Prajnya Trust’s understanding of peace, justice and security, is holistic and its initial work areas reflect this. Swarna Rajagopalan, founder of Prajnya in 2006, recalls that “We chose to work on gender equality issues, including gender violence awareness, and peace education.” They wanted to do something tangible that the general public could relate to.
Swarna is a political scientist by training. She points out, “Those who work on gender, do not engage with those who work on security; those who train Panchayat leaders, do not work with ordinary citizens.” To avoid too narrow a focus, in its day-to-day work, “Prajnya was imagined as a space that could, by design, transcend pigeon-holing and offer fluidity between methods and media,” insists Swarna.
So almost everything that Prajnya does is through a loose network of volunteers; they come and go at various stages of their lives and the organisation’s needs and keep its multifarious efforts going. Its blog seeking volunteers says, “We don’t have an office. So it’s not possible to come and help in the office every Thursday morning. We actually don’t have assignable tasks. We are so small we only have responsibilities we are happy to share with or delegate to volunteers. In fact, ALL Prajnya’s core team members are volunteers. We give our time, while earning a living. So the work happens all the time, and yet not all the time.”
Swarna is the focal point of its activities along with Shilpa Anand, partner in Eastern Engineering Company, Dr D Jayashree, an Ayurvedic physician, and Saundarya Rajesh, founder-president of AVTAR Career Creators. It also has a powerful advisory panel.
So how does Prajnya reach out? Dr Rajagopalan tells us, “From the beginning, we have drawn committed volunteers who have given all their spare time to working with us. They have made donations. They have called their friends to give us use of their time and talent. They have trained. They have written. And they have built Prajnya to a point where our work has grown beyond their ability to support it.”
So a full-time salaried team is next on the agenda as well as fund-raising for better logistics, resource persons and hiring space and equipment for conducting programmes. In her appeal to donors, Swarna says, “The kind of work Prajnya does calls for a special kind of donor who can think beyond traditional charity giving or public works, to see knowledge and communication as integral to social change. We need donors who understand that salary and operation costs are critical; without people who are well-supported, nothing can be accomplished. Finding those donors—we believe they exist!—and building a proper full-time team in the coming year is critical.”
Its broad spectrum of work includes conducting 16-day awareness campaigns against gender violence, spreading the message through concerts, theatre and satsangs which focus about gender equality. Future plans include setting up of the Prajnya Resource Centre on Women in Politics and Policy which seeks to fill the gap created by scattered and unsystematically compiled information in this field. There are several components of this project: the creation of a database with salient statistics and lists of women in politics and policy-making; a series of oral histories and life-stories of women who have played a pivotal part in politics and society; and a user-generated visual archive of photographs of women participating in the public sphere.
People are usually told that “Prajnya is like an Indian wedding. People come and go. Pick up the work in front of you so it gets done—folding clothes, putting away newspapers, whatever.” If you would like to be a part of this attractive effort to spread gender equality, chip in, in whichever way you can.
Or you can simply send a cheque to ‘The Prajnya Trust’ at the address alongside. Donations qualify for deduction under Section 80-G of the Income Tax Act.
The Prajnya Trust
B402 Prince Villa, 7 Rajamannar Street, Chennai 600017.