Progression of COVA: 1994-2009
Before the Beginning
The Old City of Hyderabad was amongst the worst affected of the urban agglomerations in India to face massive urban decay. There was acute lack of proper civic and municipal amenities such as regular water and power supply, proper roads, hospitals, schools, recreational facilities, open spaces etc.
In conjunction with such urban decay, there existed high levels of illiteracy, unemployment, very low incomes, and lack of training and skill development facilities. Amongst the hardest hit sections were children, youth and women. Women, traditionally, were not permitted to mingle freely in society, and majority of them were entirely dependent. Literacy rate, health care and economic opportunities for women were very low.
Poverty, backwardness, lack of awareness of the social and economic issues were being utilised by vested interests to divide the people of the area for narrow political gains, which resulted in frequent communal tensions and conflicts, often leading to violence and loss of life and property.
Given such a situation, different communities residing in the area, who were all marginalized groups, were pre-occupied with mutual suspicion, distrust and antagonism, and could not focus on endeavouring for even the minimal civic, political, economic or social rights. Consequently, environment issues, gender justice and development, and rights of the children were the first and most serious casualties; and any effective participation of people of the area, in and for political, economic, social and cultural development became near impossible.
Communal Tension As Deterrent To Development
The constant undercurrents of tension between different communities residing in the area, which periodically broke out into conflicts and riots, kept the people diverted from the real issues and concerns of development, and entrapped them in totally unproductive and socially harmful mindsets of antagonism and insecurity.
Some of the consequences faced by the Old City because of its history and image of being conflict prone, and which affected all the communities residing in the area were:
- With limited opportunities for education, and restricted prospects for employment and economic activities, women of all communities faced extreme deprivation, and exploitation at home, work place and in the society. Girls were deprived of education, were married off at early age, were harassed and exploited by the in-laws. Women had little say in household matters and their status was so low that they had no control over their male child once he attained maturity. The general backwardness of women prevented them from ensuring proper growth and development of the children, jeopardising all prospects of future development and progress of the area.
- Reputed schools of the city avoided giving admissions to children from the Old City, and most educational groups with promise preferred to establish institutions in the new city areas, apprehending frequent riots and their adverse effects on the functioning and standards of the schools. Hence children of the area were deprived of good and proper educational opportunities.
- For the same reasons, extremely few institutions offering education after the secondary level were established in the Old City, compelling the youth from the area to either dropout or commute long distances to continue their education. As a result, the number of graduates and post-graduates from the area remained very low, and almost negligible in the case of women.
- The segregation and alienation of the communities prevented children from different communities to interact with one another, and they grew up in an atmosphere of misunderstanding and mistrust, developing unhealthy attitudes of antagonism and aggression – which were undesirable and detrimental to their own selves, society and the Nation at large.
- Frequent riots resulted in decline in economic opportunities for the people of the old city. Investment in industries and commercial ventures in the area was not forthcoming and financial institutions were also wary of providing support for enterprises proposed in the Old City. Employment opportunities for the people of the old city in other parts of the city also declined due to the negative image of the area and the people living there.
Formation of COVA
The Old City of Hyderabad was rocked by riots of unprecedented scale and brutality from September 1990 to January 1991. Around 50 NGO’s and Voluntary Associations came together to provide relief and rehabilitation for the victims of this long drawn and ghastly conflict, under the aegis of Forum for Voluntary Action and Relief. Deccan Development Society- working for over 15 years in 60 villages near Zaheerabad town, Medak district for the empowerment of Dalit women- was a member of this Forum, and became involved in the Old City of Hyderabad.
Deccan Development Society felt that participation in relief and rehabilitation measures in response to riots cannot be an adequate strategy to combat the plague of communalism, and launched the Communal Harmony Project, aimed at promoting communal harmony and prevent the recurrence of riots in the Old City of Hyderabad.
While implementing the Communal Harmony Project, Deccan Development Society gained an intimate knowledge of the social, economic, political and cultural dimensions of the area, an understanding of the background situation, and the nature and characteristics of the target groups. Some findings and observations obtained from an active involvement in the Old City for three years, helped DDS in formulating a specific strategy for intervention. Some of the important findings and observations obtained during this period were:
- The occurrence of conflicts and riots, or conversely, of peace and harmony in a locality primarily depends on the local people. If the local people are not vulnerable and do not become tools and agents for spreading and sustaining disaffection and conflicts, no amount of instigation from any vested interest can generate antagonism and riots.
- While the orientation of the local people to the issues of development is scarce and inadequate, outside interventions for development are suspected and resisted by the people, especially the Muslim Community, who constitute 75% of the population of the area.
- There are some friendship groups, voluntary organizations etc. in different localities, mostly engaged in organising occasional functions and celebrations in connection with Independence Day, Children’s Day, religions festivals etc., but do not and cannot undertake sustained initiatives for development due to organizational and resource limitations.
- Due to the segregation of communities, most organizations are formed along community lines, and given the situation in the Old City, become aligned with either some religious organization or political party, and remain unaware of the possibility of social activism that is free from religious and political affiliations and motives.
- The non-availability of a platform for social activism, and the consequent alignment of the local initiatives with political or religious bodies, make the local initiatives and organizations, instruments for enhancing the alienation and conflicts between communities, and prevent them from becoming agents for development. Hence the few local initiatives that are available, also become counter productive, because of the absence of the alternative of social activism.
