The ‘I’ in ‘AIF’ – Being an Indian Fellow

Prashant’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

“The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” – Che Guevara

The change we seek for a larger population comes about by way of bringing communities together. The role of community mobilisation and participation is at the centre stage of change. Growing up, Che has been an awe inspiring figure to me to understand the process of change. The idea of working towards the change without the hesitance of long term commitment and lack of immediate progress is to be imbibed. Since this blog is about me as an Indian Fellow in the Fellowship, the above inference is specific to the nature of challenge that the Indian scenario offers to people working with people in India.

This is going to get personal. You see it is about me. I bring all of myself to the journey of the Fellowship. It is the core of this work. I am an Indian. Born and raised in India without any physiological similarities or exposure experiences of any other landscape. Though my grandparents do belong to the pre-independence Jammu and Kashmir, my parents were born and raised in India (Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand). I got an opportunity to study engineering (B Tech in Information Technology from Visva Bharati University) and also work with multinational organizations for 7+ years. Then I moved on to do a Masters in Social Work from the University of Delhi. In the earlier days, as I was sifting through the AIF website, I came across an interesting proposition that places in context my Fellowship. When browsing through AIF’s mission and values statement, the value of Respect resonated with me. AIF defines it as: 1. Value all individuals and their contributions equally without regard to their race, class, caste, gender, ability, sexuality, or career level; 2. Listen to a diversity of perspectives to promote the most effective approach to collaborative problem-solving; 3. Practice thoughtfulness, kindness, and empathy with all stakeholders. Revisiting it now, it helps me understand the affinity I share in terms of the work orientation I have and that of AIF.

AIF has given me the opportunity to be a part of a topography (Upper Assam in North East India), people (Mishing tribal community), organization (North East Affected Area Development Society) and culture (tribal and indigenous)  that offers me to learn the process. The communitarian experiences coupled by the cultural narratives offered me interesting insights into community relations. So it is fascinating to work as an Indian in India, with the people of India, with the support of American friends (my Co-Fellows) with a similar value sharing. The experience has been very interesting to say the least! Looking back, it has been a quite a journey.

The support once you are at the host organization, especially when one is as far as Jorhat, Assam, looks different for me than for other Fellows. The access, availability and response time changes. As a Fellow, the sooner I accepted the practicality of it, the more challenging and rewarding the journey was to be. It is important to see that the people, polity and culture have a deeper influence on the local experiences that I have had as a Fellow. The more essential part of which has been adjusting expectations to the reality. The role of the AIF Fellowship Team has been that of a facilitator which can initiate the engagement with the host organization, and to offer support at key points along the way. I was eager to set the ground rules in accordance to my own learning interests and ended up doing so. This offered me a valuable opportunity to take a risk and multiply my gains as well.

The choice to come over to North East to learn was propelled by my interest in the region and its struggles. The conditions I knew were challenging, which were a source for my craving. The work done with the people from the Mising tribe living around the floodplains of different rivers – Gallebel, Dhansri and Brahmaputra – gave me an opportunity to understand livelihood in flood affected areas. The participatory action research conducted during the project in the area has brought about a deeper engagement of the community to the local challenges. The livelihood proposed as part of the project (an outcome of my research) looks for a sustainable and long term change for the community. The experiences of conducting research, hosting community meetings, formulating project concept note, and writing funding proposals, have offered me professional competencies and skills. As these experiences went by, I got deeper insights about my own commitment by way of reflections. It is important to reflect to substantiate learnings for long term change.

As the initial days passed, I realized that this was exactly the experience I was looking for being a Fellow. The challenges encompassing – culture, language, organizational practices, people issues, economic – were galore, yet each time I got an opportunity to work on them, it felt fulfilling. Isn’t the Fellowship meant to challenge – pre-held notions, experiences, learnings, comfort levels, physiological capacities? I though so when I applied for the Fellowship. A sense of minimal support is what was expected in the first place. I never felt that I was an expert being sent to some locals who had no idea what they were and how they were doing it. Rather the opposite – the whole idea was to learn and contribute from the standpoint of the organization. The social work and action space is so dynamic and fluid. It is as if nothing is permanent and consistent. Isn’t that the way for change? How else would anyone be willing to be transformed? The experience is supposed to be a roller coaster ride. The idea is to see that a country from the South is undergoing a change. It had its own set of practices and fallacies. Aren’t we supposed to make mistakes and suffer if we intend to learn? Or are we supposed to learn in a formalised setting only? Or is it that we are so socialised to structured learning that any form of debate, arguments, faults, wrong doings, failures and lack of know-how rattles us.

As the Fellowship progressed, I got an opportunity to understand and live through this change in perception. The idea of practicing a more reflective living has been on my agenda, and the Fellowship enabled me to experience it in a completely new environment! I was always prepared and was willing to do so.

I end with another quote that resonates with me:

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” – Albert Camus

 

Prashant has a Master’s of Social Work from the University of Delhi. It is one of Prashant's goals to enable and capacitate people for a sustainable livelihood in accordance with the local ecology. He feels that the current systems in place have not been able to provide the marginal sections of the society their rights. Instead, there has been a sense of exploitation of the people and the ecological systems. This need inspires Prashant to work towards human development in order to build a just and equitable society.

Prashant's Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

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