Saturday, 31 December 2016

Celebrating New Year at Creativity Adda :-)

I had a very interesting and wonderful experience being part of one day Noida NCR Learning City UnConference in the month of November this year. There I met kids from Creativity Adda, they danced, sang, conducted workshops (a 10 year old child conducted a workshop!) and they made delicious sandwiches, baked mouthwatering cakes and they left me amazed J So when I got to know that Creativity Adda is hosting “Dariya-Dil CafĂ©” for New year’s celebrations, within seconds I decided that I can’t miss this!

As we reached Adda, we were warmly welcomed by Ashish Bhaiya, quickly we occupied seats so as to be with the flow of what was happening there. Someone was sharing his experience of being in corporate world, his journey of doing stand-up comedy and how this space had helped him gain confidence to follow his ‘calling’. Then Manish Jain invited us to find a friend (whom we don’t know) and share one good thing about the year 2016. Oops I wasn’t prepared for it, however I found a school student as my new friend who was equally taken aback by the proposed question. We spoke hesitantly initially but slowly the barriers melted away and I could share, he could share. 

Then we played 20-20! We were invited to hug each other for 20 seconds and this was recommended medicine to solve any sort of problem. It was beautiful experience and yes remedial in every sense, the warm smiles, love and care along with the hugs left me speechless. During this I met number of people some old and many new J We were invited to speak in a way that nobody can understand (it could be understood as babbling). It was a laugh riot, indeed maddening and through this I felt live and more present to the space with no wandering thoughts, slipping slowly in the meditation.

Interestingly the bonfire was up and students of Creativity Adda started jamming at the same time. I sat in silence, feeling peaceful and attracted to the songs at the same time – I guess this space is like this only, it allows you, it invites you and it rejoices what you choose for yourself! So while we were sitting in circle and sharing on what 2017 brings up for us, there were group of people playing carom board, some engaging in their respecting discussion and rest diving into music. 

The evening progressed with everyone circling around bonfire, singing to melodious soulful songs, eating groundnuts and dancing as an when they felt like.

I loved “Dhina-Dhin da, Dhina-Dhin da” particularly, I danced away to glory and icing on the cake was actually a cake baked there at Creativity Adda. This space entice me, give me a ray of hope that I can be what I am and there are people still who would not judge or assume things about me without knowing me. There couldn’t be a better way to bid adieu to 2016 and welcoming the year 2017.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Developing strategies to Counter Violence against women: National Consultation

“Would like to share a positive sexual experience here?”
“Yes or No”
Almost all of us nodded to say ‘No’
“Then how do you ask a woman to share experience of sexual assault, in this case 9 years old to explain what had happened to her in the correct sequence to someone whom she doesn’t even know? Don’t you think this is problematic?”

This powerful opening dialogue by Naina Kapur, Advocate and Preventive Law and Equality Practitioner made all of us rethink about ‘Violence against Women’. 

With Meenakshi Gopinath
Sahas got an amazing opportunity to participate in 3 day conference on “Effective Intervention and Communication Strategies to Counter Violence Against Women- A National Consultation” organized by Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP).

First day of the National Consultation began with the session on “Legality or Justice: The Issues at Stake” with the objective of exploring the challenges within the justice delivery systems and also to examine the accomplishments of the judicial system post of Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013. Justice Gita Mittal shared some of the very important happenings post Nirbhaya rape case which included report by Justice Verma Committee. She shared a case of 7 years old who accused 19 year old boy of sexual assault, while writing report police mentioned “Galat kaam”, Magistrate referred to it as “Buri harkaatein” and Judge again addressed it as “Galat kaam”, when this case was presented before High Court- the court had to let go of the accused because reports didn’t bring out the ingredients of the sexual offence. She highlighted the reluctance of the officials to engage with the detailing and the use of proper vocabulary around the sexual offense be it penetration, sexual abuse etc. She believes that along with legal intervention there should be parallel program of the Education system to work on the mindsets and to curb violence against women.
Justice Gita Mittal

Ruth Manorma, President, National Alliance of Women talked about how Dalits have survived 5000 years of violence. With effective facts and figures, she highlighted the atrocities faced by Dalit women and their fight for justice. “We don’t need paper tigers, we need substantial reforms” says Ruth Manorma.
Ruth Manorma
Naina Kapur spoke about “Equality- A Pivotal Benchmark”. It was interesting to hear that equality in current scenario is bot given (as per Constitution of India) and an aspiration. She also criticized law- as she feels that though there have been some systemic reforms but they fail to touch the underline issue of violence against women.