- Finally, there are severe limitations on the extent and scope of work which a single organization like the Deccan Development Society can do in the area, especially when it is, and is perceived as an outside intervention. Mobilisation and conscription of local initiatives is imperative to gain access, implement programmes and cover all the different localities and areas where intervention is necessary.
In the light of these observations and findings, Deccan Development Society catalysed the formation of a Confederation of local groups and organizations under the banner of COVA (Confederation of Voluntary Associations).
Thus COVA was initiated to address the issue of communal violence in the old city of Hyderabad. Till COVA started working, there had been only a few NGOs actively working in this part of the city. Even these few were more into activities like running a tailoring centre etc. The major contribution of COVA was to introduce the concept of an NGO to the population here. Subsequently, with COVA’s initiative and invitations many NGOs made forays into the old city.
COVA, which was to federate hundreds of NGOs and CBOs under its umbrella in the years to come, initially started as a network of 8 CBOs, and was registered formally under the Societies Registration Act in July 1995. By providing organizational and financial resources to these CBOs, COVA initiated play schools, Summer Camps, Adult Literacy Centres, and self-help groups of women in the old city of Hyderabad. It provided fun to youth and children, succor to women and brought cheer to the heart of darkness.
For its programme focus, COVA targeted the most vulnerable sections in the old city of Hyderabad: women, youth and children. Interspersed with and at the heart of the developmental activities that COVA took up gradually were peace initiatives at the local, national and international levels. Also, the strategy of networking helped COVA to increase its outreach initially to other districts of Andhra Pradesh and later to other States of India as well. The journey of COVA has begun basically with a rights based and perspective building approach, picked up development mode on the way and now is consolidating again in a rights based and perspective building approach. The journey has taken a spiral mode rather than a circular one, the present consolidation being at a much higher and broader level within the same approach than that of the initial stage.
From 1994 to 1997 COVA was working in collaboration with and with resource support from Deccan Development Society (DDS). From 1997-1998 onwards, COVA started receiving foreign funding directly, initially through prior permission, and later – since 2000 – under proper FCRA registration. Christian Aid has been the supporter of the essential project since the times of DDS.
It is during 1996-2000 that COVA made a breakthrough in many ways. From the beginning COVA worked with a vision of forming Specific Area Networks and making them eventually independent of COVA. It is during this period that COVA catalysed Mahila Sanatkar MACS and Roshan Vikas MACTS, two cooperatives for women. It is also during this period that the COVA Welfare and Charitable Trust, Youth TRAC (Youth Training Resource and Activity Centre) and District Network Programme (which later acquired an independent identity called ‘Bandhan’) took shape.
The following is a brief account of the evolution of the different spin-offs of COVA as well as of its strategies and interventions.
From Children’s Programme to ICAN…
Even from the initial stage COVA had been seeking to promote a rights-based approach in all its programmes. In the Children’s Programme, Green Kids Leagues and Child Campaigner Clubs started in regular private schools during 1997-2000 testify to this approach.
The initial intervention of COVA was with out of school children – playschools and adolescent learning centers, Summer Camps mainly catered to them. Later the emphasis shifted slightly to regular schools in which focus was given to environmental activism and child rights awareness through the Leagues and Clubs mentioned above. COVA initiated these activities in schools with the assumption that the initiatives would be owned by the schools and eventually run by them. Contrary to expectations, the dependence of the schools on COVA to run these programmes did not decrease. This is because most of the schools, though enthusiastic about the programme, were unable to sustain it on their own because of lack of resources. Moreover the programme in schools needed to be rejuvenated in terms of new activities for it to sustain the interest of both the students and the school management. It was then attempted to link these programmes to organizations like WWF and Bharat Scouts and Guides, so that COVA would be able to bring in new schools every year in the ambit of its programmes.
COVA was to be only partially successful in this attempt at withdrawal. The linkages have been made. In fact, over the years the number of resource organizations – with an internal mandate for extension programmes – connecting with school children in the old city of Hyderabad through COVA has increased manifold. But COVA has not been able to escape the facilitating role for the awareness programmes organised by institutions and agencies like National Institute of Nutrition, National Green Corps, Red Cross, Blue Cross, Energy Conservation Mission etc. On the other hand, there has been strategic withdrawal from activities like Summer Camps and science exhibitions, which were picked up by the schools. Once COVA used to organise them for children and youth with its own resources. Apart from recreation, there used to be awareness sessions regularly in the camps. Now many schools announce their own Summer Camps and COVA conserves its resources by only facilitating awareness sessions in these camps.
As a result of these linkages, the emphasis on scientific inputs increased in the private schools. When COVA started its first Annual Low Cost Science Exhibition in the old city in 2000 it was because no science exhibitions used to be held in this part of the city. During the seven years of successful annual science exhibitions, the idea caught the imagination of many schools and resource agencies. One finds a number of science exhibitions being held every year particularly in this part of the city. COVA therefore replaced the science exhibition with an annual sports event, Sports for Peace, since 2007. Apart from the science exhibition, COVA facilitated project works for children especially on themes like nutrition, energy conservation, climate change and global warming, environmental pollution etc. The project works have now taken the shape of annual Idea Fair.
