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Community Caretaking and Women Volunteer Teachers in Mumbai Slums

Despite increasing emphasis on civic participation in governance, how and why people participate in civil society and what meanings they ascribe to their actions have received scarce attention. Addressing the gap, this paper ethnographically investigates women's roles as volunteer teachers in their slum localities in Mumbai. Examining the meanings of their communitybased teaching roles, the paper illustrates that women interpreted their engagements as community caretaking, which was grounded in interpersonal relationships and a desire for social upliftment of the disadvantaged. Illuminating civic participation from the standpoint of disadvantaged women, it reveals women's citizenship action as a complex and negotiated process, intersected by class and gender constructs.

NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200869Community Caretaking and Women Volunteer Teachers in Mumbai SlumsAnju SaigalDespite increasing emphasis on civic participation in governance, how and why people participate in civil society and what meanings they ascribe to their actions have received scarce attention. Addressing the gap, this paper ethnographically investigates women’s roles as volunteer teachers in their slum localities in Mumbai. Examining the meanings of their community-based teaching roles, the paper illustrates that women interpreted their engagements as community caretaking, which was grounded in interpersonal relationships and a desire for social upliftment of the disadvantaged. Illuminating civic participation from the standpoint of disadvantaged women, it reveals women’s citizenship action as a complex and negotiated process, intersected by class and gender constructs. In recent years, the Indian context has seen civil society gain recognition as an important participant in govern-ance. A shift in the perception of the roles of state and civil society has contributed to this salience: good governance has come to be associated with the state play-ing a facilitative role, and markets and so-ciety working in collaboration toward the common goal of economic and social development [Archer 1994]. Neera Chand-hoke notes that from India’s Seventh Five-Year Plan (1985-1990) on, there has been a “perceptible shift from government to civil society organisations and to the market in matters of service delivery” [Chandhoke 2005: p 1]. Estimates suggest that there are around 1.2 million non-profit organi-sations operating in the country, with the voluntary sector engaging 16 million peo-ple as part-time or full-time volunteers [Srivastava and Tandon 2005]. While India has had an history of active civic engagement [Sen 1998; Tandon and Mohanty 2002], undoubtedly, recent policy changes have helped in expand-ing the role of civil society in governance and creating spaces for citizens’ partici-pation. However, how citizens occupy and animate these newly created spaces [cf Cornwall 2002] and make sense of their participation has received scarce atten-tion. Unarguably, understanding how and why people participate in such spa-ces for public action would shed light on the forms of citizenship action and render a nuanced reading of people’s dem-ocratic engagement. This paper, drawn from a larger ethno-graphic study, investigates women volun-teers’ teaching action in their slum com-munities in Mumbai. At the time of re-search, the women were participating with Pratham, a civil society organisation that is working in partnership with local governments and local slums and village communities across India toward univer-salising elementary education. The paper examines women’s meaning making of their teaching engagement in their com-munity space. It illustrates that the women interpret their teaching roles as commu-nity caretaking. Using a feminist reading of the construct of citizenship, the paper goes on to suggest that such community caretaking may be characterised as an ex-pression of citizenship action. For the women in this study, teaching in their localities is interpreted as acts of care that are both grounded in interpersonal rela-tionships, and a desire for social uplift of the disadvantaged. However, such acts of community caretaking are both multi-dimensional and negotiated and challenge simplistic and universalistic notions of citizenship. Far from being autonomous economic and social actors, the women’s actions are multifaceted, rooted in the multiple collectivities of which they are part and the dynamics of the same.The paper is divided into five sections. In the first, I describe the study context. Second, I discuss the theoretical lens used and briefly discuss relevant literature. In the third and fourth sections, I examine women’s community-based teaching- caretaking roles, one, as articulated through interpersonal relationships and relational discourses, and two, a desire for social uplift, respectively. In the fifth section, I conclude. 1 The Study Context The study was located at Baiganwadi, a sprawling slum area located in north-east Mumbai that spills onto one of Mumbai’s solid waste dumping grounds. The area is Muslim-dominated with a population of close to 3,00,000 (in two contiguous slum areas, one of which is Baiganwadi). Brutal crimes are commonplace here and the area is generally considered unsafe for women and children. The two govern-ment school buildings in the area are over-crowded and cater to the poorest of the population. At the time of data collection, the area had a high incidence of child labour1 and one of the largest number of Anju Saigal ( an independent consultant.
NOTESoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly70out-of-school children of school-going age in the city.The women in this study were working as teachers with Pratham and were part of its 24,000 largely female volunteer teach-ing workforce. Pratham was born in 1994, in the wake of the Jomtein Conference on Education for All, where all represented nations pledged universalisation of pri-mary education. Civil society participa-tion was stated as an important strategy for achieving this goal. Pratham began in Mumbai with the initial seed money from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); today it has a presence in 14 states. Its approach focuses on “complete coverage” that aims to ensure that every child in the given geographical area has accesstoeducation, and is learning. At the time of research, Pratham had four programmes targeted toward the educa-tional needs of children in the age-group 3-12 years. These included a pre-school programme, a programme to meet the literacy needs of underachieving school-going children, a programme for out-of-school children of school-going age and a library programme for all children in the locality. These programmes were im-plemented through local women whom Pratham recruited as teachers to run their programmes for children in their respective localities. Pratham trained the women and also paid them an honorarium; for some programmes, the teachers were also required to charge a fee from students that aimed at partial cost recovery. For the purposes of this study, data was collected during the period between June 2004 and April 2005. A multi-method approach to data collection [Fontana and Frey 1998] was employed that included a combination of ethnographic methods: secondary data, participant observation and informal interviews, survey data, in-depth interviews and visual methods. Grounded theory methods were used for analysis. During the period of data collection, Pratham had recruited 64 teachers at Baiganwadi. While most teachers and staff were observed during unstructured observations and many were informally interviewed, 18 teachers were eventually selected through purposeful sampling [Patton 1990] to form the focus of the study. They were selected in order to cre-ate a heterogeneous sample group rather than a representative one. Given below is a table displaying the background charac-teristics of the sample group of teachers: As indicated in the table, the typical teacher at this community was unmarried, Muslim, and below 23 years. There were a few older, married women, as well as di-vorced women who worked as teachers. Most of the teachers had an educational completion level that was 12th grade or below. Survey questionnaires adminis-tered to teachers in similar communities in Mumbai indicated that the teacher pro-file here was correspondingly similar. In the sample group, the characteristics of the most teachers fitted those of the majority in this area. 2 Women, Citizenship and Community CaretakingIn recent years, feminist scholarship has generated extensive literature on the gen-dered nature of citizenship in liberal democracies [see for example, Foster 1999; Lister 1997; Pateman 1988, 1989; Roy 2005; Walby 1994; Yuval-Davis 1997]. Citizenship, as this scholarship argues, is premised on the opposition of the public and private spheres. The underlying assumptions of citizenship are normatively masculine and associated with the public domain. Women, who are both materially and ideologically linked to the private do-main, have thus effectively been exclud-ed from attaining full political, civil, and social status as citizens. Carole Pateman, for instance, argues that civil freedom is not universal as the abstract notion of citizenship would seem to suggest; wom-en “have been incorporated into public life in a different manner from men” [Pate-man 1989: p 4]. Their struggle for inclu-sion as citizens has been a contested pro-cess, one in which “women have been in-cluded as ‘women’;…as beings whose sexual embodiment prevents them from enjoying the same political standing as men” (ibid). Nira Yuval-Davis (1999) critiques con-temporary theorisations on citizenship as being “westocentric”, in the sense of deal-ingalmost exclusively with western modes of citizenship; further, she argues that this writing assumes a homoge-neous notion of “women”, “moulded in some idealised notion of a white, hetero-sexual, often middle class western wom-an” (p 120). In order to introduce new frames into the thinking on women and citizenship, she suggests broadening the meaning of citizenship through analyti-cally separating it from the “nation state” and understanding it as a “multilayered construct”. As she puts it: [C]itizenship needs to be understood as a multilayered construct, in which one’s citi-zenship in collectivities in the different lay-ers – local ethnic, national, state, cross-or trans-state and supra-state – is affected and often at least partly constructed by the re-lationships and positionings of each layerin specific historic context [Yuval-Davis 1999: p 122].Such collectivities could include “the family, social strata, ethnic and national groupings…as well as institutions