October 18, 2008

Local civic campaigns . . .

Navaratri took me to North Madras. To Royapuram.
To take part in the celebrations and enjoy the kolu that the Avvai Kalai Kazhagam had hosted.
As we negotiated the streets and lanes we discovered a new zone - streets where tailors, cutters and masters produce hundreds and hundreds of affordable, simple informal wear for men, youth and children.
At first, I assumed these one room places were recycling leftover cloth and making utility products out of them.
But when I zeroed in on piles of what looked like sports suits and struck a conversation with the workman here I got to know that this zone in Royapuram was a hub for simple, informal wear and that these clothes are sent to all corners of the country.
North Madras is still a fascinating place.
Yet it remains neglected.
Its residents though are waking up and saying - we won't take things lying down. We are going to fight.
But this isn't a street fight.
There are strong campaigns that are taking shape.
In a corner of the building where the Avvai Kalai Kazhgam women members meet I met people who were putting together the nuts and bolts of a campaign that will dominate the city.
The campaign to get the proposed Metro Rail project extended from Washermanpet to Royapuram and Tiruvottriyur.
In that nook of Royapuram, activists had been planning every step of this campaign. They had chatted with people.
Then they designed and produced booklets which enlightened residents on the importance and need of the Metro Rail - with imaginative illustrations and captions. And later, on a wet working day, held a rally in the neighbourhood.
More is to follow. This is a serious campaign. By a determined community.
Civic campaigns have to be planned and organised if they are to bear fruit.
Phone calls to complaint cells and pithy letters to newspapers alone will not work in this day and age.
A sharp, willing and determined group in Besant Nagar has been able to check the extravagant 'beach beautification' plans of the city's civic body. Challenged it when workers flouted the regulations.
Filed a Right to Information petition to ferret information and used that to pursue their case.
Much more can be done if citizens devote some time to public issues and lend a hand to local campaigns.

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