PADKOS NO 42
Join Richa Nagar at CLP for a not-to-be-missed Padkos Event!: 29 August, 10am @ CLP.
We are thrilled that Richa Nagar, professor in women, gender and sexuality studies (University of Minnesota) is coming up to Maritzburg to spend some time with CLP. Some of us at CLP have known of Richa’s work mainly through the groundbreaking critique of NGO’isation that emerged from her work with the Sangtin Writers in India. The book they produced, Playing with Fire: Feminist thought and activism through seven lives in India, is the result of an extraordinary process of collective internal critical reflection by workers in NGOs.
This exciting padkos event will be followed by Padkos Bioscope at lunch time – see below for a bit more info on the two fantastic documentaries featured.
In the interview with Class War that we’re sharing in this edition of Padkos, Richa says of the background to this work that:
“a combination of factors led me in 1996 to start working with various movementsand organizations focused on the politics of development in India, and I was primarilylooking at women’s NGOs working in rural areas of the country. Issues that wererecurring included the politics of the donor-driven organization agendas, as well as theelitism in these organizations. There was significant literature emerging from the GlobalSouth on these questions, but I also felt that some key stories were not being told andthe burden of silences was huge. When you are trying to develop ethicalrelationships, you cannot betray the trust that people are placing in you, and so Icouldn’t find a way to talk about these things in ways that worked for those I wasworking and learning with. In this kind of work, one thing was very clear to me: Therewas no point in developing critiques if the critiques could not, first and foremost, beowned by the people who participated in helping to articulate them. …”
As you’ll see in Chapter 6 of the extraordinary book that finally emerged (also attached as your second helping of Padkos), Richa found a way by working with the collective of women workers who were ‘The Sangtin Writers’.
Richa’s work, deeply respectful of the humanity of the people that she works and writes with, and always scrupulously attentive to gender, is part of a growing international critique of NGOisation. Some of the books that have been important to this critique including The Revolution Will Not Be Funded by the INCITE! collective in the USA (2007), Harri Englund’s Prisoners of Freedom: Human Rights & the Africa Poor (2006) which is an important critique of human rights NGOs in Malawi, and Peter Hallward’s brilliant critique of left NGOs in Haiti in his seminal Damning the Flood (2007).
In South Africa popular movements have issued a number of important challenges to NGOs. Unfortunately, some NGOs have responded very much like the state does when questioned from below – with false allegations of criminality, external manipulation and so on. The fact is that the assumption, widespread in civil society and the media and often part of the common sense of the middle class left, that NGOs should represent oppressed people and that they should be the locus for the strategic direction of their struggles is central to the current model of domination.
At CLP we affirm that oppressed people have every right to represent themselves, to retain full control of their own organisations and to make their own decisions about whether or not to form alliances with middle class actors and, if so, on what terms. This remains a largely heretical position, one that is often derided as romantic by those who remain committed to NGO leadership of the struggles of the oppressed. However, the South African experience has indicated, clearly, that the grassroots organisations and movements that have protected their autonomy have been far more effective, and enduring, than those that have accepted NGO control.
The relationship between NGOs and popular struggles is complex and requires ongoing critical reflection by all concerned. Nagar’s path-breaking work in this area is a touchstone of ethical and political seriousness and we are honoured to be able to engage her.
Remember also on the 29th: Padkos Bioscope showing (1) Vio.Me and (2) Taksim Commune: Gezi Park and The Uprising In Turkey at 1pm:
Vio Me – Self-organisation in Greece: (22 min) After going on strike & occupying the factory in February 2013, the workers at the Vio.Me Factory have re-opened it under worker’s control. For many, this represents a new way forward for unemployed workers in Greece & beyond – running factories without bosses, producing only goods that are needed, and distributing them through solidarity networks.
Taksim Commune: Gezi Park And The Uprising In Turkey. (33 min) The protests were initially against the demolition of Gezi Park. The heavy-handed policing in response helped transform them into a popular uprising against the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his style of authoritarian rule. The film tells the story of the occupation of Gezi Park, the evictions, and the continuing protests.
Desiring Alliance and Complex Translations in Activist Research_ An Interview with Richa Nagar