In addition to the science inputs, COVA has also taken up training the school children in co-curricular and extra-curricular skills like essay writing, public speaking and presentation skills, theatre and soft skills like time management, study skills etc. This intervention came to be labeled as the Para Education Programme (PEP). Now many member schools are prepared to pay a fee to get these training services from COVA.
Due to the increased emphasis on science inputs and co-curricular and extra-curricular skills on one hand, and initiation of Open School Centres for drop-out children on the other, rights education to children suffered neglect for a period of three to four years. It was only again by 2006-2007, the concept of Child Campaigners Clubs was revived now with a focus not just on environment but also on the issues plaguing the neighborhoods of the schools and the issues like child labour. Bal Adalats, part of the programmes in the initial phase, were revived providing a forum for the children to demand accountability from the bureaucracy and political representatives. Peace Clubs were formed with children to learn and act on issues concerning peaceful co-existence of communities. Now the two different categories of clubs are merged and are called Peace and Justice Clubs.
Awareness activities for school children not only consisted of class room lectures and interactions, but also of exposure visits, participation in competitions, rallies, walks etc which were all facilitated by COVA. Joint Celebration of Festivals are organised in schools for improving understanding on and respect of children towards each other’s religion.
Over these years of COVA’s interventions in schools, a remarkable change has occurred. Even during the same year, a timid child is transformed into an articulate and confident speaker. While there was once hardly any exposure for the school children in the old city to the children’s activities in the new city, now not only is there frequent exposure but also a distinct recognition with their success in competitions and participation in activities in the new city.
Both because of the improved academic and extra-curricular performance of their pupils due to these programmes, and because of the enhanced pubic visibility of the schools through the programmes, the demand for membership in COVA also increased. Now there are 120 member schools with COVA and this was a limit that COVA had to impose due its limited human resources. COVA thus reaches out to more than 10,000 children every year through its various activities.
However, in spite of its recognition of the need to address the issues of out of school children, COVA could not sustain its emphasis on them. The Open School Centres, NRBCs and Play Schools that it ran for some time are no longer part of COVA’s interventions. During these interventions COVA was able to mobilise and involve the slum communities in their management and monitoring. Even the Childline project, Child Helpline 1098 has been discontinued in 2009. COVA began collaborating with Childline India Foundation in 2003.
Children’s Programme started taking steps towards evolving into an independent organization. Indian Children Action Network (ICAN) is the name chosen for this future organization. Aims and objects of ICAN were drafted. An ad hoc committee was formed to oversee the process and advise on its programmes.
Unlike the children’s programme, Youth TRAC – the name given to the Youth Programme as early as 2001 itself – has had to face an uneven journey.
Youth TRAC (Youth Training Resource And Activity Centre)
Youth have been a strength as well as an enigma to COVA.
Right from its inception, COVA made youth one of its main targets. It initially tapped the existing youth associations in the bastis and was successful in making them active participants in its peace initiatives. COVA created Youth Recreation Centres, conducted coaching classes for drop-out youth and organised career counseling sessions for them. It even organised Livelihood training and Computer Literacy programmes.
It is by addressing the existential needs of youth, COVA sought to influence their attitudes away from communal politics, as it is wayward young men who were the most potent weapons for political and religious vested interests.
COVA gave the youth exposure to people and places that they had not experienced before. Scores of youth continue to be volunteers of COVA. Not only did they offer their services in peace keeping during difficult times, they also benefited themselves by improving their careers. The youth volunteers have been assisting COVA during peace keeping at Mecca Masjid and on public festive occasions like Ganesh Immersion Day. They brave the stone-pelting of miscreants and offer assistance to the injured at hospitals.
The youth associations and the Summer Camps had been active as long as they were supported by COVA. As a policy when COVA started withdrawing from the support hoping that the youth clubs would own the programmes and run them with local resources, they started declining.
Moreover, youth is always in a state of flux. Higher education or jobs force them to part from local level activities and even take them away from the community. It becomes difficult to make a steady intervention with a certain group for a considerable period of time.
COVA tried out many strategies for attracting youth to social activism. It formed Cricket Clubs, organised cricket and football tournaments. Another strategy that was tried in earnest but that did not prove successful was tapping Gymnasiums. These Gyms attract a number of youth interested in body building. COVA started awareness programmes for them in the Gyms and organised two Mr Hyderabad Body Building Competitions in 2005 and 2006. The idea of enlisting the winners and the participants as Peace Ambassadors did not materialize due to the indifference of the body builders.
An important collaboration during 2002-2003 was with Play for Peace an international organization that trained youth facilitators through whom it conducted non-competitive games for children from different communities so as to break their stereotyping about each other and bringing them together.
The year 2002 that witnessed the ‘pogrom’ in Gujarat necessitated many efforts from the civil society to combat communalism. It opened our eyes to the fact that even educated middle class needed to be sensitized on issues of peace, harmony and peaceful co-existence. When COVA revisited its vision it consciously incorporated the phrase ‘sensitization of all sections of society’ to reflect the need to reach out to sections other than the marginalized and poor communities, whose empowerment alone had been its focus till then.
During 2003-2004, new strategies for sensitizing educated classes on issues of peace and harmony were explored. Ghazal programmes of Seema Sehgal and Dr Subhendu Ghosh, and a play “Maulana Azad” were meant to provide insights into the questions pertaining to harmonious coexistence of communities in this land of great diversity. Discussion groups were formed in colleges with students. On the model of awareness sessions in schools, awareness lectures and interaction sessions are being organised to this day in colleges.