Second session “Walking the talk on VAW” which had special address by MaryKay L. Carlson who talked about 16 days of activism against Gender based violence which starts from 25 November till 10 December this year in depth followed by Dr. Rebecca R. Tavares, Representative, UN Women office for India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh who emphasized on mindsets, communications and social norms while engaging in the discussion about Gender Based Violence. 

Post Lunch session on “Changing Attitudes and Behavior through popular culture: The impact of Advertising and Multimedia Campaigns” was very interesting and amazing. Pamela Philpose started the session by throwing light on how media projects smiling passive women, beautiful gifts to be unwrapped and as object of men’s desire rather than individuals though the word “objectification of women” came much later.  Dipti Nath, Assistant Professor, LSR through glistening presentation and videos talked about changing media discourse post Nirbhaya case for example- AIB’ video  “Rape- It’s my fault”, MARD supported by Farhan Akhtar, Abhijeet Avasthi made the advertisement on Hizras guiding people about traffic rules which according to her were making valuable impact- liberal and progressive mindset.

Maala Parvathi’s account of violence and discrimination in the state of Kerala was appalling and scary. She shared how she was abused sexually in a public bus while travelling at night due to her assignment as Journalist. Also when she started fighting the injustice by conducting night journeys she was shamed by calling her attention and publicity seeker, though she didn’t stop and her efforts resulted in better safety practices for public transport. “In Kerala, you just have to smile and that makes you available for men there, such is the condition and no one talks about it”
Maala Parvathi

Sanjay Srivastava, Professor, Institute of Economic Growth talked about basic difference between masculinity and patriarchy and then about the work he is engaging in. Interestingly there was lot of talk about women regaining public spaces and use of safety apps on smart phones, how many women actually have smart phone and know how to use them is still questionable? Another important aspect is 90% cases of violence against happens in home or crowded public transport by someone who is close to them then why just talk about mobility only in public spaces? 

Mrinalini Padhi

The second day of National Consultation began with the fifth session that revolved around the strategies to prevent and end domestic violence and examine intimate partner violence beyond the institution of marriage. Suneeta Dhar, Advisor, Jagori began the discussion by explaining the difference between Domestic Violence (it is largely borne by women; however now it includes both child and elder abuse) and Intimate partner violence which includes same sex relationships as well. She also shared about how Jagori is working against DV- by providing them space where they can come in the time of crisis, also forming peer collectives of survivors who then become first respondents in their respective community. Jagori is also actively working for the budget that is allocated in the name of Nirbhaya fund or for curbing violence against women.

Sonali Khan, Vice President and Country Director- India, Breakthrough shared about their recent project that is running in 7 districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh- their studies shows that there is high prevalence of violence for both adolescent boys and girls but higher reporting is by boys, also it talks about how physical, mental and sexual violence is so much accepted and is imbibed in our culture and society because that’s how society can exercise its control and manages itself. She talked about Breakthrough’s initiative ‘bell bajao’, “apni ek kahani apne bĂȘte ke sath share karein” which became hugely popular as such conversation doesn’t happen at home and this ad acted as a trigger for such conversation and also “Stand with me- be my safe space” where people can share whatever they feel like. So Breakthrough works on broadcast to engagement where people get space to talk out!  

Mrinalini Padhi talked about the gap in the laws and their implementation- backward chaining is not happening for example Supreme court has banned the sale of acids in market but it is still available in the markets as the stakeholders like retail and wholesalers don’t know about the judgment so they engage in disseminating information in vernacular form to stakeholders. She brought out a very crucial point regarding tribal law and culture- there the women is not even aware about their basic rights hence gets victimized very conveniently. “Language of Law should be made simple so that common people can understand. It is complex made for lawyers so that they can confuse judges!” 

The sixth session “Gender Identity, Intersectionality and Socio-political conflicts” had some very amazing speakers Vrinda Grover who talked about impunity (looking at sexual violence against women through intersectionality lens). She shared an example where they had gone to address army soldiers in Kashmir about the mass rape cases in villages of Kashmir, after her a Retd. Army officer addressing the crowd said that he had gone to one of the village and asked woman there “yaha koi rape hua tha?” to which woman replied, “Mujhe pata nahi ye rape kya hota hai”. To her surprise he received high end applause. This insensitivity is questionable, it is important to think what is that which is reinforcing impunity? Impunity is nothing but institutional habits of not giving justice and that needs to be disrupted. Vrinda Grover with her powerful and eye opening dialogue enlightened us about Socio-political aspect of violence against women.

