The Optimist Citizen

An organisation born after the Gujarat Riots sensitising youth on religious tolerance

Urja Ghar is a volunteer-run organization based in Lambadiya village in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat. Creating a better society through peace, creative thinkng, and dialogue  has been the organization’s commitment for over nine years now.

 

 The 2003 harrowing Godhra Riots tore the state of Gujarat. Communal tensions were at their peak. Countless people lost their lives, houses, business establishments, and their life savings in a flash. Oxfam India took up the daunting task of nation-building in these times of turmoil. It started a pilot project in the districts of Gujarat and Rajasthan for serving the affected tribal population. Later in 2008, this pilot project would become the foundation of Urja Ghar.

Oxfam’s project “Violence Mitigation and Peace Building” started in a room in Lambadiya village of Sabarkantha district, a tribal-dominated habitat. Initially, the program aimed at youth, to connect them to the bigger question: Their role in the Society. Later in 2004, Tsunami wreaked havoc in the coastal areas of the country. Oxfam moved onto help in the affected areas of Gujarat. The riot-hit areas still needed help. It was then that the volunteers who were working with Oxfam came together to continue the initiative. And that’s how Urja Ghar was born. The name ‘Urja’ literally translates to ‘Energy’ in English. This name was derived out of the belief that energy cannot be created but it can be channelized. And in this case, the volunteers were ready to channelize Oxfam’s legacy. Channelize it to empower youth to develop better and effective citizenship in the areas subjected to sensitive communal violence. 

 

The program which was earlier started for youth was now remodeled to include four elements: Kids, Youth, Women and Community Leaders, said Mr. Waqar Qazi, the then volunteer of Urja Ghar and now board member,  in an interview. Intending to develop a sense of secular citizenship, Urja Ghar uses tools like theatre, photography, film screening, and writing to sensitize youth towards social justice. Those affected by the riots inspire the stories of the theatre acts. After the play, discussions are held with the audience to create dialogue and a chain of conversations around peace, social justice, and critical thinking is started.

 

Over the last decade, the volunteers of Urja Ghar have been running their theatre work in more than 55 villages of riot-hit Sabarkantha and Banaskantha in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Waqar quips that the biggest resistance came from the community itself when asked about the early struggles. It was hard to bring people from different political and religious backgrounds on one single platform. Police cases and death threats have been a regular occurrence for the team. However, Waqar believes that the biggest achievement of Urja Ghar is the fact that despite external threats and pressures, the team has been able to reach out to a large part of society and create democratic and safe spaces at a time when having a political dissent is close to impossible.

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A testament to Urja Ghar’s extraordinary impact is the story of Sanjay. Sanjay was a member of a Hindu extremist group when he joined the organization. After a few years of volunteering in different verticals, he became the leader of the theatre team. From being a religious fanatic to lead a vertical in the peacebuilding organization, Sanjay came a long way. Another example of the stellar work Urja Ghar is Rihana’s transformation journey. Rihana belongs from a communally sensitive area of Ahmedabad and comes from an economically weaker background. Joining Urja Ghar exposed her to a diverse set of experiences. After finishing her higher studies, she has now been made the leader of the Ahmedabad team of Urja Ghar.

 

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You may also like to read: After being Rescued from Child Slavery, Neeraj Murmu starts a Free School for other Rescued Children. Wins ‘Diana Award’.

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At the time when the world’s largest democracy is often hit by communal turmoil, Urja Ghar is emboldening the need to democratize Democracy and the team is dedicated to building India on the principles voiced by our freedom fighters, an India of equality. The democratic spaces have been shrinking lately, our challenges are bigger than they seem. Little initiatives like Urja Ghar’s can bring a significant positive impact. If we can channelize our efforts in synergy, we will be able to create a better India. An India where everyone has equal value and place.

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