A crucial decision was taken at this juncture regarding the direction that Youth TRAC should take, that it should move towards advocacy rather than limit itself to service delivery. Around this time Youth TRAC got active in the voter registration and Election Watch activities before and during the municipal elections in Hyderabad. As this component of Youth TRAC was later entrusted to PUCAAR as we will see in a later section, in spite of this decision, Youth TRAC continues to offer career counseling sessions addressing the needs of youth. It collaborates with the Youth Welfare Department and Corporate Social Responsibility arms of corporate houses, like Satyam Foundation, Dr Reddy’s Foundation, GMR Varalakshmi Foundation etc to provide vocational training and employment to youth in the old city of Hyderabad.
The year 2003-2004 was good for Koshish Theatre Group, which had been effectively performing street plays in the bastis of the old city of Hyderabad taking the message of COVA to the masses since its formation in 2001. They bagged first prizes at State and National level drama competitions. This was the year of their collaboration with Nishumbita, another theatre group based in Hyderabad, in the production of “Andha Yug”. They continue to perform street plays during Ganesh celebrations and in tense situations, and collaborate with other NGOs and Theatre Production houses in staging socially-conscious street and stage plays.
COVA initiated the annual event, Sambandh, of literary competitions for school children and college students in 2003 commemorating the nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This event continues to draw hundreds of college students and school children to reflect on issues of nuclear disarmament and peace.
While recognizing that youth have been a neglected section of the society, COVA is still to find more effective means of consolidating its youth programme. A strategy that has been successful though was to transfer the component of advocacy programme with youth in communities to PUCAAR. Many youth in the localities who were earlier part of Youth TRAC or its potential target are now dynamic activists in PUCAAR. PUCAAR has absorbed components of Youth TRAC as well that of the original women’s programme and remains one of the most effective programmes of COVA.
The following statement of COVA after deep self introspection and consideration of the Evaluation Report of 1999 reflects the innovations it was planning to bring in its approach and new directions for its functioning.
- COVA shall change its approach from getting involved in implementation of programmes at the locality level to motivating and enabling locality level organizations to implement the programmes on their own. COVA shall concentrate on capacity building of local volunteers and functionaries for programme implementation and organization strengthening.
- So far COVA has been concentrating mostly on students of regular schools and colleges. Henceforth COVA shall focus on working with students / individuals from the alternate education systems of education from open schools to open universities. More and more people, especially dropouts, child labour, members of the minority and marginalized communities are going for non-formal education and they don’t have either the facilities or platforms that are available to students from the formal education system. So far as we know, no NGO is working systematically and consistently to provide co-curricular and extra curricular activities for people who are undertaking the alternate education programme; COVA intends to specialize in this nascent area.
- After the successful implementation of the COVA concept in the Old City of Hyderabad to promote communal harmony through participative community empowerment, COVA will extend this programme to the districts of Andhra Pradesh to integrate the Muslim and other marginalized sections of society in rural areas with the mainstream processes of development and empowerment through the formation of district level networks involving CBOs and NGOs from the grass roots.
- With the reduction in COVA’s direct involvement in programme implementation, COVA will be able to devote more time and energy for advocacy, action research and policy interventions. The focus of COVA will come to include and integrate macro concerns with micro interventions.
This introspection reflects in the growing independence of the Economic Empowerment Programme and of the two women’s cooperatives as seen above. It also reflected in the initiation and spread of the District Network Programme and the networks that COVA promoted in other States, as we are going to see in a later section.
The intention to motivate and enable locality level organizations to take initiatives on their own can be seen fulfilled in the advocacy programme that took an organizational form in PUCAAR (People’s Union for Civic Action And Rights). The guiding force behind the formation of PUCAAR was the much needed social empowerment of women to complement their economic empowerment.
But the interventions with Children reverted to school going children. The co-curricular and extra-curricular component that COVA intended to specialize in finally resulted in the Para Education Programme (PEP) as we saw in the previous section.
From PUCAAR to RTBS (Right to Basic Services): A Journey from Local Issues to A National Agenda
People’s Union for Civic Action and Rights (PUCAAR) is the result of the effort of COVA to evolve a suitable model that enables marginalized communities to adopt rights based approach for claiming basic services and amenities as a matter of basic citizenship rights. A core group consisting of COVA personnel facilitated the formation of PUCAAR. The group studied existing models, had in depth consultations with the community to understand various issues and initiated the collective as the learning progressed. This resulted in a process that involved over 10,000 community members in the initial stage itself and enthused them to articulate their issues and suggest possible solutions.
Since its inception in 1994 with a focus on communal harmony, COVA has been exploring ways of achieving social and economic empowerment for the communities living in the much-neglected old city of Hyderabad. Communal harmony is to a large extent affected by the social and economic status of the communities.
Large number of people from different communities living in the old city of Hyderabad faced the same sense of social insecurity and acute lack of access to basic amenities. The same need echoed in all the hearts for a forum to campaign for their basic rights. It was felt that social empowerment and communal harmony could become a reality only when communities engage in actions leading to the realization of their constitutional rights. Also, it is time that accountability is demanded from the bureaucracy and the rulers elected by the people themselves.
