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Kishore Bhupendra

Bhuppy Kishore first encountered SCI workcamps in New Delhi in the early 60s, then in 1966 was asked to be the Indian liaison in the long-term project at the Hatibari Leprosy Colony in Orissa. Next he was selected as an LTV to Europe in 1967. After returning home he volunteered in the SCIIndia office and then was appointed as the National Secretary. In 1974 he moved to the Asian Secretariat. The following is from an interview conducted in Paris by Olivier Bertrand with Jean-Pierre and Marie Catherine Petit also present.

Origin of the text
Olivier Bertrand: Breaking down barriers 1945-1975, 30 years of voluntary service for peace with Service Civil International.
Paris (2008)

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Bhupendra Kishore

Childhood

BIOGRAPHY

"Born in Delhi in 1936, I studied painting and sculpture in the School of Arts in Delhi and was teaching Arts till 1965. I then joined Service Civil International India and worked for them as a volunteer in a leprosy colony in Orissa and was sent to Switzerland and Italy on a volunteer exchange programme in 1967.

After returning from Europe in 1968, I worked as Secretary of the Indian Branch of SCI till 1974 and then became its Asian Secretary till 1980 and thereafter as the International Delegate and Vice President for 5 years. During this time, I helped organize various Peace Programmes, Peace Marches, work camps and long term projects in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, West Bengal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, with schools and colleges on special issues like women and children, human rights, environment, pollution etc, as well as peace work camps in India and other Asian countries. After this I have continued to help the Indian Branch on different committees of SCI.

I have been working with Quakers and Gandhian groups and other Peace NGO’s. Was coordinating work in Asian Committees and international exchange of volunteers. Worked with Bangladesh refugees in 1972 and Afghan refugees from 1980-1995.

I have been continuously participating in Peace Campaigns and programmes on national and international levels and emphasis on practical work in villages and slums providing health facilities, drinking water wells and schools in remote areas of Bihar Santhal Perganes for tribal children in the1980s.

I now work as a freelance peace activist and am involved with the People’s Congress and World Citizens for the last 25 years as their elected delegate. From time to time I present papers on peace and development issues in the Institute of Mondialist Studies in Belgium. In August 2006, a paper on people to people programme was presented by me in Switzerland at La Chaux-de-Fonds, International Centre of Esperantista at the summer University of mundialism.

My main aim is to suggest and organize simple programmes in which even ordinary people could also take part and contribute to the progress of the deprived and for the protection of our environment to make more and more people join hands for peace issues, Strengthen the belief that all conflicts could be resolved by non-violent and peaceful methods, with emphasis on voluntary service and importance of NGO’s and individuals through People to People programmes.

I wish to make people aware that they are part of the Global family and have a duty towards it and the Planet Earth."

Bhupendra Kishore

“I was eleven years old when the partition of India took place in 1947 and we had lots of refugees. My two elder brothers had worked with Gandhi and they were in charge of refugees coming from Pakistan. So I had the opportunity to go with them. One of my brothers also went to Kashmir to look after refugees as the government needed volunteers at that time. My elder brother with his wife (who was English) were in touch with Quakers and had also worked with SCI.”

