Actions on the ground can create waves at the global level if viewed in a wider perspective, Dr Vaishali Patil, a grassroots activist and one of the founders of the action group Ankur Trust, shared with the Ecojesuit team on the first day of its Annual Meeting in Mumbai, 21 November.
Different issues from different contexts are often viewed as separate agendas, and are tackled through separate actions, she said, but these local concerns and initiatives could gain more attention, spark broader collaborations, and therefore make more impact if we look at how they are all connected.
“We need to see these as one whole issue. Our cry is the same…(Initially) my vision was so narrow, but in my work in 27 years, I’ve realized that if I remain like that, I am making no impact,” she said.
Dr Vaishali shared the beginnings of her grassroots work with the Katkari tribe, considered a particularly vulnerable tribal group in Raigad, Maharashtra, India, who were then fighting against the state-sponsored land acquisition process. In working with the community, she was confronted by various interrelated issues such as malnutrition, migration, land rights, women’s rights, farmers and fisher folk rights, and ecological issues.
Understanding these issues led her and the communities she worked with to engage with other communities from other parts of the country and bring more attention to their plight. Because of this, the Katkari of Raigad got the first land rights title in the name of women in the state of Maharashtra.
“As soon as we understood that the problem was rooted in the development model that wasn’t working for the people, and that the development model wasn’t working in the whole country and in other parts of the world, we were able to connect,” she said.
“Whether my agenda is your agenda, what is important is to widen our perspectives so we see our advocacies as one whole,” she added, citing her work with affected communities in Konkan who are fighting against the largest proposed nuclear power project in Jaitapur and how they engaged with communities in Japan, Finland, and the Philippines to bring a deeper understanding of the consequences of the project.
In all of these, she emphasized that for any network or movement to actually work for the people, reflection must come hand in hand with action.
“Both these processes need to come together. Close our eyes, reflect, analyze. Then open our eyes, speak out, support, and join,” she said.
Through different discussions like this in the annual meeting, the Ecojesuit team aims to strengthen its work in promoting initiatives coming from the ground and creating opportunities for collaborations at the conference and global level, as well as work with secular society as the sign of the times.