Ezabir Ali spoke about her work on the rights of half widows in Kashmir. I was hearing this for the first time and to work in Kashmir hats off!!  The stories from the filed session talked about the initiatives which have become successful over the years. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India shared about Edutainment-Challenging Social Norms to counter violence against women through a series “mein kuch bhi kar sakti hoo” that was aired on Doordarshan, Radio, News and IVRS which had 58 million viewers across India with 48% viewers being men. The serial deals with powerful women empowerment issues with sensitivity and realistic approach.

Manjari Jaruhar through a presentation on “Legal Rights and issues to create Awareness among women” shared her story of being an IPS officer in 1976 posted in Bihar. MLA of the district where she was posted said to her senior, “Ladhkiyon ko mat post kijiye, problem ho jayegi”, however she didn’t stop and carried out her duties with utmost sincerity and responsibility. In her presentation, she mentioned that there are plethora of Laws that came into existence post Nirbhaya case but implementation is poor and even police is not aware about it- some of them being that women can file Zero FIR, free legal aid, right to privacy while recording the statement of the victim, case can be registered against police officials for not filing FIR among many others. Interestingly this 3 day conference had people from learned background still many of us were unaware about these laws. 

The 3rd Day started with the session on “Education and socialization to counter Gender Biasis and Discrimination” with Dr. Krishna Menon, Professor at Ambedkar University throwing light on how teachers should be mindful of gendered nature of classroom and try to build Feminist classroom. I particularly loved the way Jaya Indiresan, Research and Training Consultant, CAP Foundation shared her experience of starting Gender positive initiative in engaging manner. She believes that every teacher must be a Human Resource Developer and the educators be MBA- moving beyond academics. Following her, Ravi Gulati shared his journey of founding Manzil where every person is a student and teacher at the same time.  He gave key words for progress “Sunnana- Samjhna and Gudhna”. 

The last session was about Brainstorming on core recommendations of the WISCOMP consultation where some amazing suggestions came up like the strong need of directory of words or vocabulary, there must be mapping of various initiatives that work on issues of gender and violence, zero tolerance towards violence whether it is social, economic, political, physical or sexual in nature, questioning gender mainstreaming and yes breaking the culture of silence and culture if reinforcing of fear. 

It was interesting, eye opener and intimidating at the same time to attend National Consultation. The state of violence in southern part of India particularly Kerala where we have highest literacy rate alarmed me, I was actually thinking that UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand are better because there is open discussion and work going in here to fight against violence and inequalities. Also to know that Feminist organizations are working in troubled states of Kashmir and North East was motivating. National Consultation gave a brilliant platform for the Feminist discourse having people across the country to discuss the current legal, socio-economic, educational scenario with respect to Gender based violence. 

A warm 'Hello to the Zindagi' :-)

“Kabhi kabhi hum mushkil raasta isliye chunte hai kyunki hamein lagta hai ki important cheez paane ke liye mushkil raasta apnana chahiye, apne aap ko punish karna zaruri samjhte hain. But Why? Hum aasan rasta bhi toh chun sakte hain?kya burai hai khaskar tab jab hum uss mushkil ka samna karne ke liye tyaar nahi hain”
I was taken aback, I could sense emotions choking inside me as I heard Shahrukh Khan (Dr. Jehanghir Khan) say this dialogue to Alia Bhatt (Kaira) in the film ‘Dear Zindagi’. I could so much relate to it, I was continuously being hard on myself; I was choosing a tough life while I knew that I could take it easy! For me ‘Dear Zindagi’ is a heartwarming and reflective film about our relationship with our own life, which we tend to overlook, ignore or confuse with our dreams and relationships with the people around us.

The film is about a young, ambitious and independent girl Kaira who is a cinematographer based in Mumbai. She has amazing set of friends Fatima, Jackie and Ganju however when it comes to love relationships, there is trouble in the paradise. The film constantly shows her discomfort and uneasiness around love relationships, there is sense of awkwardness and she is not being herself with the man of her interest. There is this powerful scene where Raghuvendra (played by Kunal Kapoor) talks about her ex-girlfriend joining in the same project where both of them were supposed to do together and then talks about taking things further with her by saying - ‘you just have to say this, nothing more’. But she gives him a cold shoulder not that she didn’t like him but she couldn’t express herself. She bids him bye, have shots, hits the dance floor and then puts earphones and just dance! She crushes her emotions badly and then buries them deep into her heart.

Her life bumps the rough ground when love of her life Raghuvendra gets engaged to someone else (she comes to know that from her friend) and her landlord turns her out of her apartment. So she is left with no option but to shift to Goa to live with her parents! 

