a part of the fraudulent system, forgetting all promises. We sincerely hope you break this narrative and continue serving the people with utmost honesty and good intentions.
Love and solidarity,
Utthan Survivors Collective