I had the privilege of meeting Anita Reddy two summers ago when I travelled to India to further my research, and this summer I am fortunate to help her amazing work with the Dwaraka Foundation.
This summer I took my second trip back to India since I began writing my novel Freedom Child. My last trip in 2013 revolved around research of modern day slave labor, but this summer I came back to India with a new goal. After traveling through slums and rural villages where families and individuals were prone to falling into debt bondage and slavery, I realized two of the root causes of slavery were a lack of education and awareness of individual rights, as well as a lack of financial stability and resources. This summer I have returned to Bangalore, India to focus on these two core solutions.
I have been honored with the opportunity to intern for Anita Reddy and the Dwaraka foundation for eight weeks. During my internship I will be helping the IDEAL team design and create a Human Rights Curriculum for students who have graduated high school and are ages 17-19. These students come from impoverished areas but have the aspirations to further their education and create a better understanding of how they can contribute to their society.
As I begin my internship in the US, preparing for my one month trip to India, I have begun researching the rights that this course will revolve around, as well as begun the basics of my marketing research. When I return from India I will continue my internship in the Bay Area for another four weeks, connecting local boutiques to the Dwarakart and helping establish an international trade for their business that helps young men and women establish a socio-economic independence, escaping poverty and preventing them from falling into slavery.
Today, June 17th, 2015, I met with the leadership team which drives and runs all the major programs including IDEAL and Dwaraka, the two groups that I am helping this summer. The IDEAL team and I discussed how to build a curriculum that suits the students specific to the rural and urban communities around here. The essential part of the course is enabling the students to see themselves as individuals who can create their own work and business on their own, even if they are coming from low-income families. The course will also emphasize the importance of giving back to their communities and teaching their skills to the youth as well, while understanding one's own individual rights and power.
I also was able to visit the Dwaraka shop in Sadhashivanagar, Bangalore and brainstorm with the Dwaraka team on how we are going to market and sell their products to American customers, suiting their cultural styles. Every time I see the beautiful products I am breathe-taken. Each design is done with such intricacy and with such a personal touch with the Kalamkari style that makes the Dwaraka products so unique. I was so excited by the infinite products that I spent two hours picking out gifts for all of my friends, family, and teachers back home! I'm incredibly excited to see where this work will take me in the Bay Area, and I can only hope that the local stores are as excited about the Dwaraka art as I am, because it truly is special.
After visiting the Chickballapura campus, as only half built, brick buildings, in 2013 with Anita Reddy, it was truly amazing to see the completed campus this Sunday. We drove two and a half hours to the school, surrounded by hills and serene greenery and spent the entire day with the children and project managers. Although the school is still waiting for water and electricity; therefore, can't be a fully function school yet, each Sunday, the kids from five different villages in the Chickballapura district come to the campus for cultural events and education. They learn dancing, singing, drama, drums, etc. As we toured the new campus, we saw the dorms where the kids would be sleeping, the new classrooms, one which had sewing machines fora tailoring class and another with seven old computers. We also saw their gardens where they had baby banana trees planted and planned on adding other foods for the kids to eat such as carrots and green beans.
It was so much fun to watch the younger kids engage in these activities with such joy, and to watch the older kids (19-24 years old), most whom have been a part of the DRRT trust and education for at least 5-8 years, now teaching the younger kids. Many of the young teachers who volunteered their time could speak simple english, and I was able to interview them to understand how they learn. As my curriculum is for students their age, it was interesting to hear the different ways in which they learned best, and see the drastic difference between the Indian and American culture. After talking with the older kids it was evident how essential culture and the arts were to them. Each of them expressed how through drama, song, and dance they were able to learn problems in the world and also solutions to those problems. This is what they enjoyed best. During my trip in 2013, I also discovered the importance of performance and song in the villages, as it was a major tool for education of human rights in impoverished rural and urban areas where families didn't understand their rights.
After playing volleyball and watching the younger kids dance and sing, we waved our goodbyes as they drove back to their villages shouting "Bye Madame!"
After meeting with the IDEAL team about the individual rights curriculum and discussing its purpose, I felt the need to generalize the course and highlight the basic needs of the students, instead of going in depth on India’s laws. Instead of creating a multi-diverse course that incorporates the use of many teaching styles, I understood that the learning levels of the students coming from the rural and urban areas are more in need of learning the basic information that is directly correlated and relevant to their lives and needs.
Today I read a chapter in Kirian Bais book, Understand and Eradicating Bonded Labour in India, in order to gather research and understanding of labor laws in India for the curriculum, and I couldn’t help but feel disheartened for the students who would be taking this course. The purpose of the course is to teach them their individual rights so when they go into the world, they are aware of their rights and can’t be taken advantage of; however, after reading through Kirin Bais book and meeting with the IDEAL team, I realized that most of the students, if not all, fall under the category of unorganized labor in India, and almost all of the labor laws give protections to those in formal labor or organized labor.
Although there are laws out there to protect India’s citizens and their basic needs for survival, there are for more loopholes in the law, such as requiring five years of work under one employer, and a lack of protection for those who do not fall under the specific categories defined by these laws. Therefore, most of the unorganized laborers who are self-employed are not able to receive the benefits of these protections and laws, and even those who are applicable, are often denied these rights due to problems such as lack of proof of identification. The unorganized sector of labor is 92% of India’s labor, and yet they receive almost none of the benefits from the government. This phenomenon is only increasing the already large gap between the wealthy and the poor.
Yet, despite these disheartening truths, I still feel hope for future generations. Through writing this course, I hope that by learning about the rights the exist and the problems that exist with them, they will fight for their rights and work with the government to create a separate umbrella legislation that includes them in the government benefits.