“Are you Lebanese?”
“It’s not Lebanese. It’s Lesbian?”
“Are you a Lesbian?” and she has a good laugh over the question and then she says, “agar hoon toh kya app mere shaadi ka picha chod denge?”

This is the one of the most intriguing conversations that happens between Kaira, her parents and relatives. Why? Because she prefers to follow her heart and lead an independent life which in a way questions the existent societal norms where for a girl getting married before 25 years with or without a stable job means settling down. Interestingly her parents keep talking about her behavior, her not so good job and finding her a suitable groom behind the back and at the same time they keep praising her in front of outsiders. This troubles her more which ends up with her spending sleepless nights. I was seeing so much of Kaira in me L

While in Goa she seeks out Dr. Jehangir Khan, a Goan psychologist after accidentally having heard him talk at a Mental Health Awareness Conference for her insomnia and from here film takes a major leap ahead. The first ice breaking conversation starts when he shares the story of his grandfather’s friend trying to climb highest peak with group of Chinese people and at the end he is eaten by a snow leopard. The message that he draws from the story makes Kaira understand that there is no point being hard on oneself especially when she is not prepared for that and at that time the trust between them start building. She confidently takes her first step by refusing to do the film with Raghuvendra who comes to her home at Goa sighting the same story which Dr. Jug had referred to!

The film progresses with each session of interaction between the psychologist and Kaira where she begins to reflect on what is stopping her from being happy, why is she constantly judging herself and why judgments of people are affecting her?
“Hum itni saari khursiyaan dekhte hain, ek lene se phele. Phir apna life partner choose karne se phele, option dekhne mein kya problem hai”.

There is another beautiful scene where Jug asks about the people close to her, stating some studies he says we meet over 150 people out of whom we are okay calling 50 people in our home, 15 people who can someone whom we talk regularly and there are 5 people who are really close to you. She shares the name of 4 of her friends and for 5th she appears confused and then he asks what is the difference between these 4 and the 5th one who is changing! She mentions that she is more comfortable, being herself and feels safe when she is with her friends and with her relationships- she struggles. I was constantly relating the film to my life and at this point I had just no one in that 5 people list. I was wondering why?

In between she sees a toy like thing that she had broken earlier intact “Wo jhud gaya” and Jug says, “Har tooti hui cheez jhud sakti hai” which just eludes so much hope J

She has a major outburst at welcome party for her brother Kiddo where she confronts her parents about abandoning her when she was merely 6 years old. As she walks out her parents, they save the name by saying she is troubled because she doesn’t have job!  She finally narrates the story of her painful childhood to jug where her parents leave her with her grandparents. She shuts down, stop expressing after she overheard her mother and grandfather’s conversation.

To which
Jug says, “Jab rona aata hai toh baade kehte hai aanshu poncho, jab gussa aata hai toh khete hai give a smile  taki ghar ki shaanti bani rahe, nafrat karna chahte hai toh izzazat nahi dee aur jab hum pyaar karna chahte hai toh pata chalta hai ki saara emotional system hi gadbada gaya hai kaam nahi kar raha hai. Rona, gussa, nafrat kuch bhi khul kar express nahi karne diya. Ab pyaar kaise karein?”

Together they figure out the Kaira’s fear of being abandoned again, to be left alone again which is affecting her life and love relationships. This helps her to see life differently, she starts having conversations with her parents and at this point she starts loving her life J

“Don’t let your past blackmail your present into ruining your future”

Another very interesting part was Kaira’s short film which reflected her own life where a women Portuguese soldier who morphed her identity as man for 14 years. She was fighting 2 battles- one with her own self and other in the war field, when she finally let go of her fight with herself then she triumphs the war.      

The film ‘Dear Zindagi’ tries to simplify the complexities of life by just making us look into our inner self, inspires us to pause and have conversation with our own life. Also it talks about one of the most tabooed topics of Gender, mental health and socialization in a different light. Alia Bhatt convincingly plays the role of Kaira and she acts like a master, Shahrukh Khan returns with a brilliant performance as Jug after Chak de India. Above all kudos to Gauri Shinde for writing and directing such a beautiful film.