PUCAAR (People’s Union for Civic Action And rights), a rights based collective, was formed in response to this long felt need of the people of the Old City for a forum to campaign on and represent their issues, and as a manifestation of the rights based approach that COVA has been gradually adopting for some time.
When general elections were declared to the State and Central Governments, the moment was perceived as strategic to give a collective expression to the demands of the people. In this part of the city, the focus of the political leaders had so far been on dynamics of religion. It was high time that the focus of citizens shifted to ‘real’ issues – the issues of basic civic amenities and development of the area. As a result, a systematic process went into making People’s Manifesto for the old city of Hyderabad. Dialogues and discussions were initiated with social activists, academicians and other intellectuals, preparatory to the process. Important issues like basic civic amenities, health, child labour, girl trafficking, law and order, police harassment, heritage, people’s livelihood and housing emerged as needing immediate focus. After much discussion, in January 2004 a strategy was evolved to facilitate the preparation of a People’s Manifesto.
Over a hundred basti meetings were held with different sections of society in six mandals of the old city, namely, Charminar, Bandlaguda, Bahadurpura, Saidabad, Golconda, and Asif Nagar to get comprehensive data on civic amenities and other social issues. Important issues that emerged out of these meetings were shared with intellectuals and activists.
The People’s Manifesto, a charter of demands of the citizens of the old city of Hyderabad evolved after several workshops at the mandal and central level.
The People’s Manifesto was released amidst a gathering at a public meeting at Charminar, Hyderabad, on 18th February 2004. Rallies were conducted in different localities to give information about the People’s Manifesto to households. Leaders from all the political parties were presented with the People’s Manifesto.
During the final stages of the draft, a union of people emerged, with a name chosen from among the many names suggested – PUCAAR (People’s Union For Civic Action And Rights).
Activities So Far
- Voter Awareness Programs in the bastis during the General Elections 2004.
- Open Forums before the general elections, where in each constituency, contesting candidates to the A.P. Legislative Assembly were invited to interact with the people of the constituency.
- Education Campaign, in which a survey was conducted on the existing facilities in 337 government schools in the old city of Hyderabad, collected 25 thousand signatures demanding improvement of these schools, and submitted memorandums to the Ministers and officials concerned and the Chief Minister Dr Y.S. Raja Sekhar Reddy. As a result the government has sanctioned Rs.5 crores to improve the conditions of government schools in the old city.
- Basti Committees in twelve bastis
- Training programs for the Basti Committee members in collaboration with National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS), Pune.
- Redressal of civic issues like drainage systems, road repairs, drinking water supply and garbage clearance in the bastis.
- Awareness programs on consumer rights, human rights and Right to Information.
- Monitoring of distribution of ration cards in the old city of Hyderabad
- § Save Golconda campaign
- § Launch of Right to Basic Services campaign
- § Pre-election voter awareness campaign, EVM demonstrations and Election Watch before General Elections 2009.
Although PUCAAR is happy with the impact it made on the government and the communities through its campaigns and activities, it realizes that the follow up on the assurances made by the government is as crucial as the campaign preceding them.
PUCAAR has also been able to facilitate a slow but distinct shift of the political agenda of the old city of Hyderabad from the communal to issues of development. This is contributing to improving the access to civic amenities of the poor and marginalized sections of society living in these areas. Further, this shift of focus of the people has also brought together different communities in their strive for better living conditions and is reducing tensions and conflicts between different communities.
Learning from this experience in the old city of Hyderabad, COVA and PUCAAR now seek to facilitate the initiation of a National Campaign for Right to Basic Services in collaboration with other civil society organizations in the country to improve the living conditions of the most deprived and marginalized. This Campaign would also bring together different castes and communities for a common cause and could help in cementing social integration and promoting harmony.
As mentioned earlier, the introspection within COVA in 2000 resulted in a decision to expand to other districts of Andhra Pradesh and other States in India.
The District Network Programme
Seeing the effect of COVA programmes in the Old City of Hyderabad, organizations and individuals from different districts of Andhra Pradesh started inviting COVA to expand their network to districts and help in arresting the process of alienation of the Muslim community (which has started in rural areas also) and bring them into the process of development and integration with other communities. In 1999 COVA decided to start interventions in the districts and initiated activities to understand the issues of rural Muslims and catalyze networks along the lines of COVA strategy in Hyderabad. These initial interventions were made possible with support from Cord-Aid (at that time known as Bilance) and Christian Aid.
After initial meetings and preliminary surveys in 1999 some activities like Situational Analysis Workshops and some campaigns for literacy were undertaken in the year 2000 to establish contacts in different districts and study the possibility of forming viable district level networks to integrate the Muslim community with mainstream development initiatives and promote communal harmony.
As the formation and consolidation of district networks required large resources and as the understanding with Bilance was for limited funding support for starting the initiatives in districts and for a limited period of time, CRS accepted to support the State Network and Research programme from the year 2001.
With partnership from CRS, COVA was able to undertake Mandal wise surveys to identify credible Mandal level organizations and resource persons from the Muslim and other marginalized communities, initiate the process of the formation of district networks and organise a number of capacity building trainings for member organizations of the district network and enable them to access and implement programmes and schemes available with other networks and the Government. During 2001, network formation processes were initiated in 6 districts from March and in 4 districts from August of the same year.