Beginning of SCI in India

Ralph Hegnauer had come to India and there was also an SCI project for refugees in Faridabad, which lasted for about a year. Before that, Pierre Ceresole had already gone to India in the thirties. Ethelwyn Best was there for some time and helped in the establishment of an Indian branch. She was probably more than 60 as she had worked with Pierre Ceresole and Pierre Oppliger, a Swiss volunteer and first SCI Represenative to India, who had taught French to young Indira Gandhi, who later became a Prime Minister. In the beginning, SCI had some high level contacts in the government, and good connections with colleges and some professors.
Nehru himself had asked Ralph to suggest a way to organize this kind of voluntary work. He had come to the project in Faridabad along with the first President of India and also been in touch with Pierre Cérésole in the 30s. All these people were involved. So Nehru set up an organization called Bharat Sevat Samaj (BSS). BSS was a very big organization, funded by the Government, with branches all over India. We worked a lot with them and with some other organizations like the Quakers. Gandhian organizations had members in almost every big village, so we used to cooperate with them because of their good connections in the villages. BSS came only after Nehru had seen the good work of SCI and wanted to do something similar”.
When the Indian branch of SCI was started after the partition, the chairman was a professor and chancellor of Jamiah university and Nehru’s sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, was also a president of SCI for some time. They were involving lots of college students. According to Bhuppy, castes were always mixed among the volunteers and it was not an issue. But Marie Catherine remembers that when she was a volunteer, most of the SCI people belonged to the Brahmin or other high castes and there were hardly any Harijans (Untouchables). This might be explained by their lower level of education, but Bhuppy remembers that there were people from all castes, including Christians, who came from the lower castes. This was consistent with the Gandhian tradition, which used to mix castes without any prejudice, even though a number of the followers of Gandhi were Brahmins themselves.
“The Delhi group used to organise week-end and short-term camps in the slums, just to do the cleaning work. The idea was to involve the students and to expose them to the village and slums conditions. There was also the international exchange programme. The idea was to expose people to each other’s country. There were also programmes organized by UNESCO, the American and German Peace Corps. SCI was the first one and is not a Government programme like the others”.

Joining SCI and going to Europe

Bhuppy, who was an art teacher, participated in weekend and shortterm camps in Delhi: cleaning the slums, talking to people. In short-term camps, volunteers worked on roads for the villagers and helped them to have a kind of playground for children and so on. “The idea was to go the villages and take youth from the cities. Otherwise they never go. I liked it very much, as even before finishing my art studies, I always thought that to pursue art was a luxury in the conditions of India, when we saw so much misery and poverty”.
While thinking of going to Egypt, Bhuppy was told that SCI needed an Indian volunteer for a short time. Having an Indian on the team was the condition for getting subsidies from donor agencies. In 1966 he joined a leprosy colony, Hatibari, in the State of Orissa. There were three or four other volunteers there (teacher, agriculture specialist, nurse). It was a Government colony, run privately, which was short of staff. They needed someone who could speak the local language to coordinate the work of these volunteers with the neighbouring villagers. It was also an education for the people, otherwise they were just neglected. Nobody would go there.
“When I was in this leprosy project, I was sent in 1967 to Switzerland and Italy (Reggio-Emiliana, Florence, Siena) as a long-term volunteer. The volunteers on this programme stayed three, six or nine months. I stayed for nine months. There were very big programmes organized by the SCI branches in Europe and the volunteers were going to three or four different places and workcamps. Usually 3 or 4 were in the team, and I left by ship from Bombay with someone from Bangladesh. We first had an orientation session in Paris with Dorothy Abbott and then went to Switzerland.”
“In Switzerland, near the Austrian border, the Government used to give some money to the villagers and the rest was their responsibility, with the help of volunteers. We were repairing a road, or digging a trench, to lay a pipe, which was known as the ‘milk pipeline’, because these people were taking their cows to the upper mountain and sent down the milk through the pipe. We also had to clean a village after a rock-slide. I stayed two or three months and then went to Italy”. According to Marie Catherine, after Bhuppy left, everybody in the village was talking about “the Indian” who had impressed the villagers.
“Some questioned the idea of Indian volunteers going to rich and advanced countries, but the idea was to have international gatherings, where people meet and get to know each other. But when we saw the conditions of the farmers, it seemed they struggled. The funds available in the different camps were very limited and it was clear they needed assistance from volunteers. It was a very good experience. Being spring, the weather was very cold for the volunteers from Bangladesh who were not used to it. We had a good relationship with the farmers. The idea was to go with them and talk to them. The programme included work in the day, visit to the farmers and discussion of some issues, like environment, human rights, and so on. There was always a German-speaking volunteer to translate.
“Of course, Italy was much poorer, but the work was similar. After the camps, I went to England where my brother was teaching. I was surprised to see areas which were almost like a slum and conditions in parts of London which were like hundreds of years ago, with no repair, in contrast with Switzerland. I was stuck in London for some time, because the French liner that I was supposed to take to go back was on strike. This gave me an opportunity to do some work with SCI in England. We joined groups who were doing fund raising by singing from pub to pub. It was a different experience”.