like those of education, trade unions and means of communication” [Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1989: p 5]. Each of these, as Anthias and Yuval-Davis (1989) note, produce their own ideologies and are subjected to those of the state as well. Recent feminist scholarship has sought to explain working class women’s commu-nity-based action as “acts of citizenship” [Mirza and Reay 2000; Naples 1998]. However, could such action be considered as a citizenship action? Ruth Lister (1998) addresses this question in her paper based on her research on women’s community development activities in low income neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland. She Table: Profile of Teachers at Baiganwadi: Entire Teaching Group and Sample Group Teachers All Teachers Sample Group Teachers [N=43][N=18]Age: 16-23years 39 14 >24years 4 4Educational grade completed:a <10th 23 9 10th – 12th 17 8 >12th 1 1Marital status:b Unmarried 38 13 Married 3 3 Separated/divorced 1 2Religion: Muslim 41 16 Hindu 2 2aTwo respondents in the ‘All teachers’ group did not respond to the question. bOne respondent in the ‘All teachers’ group did not respond to the question.
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200871draws upon the civic republican tradition of citizenship that “would argue that citi-zens are supposed to come together to achieve common ends with those different from themselves and in so doing tran-scend their specific interests and identify with the wider collectivity than with any particular group perspective” [Lister 1998: p 230]. She points out though that the no-tion of common good is a problematic one. On the one hand, it serves to “reinforce the position of privileged groups” (ibid, pp 230-31), however, on the other, refusal to acknowledge the activism of disadvan-taged groups as citizenship action “is to reinforce the very exclusion that they are fighting in the name of a common good which has subordinated the interests of these communities to those of more power-ful groups (ibid, p 231). In low income neighbourhoods, wom-en’s community-based action often takes the form of community caretaking. Patri-cia Hill Collins (2000), for instance, draws attention to the cultural institution of “othermothering” in African-American communities, where women own respon-sibility beyond their nuclear families for children in their kin group and for those beyond. This cultural institution provides, as she puts it, a “generalised ethic of car-ing and accountability among African-American women” (ibid, p 189), and wom-en’s experiences as othermothers “provide the foundation for black women’s political activism” (ibid, p 189). In a similar vein, Nancy Naples (1998) characterises the community caretaking roles of Latina and black community workers in her study, as “activist mothering” that encompassed a broadened definition of actual mothering practices. As she notes: “The community workers defined ‘good mothering’ to com-prise all actions, including social activism, that addressed the needs of their children and community – variously defined as their racial-ethnic group, low income peo-ple, or members of a particular neighbour-hood” [Naples 1998: p 113]. Mirza and Reay (2000) suggest in their study on black supplementary school women edu-cators in the UK context, that the educa-tors’ idea of community was a “pragmatic, conscious construction of a ‘black home’…They [educators] were not simply a part of the community. They were also engaged in actively constructing it through their work as radical black educators” (p 69). Such studies of women’s community care-taking roles and actions have highlighted, in Naples’ words, the women’s “self- conscious struggles against racism, sexism, and poverty” [Naples 1998, p 114]. These struggles have often involved, as Gilkes’ (1983) study of black women community organisers points out, an engagement characterised by “going up for the oppre-ssed” as opposed to the work orientation and “career patterns associated with the dominant culture notions of professio-nalism” (p 136).In the Indian research scenario, little attention has been paid to analytically examining women’s lived experiences as community-based actors. This study there-fore takes as its starting point understand-ings generated through research on low income women’s community-based action located in the international contexts dis-cussed above. The two sections that follow illustrate how Mumbai’s volunteer teach-ers construct their acts of teaching in their own slum localities through notions of caretaking. In the final section, the paper suggests framing the women’s community caretaking as a citizenship action. 