Still Playing With Fire
Still Playing With Fire: Intersectionality, Activism, and NGO-ized Feminism
Author: Sangtin Writers: Reena | Richa (n) | Richa (s) | Surbala
This coauthored article is part of Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan's (SKMS) efforts to participate in the coproduction of dialogical/dialectical relationships between theory and practice, the lettered and the unlettered, academia and activism, and the fields inhabited by members of SKMS, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academic scholars. We narrate two intertwined tales based on dialogues among four members of SKMS in the context of producing the first four issues of SKMS's community newspaper, Hamara Safar. The first tale focuses on the political transformation of Sangtin, an organization that was conceptualized in 1998 as an NGO for rural women's empowerment based on the mainstream donor-based model of social change. A three-year-long process of critical reflection and writing by nine women on the politics of caste, class, religion, and gender in the context of rural development and women's empowerment programs - as well as on the global politics of knowledge production - paved the way for the emergence of SKMS, an organization that today consists of over five thousand poor farmers, manual laborers, and their families, most of them dalit. SKMS believes that definitions and processes of empowerment must evolve from rural people's struggles and active participation, instead of emerging from donor institutions, NGO headquarters, university-based experts, or think tanks - and then being applied to the rural people. The second story focuses on some of the hurdles in the path of SKMS as it remains grounded in feminist principles, but refuses to work exclusively with women. Together, the two intertwined stories map the archaeology of the shift from Sangtin to SKMS and some of the larger questions pertaining to "women's issues," "feminist politics," and "transnational collaborations" that this shift has opened up.