Back to India

“Before going to Europe, I had occasionally helped the Delhi group, which used to organize weekend and short-term camps. When I was in England, Valli who had become chairperson of the Indian branch, asked me to work in the SCI Secretariat. I told her that I had no experience of administration and that I was not a man of office. But she said no, you should come; there are also other kinds of work. And it was true.”
“We had about five SCI groups in India: Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, Delhi, etc., but there was nobody working full-time in the Secretariat. The office work represented only about 20% of the total. Anyway, I never typed and was always assisted for this type of work. The main part of my work was to help organize workcamps, and to lead them. We were also placing long-term volunteers in other projects. We helped to develop local groups.
We organized leadership programmes for members of local groups on how to run a camp. We also had long-term projects, like the leprosy colony and in a slum near Madras (Cherian Nagar). SCI worked with a Swedish organization and handed over the programme to them because they were better organized and had more money. And at that time SCI never believed in running its own long-term programme.”
“We were giving orientation courses for the long-term volunteers going to Europe and also for those coming from Europe. It lasted for three days, on India, its climate, its culture, the possible difficulties. The long-term volunteers were expected to have already taken part in camps in their own country. But later on (in the eighties), the European branches were sending people who wanted to do voluntary work, but who had nothing to do with SCI and its ideals. For us, it was very difficult for some time and we had to tell these branches that we did not want such volunteers. Asian branches were very strict on this point; for us, it was most important to have a dialogue and to participate in the discussions”.
There was also a long-term project in Bihar, in a remote area where people were short of water, affected by a drought. It was a tribal area. There, SCI also organized night schools for the children who were working during the day for their family and who could sleep there. We were running four schools like that. We were using television with educational films, using batteries because there was no electricity in the villages. SCI collected money for buying tiles for the roofs, while the villagers were building the rest with local materials. The children were very enthusiastic, but the money lenders, who were exploiting the villagers, were not happy. They used to cut trees to sell, paying the villagers to do it with just a bottle of something. We used to stop them cutting trees. They threatened the volunteers and sometimes beat them. This area was particularly affected by malaria and many volunteers suffered from it.
When the Delhi government had a slum clearance programme, people had been transferred outside the city to a place where there were no facilities, no drinking water, etc. SCI set up a dispensary for medical help and also had education programmes and hobby classes for the children (painting, dancing, etc.). SCI was also organizing training programmes for young people who had no education, in order to prepare them for a job. When it became too big and too expensive for SCI, the government took over the responsibility for the programme and built its own dispensary.
There was a project in a border area, where the Government would not allow any organization to go, but SCI was allowed. SCI had a good reputation, because it has been continuously working since independence.
“When Devinder was the Asian Secretary, along with Valli, they began a project with Tibetan refugees. Their office was in a garage at that time. Volunteers used to sleep on the same table during the night. It was fun going the hard way”.
“The villagers were surprised to see these white people working with them, digging with them. They could not imagine that they were volunteers. It was a big surprise, especially for the elder generation. (And Jean-Pierre remembers that, in Ariège, when he was supervising a large group of volunteers, an old lady was angry with him because she thought that he was the guardian of a group of prisoners). On the other hand in India, sometimes the villagers thought that they could do the work faster than the volunteers, who were tired and suffering from the heat. Bhuppy also saw this in Switzerland, where the local people used to work very hard and thought that the volunteers were not doing enough – often, they were soft persons, coming from the university and not trained for hard manual work, for instance to carry cement bags. Some volunteers also used to bring their instruments and play music.”
“For some time, I did this work as a volunteer as only full-time worker in the office. Later on, I was appointed national secretary, with a salary. SCI also did relief work after an emergency (floods, earthquake) that lasted three or four months. At the beginning, in the sixties, SCI was very much involved with these situations and in programmes for refugees.

