Monday, April 25, 2011

Awareness vs Sensitivity

Yesterday was one of the days when you sit down for dinner with a bunch of new people and you are thrown into a totally new world of possibilities and ideas that you never would have experienced before. Karin's ( my host ) place is always the abode for great learnings and good food .. and yesterday was no different . I met Vipin and his wife Bhavya , along with Karin , Bob and Paul , with my special guest of the evening , Nimisha , who had decided to finally give Minneapolis a chance after 3 years of begging and pleading .

Sachin usually arouses a reverence , curiosity and extreeme desire to imitate in a lot of people . Now why the hell am I talking about Sachin , coz for me any grass root social worker evokes the same set of desires , partly due to my life long desire to be one . My love for Math , as I explained to Vipin yesterday is the only force that is stopping me from taking up that path .

Ok , not trying to divert from the topic , as soon as I learnt that Vipin is a social worker who works with child abuse and child rights , I fell right into the groove of asking my zillion questions . How does it work , why did he choose it , how difficult is the system , what methods do they employ etc . Vipin graciously skipped Karin's lovely dinner and answered all my questions .

I decided if I have to do justice to the learnings yesterday , I got to put them down in the blog so that I remember the words later on .

The main theme of Vipin's experience was how people often confuse awareness from sensitivity particularly in respect to human rights . He gave a really good example . Awareness is when you eat a chocolate and you know that throwing the wrapper on the road will dirty the road , sensitivity is actually when you do not throw the wrapper down and instead put it back into your pocket because you realize its your responsibility to make the road dirty .
Vipin went on to explain that when you see the plight of the children , you are really moved and you want the police officers and the government to immediately take steps to move it . Unfortunately it does not work like that because the other side does not share your sensitivity towards the issue and there could be a lot of reasons for them to behave that way . One is that they are just cold hearted and such things do not affect them , another could be that children cases dnt get them much mileage(votes) and thus little chances of promotion and lastly it could just be that they are busy and do not have time to handle this case right now .

Vipin said there are lot of social workers and other people right now who get really let down by the insensitivity on the part of the civil servants but the important thing for them to understand is that they cannot make another person sensitive to anything , all they can do is increase the person's awareness and hope that one of these days something will happen which will increase the person's sensitivity towards the issue . So he works a lot on training social workers on how to use Law and Psychological techniques to increase the awareness of police inspectors etc . He says you have to give examples that bring the story close to an officer's heart , only then can you expect a real change . One of the most heart wrenching examples was of a young girl who had been in a sexual abuse case , she kept getting interviewed again and again by everyone out there , no one seemed to have the sensitivity to understand that each time they asked the girl the story , she would have to go through the pain again . Finally Vipin shut the ACP's mouth by asking him to narrate his first night to everyone out there , the ACP was taken aback , he got angry because the question was inappropriate . That was when Vipin got back at him and asked him if your find it inappropriate to talk about it , how on earth do you think the young girl who has been through such a painful experience talk about her story . That was the precise moment when the awareness in the ACP turned into sensitivity.

He went on to give examples of a lot of children and the challenges that they face . How children on the railway stations once they become part of gangs and get used to the life on the platforms do not want to go to rescue homes and study any more because all they see the benefits of their current lifestyle and no matter what you cannot convince them that this will not last in the longer run . A typical day in the life of these railway kids goes something like this , they will all gather in one corner with a load of bread , butter and jam , share it with each other and throw the rest to the monkeys . Wondering where they got this food from and why do they throw it away. They get the food from the early morning Rajdhani and they dnt really need it because there is another train coming in at lunch and another one for dinner .

Another example he gave was of unthought govt policies . The govt realocated a slum on the banks of yamuna because it was causing the city to look bad and polluting the river . They gave them new homes some 50 miles away but it so turned out that most people who used to work as maid servants now had to travel 100 miles everyday which reduced the number of houses they could work in and inturn their income . There was no school at the new place so the kids stopped studying and as a results child abuse and assault cases went up .

We then moved on to the topic of NGO boom in India , it turns out that 20 NGOs work on the same railway station in Delhi . It is pretty clear that instead of causing a positive impact these NGOs just end up creating a havoc . The kids are also really smart ,they know which NGO to get food in , which one will give money etc . No sustainable change can be created in this way .

There are a lot well intentioned people out there , not as much as the ill intentioned ones , still enough to cause a change . But the problem is that one man's idea might not be the best in terms of creating a sustainable change and in the long run can cause more damage than good .

However meeting people like Vipin is always a inspiring thing , as you realize how much difference each one of us can create in this world if really put our heart to it.


Karin said...

Amazing the amount of detail that you recalled from the time over dinner yesterday, Akhila. Clearly the conversation left a deep impression not only on you but it will on those who read your blog as well. Gracias! ~ the grateful hostess

nims said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nims said...

Was a learning experience for sure..thanks Akhila for it all...Karin and Bob for the invite and Vipin and Bhavya for sharing their experiences that helped me get a better perspective on these issues.

Pradeep said...

Impressed at the level and depth of detail Akhs !!

Bob said...

What an amazing evening. Entertaining, insightful, thoroughly enjoyable. The time just flew away. And Akhila you were the spark plug igniting the process with your probing questions to Vipin. Saw a new side of your personality and saw Vipin in a much fuller light. Thank you……