Friday, 2 December 2016

UnConference: the magic that slowly unwinds

“I felt violated, embarrassed. It kept happening; I didn’t know what to do? All I knew was I wasn’t comfortable with it, I wanted this to stop. I wanted to stay in my room with my door closed so that I could escape that creepy feeling. But at one point, I realize nothing would happen so I tried ending my life”

No this isn’t a story! This is a real life incident that someone has lived with which terrified me. I don’t really know and it scares me that while I am writing my experience on engaging with the Sahas stall, how many more children would be encountering such experience! And that’s the exact reason why Sahas was born. 
We engaged with the participants of all ages
After 3 weeks of meetings, preparations and hard work, finally Noida NCR Learning City UnConference was happening. Since I was leading the stall team, we started allocating the numbers to the people/organizations, managing the tables and chairs at the same time. At the same time, we were also setting up our stall which was experiential in nature. It was an interesting situation where I was wearing number of hats at one time- I was leading Sahas for the stall, leading the partnership with Noida UnConference on behalf of Sahas and also engaging as participant. Definitely not so simple! We had designed the stall in a way that people from all age groups and from diverse background can engage on the same level and through this engagement we can share what work Sahas does and its importance at the same time. In the first chart paper, participants were invited to share “what were the things, questions or curiosities that used to come to their mind when they were of 12 or 13 years?”-  the answers ranged from “Increased interest in opposite sex, wet dreams, masturbate, why” “uncomfortable with boys” “Inferiority complex, I used to compare my appearance” “ye whisper kya hota hai” “Am I pretty” “pad lene mein sharam aati thee” “why that blue ink in the advertisement of pads”

The second chart had three situations – where participants had to assume that they are the people in the situation and how will they react. In the situation of menstruation- most of the participants shared that they felt ashamed, embarrassed, uncomfortable if they had got red stain on their clothes. “I thought I would die when I first got periods. I thought some vein of my mine had got busted and so I would die. I was sitting with my legs open and my mom was constantly telling me to sit with my legs closed. I was scared and confused because no one was telling me what was happening to me” 

In the second situation- most of the participants shared that they didn’t know what was advertisement about? Generally parents used to change the channel; they started feeling embarrassed to see the ad. “I thought it’s a balloon or some rubber that could be used” while seeing the condom ad on the television.
Reunion with "My Perch" kids
We invited participants to share only if they are comfortable to answer the third question that revolved around child sexual abuse. It was disheartening, scary and painful to see so many people sharing their experiences and the feelings around it. “I wanted to shout, I wanted to run away. I hated him all the more because I trusted and respected him. I tried speaking to my parents but they just made me shut down” shares one of the participants.

Then we explained how Sahas works with adolescents around Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Health and also the stories from our previous interventions. When the participants were asked, “When you were adolescents and you encountered curiosities or had questions around the issues discussed before what did you want at that point?” There was unanimous answer- they wanted someone to hear them out, a companion who could guide them, understand their feelings and acceptance. Yes that’s what was needed. 
Sahas's stall

Team Sahas

It was an overwhelming experience to host this experiential stall where everyone had a story and all they needed was a space where they can feel heard! I am scared and full of gratitude at the same time; scared because so many people experienced sexual abuse from their closed one and they didn’t know what to do and they carry the pain till now. Grateful because they considered our stall to be the safe space where they could let go of their emotions! To me it was an exhausting experience to engage with more than 100 people from the age of 10 to 50 years. 

Talking about Noida UnConference, I felt a strange synergy in Sahas’s work and UnConference where both were co-creating a community where people had freedom to be what they are, do whatever they wanted to and above all have a space to talk. There were so many things happening at the same time- around 35 stalls showcasing work of various organizations, offering tea, food, digital services, paintings; workshops – on mindfulness, sociocracy, sound therapy, dance therapy, pot making etc, you lead talks and others. What I found amazing was the group of boys who were from “Creativity Adda” – they had placed their products which they have made, they had a food stall where they offered more than 600 sandwiches, they had a group which was singing and dancing and like really adding colors to the event. 

Not to forget that Manish Kataria who was constantly engaging the crowd with fun filled games (though I couldn’t engage in those game L) The evening lightened up with ‘YUGM’ band singing kabir and folk songs, which was followed by number of performances that included performances by boys from Creativity Adda. And then the magic was created by “Drum circles”  I had never experienced such rhythm ever in my life.

What energy !

The evening became vibrant when Manish and Akshay took over the event with their super energizing games. I enjoyed and engaged with each and every game- I never thought I had that energy in me! I wanted the games and songs to continue- it was crazy and just crazy. I find it hard to speak to people, make friends but here I got a community itself where people were talking, having fun, sharing food, and yes supporting one anotherJ I can’t be thankful enough to Harsh to have us in the Noida UnConference. It was learning and enriching experience to see structure and unstructured ideologies to amalgamate to create a community space like Noida UnConference. I feel blessed!

                                              “If you don’t believe in miracles
                                                    Perhaps you’ve forgotten you are one”