The Asian Secretariat

“Altogether, I spent about thirty years with SCI. In 1974, I became Asian Secretary. I went to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Korea, Japan. I helped the local groups to organize the camps; we were visiting schools and colleges with the local groups, speaking about SCI. There were short-term and weekend camps and exchange of long-term volunteers within Asia, sometimes in remote areas, such as Chiengmaï in Thaïland. Some groups were working with other organizations. At that time, we had some grants for the Asian Secretariat, for this kind of work. Volunteers from Europe were supported by their own Government, which paid for their travel and their allowances. That helped SCI, which had lots of programmes in Asia.”
“Some of the problems we met were related to the political situation, for instance in Indonesia, where we could not work, or in India, where Sato was asked to leave during the Emergency period: they were given a one month notice. After that, India also refused to give visas for long-term volunteers from organizations like the Peace Corps, which were suspected of doing some spying work or something like that. They did not do it to SCI, which had a long record and was staffed by Indians, but getting visas took months, instead of a few days. So we started a new programme, with volunteers coming for two or three months as tourists taking part in educational and cultural activities.
“The role of the Asian Secretariat was to coordinate this work, to decide who should go where. For volunteers going to Europe, fifty per cent of the cost was paid by Europe and the rest by the volunteers. There were also big programmes, for instance on environment, or peace education. A peace education programme was organized in 1970 on a very big way, because at that time in Europe, priority was given to the fight against nuclear proliferation, while we used to say that for us we had nothing to do with the war and the bomb. For us, poverty, diseases and exploitation were the peace issues. We had programmes in schools and colleges, encouraging students to write essays, make posters and to participate in peace walks. We also raised funds and had a lot of publicity for that programme. There were lots of schools in Delhi where the principals and teachers were looking for an organization that would help them to organize activities. So the peace programme became a very important activity of SCI, also in Nepal and Sri Lanka. In India, we had a few volunteers who had an experience and who would help branches in other countries to organize a peace walk.

Issues and changes in SCI

“At the international level, there was some impact of the leftist movement, especially in Sri Lanka, where some people were a bit leftist and very dynamic. There was a conflict between them and the other branches in Asia. The Italian and the Belgium branches were very leftist and there used to be heated discussions at the international level on the kind of issues that SCI should focus on. But this did not affect the other Asian branches. At some time, there was a Commission called “Solidarity for Exchange and Voluntary Action” (SEED). They almost became a special group of SCI because the International Secretariat was understaffed. There were discussions, for instance, on the freedom of Namibia”.
As the International and Asian Secretariats were considered too costly to run, the idea of ‘issue oriented programmes’ arose and we dissolved the Asian Secretariat and had only an Asian coordinator, without any more Committee meetings, which meant lots of expenditure. This took place at the end of the `70s, or beginning of the `80s. Consequently the International Committee is a smaller body and does not meet so often. So most of the work was given to the special groups like SEED; but after some time even this group was dissolved, because money was not coming. It all depends on how much money you can get for each activity.”
“So now, before any international meeting a seminar is organized on some issues and there are organizations to give money for seminars. This can be used also for the participation of international committee members. In other words, SCI was doing very well until the end of the seventies, when there was enough money; then some organizations were giving money only for special programmes. But slowly they (OXFAM, Action Aid, etc.) said, not for work-camps, except when there was an emergency, earthquake for instance. Now, there is money only for training programmes and seminars. Therefore, SCI work suffers a lot, because the donors do not believe in long-term projects, except in case of emergency, or in slum areas.”

