[100 Emerging Women Leaders] How Vinita Gursahani Singh is empowering Indians to know their rights

Vinita Gursahani Singh is the managing trustee of We, The People Abhiyan. In a conversation with HerStory for 100 Emerging Women Leaders, she delves into her journey of empowering the citizens of India.

[100 Emerging Women Leaders] How Vinita Gursahani Singh is empowering Indians to know their rights

Friday March 03, 2023,

5 min Read

Vinita Gursahani Singh is the managing trustee of We, The People Abhiyan, a non-profit organisation founded in 2010. 

The organisation is working towards empowering Indian citizens to own, understand and practice their constitutional values, rights, and responsibilities.

While Singh had always gravitated towards the development sector, life had a different plan for her in the beginning of her career. 

She says, “I did a master's in management studies from SP Jain Institute of Management and Research simply because my father wanted me to do that.”

Understanding that his intention was for her to have a secure profession, she did not let that decision become a roadblock. 

“Right from the time I passed out of the management programme, I secured myself. I started working in the development sector with an organisation called ‘Vachan’ that was working with tribals in Maharashtra,” she reflects.

This was just the beginning. Following this, for over a decade she worked in the development sector continuing to contribute towards her interests. 

In line with her passion—after over a decade—she pursued an MSc in Social Policy and Planning in developing countries from the London School of Economics in 2003.

Over the years, it is her concern about the issues around her and her keenness to be an active citizen and better them that has led her to extend help.

“How We, The People Abhiyan came about was actually an extension of this journey itself,” she says.

Vinita

Image source: We, The People Abhiyan YouTube Channel

Why ‘We, The People Abhiyan’?

One thing that had always struck her was peoples’ expectations from social workers and negligence of the powers they held themselves. 

Stating an example, she highlights how more often than not, people expect a broken road in their neighbourhood to be taken care of by a social worker, if not a government authority figure. 

She adds, “But the question for me is, why do not you do something about it [yourself]? Social workers or activists are expected to do a role, which I believe all citizens must do.”

Singh also felt that there existed a gap in the development sector itself. 

“I felt even my comrades, or the people who work in the development sector, had not been able to fully integrate the understanding of the constitution, and what role citizens play in that, with our work,” she says.

And there came We, The People Abhiyan, with the mission to facilitate all citizens to understand and practise their role, core values, and constitutional rights.  

“This means that all of us are important, and all of us need to work. It also means that when we are working, particularly with certain marginalised people, our job in the development sector is to help them understand their power as a citizen,” she explains.

Existing challenges 

One of the hurdles Singh highlights is helping people realise the power they hold as citizens of the country. 

“When you look at a newspaper, or you look around you, all of it seems to say that we do not have any power… It seems to suggest that one person can not make a difference, and that is a challenging mindset to break,” she says.

“Our strength as a nation is that we have a framework. It may be broken, I understand that, but it is there for each individual,” she adds. 

To combat the same, Singh and her team took up transformative workshops, citizenship education/ training programmes, social interactions, and other events.

She says, “We are trying to transform an existing mindset of koi karke dega [someone will do it], agar nahi hota hai toh meri jimmedaari nahi hai [if no one does it, it is not my responsibility either] or vo daata hai, hum lene vaale hain [they are the givers, we are the ones who utilise].”

She does highlight that while these mindsets are not universal, they do exist on a cultural level, and getting rid of them requires knowledge. 

One must know what their rights are, and how those rights can be applied. As an example she states, “If I have to approach somebody for the road outside, [it is important to know] where do I write? How do I write the application?”

To help with the same, the team works on providing guidance on how to exercise one’s power as a citizen. 

Biases on the way

Singh states that biases exist and all women face it at various levels. Despite challenges, she has stood strong over the past two decades and continues to contribute her share to the society. 

As she reaches close to three decades of active work in this field, she reflects, “My work has constantly involved working in villages and I have travelled for long periods. I have been away from home, and that raises questions or biases about how one would care for their home, children or that one must not be able to care enough?”

“This bias about our role as a homemaker and as a working professional is an everyday one, and I struggle with it. My husband will never be asked by the help at home about what should be made for dinner?” she adds. 

“Muting it via dialogue and discussion,” is how Singh thinks women leaders can fight this.  

“The only way to keep your sanity is to recognise that these preconditions exist. People are not bad. It is just that there is some conditioning that exists, and we have to call it out,” she says.

“We [women] are very good at dialogue, and that is my bias. We should continue to use this strength and be able to show the path to others who may be struggling with those tools… It is not about having five people or five women. If you are at the table, bring your strength to it, and perhaps we will be able to show the world that it is possible to recognize differences and navigate those differences through dialogue,” she concludes. 


Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

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