Shibani Dasgupta Jain, founder, Baaya Design |
Vinita empowers people through her workshop and how she conducts them, when they talk about rights and duties, with her accounts of communities that have successfully created change.
Vinita Singh had already been working in the development sector for more than 15 years, on subjects surrounding artisans, farmers and livelihoods, when she and her friends began to feel that professionals within the sector approached it as they would any other career, while too many other citizens tended to show little interest in their communities and bettering them.
“The Constitution actually gives us that power and that direction,” Singh said, “and we wanted to reach that message to other people than just in the social sector.”
That was how We The People Abhiyan was born, with Singh and a group of friends designing training programmes to spread awareness about the Constitution, about how citizens can understand it, use it and speak up when Constitutionally guaranteed rights are violated.
Since 2010, We The People Abhiyan has trained thousands of people in Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Kerala and Gujarat. Through full-timers and freelance trainers with backgrounds in law, facilitation or activism, the three-day training programmes for rural, semi-rural, young, urban, highly-educated and various other groups. Called Constitution For Citizen Action, and Samvidihaan Se Samadhaan (Resolution Through The Constitution) in Hindi, the training tries to equip citizens to be able to use their fundamental rights, and to use them responsibly. Those who undergo the training also try to empower others.
We The People works though partner organisations, functioning as a capacity building organisation with other groups that are building community leaders.
Singh said they also conduct shorter training events, called citizen cafes, where people gather in small numbers to discuss the preamble of the Constitution.
“We felt that the Preamble has not been in the consciousness of the people as much as should have been, and the Preamble became our cause,” said Singh.
Supported by grant-making organisations such as the Rohini Nilekani, Wipro and AT Chandra foundations, We The People also raises funds through crowd-funding and collecting fees for their training programmes on occasions when participants can afford to pay.
“These values, equality, justice, liberty, are meant to be lived and practised,” said Singh. “Interest groups will always be trying to pull things in one or other direction, this is how democracies are run.” She said people are increasingly aware of how people need to make their voices heard, that contestation is rising against violation of Constitutional values, and more people are actively questioning and responding.
Shibani Dasgupta Jain, founder of design and decor consultancy Baaya Design, said she has known Singh for over 20 years, while she was working in the area of fair trade and now in citizenship training. “We are still a young democracy and have a long way to go in terms of putting in place what we as citizens want. It is not an easy segment to understand, nor is it easy to understand how this matters, for benefits are neither immediate nor tangible,” she said. “Vinita empowers people through her workshop and how she conducts them... It’s very inspiring to see her work.”
After early years of fighting an uphill battle to have their agenda prioritised, more organisations and individuals are inviting them to conduct the training, Singh said. The Constitution is more in the conversations of Indians, and while people are “sometimes despondent, they’re also more involved in the democratic processes”.