WR has undertaken numerous civic projects including waste management, spot fixing, lake cleanliness drives among others.

How Whitefield Rising grew into one of Bengalurus most influential citizen movementsRitu George (left) and Ambika Sen (top right)
news Citizen activism Saturday, October 29, 2016 - 16:34

“I think a majority of the people want to give back to the society in some way or another,” states Ritu George, a Whitefield Rising (WR) trustee and co-founder. And in a world where it’s easy, even convenient to be self-centered, her statement comes across as a little idealistic. But what’s apparent is that she believes in it wholeheartedly.

“Whitefield Rising is an attitude, a movement and not an organization,” reads a line from the description of WR’s Facebook page. This forms the core of WR, Ritu says, along with the unwavering focus on maintaining it as a citizen-volunteer platform, without political affiliations. What began as a mere gathering of 50 people has now turned into a massive citizen movement which has undertaken numerous civic projects in over three years of its existence: waste management, spot fixing (cleaning a spot and beautifying it), lake cleanliness drives, education initiatives and more. 

(Image Courtesy: Facebook/ Uma Narayanan on Whitefield Rising) 

While WR’s Facebook page has close to 18,000 people, Ritu says it is impossible to arrive at an exact number of volunteers. “We’re still a movement with fluid boundaries. No one is forcing you to be a part of our activities. We don’t have a mandate where you must dedicate a stipulated time period for WR activities. It is entirely up to you and your interest areas,” she says.

WR’s story begins in 2013 with a 100-year-old tree in Whitefield which was going to be axed for construction purposes. Nitya Ramakrishnan, a resident of the area, approached RK Misra, a Bengaluru Mission Group member, hoping to find a way to save the tree. Misra told Nitya that even if they saved this one, what would happen to the rest without citizens’ action?

The very next month, in March, Nitya called for a meeting of Whitefield residents at the auditorium in Prestige Ozone, an apartment complex in Whitefield. About 50 people turned up. Ambika Sen, another WR Trustee was a part of that very first meeting. The 71-year-old is one of the oldest (both age and duration wise) active members of WR. “There were 2-3 people there who hadn’t come because they were interested, but merely to mock. I heard them saying things like this too will fizzle out, like so many other movements do,” she recounts. But the residents went on to save the tree. And it marked the beginning of citizen activism for Whitefield Rising.

Ritu, however, did not even know about WR a month after the first meeting had happened. WR had approached Ritu as she had been working on waste management at Prestige, Shantiniketan since 2011.  

On June 15, WR held its first event at Whitefield Club to create awareness about segregation, which was attended by over 200 people.  It was here that Ritu met Nitya for the first time, and the co-founders have been endeavoring to make the WR movement better and more structured ever since. 

The “spot fixes” launched by WR from September 2013 onward, helped put them in the limelight. With initial help from The Ugly Indian, they started work on fixing several spots in the area which were dirty, saw frequent dumping and were ill-maintained. 

Spotfixing at Kundalahalli (Image courtesy: Facebook/ Whitefield Rising)

When they began spot fixing work at the Nandi bus stop, it was as if there was an awakening of sorts among the local residents and small vendors in the area, Ritu says. “It was as if they suddenly realized that it is their area as well and they must keep it clean,” she says. Thereafter, they ‘fixed’ many areas along the Ramagondanahalli stretch and RMV Wine shop on Varthur main road, among others.  

By late 2013, Whitefield Rising had grown into a larger movement. A website was created and WR started sending out newsletters to keep people informed about the work they had done and their upcoming activities.  

Over the years, WR has cultivated a relationship with government officials from the BBMP, BDA, Karnataka Pollution Control Board and the like. But forming these connections hasn’t been easy and maintaining them has been harder. 

Ambika recounts how they would run from one government body to another because they didn’t know who was responsible for what. The infamous Whitefield traffic, with the government officials who failed to keep their appointments, made the process even harder. But the relationship has now improved to a point where they are willing to give WR representatives a “patient listening”, Ambika says. 

“We have a voice now. They know they can’t ask for bribes because of the credibility we have built,” she explains. But following up with procrastinating officials can be frustrating. "It’s like I have to plead with them, say ‘please’ and cajole them for the smallest things,” she complains.  

While WR started out with the Whitefield road to Ramagaondanahalli stretch in mind, the community has grown to cover Kundalahalli, Palm Meadows, Kadugodi and a sizeable chunk of Mahadevpura. Networking, social media and WhatsApp have played a significant role in spreading the word about the movement.

Through newsletters and emails, the WR team started collating a database of contacts and champions (people who are experts and/or activists in a certain geographical area and/or field). While smaller projects are funded with volunteer contributions, for larger projects, such as e-toilets, WR looks at CSR funding, with a team responsible for raising money.

WR’s success has inspired various smaller citizen movements in nearby areas such as Nellurahalli Rising and Doddanekundi Rising. Ritu says that the decentralized model works well but these groups can be associated with them as long as the ideology does not clash. “If they are using Whitefield Rising as the mother brand, then they have to follow the same principles of maintaining a collaborative spirit, without aggression or ego,” she maintains.

But what WR is still trying to crack is the involvement of the less urbanized communities around Whitefield. Not only is there a class divide, but also a sense that members of WR are outsiders who claim to understand problems, Ambika says. 

“Many of WR’s members initially happened to be non-Kannadigas, having lived in other metros and now settled here. Now we have a good mix. But to bridge the gap between us and these communities, we try going to their habbas (celebrations) and identify the educated ones among these communities so that they can act as a bridge for us,” she explains. 

But WR’s story isn’t entirely made out of triumphs. There have been failures along the way, projects they have had to give up because they were beyond WR’s control, traffic woes being one such issue. “But it’s better having tried and failed than not. And as long as we keep getting like-minded people who are only doing this out of their goodwill and desire to give back, WR will continue to cultivate this culture,” Ritu says.     

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