Today I finished the Individual Rights Curriculum and overall outline of the one-year course. It's amazing how much I have been able to learn through this project about the benefits India has provided for its citizens as well as the modern issues in the government and legislation and its many flaws that keep the majority of its population suppressed and impoverished. I also went back to the Dwaraka shop and bought all of my sample products to bring back to the Bay Area to begin marketing their products to local boutiques. It has been an amazing trip and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to come here and meet the amazing team that works assiduously to create better lives for those impoverished. I loved meeting the kids, both young and old, and I wish I didn't have to say goodbye.
The second half of my internship revolves around DWARAKA.
A little summary on DWARAKA:
The guiding light and inspiration for the DWARAKA and DRIK Trusts and their various subsidiaries has been Mr. Dwaraknath Reddy – a humble, simple, caring and giving man.
The Story of How It Began
The Dwaraka story begins with a knock on a door. Behind it was a lean and frail figure, stooped over, anxious for help. He cried desperately to Anita Reddy and her father Dwaraknath Reddy, “Everyone in this city is turning a cold shoulder on us. They think we are beggars. Please help us.” After hearing the man’s story and understanding his people’s struggle for survival, they decided to visit the village the next day to start a project that would allow these extremely talented artists’ artwork to not only survive but also thrive.
Dwaraknath Reddy gave the rural artisans his assurance that the Ramanarpanam Trust would support a socio-economic empowerment program for them—a program in which the entire village could learn to develop a market to provide sustainable support for the rest of their lives; or as the proverbial saying goes: “to catch fish and eat for a lifetime rather than to be given fish to eat for one day.” The Ramanarpanam Trust has lived up to that promise. This fund is a blessing, especially for the women who have discovered in it a new sense of economic independence. The artists were mobilized into smaller groups to facilitate operation of the Fund, each group maintaining his or her own bank account. In the five years since its inception, hundreds of artists and weavers have been impacted by the support of DWARAKA—just one of many Ramanarpanam Trust initiatives. The support, in the last few years alone, runs into over Rs 4.5 to 5 million. The trust has enabled the artists to stride along their road towards empowerment.
Growth of the Organization
While mobilizing the artists’ community was the most critical aspect of the empowerment process, there were many other challenges that the DWARAKA team encountered and sought to creatively overcome. The team realized the need to focus on the development of efficient systems and infrastructure in the village, support emergency medical needs and rebuild shelters, explore the infinite range of possibilities for new kalamkari products, and help establish proper marketing channels for these new products.
While empowering Dwaraka artists on one side, the trust also realized the importance of empowering slum communities not only on their land and shelter rights, but mobilizing women, youth, elders, and community leaders for participatory action on all aspects of life and livelihood, including health, education, and self-employment; therefore, DRIK (and AVAS) were created in efforts to eliminate the roots of poverty.
(Insert link to DRIK)
“Kalamkari is a traditional art form that took root in India in the temple town of Srikalahasthi in Andhra Pradesh hundreds of years ago. Kalamkari grew to be very popular and was predominantly used in temples to depict stories in the form of narrative panels. These exquisite paintings echo the effervescent look towards life prevalent 750 years ago, when the art flourished under the patronage of King Krishnadevaraya. Even today, each piece of art refurbishes the memories of an ancient civilization,” the women said. “Derived from the words kalam meaning pen and kari meaning work, the art of kalamkari is painted using combinations of plant materials as natural vegetable dyes on fabric. Although it is a complex and time consuming technique, the designs and the final effect of the textiles are simply stunning. Because each kalamkari cloth is hand-painted, each piece of art has a special personal touch that ensures no two paintings are alike.”
The DWARAKA Showroom—an exclusive kalamkari boutique in Bangalore, the only one of its kind in the whole country—was opened. In just three years the DWARAKA effort has grown immensely, buttressed by the support of several non-profit organizations and cultural platforms, and has gained national and international recognition for the innovation and social empowerment that the team has worked to cultivate.
DWARAKA worked to develop an entirely new and exclusive dimension to kalamkari by designing a comprehensive product range that caters to the needs of a global market.
The support extended by the Ramanarpanam Trust to impoverished and needy individuals in Srikalahasthi has saved many lives in grave danger, fed many stomachs crippled with hunger, provided roofs for the homeless, empowered young women, generated skills for self-employment and stood by the poor. Today, the DWARAKA artists in Srikalahasthi stand tall as one united community. There is a newly cultivated sense of belonging, self-respect, security and dignity. Slowly but surely poverty is giving way to prosperity; hunger is being replaced with fulfillment; knowledge displaces the darkness of ignorance; and the dying art of hand-painted kalamkari is being revived—restoring an age old tradition. Oppression and exploitation are now a part the past as the artists and weavers of Srikalahasthi and Enagaluru villages, now joined by a group of young Dalit girls from V.M.Palli are all confidently ascending the ladder of socio-economic and cultural empowerment.
- To work with the poor to realize their basic rights—to access better shelter, negotiate and get water rights and implement infrastructure support by building community centers, toilet blocks, schools etc.
- To protect the rights of children and women, especially through focus on development activities that empower and capacitate them to live independently with self-belief, self-reliance and self-identity.
- To capacitate the poor through education programs, and through training and building awareness.
- To enable, enhance, and empower poor families and communities in urban slums and rural villages to lead a life of security and dignity.
- To strive for the emergence of leadership from within poor communities by promoting programs that enhance thinking and decision making powers.
- To promote the development of rural artisans and strive for socio-economic empowerment of villages, particularly through DWARAKA (Development of Weavers and Rural Artisans in Kalamkari Art).
- To enhance the credit eligibility of the poor and further access them to loans through banks and housing finance institutions, by encouraging economic saving programs, formation of self-help groups etc.