By end 2001 COVA was able to realise to a considerable extent its initial objectives of identification and integration of Muslim CBOs to the development process, motivate non-Muslim organizations to start work with the Muslim community and facilitate elections in 5 district for the formation of democratically constituted networks. Elections in the remaining districts were completed by July 2002.
With the availability of officially registered, stable and vibrant networks in the districts, a number of funding agencies, organizations and other networks sought collaboration and implemented various programmes like Siksha Yatra to lobby for making education a fundamental right and Panchayat Raj Voter Awareness Campaign (PEVAC) etc. through the district networks. From 2003 onwards, the networks were able to successfully mobilize resources from the government and other funding agencies and larger NGOs and networks for the member organizations. The Network was also able to secure fellowships from Nirnaya and Action Aid for some of its activists and members.
The year 2004 was especially beneficial to the networks. Three major programs could be launched in most of the districts involving a number of member organizations. The first program is the formation of SHGs with a focus on Muslim women in all the districts involving 27 member organizations in all. The second program is the formation of Welfare Trusts to mobilize charitable and philanthropic giving for productive and empowering activities like entrepreneurship development and educational scholarships. The Department of Science and Technology, Government of India chose COVA network as a nodal agency for the implementation of the Year of Scientific Awareness Program in 16 districts.
The networks in different districts also organised a number of peace rallies and other programs to promote communal harmony and peace. In one district, Mahaboobnagar, the network was able to play a proactive role in diffusing tensions and preventing a possible communal conflict.
However, in a number of places, the members were of the opinion that it would be counterproductive to talk of communal harmony where there was no communal tension or problem in the area. In fact, in Prakasham district, the police stopped the network from organising programs on communal harmony saying that it could lead to the creation of an issue where none exists.
This placed COVA in a very paradoxical situation. While the core objective of COVA and the very purpose of any of its interventions in any areas was communal harmony, it was asked to desist from openly talking about the communal issues and the need to work for harmony for fear that it might unnecessarily open up issues that were not there. Hence COVA was compelled to address issues of communal harmony in subtle and muted ways, as COVA believes that communal harmony is indeed an issue that needs to be addressed even if it is not recognized as an overt problem. COVA had the firm conviction that communalism might not appear on the surface but exists covertly. Later this apprehension proved correct, as there occurred communal riots in Anantapur district, where they had been thought unthinkable.
The Peace Alliance Partners (PAP) perspective-building programme was designed to address the lacuna. It is also born out of the learning that working on issues with larger organizations is much more effective than working within geographical limits with smaller organizations.
‘Bandhan’ the new form of the District Network Programme of COVA is going to implement an HIV/AIDS Awareness Programme in 9 districts through religious leaders of all communities from 2009 onwards.
Hyderabad City Level Networking
COVA was able to take a number of peace initiatives in Hyderabad by networking with other CSOs based in Hyderabad. (More about this networking for peace will be discussed in a later section).
In Hyderabad, COVA was one of the major actors in facilitating the Equal Opportunities Facilitation Centre (EOFC). The idea of EOFC has its roots in the Sachar Committee Report that made recommendations for an inclusive approach towards minorities. EOFC and COVA organised an Education and Career Mela for ‘excluded’ sections of society. The Mela drew thousands of students, their parents and job aspirants.
EOFC also organised a workshop on Equal Opportunities in which the guests of honour were the members of Equal Opportunities Commission of UK. In spite of the earnestness of its facilitating organizations, EOFC stands still now due to problems of resources that could not be met at the moment.
Again COVA was instrumental in getting an Advocate Commission by the Government of Andhra Pradesh to look into the illegal arrests and torture of Muslim youth in connection with the case of Mecca Masjid bomb blast. A campaign was quickly picked up on this issue and petitions filed in the High Court. COVA was among the CSOs that formed the Hyderabad Forum for Justice to fight on this issue.
Networks in Other States
It is during 2000-2003 that COVA initiated networks in Kolkota, Jammu & Kashmir, Gujarat, and Saharanpur (U.P.) on the same lines as the District Networks in Andhra Pradesh. The focus was on small and Muslim-headed NGOs and the objective was to strengthen them so that they would be able to function independently. ICANID (Inter Community Alliances for National Integration and Development), a national network was also formed during 2003-2004 though this effort was to prove short-lived.
COVA implemented a major project in Kashmir Valley in collaboration with VAN-Kahsmir entering a new area of intervention, that is, disaster management.
National Level Collaborations
COVA collaborates with other national networks on different issues. On the issue of facilitating conducive atmosphere for voluntary sector it works with VANI, and for promotion of accountability and transparency in the voluntary sector, with Credibility Alliance. COVA has been the State Secretariat for networks like Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) and Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP). With Muslims for Secular Democracy and All India Secular Forum, COVA fights religious fundamentalism and communalism and for the rights of minorities.
Kashmir Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Project
A major earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck Muzaffarabad in Pakistan on the morning of 8th October 2005. The devastation continued into the neighboring areas of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The worst affected regions are Kupwara and Baramulla districts of J&K with Karnah and Uri in these two regions suffering maximum damage.
COVA, which has been working in Kashmir Valley since 2001 and had initiated a network comprising of about 25 local voluntary organizations called VAN Kashmir, immediately responded to the calamity and undertook relief and temporary rehabilitation work in collaboration with members of VAN Kashmir.
