The very idea of India, a nation of unmatched diversity where people of different creeds, castes and origins live in harmony, is under attack today. The twin menaces of fundamentalism and terrorism have exacerbated the tensions between the majority and the minority communities and there has been an alarming rise in the incidents of sectarian violence. In this context, it has become imperative that each one of us should spare no effort to attenuate the prevailing tensions and ameliorate the relations between different communities. Common Cause, on its part, has opted to promote activities which bring young people of diverse backgrounds, particularly adolescents of the majority and the minority communities, to a common platform and engage them in activities that directly and indirectly contribute to communal harmony. We are convinced that the efforts of Common Cause should be directed towards preventing violence, rather than reacting to it and that the objective of promoting communal harmony can be best achieved by inter community engagements and activities that would further mutual understanding and concord. This should not only help neutralize the most inflammable element of a communal conflict, but also transform it into a conflict inhibitor. The limited resources at our disposal would thus go a long way in defusing tensions in potential foyers of communal discord.

After exploring a number of options for collaborating with grass-roots organizations engaged in the promotion of communal harmony, it was finally decided to associate ourselves with Vanangana, a feminist organisation, which has lately been focusing on communal harmony in Chitrakoot and Banda districts in Uttar Pradesh. Vanangana started taking interest in communal issues shortly after the Gujarat riots of 2002, when it sent its volunteers to assist in post-conflict rehabilitation. The focus of Vanangana’s work has been on bridging the gender divide and raising the social and economic status of the backward sections of the society. The work that Vanangana has been doing in breaking down the social barriers in Banda, which has a sizeable Muslim presence and is a potential communal trouble spot because of its proximity to the Kar Sevak route to Ayodhya, also has a direct impact on communal harmony.

Common Cause has chosen to support two of Vanangana’s flagship schemes, Larzish and
Guftagoo, for a period of three years from 2008-09 to 2010-11. Larzish provides a platform which brings together youth from Muslim, Dalit and other communities through sports and cultural activities. Under its auspices, an annual cricket tournament is organized where village teams comprising youngsters from Muslim, Dalit and other communities compete against one another. There is an equal representation of the three categories in each team. The main objective of this scheme is to provide an opportunity for young minds to interact with one another and learn about communities other than their own. On the other hand, Guftagoo aims to impart primary vocational training to girls from Muslim and Dalit communities in an impoverished neighbourhood of Banda town. The two schemes have caught our fancy because they are in conformity with the approach outlined by Common Cause, as they target young and fresh minds whose sensitization is crucial in preventing communal discord.

The assistance extended by Common Cause shall be limited to Rs. one lac per annum, divided equally between Larzish and Guftagoo. A generous endowment of Rs ten lac bequeathed to us by Mrs. Mona Albuquerque, who was a member of our Governing Council, has enabled us to make this grant. In her honour, Common Cause has instituted two annual awards of Rs. 5000 each to be conferred on a young woman and a young man displaying exceptional leadership qualities in promoting communal harmony. The awards will be called ‘Common Cause-Mona Albuquerque Communal Harmony Leadership Awards.’

We hope that our collaboration with Vanangana will contribute its mite in promoting better understanding and mutual respect among youth from different communities and forming a bulwark against divisive tendencies.