Last night we flew from Madurai to Hyderabad. As soon as we arrived I could tell that Hyderabad was different to the other towns and cities we had been in. It appeared a lot more westernised and all the billboards were in English. We drove over a 12km flyover, our partner told us it had been the longest flyover in the world until China built one at 30km length. He seemed rather put out by this but then laughed and said China might be the factory of the world but India is the office of the world. It certainly looked that way last night as we drove past some very high tech businesses.
This morning we saw a very different aspect to the city as we headed into the old part of town to meet with our partner organisation COVA. We saw brightly decorated temples close to beautifully ornate mosques. There were women in burkhas contrasting starkly against the colourful saris of Hindu women.
COVA (Confederation of Voluntary Associations) explained that Hyderabad is a mix of communities – about 53% Hindu, 40% Muslim and the remainder Christians and Sikhs. COVA was formed in the early nineties in response to the conflict between these communities in the old city of Hyderabad .
Their aim is to bring communities together to campaign for their rights as citizens regardless of their faith. Today they took us to meet groups of young women , all of whom are change activists.
They are a mix of of Hindus and Muslims and they are working closely together to campaign for better access to healthcare and to stop child labour. In one area alone they identified 2000 children working as child labourers. Now 800 of these are attending school but the target is for all of them to attend school.
That is not their only recent success. They have just stopped the illegal sale of alcohol in their area after campaigning and lobbying the Police Commissioner. These young women said they are very happy doing this volunteer work, it improves their society and their area. They are changing the mindset of local people, helping them to realise that they can achieve more if they work together.
We met with other activist groups throughout the day, some of them children. These groups not only show that different faiths can live side by side but they can also lobby for change that will benefit them all. There is still tension within areas but COVA explained that now the police let the local groups resolve issues and resolution is achieved more quickly.
I’ve met several volunteer and activist groups during my trip to India and I’ve been blown away by their tenacity, dedication and spirit. I am now convinced that these groups are the way forward to achieve sustainable change.