“There has been a tendency for SCI in the `80s (and even now for the British branch) to work like other organizations, doing publicity with glossy brochures and so on. They spent all their money on that. The democratic tradition of accepting anyone in SCI is dangerous. All kinds of people are coming who don’t even believe in SCI aims; they are just interested in participating in meetings, going to Europe and all kinds of things. It is a fashion to be a member of an international organization. And they don’t talk much about SCI in these places. It depends much on the availability of money coming from volunteers. They are doing it much on a commercial basis, because they do not have enough money to run their branches if they do not have enough members.”
In this connection, Jean-Pierre remarks that when he receives volunteers to prepare them for long-term projects abroad, they say that they want to do humanitarian work. But SCI is not exactly doing humanitarian work, therefore we often need to clarify this issue. However, it is also clear that these volunteers have selected SCI on the basis of values that are specific to SCI. It appears that the young people find it difficult to relate the workcamp which they are going to join with the ideals of the organization. During the evaluation period, they say that they have been prepared before, but that nothing happened afterwards; so they do not continue with SCI. We have been trying for many years to get people committed for a longer period, but they do not, says Jean-Pierre. And this is an illustration of a wider phenomenon with the youth to-day.
What worries Bhuppy today is also that there is very little orientation on SCI. “And these volunteers who come also are not interested. We used to send a programme beforehand, saying that in the camps there will be this kind of discussion: we were also writing to the branches before sending the volunteers, asking them to give some information about SCI. So it depends on how the branches see their programmes: do they want to see it as an SCI programme, or just as another type of social work? Most of the workcamps, the way they are planned, are just on a mass scale.”
“Ethelwyn Best was for a long time in India, even after 80, and she insisted on going with the bus. She and Ralph were the two people who would read everything we would send to them from India and send their comments. She would always come to the international meetings and she was really mad about the way the new volunteers were behaving and the new ways of thinking: she thought these people were not serious. She was especially critical of the way the British branch was changing; they tried to be professional in the same way as the other organizations. They used to have 10 or 15 people in the office; if you wanted to meet the Secretary, you had to ask the reception fellow, who would ring the Secretary. We should never work like that, but we had always two or three people in the Secretariat. (Later on, things were a bit different in UK). SCI had become very institutional.”
“People today do not always understand the spirit of SCI. They are trying to be more professional and taking up more issues such as women, human rights, environment, etc. At one time, we said, “Look: SCI is not a social organization. We work for understanding and so on, so we work with workcamps.” Long-term projects were accepted only in special circumstances, when there was an emergency and no other organization was available, because it is too much of a responsibility, including raising funds. After Marie Catherine came, we did not want more long-term volunteers, because it was too much work, even if you stay for a long time For instance, work in a slum requires a very long time and a variety of activities. The National Indian Committee would always try to hand over this type of project to another organization; they would say: “We are a workcamp organization.” Ideology was always discussed; for instance about raising funds, there was a suggestion to organize a lottery, and we said “No, lottery is gambling” (while in UK this kind of thing was always popular; in France, it was essentially a subsidy, because today there are almost no grants).”
The interview concluded with Bhuppy’s observation that now there is an anti-Muslim feeling everywhere and something has to be done about it, otherwise it will burst. It is a critical issue for today.

 

Biography

by Bhupendra Kishore

Born in Delhi in 1936, I studied painting and sculpture in the School of Arts in Delhi and was teaching Arts till 1965. I then joined Service Civil International India and worked for them as a volunteer in a leprosy colony in Orissa and was sent to Switzerland and Italy on a volunteer exchange programme in 1967.

After returning from Europe in 1968, I worked as Secretary of the Indian Branch of SCI till 1974 and then became its Asian Secretary till 1980 and thereafter as the International Delegate and Vice President for 5 years. During this time, I helped organize various Peace Programmes, Peace Marches, work camps and long term projects in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, West Bengal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, with schools and colleges on special issues like women and children, human rights, environment, pollution etc, as well as peace work camps in India and other Asian countries. After this I have continued to help the Indian Branch on different committees of SCI.

I have been working with Quakers and Gandhian groups and other Peace NGO’s. Was coordinating work in Asian Committees and international exchange of volunteers. Worked with Bangladesh refugees in 1972 and Afghan refugees from 1980-1995.

I have been continuously participating in Peace Campaigns and programmes on national and international levels and emphasis on practical work in villages and slums providing health facilities, drinking water wells and schools in remote areas of Bihar Santhal Perganes for tribal children in the1980s.

I now work as a freelance peace activist and am involved with the People’s Congress and World Citizens for the last 25 years as their elected delegate. From time to time I present papers on peace and development issues in the Institute of Mondialist Studies in Belgium. In August 2006, a paper on people to people programme was presented by me in Switzerland at La Chaux-de-Fonds, International Centre of Esperantista at the summer University of mundialism.

My main aim is to suggest and organize simple programmes in which even ordinary people could also take part and contribute to the progress of the deprived and for the protection of our environment to make more and more people join hands for peace issues, Strengthen the belief that all conflicts could be resolved by non-violent and peaceful methods, with emphasis on voluntary service and importance of NGO’s and individuals through People to People programmes.

I wish to make people aware that they are part of the Global family and have a duty towards it and the Planet Earth.




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