A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kolkata developments through the eyes of DAS

Back in Kolkata, I met up with the staff of Development Action Society (DAS), an organisation I got to know through my previous work with Suas. It had been three years since my last visit, and driving out to the area of Ballygunge (close to where they are based), I was amazed to see the change. What once were open fields, now shopping malls. What once was just a petrol station, now new apartments, a café and a boutique.

In all, there were many more signs of enterprise and business than I expected. Good hey? Yes, in some respects. This is becoming the new suburbia, the rising middle class. But for the people who DAS works with, the ones who do not have the money for coffees and petrol and new fancy clothes, they are being further marginalised. As Sheela Sengupta, the co-founder of DAS, explained to me, for these women, life has not improved much.

After catching up with the wonderful DAS team, I went along to a meeting they had arranged in one of their community centres in another outlaying region of the city. They had organised a gathering of local women to address the town councillor; a rare occasion in which they women could air some of their concerns and issues. Before the meeting DAS also held one of their outreach dental clinics- to save the women from having to travel in twice to the community centre.

The meeting commenced and the women, one by one, started to speak out. The issues? Alcohol abuse. Domestic violence. Education. Child health.

These women were brave. There was little doubt that what was spoken got back to their husbands, and little doubt too that some of them will have received a beating when they got home. But the women are persistent and want their conditions to change. They have called for another meeting with the councillor, to which their husbands will be invited they can raise issues face to face, which DAS will organise.
Whether the councillor actually does anything is ancillary. There is power in these women coming together, the power in numbers paradigm. Colourful power.


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