As part of the relief and temporary rehabilitation work in Karnah and Uri Tehsils, COVA started with distributing 462 tool kits, construction material like nails and washers to 6000 poor families and 2968 Bukharis (traditional heating devices) and 3000 units of polyurethane sheets. As part of Operation Salvage, 5383 households in the affected areas of Karnah and Uri (4638 in Uri and 745 in Karnah) were assessed and owners educated and provided with expert technical advice. The advice provided was beneficial to the affected people and many refrained from dismantling their houses and have started retrofitting.
In the Post relief i.e., rehabilitation phase COVA undertook the construction of 200 houses and trainings of the members of the community in building earthquake resistant dwellings and also facilitated and promoted community initiatives for rehabilitation. COVA worked in Karnah, Uri and Boniyar Tehsils – the three areas worst affected by the earthquake of 8th October 07.
COVA also initiated some interventions at policy level to set up National and State level Government – NGO Coordination Committees to facilitate smooth operations at the ground level.
As COVA was initiated with the very purpose of promoting peace and harmony, peace initiatives had been an integral part of all its programmes. Its peace initiatives spanned interventions at the local level to involvement in the peace promotion in the Subcontinent.
After the genocide in Gujarat and the rise of Hindutva forces. COVA took initiatives for restoring peace and harmony. At the global level, COVA was successful in facilitating Global Peace Vigils. At the local level, it facilitated the formation of the “People for Peace” forum and “Coalition for Peace and Harmony”, a coalition of voluntary organizations based in Hyderabad. Among other activities, the Coalition collected and sent donations for the relief of the riot victims in Gujarat. Inter Faith Forum was also formed during this period as an integral part and affiliate of COVA. After several attempts of independent initiatives in Gujarat, COVA found its role in coordinating between Muslim-headed organizations and religious organizations on one hand and secular organizations and organizations headed by other communities on the other. It was able to bring about concerted efforts from the civil society of Gujarat for peace and harmony and minorities’ rights. In this process COVA realized that it could play a greater role in forming linkages among like-minded groups or groups with similar goals. In collaboration with other development agencies like Action Aid COVA seriously worked for a National Network of CSOs for combating communalism.
COVA was also actively involved with the Nuclear Disarmament campaign, being a member of CNDP. COVA took up major responsibility for organising a National Convention of CNDP in Hyderabad in 2002.
COVA stepped up its involvement in the efforts for peace between India and Pakistan during 2003-2004. The Director of COVA was part of the peace delegation that went to Pakistan. During this visit, the delegates invited the Pakistani Parliamentarians to India. Responding to this invitation Pakistan sent its Parliamentarians later to India. It is also during the visit of the delegation to Pakistan that the Hyderabad Deccan – Hyderabad Sindh Sister Cities Project was mooted. The “Partners in Victory” Campaign initiated by COVA also aimed at promoting good will between the two countries through influencing the response of cricket fans to India-Pakistan cricket match. COVA and its partner organizations in both India and Pakistan appealed to people to recognize both the teams as partners in victory by waving both the flags in the stadiums. The Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) held its joint convention in Karachi, in which a delegation including the Director of COVA, who was the Joint Secretary of PIPFPD – India Chapter, took part.
Continuing to address the ramifications of post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, COVA trained volunteer from Gujarat at Hyderabad. Closer home, violence broke out on the night of 6th December 2003 in Hyderabad, claiming seven lives. This was an indication that the Hindutva aggression perpetuated the sense of insecurity of the minorities and continued to give peace activists sleepless nights. The fact-finding report of COVA and other organizations reminded the government of its responsibility not only to ensure the security of its citizens and responsible behaviour from its police personnel but also to address the development issues in the old city as suggested by two earlier Commissions. COVA organised a workshop for senior police personnel in January 2004. Dr Asghar Ali Engineer facilitated it.
When Prof. Pervez Hoodbhoy, the Pakistani scientist and peace activist, visited India, COVA hosted his visit to Hyderabad and organised his lectures in colleges on nuclear disarmament. The Director of COVA took part in the Peace March from Delhi to Multan and later in the 10th anniversary celebrations of PIPFPD in Lahore on September 4-5, 2004. COVA was also the organising partner in the international campaign, Anti-War Assembly and organised rallies in Hyderabad in collaboration with other CSOs in Hyderabad.
COVA initiated its Peace Alliance Partners perspective building Programme in 2005. Through this programme it sought to rope in larger organizations in the task of mainstreaming communal harmony and integration into development activities.
No! No!! Campaign was launched in 2005-2006, a signature campaign across India and Pakistan against the purchase of F-16s and F-18s by both the countries and with a demand to spend the money on the basic needs of health of education of the peoples of these countries. Yet another Peace March was held by PIPFPD to Pakistan.
Indo-Pak Joint Signature Campaign was launched with COVA’s initiative in major cities of India and Pakistan on 9th January 2009. The visit of a peace delegation from Pakistan to India was facilitated in March 2009 with the initiative of COVA.
In accordance with its vision to evolve into a Resource Centre after the affiliates become independent, COVA invested in developing the Research and Resource Centre, which consisted of training, research, resource mobilization, and communication units.
The training unit was instrumental in developing the modules of Peace Alliance Partners perspective building programme and for its execution for the staff of COVA’s memeber partner organizations, college students and school children. The unit also studied the training needs of the staff of COVA and facilitated training programmes for them.
The resource mobilization unit was responsible for exploring local resources for COVA’s programmes and for assisting the programme staff in finding sponsors for their events and processes.
