Friday, July 16, 2010

Significant Details

After a long drive into the city of Chennai, Gandhi, my grandma, and me sat down to our morning cup of coffee in the office of the Secretary to the Chief Minister. Although the coffee was quite enjoyable, that was not the actual reason for our long visit so early in the morning. Krishnammal had come to ask for a relatively small favor, but one that could make a significant difference in the lives of the land beneficiaries.

Even when women are able to acquire land, and thanks to Krishnammal in their own name, there is still an expensive fee required to register that land title with the state. LAFTI has been paying this fee for the women in the past because she feels that to ask the women to pay would be to lower any level of newly found pride and confidence and would put the women in a situation of debt, something LAFTI specifically makes a point not to do. After several major negotiations with the government regarding the actual purchase of the land itself, it was now time for Amma to hammer out the small but greatly meaningful details of the land-ownership situation.

Once again, the majority of the meeting was not in English, but the purpose of the meeting was explained to me in the car ride along the way, and the extraordinary outcome of the meeting shared just minutes later. Since there had been numerous photos taken at the brickmaking ceremony several weeks before, Gandhi and staff had prepared a small pamphlet to bring to the office that day which showed the house building process and what a change in the beneficiaries' lives earlier negotiations with the government had allowed for. When the meeting concluded, the most immediate outcome was that the secretary would place the proposal document on the Chief Minister's desk for official approval. Just as everything else in India, one just has to keep asking, and asking, and asking. Amma told me that a similar request had been made several months before, but that the actual document which needed to be looked over and signed never made it to any of the people who had the authority to do so.

We thanked him and left for our next event. I think we were off to a wedding. Anyway, after we got into the car, my grandma asked me "as a business major, did you think he was a nice person?" Before I could even begin to formulate any sort of answer, she informed me that yes he was, but that we would have to wait just a few days to see if that niceness would carry on to the people. As she has reiterated to me several times since I began working with LAFTI nearly a month ago, "India is free but its people are still not". About 30 hours later, Krishnammal and I arrived back to the LAFTI offices with the news that the document had been signed and the land beneficiaries would no longer have to pay any sort of fee to register their land with the government. As was said by those who honored Krishnammal with the Opus Prize two year ago this fall (a faith-based humanitarian award given for outstanding social and humanitarian change motivated by one's faith), "every part of her work big or small, is seen by those she serves as a truly monumental accomplishment".

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