International bridges

august giving is livingIn March last year, Denisse Sandoval from the synod’s Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit travelled to India to meet with NGOs tackling human trafficking and workers’ rights issues.

The aim of her visit was to build partnerships with Indian NGOs for future social justice campaigns. A significant number of products from India’s tea, brick and garment industries are made using trafficked labour. Many of them end up in Australian shops.

Ms Sandoval said building trust through face-to-face visits is necessary to foster strong international connections. This means working with NGOs on-the-ground rather than adopting a paternalistic approach.

In the past, some western NGOs have intervened without recognising local needs, priorities and expertise. This has led to reluctance on the part of local NGOs to share information with foreign organisations.

“India is a complicated place and it takes time and pressure to get work done,” Ms Sandoval said.

“Without relationships it is very difficult to partner on international human rights campaigns, and these relationships can’t be forged very easily via email or phone calls.

“We must make time to meet the people there on the ground; it can’t be done over one coffee the way some western concepts of networking might be understood.”

In the city of Ahmedabad, Ms Sandoval interviewed human rights defenders from Prayas, a labour rights NGO and creator of unions. They support the lowest-paid workers in the state of Gujarat, including sanitation workers, cotton pickers and brick kiln labourers.

During her trip, Prayas organised a protest with local people who lived alongside a highway next to a railway line. The residents were threatened with eviction by the local city council and developers, who wanted to clear the land for a new metro. This was an economically disadvantaged area with many of the homes built using branches, sticks, sacks and supplies from the road. Prayas helped the residents obtain fair relocation packages so they would receive adequate funding for their new homes.

The majority of the people living in this area were Adivasis, a marginalised group of people believed to be descended from India’s earliest inhabitants. They are designated as a “scheduled tribe” by the Indian government because they have historically endured severe discrimination and marginalisation.

The Adivasi face significant social and economic disadvantage as they are labelled ‘primitive’ by many parts of society. Many Adivasi children and women are targeted by human traffickers. They have also experienced dramatic changes in their traditional way of life since the mid-20th century due to rapid industrialisation.

“Some of the challenges they face include displacement for the sake of economic development with hydroelectric dams, highways and bridges being built across India,” Ms Sandoval explained.

“Without advocacy, human rights defenders and activists, there would be no one calling out the injustices the Adivasi face in the name of growing the economy.

“If UCA members want to help the Adivasi people, they can contact the JIM unit to find out more about our upcoming campaigns in the human trafficking space.”

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