Joy Amidst the Madness

It’s 5pm, one hour from the end of working hours at my NGO. Winter break is just 4 days away and I have a zillion things on my mind…packing, figuring out how to get to the airport, paying my bills before I go, and most importantly finishing sending out my questions for the Women’s Commissions before I leave so that I get the responses back in time to complete my report before the end of my fellowship in June…

The phone rings for maybe the hundredth time that day and I run down the stairs yet again, by this point exhausted and my head spinning from the craziness of the day…picking up envelopes that were supposed to go to the Commissions but bounced back because of changes in address, attending a committee meeting for my NGO’s annual family day event that takes place this week, reviewing the Paris Principles again and again in an effort to generate some solid questions for the Commissions, and strategizing when would be the best time to catch my mentor with his extremely busy schedule to discuss a few new projects that I hope to start in January…

As soon as I come back upstairs I’m greeted by a chorus of voices calling out “Akka” and numerous questions about the 57 cases that were heard at the National Commission on the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) public hearing on the Right to Education Act. On November 28 and 29 the National Commission on the Protection of Child Rights held a public hearing in Chennai on a range of education and school-related children’s rights issues. The Commission assembled an eminent jury of human rights experts and individuals from the field of education, including a 9th standard student named Nandhini, to hear the cases and offer their recommendations. The majority of cases were corporal punishment cases, but cases were also presented on school infrastructure problems, sexual harassment, child labour, and excess fees, among other issues. My NGO assisted at the event, compiling cases to be presented, working with victims, arranging the logistics, and providing support in a range of ways. Victims and representatives deposed their cases, followed by the jury questioning witnesses and relevant officials, and ending with the jury giving their directions of action that must be taken.

I was given the responsibility of helping document the event, preparing a report on the directives given by the jury, and overseeing the transcription of the audio recording of the event. My involvement in this project has probably been one of the more stressful experiences here at People’s Watch but without a doubt the best learning experience as well. Prior to the hearing I was involved in editing some of the affidavits and learned of painful incidents of abuse…one case that stood out in my mind was the case of a scheduled caste girl named Priya and two of her classmates who were forced to eat garbage by a teacher for not cleaning the classroom. Having become familiar with stories like Priya’s, watching the victims depose their cases in person brought a new dimension to my experience of doing human rights work. It has become very easy in the last few months to become caught up in the everyday tasks of working in an office and develop a sense of normalcy about the work we are doing…I sit at my laptop most of the day doing research, go to our 1:15 meeting everyday and listen to discussions about various human rights issues, walk past billboards about various human rights related judgments and directives on my way to lunch, go back up to my room and finish my work and head home around 6 or 7pm. As I sat at the Public Hearing with my laptop in hand, between the jury and the stand and Priya started crying in the distress of having to recall her humiliation, unable to finish giving her statement, I was given a powerful reminder of the weight of the work we are doing.

And so as I sit in my little room upstairs well after normal office hours that day and as discrepancies arise in my work I take a deep breath and remember how fortunate I am to have the chance to make even a small contribution to this work. In the midst of all the madness, I finally feel like a member of this incredible community. I slowly let go of my formulaic manner of doing things and realize the joy of being a part of something bigger than myself.

(Photo courtesy of Sasi Kala, People’s Watch photographer)

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