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Still Playing With Fire?
Reflections on NGOs, Empowerment and  Activism Through a Journey of Sangtins
A conversation with Richa Singh, Surbala Vaish and Richa Nagar, three of the nine authors of Playing with Fire (PWF).  PWF emerged from close dialogue among eight NGO activists in Uttar Pradesh, India, and a professor and writer based primarily in the US. PWF interweaves stories about the lives of seven village-level NGO activists, beginning with their collective analysis of poverty, casteism, and communal untouchability in childhood; the abuses that frequently accompanied their marriages; to their triumphs as NGO workers; to a critique of this NGO and, more generally, of donor-driven empowerment. The book was first published as "Sangtin Yatra" in Hindi in India in 2004, and has subsequently spawned a social movement in the Sitapur District of Uttar Pradesh. Sangtin Yatra

What Book Reading and Conversation 
When Thursday, April 19, 6:30PM 
Where Barbara Christian Room (Barrows 554), University of California Berkeley (map)
Presented by Asian American Studies, UCB; Friends of South Asia; Narika of the Alameda County & at Berkeley; & South Asia Studies, UCB
What Talk and Discussion
When Friday, April 20th, 6.30 p.m. (Refreshments will be served)
Where Cummings Art Building, Room 4, Stanford University (map)
Presented by Center for South Asia, Stanford University and Friends of South Asia
This event is free and open to all.

Bay Area Chapter

Event Description Speakers About the Book

Event Description

Surbala and Richa Singh work full time as grassroots activists in forty villages of Sitapur District in Uttar Pradesh, India. Richa Nagar teaches at the University of Minnesota.  All three women are members of the Sangtin Writers collective and work in alliance with Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS), a people's movement that emerged in the Sitapur  District as a direct outcome of the writing of Sangtin Yatra: Saat Zindgiyon Mein Lipta Nari Vimarsh. As members of a multi-institutional alliance,  Richa, Richa, and Surbala interweave grassroots organizing, critical  reflexivity, and collective writing to build dialogues with rural communities in Sitapur, and with solidarity networks, academics, and public intellectuals.  Their intellectual work and organizing are guided by the belief that projects of "empowerment, " instead of being imagined and diffused from the top, must gain their meaning, form and relevance through dialogue with the communities they seek to work "for." In this  discussion, they will touch on some of the key moments in Sangtin's journey; the emergence of Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS); the ongoing  campaigns embraced by SKMS involving access to irrigation waters of the Sharada  Canal and the implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Information Act; and the challenges associated with these campaigns.

In this presentation and discussion, Richa Singh, Surbala Vaish and Richa Nagar will address the audience in Awadhi, Hindustani and English. They will touch on some of the key moments in Sangtin's journey: the writing of Sangtin Yatra, the responses to that book, the emergence of Sangtin Kisaan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS), the ongoing campaigns embraced by SKMS, and the challenges accompanying those campaigns.

About the Book

Book Description:

SangtinsSeven voices contribute to this rare glimpse of the work being done on the front lines of the fight for social change in India. Playing with Fire is written in the collective voice of women employed by a large NGO as activists in their communities and is based on diaries, interviews, and conversations among them. Together their personal stories reveal larger themes and questions of sexism, casteism, and communalism, and a startling picture emerges of how NGOs both nourish and stifle local struggles for solidarity. The Hindi edition of the book, Sangtin Yatra, published in 2004, created controversy that resulted in backlash against the authors by their employer. The publication also drew support for the women and instigated a public conversation about the issues exposed in the book. Here, Richa Nagar addresses the dispute in the context of the politics of NGOs and feminist theory, articulating how development ideology employed by aid organizations serves to reinforce the domination of those it claims to help. The Sangtin Writers, Anupamlata, Ramsheela, Reshma Ansari, Richa Singh, Shashibala, Shashi Vaish, Surbala, and Vibha Bajpayee, are grassroots activists and members of a small organization called Sangtin in Uttar Pradesh, India. Richa Nagar teaches women’s studies at the University of Minnesota.

Recommendation by Prof. Louise Fortmann, University of California, Berkeley
Review in The Hindu (National Newspaper in India)
Dempsey, S. E. (2006). A review of Valentine M. Moghadam's "Globalizing women: Transnational Feminist Networks" and the Sangtin Writers' "Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India." Women's Studies Quarterly, 34, 1 & 2, 481-486.
Click here to purchase Playing with Fire.

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