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A Road To Everywhere

“Everything works like clockwork”, I was talking aloud to myself, navigating through the public transport system in Vienna, Austria. The city seems to have put people in the heart of its development programs.

Massive infrastructure projects were underway; restoration of a historical building on one side of an arterial road and construction of an uber modern extension of its main railway station on the other.

Barely a week before my sojourn in the city, Vienna had been awarded the 2010 Scroll of Honour by UN-HABITAT for it’s Urban Planning. The theme for the year was ‘Better City, Better Life’.

Does a good transport system really make a city and it’s inhabitants more productive and peaceful? Should citizens have a say in and access to information pertaining to their municipality’s budget? How do you invoke a sense of civic duty among citizens? How do you change the mindset of a young voter who’s convinced their vote neither matters, nor will change anything?

‘The system’ is not perfect. Its flaws are deeply entrenched and ferociously guarded by the people who run it and often profit from it. But, ‘the system’ is our creation and ‘we the people’ can change it.

In Swati Ramanathan’s words, “the system does respond. If you are relentless and approach it with solutions backed by scientific evidence of the flaws in the underlying structures and policies that are the building blocks of our democracy, they have no choice but to sit up and take note of what you’re saying”.

Swati Ramanathan co-founded Janaagraha, along with her husband Ramesh. The Bangalore based organization started as a movement to include people’s participation in public governance and has now evolved into a robust institution for Citizenship and Democracy.

The Ramanathans bring some much needed expertise, perspective and optimism to ‘the pursuit of real democracy’.

Janaagraha powered successful campaigns like Jago Re- encouraging voters to register before the 2009 parliamentary elections, with over six lakh people registering from 37 cities. More recently, they launched the ‘I Paid a Bribe’ campaign- encouraging citizens to confess details of where and when they paid a bribe. The campaign brought to light the flaws and loopholes in various government institutions and pinpointed the faulty procedures that make room for unscrupulous practices.

Their Area Suraksha Mitra programme aims at training members of the public in aspects of firefighting, first aid, neighbourhood security, CPR etc. It aims to build a prepared citizenry in various areas of the city to strengthen the hands of police and rescue workers in times of emergency. Encouraging citizens to volunteer and be ‘invested’ in their communities. Equipping them with the tools they need to be contributors and not just bystanders when their city needs them.

Through the Ward Infrastructure & Services Assessment (WISA) programme Janaagraha assess the quality of life in urban areas. Rated on a scale of 0 to 10, it gives residents and municipalities an indictor on how their ward measures up to standard benchmarks set up by the government. Covering services like water supply, electricity, public health and safety, transport and environment to arrive at a rating to provides valuable information to urban planners and decision makers.

Janaagraha has long advocated the institutionalization of citizen participation with the Government of India. Their work has resulted in the inclusion of Community Participation Law as one of the mandatory reforms under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The onus now lies with State Governments to pass the law within the Mission period or 2006-2011.

“People are willing and eager to participate to improve the quality of their life. There is a need to create an opportunity and a level playing field (transparent and free of corruption) for them to actively partake in every step of local governance, ensuring true empowerment of citizens”, says Swati.

Her brand of practical patriotism is the need of the hour- an educated, egalitarian vision of Indian’s future. I am excited about living in a city and a country being imagined and (re)built by citizens like Swati Ramanathan.

23 Responses to “A Road To Everywhere”

  1. Niladiri Shah says:

    possibly the best organisation promoting active citizenship by all Indians, they need to take their work to more indian cities and reach a younger urban demographic who are most passive in their participation with any government issues, debate or policies. maybe a tie up with universites to make student elections fair and transparent. that will be a good start.

  2. Vinayak Singh Jadhav says:

    why not more people like her participating in politics. one way to get good turn out in voting is to have better candidates ;=)

  3. Debopriya Sen says:

    we need more stories of women role models like swati. there are no faces (except bollywood, sports) representing urban indian women. sad but true. sharing via FB

  4. Bhavna Dua says:

    did not know jago re and i paid a bribe were done by janaagraha. both are effective sampaings

  5. Arya Tiwari says:

    I made a report for activism on the internet in india- part of my masters thesis. I paid a bribe and its stories were one example. activism is not only about hitting the streets, with placards, a simple act of confessing to paying a bribe is also part of activism. it has mobilized thousands of people, and turned them all into anti bribery activists. imho, Arya, Baroda

  6. Jayant Savarkar says:

    i have read article in Mint news paper by Ms Swati, good to see her being covered as a hero. she is deserving

  7. Mrs Pakhi Misra says:

    enjoying ur stories tithiya, if heading to patna i can host you and show you many good things about bihar- esp heroes working in rural communities

    i have shared your website with my students, best of luck

  8. iJanaagraha says:

    Hi Tithiya,

    Thanks so much for writing about us. We are very humbled by the support of you and your readers. Have you visited http://www.ijanaagraha.org yet? iJanaagraha is Janaagraha’s latest online initiative. We invite you to visit and give constructive feedback! :)

    Thanks again!

  9. Noora Ali says:

    damn cool one, sounds exciting

  10. Meenakshi Arora says:

    jaago re was huge success, i paid… also, but nothing changes. the system will change maybe for our grandchildren (if we are so lucky)

  11. Janaagraha fan says:

    nice to see Bangalore people making news for right reasons. my support & regards to all

  12. Preeti Chuganti says:

    Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. JF Kennedy

  13. Moksha Alwar says:

    there should be a website with history of all politicians- education, police record, involvement in scams and scandals, age, attendence in parliament and if or not they kept election promises with election mandate also available. let the public see the black & white truth

  14. Shaurya Devgun says:

    i read ur HT column very sunday. amazing collection of stories that inspire. best of luck from a fellow backapcker. i’m thinking of posting all my experiences on a blog too. am lazy :p and busy working to save for next trip.

  15. Neha Singh says:

    hey, nice meeting you the other day, just saw your blog- and its just WOW! will be back for more, see you soon

  16. Bharti jujena says:

    hi, good site and great project, Bharti- Jabalpur

  17. Simi Tuteja says:

    ur heroes r frm all walks of life, somethin to learn 4 evryone

  18. Jharna Sambhav says:

    right about some heroes of arts in india- traditional performance and classical vocals are dying out, no audience for it in India. all traditions are dying, only aging masters are left with none to take over after they pass

  19. Mansi Randhawa says:

    my dad wud never let me do something like this, am proud of u and also jealous, how did u convince ur parents. are they very free? no plans for ur marriage? no pressure also?

  20. Sean Draper says:

    The world’s largest democracy, oldest civilization, most vibrant culture and warmest people define india. but also public apathy, corruption, poverty, poor infrastructure and bad planning in every sphere.

    i’m an Indo-phile and i would love to see India reclaim it’s spot under the sun. Can only happen through the people, no govt is interested in change. it’s the people who bring change.

  21. Jobba Sen says:

    must not forget the people from seven sister states, you have people’s attention- use it wisely

  22. Montek 'Monty' Waraich says:

    Chak de phatte, can’t make donation yet, but best of luck

  23. Aditya Prakash says:

    have sent you email @100heroes pls check and revert, we would like you to attend the event.
    AK Prakash

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