3 Interpersonal Relationships and DiscoursesOne way in which this study’s participants talked about their teaching engagements was through relational discourses which were characterised by the actual relation-ships they shared with their students. Their descriptions of their acts for children’sedu-cational inclusion, however, demonstrated a conflicted process, which stemmed from their identities as both women and teachers. As Walkerdine (1990) notes, being a teacher implies legitimacy in the domain of knowledge and power, and being a woman implies a lack thereof in the same domains. The teacher narratives discussed in this section reflect the conundrum of being women teachers. They demonstrate women’s conflicted legitimacy and the status as “teacher” in the community space and its resolution which stemmed from their interpretation of their roles as grounded in the interpersonal relations, and relations of care they shared with their students. Like an ‘Older Sister’: Afia consistently talked of her motivation forteachingthe ‘balwadi’ (preschool class) as stemming from her “love” for young children and the satisfaction of playing a foundational role in children’s education. In order to play this role, Afia spoke of constructing her image as one which was non-threatening to children. While this was a message conveyed to teachers at Pratham, Afia appeared to have reworked it and given it meaning in ways that made sense to her work and teaching role: I mingle with the children. I sit among the children, and have them sit around me…I tell them, ‘ask me questions and I will an-swer’…Then I ask children questions and they answer – ‘teacher I went here, I saw this, I did that.’ Meaning I found it very easy to be with children…If we are strict with chil-dren, they will not be able to do [the task]. If one becomes a child with the children, doing things with children becomes easy. Children will do [the task]…if they know the teacher will not touch me, she will not beat me….[as a result] children do not consider me a teacher, they think I’m their older sister. Afia’s drawing upon the image of “older sister” here may be understood as being both gendered and strategic. Older girls in low income families play the role of nur-turing their siblings. Hence, conjuring this image frames her as a nurturer in the con-text of her teaching role. At the same time, her use of the image is strategic as it down-plays the traditional image of teacher as a figure of authority: It portrays her as non-threatening to the children, which is help-ful in creating a child-friendly environ-ment conducive to children’s attendance and learning. Afia was also strategic in her negotia-tions with parents in order to get their participation as she knew the latter was a critical element in ensuring children’s attendance. Thus she talked about using the balwadi fees to negotiate children’s attendance with parents. Initially, she asked parents not to pay fees, hoping this would eliminate a stumbling block over children’s attendance. However, after she began accepting fees, there were many non-paying parents with whom she did not insist on payment of fees. Rationa-lising her decision, she says: “because there are mostly Biharis here. Their fami-lies are large and they do not even have
NOTESoctober 18, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly72food to eat. There are a lot of children from whom I do not charge fees.” While Afia viewed the issue here through the lens of parents’ material ne-cessity, she also added that if she were to insist, parents would stop sending their children. Furthermore, asking parentsfor fees was implicated in her understanding of her class position. When I probed her about whether she should not expect fees as a matter of her due as teacher, she said: “I cannot do it. My ‘abbu’ says – “[Even] if there is no food at home, my children are such that they will not go to anyone else’s [home] to ask for it.” Evi-denced in this is the understanding of her social position and class. Being poor in her context did not command respecta-bility. Asking or insisting on payment of fees would suggest that she, and by ex-tension, her family needed the money for subsistence, that her father as the pri-mary breadwinner, was unable to pro-vide. This would bring disrepute to her-self and herfamily. When the ‘Area ki ladki’ Becomes a Teacher: When she became a teacher, Nazneen imagined that her “post” would bring her recognition and respect cultur-ally associated with the teaching profes-sion. However, her everyday interactions with parents highlighted for her a discon-nection between perception and reality. Some of her major conflicts with parents had been over the issue of non-payment of fees. Such conflicts sometimes resulted in altercations, because of which she felt insulted: “I feel like it is a matter of ‘jalalat’ [insult]… [T]hat the teacher is fighting over Rs 20. And when they shout at you, you feel bad”. Her conflict with neighbours (who were also parents of chil-dren she taught) sometimes become a matter of family dignity, no longer re-stricted to her. Nazneen’s mother got involved in one altercation. After giving the parent a mouthful, Nazneen’s mother turned on her and said, as she recounts: “You do not need to conduct the class, shut it. Do not your abbu and your brother give you money? Do you not get to eat at home?”