As part of its Research programme, COVA coordinated an International Study on “Philanthropic Practices of the Muslim Communities” in India. It also contributed the part on Hyderabad to a study by Aman Charitable Trust on Peace Initiatives in South Asia. COVA conducted research studies on the socio-economic conditions of Muslims in Anantapur and Nizambad districts of Andhra Pradesh, the data from which became useful for Sachar Commission in its report. The study on Anantapur entitled “The Muslims of Anantapur” was published in 2008. COVA contributed the Hyderabad segment of the Urban Poverty Research conducted in Eight Cities of India By OXFAM and a a study on Social Responsibility of the Medical Sector during Communal Conflict as part of Violence Mitigation and Amelioration Project (VMAP) of OXFAM India Trust.
Due to paucity of resources the research, resource mobilization and training units have been discontinued since 2008.
In 2006, it was a time of stock-taking. “Kal, Aaj Aur Kal”, a conference using Future Search methodology with all the stakeholders of COVA was organised in 2006, where the history of COVA interventions were reviewed against the backdrop of local, regional, national and international history. New directions were suggested by the participants.
In line with COVA’s future vision of withdrawing from developmental programmes, to function in its place Roshan Vikas Foundation was established to support the two women’s cooperatives.
Again following the insights of the Future Search Conference, COVA began to prepare for the National Campaign for Right to Basic Services. PUCAAR became its logical initiator in the old city of Hyderabad.
Within a similar framework of the rights based approach, efforts began to form a South India Muslim Women’s Rights Network. There was enthusiastic response from the groups working on Muslim women’s rights in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to this initiative. After initial workshops, a lot of groundwork in the direction of consolidating an influential network remains to be done.
In his foreword to COVA Annual Report 2006-2007, Dr Mazher Hussain had this to say:
COVA started in 1994 in response to the communal riots that had become endemic to the old city areas of Hyderabad, India. By now, the local national and global contexts have undergone a radical transformation. Post 9/11, conflicts are no more some brief, localized phenomena that occasionally manifested as riots. They have now acquired transnational dimensions in the forms of stereotyping and profiling at international levels and result in genocides, terrorism and wars that are threatening the very existence of the human race.
Secondly, economic globalization is transforming the socio-economic structures to the disadvantage of the poor and the marginalized in the global South and threatening most of their very basic rights as citizens and human beings.
Finally, the growing number and frequency of natural and man made disasters are fast resulting in “relief fatigue” where the governments, donors, NGOs, corporates and other concerned individuals find themselves grossly inadequate to cope with them and are unable to engage with the affected communities beyond providing some initial relief. More and more communities are thus being left to fend for themselves for rehabilitation and reconstruction of their lives.
In view of these changes on the security, economic and disaster mitigation fronts from the local to the global levels, COVA has initiated the process of revamping its approach and strategy to address and be relevant in the changed context. As of now the following three broad areas of priority and focus of COVA for the future seem to be emerging:
- Establishment of a center for applied peace studies that would facilitate an understanding of the genesis and factors responsible for conflicts and devise practical methodologies and strategies to anticipate, address and mitigate all such conflicts that could result in riots, genocides, terrorist attacks, civil wars or armed oppression by the states.
- Initiation of a National Campaign for Right to basic Services that would enable the poor and the marginalized to obtain from the state an assured access to the very basic services like water, sanitation, education etc. that are essential for a dignified human existence, social integration and harmony.
- Formulation of principles and strategies for Community Owned Disaster management and Rehabilitation to enable and empower local communities to deal with natural and man made disasters on their own to the extent possible.
Within the organization, at least two of COVA’s existing programs, the economic empowerment program for women (comprising Roshan Vikas and Mahila Sanatkar) and the District Network Program, are in the process of becoming organizationally and financially independent, even as COVA contemplates taking the road ahead as charted above. In this journey forward, we hope for the continued companionship of the innumerable friends and the partnership of the great Indian people without whose support we could not have reached where we are today.
As a follow up to the Future Search Conference, COVA began to move away from developmental activities during 2007-2008 initiating the process of making the affiliates independent. The district level networks that COVA promoted in nine districts of Andhra Pradesh have been federated into a State level network called ‘Bandhan’, which was registered in 2007 as an independent network. The Children’s Programme is in the process of getting registered as a society in the name of Indian Children’s Action Network (ICAN). Senior staff members of the various departments were trained in managerial effectiveness, resource mobilization and communications to be able to take on the responsibilities of independent organization in the near future.
COVA, on the other hand, will focus more and more on research and perspective building on peace, communal harmony and other social issues. During 2007-2008, COVA was also engaged in streamlining various management systems to standardize organizational and financial procedures and processes.
COVA looks forward to establishing a Centre for People’s Foreign Policy in South Asia to make for greater involvement of citizens in the foreign policy of their governments. It also plans to take forward the Citizens’ Assertion Campaign, of which the Campaign for the Right to Basic Services is a part. To promote awareness of educational and employment opportunities as well as of the facilities provided by the governments, and to enlist youth as peace activists COVA is preparing for the launch of a project named CLAP (COVA Livelihood and Activism Portal). COVA is also planning to facilitate a Media Action Group (MAG) with collaborative support from prominent citizens and intellectuals for enlightened responses in the media on issues of urgent public concern.