Student at Kirori Mal college, Delhi
Rishita Sankrit (RS)- What is People’s watch (PW) to you on a personal level?
Matthew Jacob (MJ) -See, People’s Watch is 20 years’ old organization, it was started in 1995; an organization which basically looks at various aspects of human rights. In its more initial days it was more confined to Tamil Nadu, still now the major focus, interventions continue in Tamil Nadu. However, over the last decade or so, or over 5 years to be exact, or more than 5 years it has grown over to become an organization of national stature and national repute; an organization which basically in the state of Tamil Nadu looks human rights monitoring of human rights violations in the states, interventions with regard to on the instances of torture instances of atrocities on Dalit communities with regard to education, with regard to various other factors. Now people’s watch has grown up and established couple of national platforms, one of them is an institute called the Institute of Human Rights Education, probably the largest programme of People’s watch today is Institute of Human rights education which once upon a time reached to around more than 15 states in India covering 5 lakh schools, an effort where the issues of human rights are being articulated by teachers in schools and these teachers are trained teachers formally by people’s watch but also by the education institute training centres and DIET and other institutions. Then basically IHRE looks at students from class 6th, 7th and 8th their modules on equality, modules on gender, modules on rights of children etc. Other platforms are Human rights defenders alert; it’s a national platform of human rights defenders for human rights defenders basically for the protection of human rights defenders across the country and the third platform is called AiNNI, which is all india network of ngo’s and individuals who work with human rights institutions. So this network is about strengthening the engagement with human rights institutions in the country, all across the country and also monitoring of these institutions locally and nationally. These are the broader ambit of People’s Watch. It’s head office is in Madurai. We have an office in Delhi, plus we also have spaces in Bhuveneshwar, a small space in Pune, Bangalore, in Agartala with our partners and partners in other states all across India.
RS- Means of public communications, make sure the beneficiaries have say in the decision making process?
MJ- See, we don’t see people as beneficiary. They are our primary stakeholders. So…engagement with people happen through the cases. So I’ll share with you an example say there’s this case of atrocity or this case of killing so our immediate response will be to intervene through a fact finding, gather more facts within like 24-48 hours of the incident, with rushing over there. And there starts the engagement, the engagement starts with taking up the case legally, fighting these cases out in the courts with the human rights commission etc. but also working along with the victims and make sure on the instances of human rights violations it’s not only the human rights that are violated. In the cases of death, in the cases of sexual violence, in the cases of rape, there is enormous trauma which a person goes through or the people who are left behind of the person who has been killed or died. So a large focus of People’s Watch work has been with the victims; rehabilitation of victims, counselling of victims, accompaniment of the victims if both the parents have been killed in an incident, how to take care of the education of the children. This is something which I can very proudly say like as an organization which has accompanied more than 100 children and made sure that they had access to formal education, access to higher education and today several of them are professors, several of them are lawyers, several of them are social workers, several of them are teachers in schools. And to look back for them at specific instance of a person who now after studying law is fighting the case of his parents. So the entire movement of how a person comes out of that thing. Also with regard to, again something that we’ll probably say is one of the victims with whom we work with during when there something called the Special Task Force to nab Veerappan, and there was a women had suffered a lot because of the sexual violence by the state, by the Special Task Force, and that woman today is one of our trustees, one of the person who has come on the board and who’s guiding us now and we always say that she’s that one person who has taught us the entire need of rehabilitation.
RS- How long associated with PW, position + capacity?
MJ- My association informally with PW can be traced back to last 5-6 years, formally 1 ½ years .I currently work as the Programme Director of PW and also co-ordinate HRDA and Ainni platforms. In between, PW went through an extremely tough phase when our FCRA was cancelled by the government of India. We had back to back 3 suspensions of total 580 days and 2 years with absolute no bank account operations. There was just an allegation by the government of India which we fought it out in the Delhi High court and Delhi high court ordered in the favour of us. We had our accounts restored in late 2014, so yeah my formal associated started after that.
RS- How you got introduced to PW, successive events led you here?
MJ- I mostly got introduced to PW through Henri. Henri and we used to work together through a platform called Ainni. We were together in that platform of course Henri was leading the platform and we were doing the social audit of human rights commissions across the country for 3 years and that’s where my interaction with Henri started. That was my introduction to pw and then I of course visited Madurai to look at the work, and while working together at Ainni we always built this relationship where there were lot of common issues we worked on, that was my start with PW.
RS- What keeps you going?
MJ- To fight for justice. If you believe in democracy, and believe in the institutions in this country and see that there is discrimination and injustice happening and you have 2 options are either to be quite or not to be quite so we choose not to be quite, that’s all.
RS- Any last words, important to talk about?
MJ- The entire country is at an extremely difficult phase where we see a clear attack on civil society, shrinking of our democratic spaces in our country. A lot is determined by the government, what to eat what not to eat, what to speak what not to speak, what to do what not to do. So this high handedness this authoritarian has not set in past 2 years, but has set in the past decade 10 years or so. As a country which has always enjoyed, as a civil society which has always enjoyed free democratic space, a country which known across the world where ideas grew up, they were fostered, implemented, there was respect for differences and diversity, I think we are at a crucial stage where all these things are shrinking at a rapid space. Now within the organization, I think what I would like to say is the future holds for the organization also and for movements and for various groups to come together and work. If the civil society doesn’t work together it will be a very difficult journey from here on. But at the same time we have to stand together to counter these things and I see a lot of potential, like I started my journey as a student activist. So I would like to say that the need for PW, the need for many other movements and organizations today is to reach out to young people, student’s in the universities and show them the reality, the reality which would seem alternate today, reality which is not portrayed by the government or the media because it is important to keep engaging with the students.