. Implied in her mother’s comment was the issue of respectability: in a similar sense as Afia’s, Nazneen’s asking for fees tantamounted to her family needing her to work for the money, and that would be a matter of family disgrace. Nazneen diagnosed that the reason she did not have “value”, or receive the respect of a teacher from the parents in the com-munity was because she was an ‘area ki ladki’ (girl from the locality). She com-plained about the Pratham staff telling her to talk to the people to convince them of the importance of sending their child to her class, implying through this that they did not understand the dynamics at play in her social interactions. In a somewhat heated, long monologue, she explained: If they [parents] do not send their children, what is our fault? We cannot have author-ity over other’s children. We can explain to them, but we cannot drag them to class…If I were a teacher who came from outside [the locality], had big glasses, wore a sari, I would have had a reputation, I would have had respect. Now I am only a ‘ladki’ [girl2] from the area [locality], so in their eyes, what am I? An area ki ladki. Even if I explain tothemfrom the position of a teacher, from their point of view, I am only from their area, no? So there is no ‘value’…Now if I live here, how will they respect me? Even if I have the ‘post’ of a teacher, the children are from this area. Nazneen’s reference to herself as ladki is telling. Age, gender and marital status intersect to produce authority, status and respect. A ladki commands the least sta-tus in this hierarchy. Thus, Nazneen’s reference brings to the fore her lack of authorityand status as a young, unmar-ried girl in her community. This is at odds with the idea of the authority and respect traditionally attributed to a teacher, and in Nazneen’s perception an important reason for parental non-involvement in the educational pro-grammes she conducted. It appeared that it was because of these circumstances that Nazneen searched for creative ways of eliciting parental partici-pation. For instance, she attempted to re-place the Pratham test instrument (used during surveys to identify low-achieving children) with asking the child to read from her textbook, since she thought this would make a better impact on the pa-rental awareness and consequently on theircommitment to send the child to her class. However, she understood that pa-rentalawareness of a child’s low literacy skillswas not enough. She would thus useeconomic and emotional arguments as well. She recounted her arguments to an un-willing parent: “Khala, tutoring costs a lot. But I’m tutoring at my own home, which will cost you only Rs 20 a month…Your child must be eating [buying snacks] for at least a rupee a day. That adds up to Rs 30 a month. So… if you give Rs 20 here, you are still saving Rs 10.” Some parents understand this and quickly give their names during the survey. …But when the time comes, [sometimes] the child does not want to attend the class….So I say, ‘khala,…This class that we conduct, is it for our benefit, or for yours? … If someone asks your child to read something and your child does so, how happy will you feel…And if the child is unable [to read], you will begin beat-ing the child…[So] if the child comes to us and learns something, what’s the harm? The work of bringing children to class each day was a challenging one, and a rea-son for why she thought of quitting this work each year. Yet, she had been teach-ing for the past eight years, and when I asked her why she continued, she ex-pressed her motivation in terms of the re-lationships she had developed with the children, and the sense of responsibility she felt toward them. This responsibility was with reference to and rooted in the context she taught. Knowing that she was perhaps the only community-based educa-tional resource the children had, she could provide a worthwhile alternative to chil-dren, who otherwise would be “roam[ing] around”. Her attachment to the children then appeared intertwined with her sense of responsibility toward them. As she putit:They [children] give me respect. They tell me, teacher, you teach. …Some say, “teach-er, we will only study with you. We will not go anywhere else”. When I see these chil-dren’s hearts, their love, I do not feel like shutting down the class. Because they will also suffer…Just for a few children, why should I have the others suffer?4 Teaching and Social UpliftmentViewing their engagement through the lens of the setting within which they worked, women constructed their teach-ing in terms of working for the underprivi-leged living in their areas and positioned themselves as caretakers of children who lacked educational resources [Naples 1998]. However, their interpretation of their roles was embedded in the gender
NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200873relations and material circumstances of the population with whom they worked. As the following accounts demonstrate, these women strategically used their sta-tus as teachers to negotiate for educational change in their localities. 4.1 ‘Ilm Bantna’ (Spreading Education)In Islamic religious philosophy, ‘ilm’ roughly refers to true (religious) knowl-edge, the pursuit and spread of which occupies the highest status. As a teacher, Rubina constructed her role as one with social responsibility, particularly toward parents and children that were not liter-ate. As she put it: Our children do not know anything. They arekore [blank], they do not know anything. If we do not teach children, if we do not pay attention to them – ‘Live the way you live, eat the way you eat’, so how will they re-main? They will remainjahil [uncivilised]. Because they will not know anything. Just work, eat, and live. Alternately, if we know something, …we [can] work hard to [edu-cate] our children, ‘see this is how things are. This is good, this is bad. This is important to study….We give the child as muchilm as we have…This isilm batna. Today our children are studying. In the future, they will become somebody and educate others. Rubina’s words echo a modernity dis-course, perceiving education as a means for “civilisation” of those that were illiter-ate, to achieve progress and “become somebody”. She saw her own role as in-strumental in this process, and sought to use her position as teacher to work toward the same. While she viewed her role as such, es-tablishing its legitimacy in order that she could pursue its goals was a constant act of negotiation, particularly with parents. This was evidenced in several incidents she described. One particular incident took place when the staff planned an awareness exercise through organising competitions among children in the com-munity. The teachers were responsible for gathering the children and to act as liai-son with parents. The parents were re-quired to pay a small fee toward the costs. When prizes were awarded only to a few children (who had secured the first three places in every competition), there was an uproar in some localities, particularly that of Rubina’s, where parents felt that Pratham had cheated them and taken the money for no return. Clearly this was be-ing said in a context, where the poor are regularly cheated, and there is a general mistrust against anyone in a position of authority. Rubina, as a representative of the organisation, received the flak. When she heard of this discontent, Rubina re-fused to visit her locality to distribute the library books, saying “They will beat me up”. Slowly, though, she began sending one of her younger nieces, who only came back to report that the parents were de-manding to see her. Rubina eventually picked up the courage to meet the parents because, as she put it, “this is my work”. As she recounted it, on meeting with parents she began questioning them as to why they had been refusing to let the children read, despite the fact that the children loved to do so. The parents, in turn, demanded an explanation regarding the whereabouts of their money. Rubina explained how the money had been used, adding:We are working for your benefit. We wanted to see from the paper I had [the children] do what the children know. What did they know before and after giving them the story, what have they come to know. Your children will progress in their studies because of this.Interestingly, Rubina used her symbolic power as a teacher to convert the issue of money perceived as wrongfully taken into an issue about the children’s educational welfare. The subtext read that she, the teacher, was concerned and responsible for the children’s “progress”, and activities such as those organised would help the children do so and that parents should not stand in the way of the same. Her speak-ing from the position of a teacher was stra-tegic in that it both legitimated her author-ity as a teacher and justified the action she took on behalf of the organisation.Had she positioned herself as an “area ki ladki”, to use Nazneen’s term, she would have most definitely faced the wrath of parents. The parents were convinced and agreed to participate the next time a programme of this nature was held. As a proof of this, when the programme was held twice thereafter, children from the same locality participated. And, as she told me with pride, she was able to gather the maximum number of children, as compared to other teachers working in her part of the community.4.2 The ‘Mahol’ and Teaching EngagementFor many women, their teaching engage-ment gained meaning through what they referred to as their mahol or environment, which, in their context suggested depri-vation: material, educational, social, secu-rity, and so forth. Sometimes this meant creating opportunities for children’s fu-ture; at others it meant a broader improve-ment of their localities.Malika talked of engaging in teaching work because of her ‘shauk’(liking or in-terest). Her shauk, however, appeared conflated with a sense of responsibility to-ward those that were underprivileged. Malika belonged to a relatively higher socio-economic stratum. She lived in an adjoining slum area and travelled from there to teach in a locality close to the dumping ground. Both she and her older sister taught in a single-room space that belonged to a private school in the vici-nity. They rented this space for few hours each day, paying the rent from their own salaries; they did not receive any help from Pratham in this regard. She chose to come all the way to teach here since there was dire need for educational work in this area. The low monetary compensation was of little consequence to her as “[t]he main [thing is] if we begin educating the children from now on, in the future, that child will find the right path. This is why we teach”. She