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Who have You Influenced? Who has Influenced You? #WriteBravely

Who have you influenced? Who or what has been an influence upon you? What changes have you seen brought about in the communities you live in? have you initiated any of these changes?

Write Tribe Festival of Words

Readers of Daily (w)rite, if you’re here, please welcome Anouradha Bakshi, my friend, philosopher and touchstone for more than a decade.

influence Facebook Live Project WHYShe runs Project WHY, a little non-profit with a large heart, in New Delhi. For this whole week, she’s taking over Daily (w)rite.

Please give her all the love and attention you usually give me, because she merits it far more than I ever will.

If you want to talk to her,  Anouradha Bakshi will go live on Facebook today at 10.30 AM IST, which translates to 7th March 9 PM Pacific time. Here’s the invite for the live, and here’s the page where you could chat with Anouradha Bakshi in real time. If you miss it, the page will have the live video for a while.

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influence others for the goodInfluence is the power to have an effect on people. Parents, teachers, friends, mentors all influence us and make us change our ways but today I would like to share with you how we at Project Why have been able over the years to influence people and even change deep seated mindsets. It did not happen in a day. It took years of working, sometimes surreptitiously, leading by example.

Working in underprivileged communities is not easy for someone from the outside. These areas in urban cities like Delhi are a conglomeration of people from different parts of India, different caste and creed, and often have almost intransigent mindsets. Deciding at the very outset to employ the majority of the team from within the community was a big plus point, as they were the best people to help us understand the situation.

One of the first stumbling blocks we faced was the caste and creed issue.

Who have you influenced? Who or what has been an influence upon you? What changes have you seen brought about in the communities you live in? have you initiated any of these changes?

Lunchtime at Project WHY

We realised that though people live next to each other there was very little interaction between them. Our first step was to select a team that included people from all castes and creed. The first encounter with such issues came in the early days. At Project Why we have lunch together. The lunch is cooked in-house and the team sits together to eat. The food is served by different team members according to a roster.

On ‘certain’ days ‘certain’ people did not eat lunch stating that they were on a fast or unwell. We soon discovered that this happened when people of a ‘certain’ caste served and those who abstained belonged to another. This was a deep mindset that had to be broken and I knew that it would not be done by lecturing or pontificating. The only way was to lead by example and eat everyday irrespective of who was serving. After some time we realised that those who abstained from eating were getting fewer by the day and soon everyone was eating happily. Not only that, meal times became a time were people bonded and soon neighbours starting inviting each other to their homes. The caste barrier that seemed impregnable had fallen. It had just been a matter of time and patience.

In early days, we needed to address religion too, because Project Why includes staff and children from diverse creed.

We decided to celebrate all festivals and have children or staff from one creed talk about the meaning of their festival to others. I remember the day when a volunteer from France celebrated Xmas at the Khader centre. She put up a Xmas tree, decorations, presents and got lots of cake. She talked about Xmas and its meaning and then we tried to draw parallels with other festivals. It was simple: you wore new clothes, you went to church, mosque or temple, you visited relatives and ate cake, sewaiyan or ladoos! It was all so easy. At Project Why we believe in the God of lesser beings.

Caste and religion bear no meaning at Project Why. We have dealt with them in our own way.

who has been an influence

Girls students and teachers at Project WHY

The other mindset we worked with was gender. At the outset, we had in our ranks a male teacher who resented working under women, and Project Why was heavily woman-dominated. I was tolerated I guess because of my age, but my second in command then was a young French woman Nolwenn, who was rather authoritative and the said teacher was always at logger heads with her. It took some time for him to accept things but he eventually did!

The gender issue remains a challenge as most children come from patriarchal families, where girls are not given the same deal as their brothers. To address this we run regular gender sensitivity workshops and know that here again patience is the key. Project Why is a woman-friendly space and many of our girl students love coming to us as they feel free, and above all respected. We hope that our boys will slowly learn and take the message to their homes.

So in its own quiet way, Project Why is an agent of change. It has influenced many and brought about a slow but meaningful transformation within the community and this is something we are really proud of.

Who have you influenced? Who or what has been an influence upon you? What changes have you seen brought about in the communities you live in? Have you initiated any of these changes?


 

festival of words project WHYAnouradha Bakshi is the descendant of an indentured labour and a freedom fighter, and the daughter of a senior diplomat. She travelled the world before settling in India.

A professor in French, an interpreter and a conference organiser, she found her true calling when she set up Project WHY in the year 2000.

She is a wife, and a mother not only to her two girls, but also to the scores of children whose dreams she holds in custody.

Did you like Anouradha’s posts? Here are her earlier posts on Forgive, Miracle, Serenity and Nurture.


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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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18 Comments

  • Unishta says:

    Your sheer commitment to your passion has given you a wider reach of influence….How wonderful to think that your ideas have changed the world and made it a better place for so many people …I have sadly only influenced my immediate family and perhaps those who have worked with me and for me over the years. Perhaps it could just be around 50. I have been influenced by many dreamers, philosophers, adventurers and story tellers whom I have met through my best friends – my books.

  • Mick Canning says:

    Very appropriate that you mention the gender issue, as today is International Women’s Day. I applaud your success in getting people of different castes to eat together, as I know how difficult that can be. I worked for a while at a project in rural India, and there was no real problem with the children, but the adults were another matter. And as for religious festivals, a village seems to celebrate whatever festivals come up regardless of everyone’s religions. Perhaps it’s just an excuse to have a good time!

    • anouradha says:

      Thank you so much Mick for your kind words. Adults take some time in changing their mindsets but with time things do change. It is true that in India we celebrate all festivals and that is to be applauded. Gender issues still remain, often because children emulate what they see within their homes. Change has to come from within the families too. Again it is a slow process but we hope that children will take the message to their homes.

  • sandomina says:

    A very noble gesture, Damyanti. Indeed!

  • Suzy says:

    Best way to influence others is through example. I like the idea of eating together.

    • anouradha says:

      Yes Suzy, eating together has really made a huge difference and its is something we do every day. It is a moment of sharing and bonding and making a difference. Happy women’s day

  • Esha M Dutta says:

    Kudos for Anou’di and Project Why comrades for doing such amazing work. Changing mindsets is not easy but it is heartening to know that change is happening and all for the better, and even if it is taking time, the team members are sure to be a great influence on each other as they go about ushering in the change and empowering everyone to lead a life of dignity and grace!

    • anouradha says:

      Thanks Esha. Your words mean a lot. Change is happening, we have seen this at Project Why and are so proud of our team. Everyone deserves to live with dignity. Happy women’s day

  • Just today morning we were talking about why people still care about caste crerd, religion and gender at the breakfast table. And reading your post made me happy as you influenced children and others and made them break this ongoing beleif. More power to Project Why

    • anouradha says:

      True Shubhra we have to break these beliefs. It takes time but with patience the change does come. Thank you for your support. Happy women’s day

  • wonderful post! I love ‘the God of lesser beings.’ Isn’t that all of us. Great work you are doing.

  • Happy women’s day?

  • Anita says:

    So glad you are holding these workshops.
    Women and girls really need good influence.
    The men folk too need to accept. Good examples are needed.
    Project Why is doing great work. More power to you!
    Happy Women’s Day!

    • anouradha says:

      You are right Anita one has to lead by example and men have to be sensitised too. We try our best to do that, it does take time but eventually the rears come. Happy women’s day.

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