Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/The story about the Kautilya Society work in Varanasi
The story about the Kautilya Society work in Varanasi
The Kautilya Society was one of the partners of the project. The Indian NGO was also managing an important project in Varanasi on the protection of local heritage. We wanted to include this Heritage Project in the documentary since it touched a critical modern issue - Is it possible for development to be inclusive of the preservation of local heritage? Does development necessarily have to be based on the destruction of what is old?
While India forges ahead as a strong global economic player with 6% growth rates, an expanding labour market, increase in public expenditures, 27% of its population still lies below the poverty line.
While women shed their traditional roles and enter the work force with determined steps, the number of reported rape cases has doubled between 1990 and 2008. As India moves forward, it carries along with it contrasting realities.
Today, development is the buzz word in India. Protection, conservation, heritage, ecological balance, are old fashioned; neither political nor social priorities; considered shackles that slow down development, competitiveness and wealth creation. Does development necessarily have to be based on the destruction of what is old? Is it not possible for development to be inclusive of the preservation of local heritage?
To discover answers to this simple yet perplexing question, we had to go to Varanasi, an ancient pilgrimage city located in the populous Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and one of India’s most popular tourist destinations. In a city where no clear boundaries exist between the old and the new, birth and death, residential and commercial, animals and humans, the river and the city, the rich and the poor, the eternal and the transient; in this city where people come to die so that they can break their cycle of death and rebirth, why would people want to preserve what is dying - whether it is old collapsing buildings, dying local arts or conservative religious practices?
It was a riddle we wanted to solve. And Vrinda's passionate battle for protecting the destruction of the city's unique but dying heritage gave us a glimpse into the reasons for man's quest to connect back with his past, to his history, to his origins.
Chaotic streets and bustling markets welcomed us to the sacred city of Varanasi, believed to be one of the most ancient continuously living cities in the world. In stark contrast to this pandemonium, flows the ever-calm majestic and sacred River Ganga; its 8 kilometre stretch of riverfront ghats, or stone steps, flanked by lofty palaces and temples, spotted with people practicing religious rituals and conversing on life, death and beyond.
Vrinda believes that the only way to go forward is to involve local communities, build on local resources and hold governments accountable for policies and actions. An aid worker, she is the General Secretary of an organisation, called the Kautilya Society, that is locked in a tough legal battle against the state government, local authorities that are violating the implementation of laws, destroying the city’s architectural heritage, permitting illegal constructions to come up, and blocking local efforts to save this unique cultural symbol of the country and priceless treasure of humanity.
Threatened by those demolishing historical buildings and making illegal constructions in the name of religion and development, harassed by corrupt government officers that violate constitutional acts and laws and permit illegal constructions and encroachments on the riverfront ghats, she continues her tireless battle for justice and greater government accountability.