Ganpati bappa morya!
In 1964, a young community leader and activist (in his eighties today) initiated a collective celebration of Ganeshotsav in his locality to bring people together. Part of his motivation was aesthetic: he found the way the festival was being already celebrated lacking in grace!
Ganesh mandals became an important channel of community work and for incubating local leadership. Friends sometimes pooled money for festivals and poojas to start such mandals. When households faced financial crises, a mandal would often collect money for their support - some continue to do so. Their members slowly gained prestige, and would even be invited to intervene in local disputes.
The Budda Vihar at Pratap Nagar is perhaps more remarkable. It is a religious space that also allows social and political mobilisation among Buddhist Dalit followers of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. The one at Pratap Nagar was built in its present form in the 1980s by the Dalit community that had settled unwittingly on the future alignment of JVLR. The completion and widening of the road displaced most of the community leaving behind only a handful.
The Buddha Vihar was spared, however, and is now among the few community spaces for Pratap Nagar. Cherished and maintained in its original location by the scattered Dalit community that built it, it is offered to locals for private celebrations and public meetings at a nominal cost irrespective of caste or ethnic identity.
Community leaders also produced a valuable social infrastructure for education and skill-building. One leader persuaded a state minister in 1974 to sanction a Kamgar Kalyan Kendra (Workers’ Welfare Centre) next to his home on a patch of land that he continues to protect against the privatisation.
The centre provides subsidized educational and vocational training to families of registered workers in private and public sector enterprises, and local people from nearby. An upper storey built over the small building is rented out for family events.
Making place involves making selves. Prerna (Inspiration) was a collective of teenaged boys and girls founded in 1994. It had almost two hundred members at the height of its activity. Eager to understand the world around them and to make it better, Prerna started a library with donations taken only from the community, produced street plays, ran social commentary on blackboards at street corners. For years it practiced collective decision making based on consensus as a grassroots experiment in deep democracy. Some members became private professionals, others became city-level actors with NGOs. After twenty five years of existence, Prerna closed down recently. Its library of about 5000 books was handed over to another NGO in a nearby city.