By Sahana Manjesh
I’m studying in the third year at NLSIU, Bangalore. In the 1st year I interned with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan. I really wanted to intern with the organization that had been doing amazing work with the NREGA and the RTI movement. I stayed at Kamlighat for three weeks with five of my classmates. It was the first time that I was actually living in a village.
Lots of Good: I learnt a lot in those three weeks. I learnt to make rotis, because we had to cook for ourselves. I learnt of how womenfolk in the parched villages of Rajasthan had to walk for miles to fetch just a few pitchers of water and how despite this, they offered us a cupful of water every time we went to see anyone in their homes.
I learnt to play lagori with the kids around the place I lived and that these kids went to schools that had just one or two people to teach them, if at all. I learnt just how hard and tiring the work under NREGA could be and how people did not always get paid but that there were jan sunwahis about this and that some gutsy people asked for what was rightfully theirs.
I got to meet Nikhil Dey, Shankarji and Aruna Roy who are the more prominent faces of MKSS. But I also got to meet the charismatic Lal Singhji and the ever protective Dhanna Singhji who do amazing work. I met women who were accused of being witches and went to a mela that was going to be an exclusive high-caste event had it not been for outside intervention.
I also got to be part of a training conducted by SEWA for women; the women were being trained to be masons as this would help them earn better wages, armed as they would be with skills. I also helped collate data about the NREGA to be used at a social audit later.
Some bad: But the three weeks there were not always easy. We had to get used to making our own food or eating food made by others with as little experience in the kitchen as us. We’d make do with some bakery food but this was against the rules of MKSS.
We also went at a time when we weren’t really needed as volunteers. No social audit work was underway and that’s when they generally need help from students like us in preparing the required documents.
The result was that we had to find work to do. While one of my friends decided to inspect NREGA work sites, a bunch of us took to visiting schools to understand how they work; great learning curves, but something we did mostly by ourselves.
One my friends also fell sick midway and had to leave. And despite the existence of MKSS, you will find poverty staring you in the eye every single day. Essentially, this is not an internship for the faint of heart.
My verdict: In the end, I know I hadn’t changed people’s lives or overturned a government. But I had been part of people’s lives, if only for a while. So if you are the kind who wants to understand India truly, go intern with MKSS.
But ensure you pick a time when MKSS needs you, else you may not get to experience the true work they do. But also go with some reservations, like any organization you’ll find the MKSS too facing a few problems.