went on: Because…we saw the children’s mahol that parents just did not want to educate their children. They wanted to extract work out of the children until possible. But when we brought our understanding of education [and] sat with the children to teach them, then parents also began to feel that it is right to educate the children. We requested the parents and began calling the children. So the children began attending [the class].Rooting her role in the social context in which she worked, Malika constructed the image of the parent is that of being poor, and perhaps, ignorant or unknow-ing – in that they engaged their children in work and not education. As a teacher, and therefore, educated and aware, she positioned herself as an advocate for children’s education, one who made parents


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NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW october 18, 200875of marginalised children. Their citizen-ship action is expressed through notions of community caretaking, which in turn, gains meaning from the challenging socio-economic environment within which the women work and are ground-ed in both interpersonal relationships with children and work for social uplift of the disadvantaged. However, the women’s citizenship acts are multifaceted and negotiated, and challenge simplistic and universalistic notions of citizenship. For instance, Nazneen traverses her teaching engage-ment through her dual and contradictory identities as ladki and teacher, both of which are tied to her own social location. She is creative regarding her approach with parents and ultimately grounds her work in the relationships she has estab-lished with her students. Afia describes constructing relationships with children that would encourage them to attend reg-ularly. In relation to parents, she appears to make strategic use of the issue of fees to ensure their participation. However, the notion of collecting fees goes beyond garnering parental support: As she de-scribes it, it is tied to her own social loca-tion and meanings of class and respecta-bilityin her context. Rubina characterises her engagement as one stemming out of her desire to spread education to disad-vantaged children. Parental trust is key to her goal and she ensures the same through strategically using her status as a teacher rather than positioning herself as belong-ing to any other collectivity (such as that of women or member of their community). Thus, far from being autonomous eco-nomic and social actors, the women’s ac-tions are multilayered, rooted in the dy-namics of their multiple collectivities [cf Yuval-Davis 1999].The women’s action gains significance within the larger context of exclusion in which they live. While current discourses on governance have created new spaces for civil society participation and citizen action, the experiences of “public” (and “private”) differ for different collectivities and for different members of these collec-tivities [cf Hill Collins 1994, cited in Mirza and Reay 2000: p 69]. Multitudes of those that live in poorer slums in Mumbai have little access to services like potable water, sanitation, public health or educational facilities, and face a constant threat of eviction. The women in this study belong to such communities and face exclusions on several fronts on grounds of their class and gender backgrounds. Their relation-ship to their own collectivities and to other collectivities, as well as the nature ofthe relationship of their collectivity to the state determines the extent and na-ture of their participation. Belonging to materially deprived contexts and having been excluded from the domain of educa-tion, the women are paradoxically today engaged in educational change in their localities. For these women then, their community caretaking acts include their very “right to have rights” [Dagnino 1998: p 48] and reveals the contradictory nature of citizenship. As the rhetoric of citizen participation grows louder in policy circles, this paper highlights the need to understand mean-ings of public action from the standpoint of those who are disadvantaged and work-ing in similar contexts. Along these lines, this paper has illuminated how women’s citizenship action is a complex and negoti-ated process, which is intersected by gen-der and class constructs. The study has implicitly emphasised that a view from the grassroots would help reveal the actual terms of people’s inclusion and engage-ment, and the relations of power that structure the same [Jones 1997]. Any assessment of democratic engagement ought to consider this in order to illumi-nate the constraints and resources availa-ble to those that participate. An assess-ment of this nature would undoubtedly point to pathways to strengthen civil soci-ety and participatory action. Notes1 Since the study, there have been several crack-downs on industrial units employing child labour in this geographic area. 2 Young, unmarried woman. 3 The Pratham rhetoric largely revolved around emphasising the importance of education to par-ents, and also the benefits they would have by getting their children educated. 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