‘No one wants charity, give them dignity’

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Explaining that charity for namesake is not what people in crisis need, Anshu says that increase in charity has shifted focus from quality relief to quantity relief. “Don’t forget that people in distress are not beggars. In fact, they are as strong as us, notwithstanding the harsh conditions that they are subjected to. So, the charity for namesake hurts their self esteem and also becomes an unnecessary burden for those involved in relief operations,” says Anshu.

The duo is equally wary of those who boast about their charitable acts. “No one can claim that he or she has changed the lives of many. At least, I don’t believe in such bluffs. How can we change the lives of anyone? One can make an effort though,” says Anshu. “The least one can do is to be a partner in the ventures they want to take up”, says Meenakshi agreeing with him.

Meenakshi left her job in 2005 to help her husband expand the reach of Goonj. With the present government training its guns on non-governmental organisations, does Goonj find itself in the line of fire? “We depend upon individual and corporate aids. Funding from international institutions is something that I am least interested in,” Anshu tells Tehelka. “Curbing malpractices is the duty of the government. Acting against organisations under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) is fine but people should not be selectively targeted.”

The couple is in agreement that social workers should not be unfairly targeted or denied their dues. “It is unfair to ask someone to do social work without proper pay. If I am asking people to work for a cause then I must pay them decently.” Both Meenakshi and Anshu are on the payrolls of Goonj and claim that they pay “enough to employees so that they can all lead a decent lifestyle”.

Expanding the discourse on social work, Anshu identifies red tapism in the form of institutional clearances as a barrier between the one in need and one offering help. “Nepal is a classic example,” says Anshu, whose ngo provided quick and comprehensive relief to the nation recently ravaged by an earthquake. “Nepal was one of the toughest assignments so far. The gravity of the earthquake was furthered aggravated by the poor responses of Nepal’s officials.” Explaining how inexperience and over excitement of the “rescue brigade” of political parties created hurdles, Anshu says, “I am not saying that people should not go for rescue operations, but it would help if the concerned ones have experience, resources and are aware of local demographics.”

When Tehelka broached the topic of politics, Anshu chose to remain evasive. “Politics is not the only means to bring desired change in our society. However, after Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi one should have no apprehensions over joining the same,” Anshu points out. “A few years back, even Kejriwal didn’t know whether he would join politics. Let’s see what is in store for us in the future,” he says smilingly

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