Sunday, 26 February 2017

UnGender stall at Prayag Digital Mela 2017

“I will explain you through an example. It’s like mithai kept in the shop, for how long someone can resist that? Obviously there is attraction towards the mithai. Likewise women wearing short dresses are irresistible, boys will get attracted!” says a man during discussion over the statement “Women who dress provocatively invite sexual harassment” 

I was appalled though not surprised by the insensitive objectification of women being compared to “mithai” coming from a well-educated sophisticatedly dressed man to prove his point that the clothes worn by women decides whether a man would sexually harass a women or not!
“Surajkund Mela” is synonymous with handicrafts, handlooms, traditions and diverse cultures of India, organized every year in Faridabad. This year Digital Empowerment Foundation organized Prayag- 1st Grand Digital India Mela on 25th February in association with Surajkund Mela. We got this beautiful opportunity to host an experiential UnGender stall at the Learning Society UnConference pavilion as part of Prayag. For us, it was a very interesting at the same time challenging step to host a stall at extremely cultural, traditional and fun filled event.

With our intension very clear about co-creating and providing a space where people can talk about Gender and Sexuality, we were all geared up for the day ahead. Interestingly against our thoughts, people started pouring in while we were setting up the stall. 

“It would be wrong to say that all women do that. But it’s biological that men are attracted towards women and if they are wearing short dresses, then toh men find them irresistible. There is nothing wrong in that. It’s just biological” shares a 50 years old man.
“But you don’t get attracted to your mother or your sister who would wear short dresses, we don’t rape them. But when we see other women wearing short dress or for that matter any kind of clothes, it becomes easy to comment, molest or rape them” shares a 25 year old boy during the same discussion.

How interesting it is to see a conversation unfold like this, so many view points on the same statement, people belonging to the same gender having such contradictory thought process! This conversation brought much hope to my sanity. The stall was divided broadly into 2 sections, first where through pictures we would discuss about traditional gender model and authentic gender model going deep into knowing various gender and sexual identities. Second section, where the facilitator would engage with the participants on the statements commonly used in context with Gender based violence, homosexuality and consent. 

While facilitating the first section, it was interesting just to observe participants put pictures into the box of masculine and feminine- some of them were very quick in placing the pictures, few kept seeing the pictures, some looked petrified, confused, indecisive and what not!

“You have purposely kept confusing pictures, are you misleading me?”
“Two men are kissing, they are gay put I will put them into masculine because they look like men”
“He is a man, all these monks, leaders are always men”
“She appears loud; so much make up, traditional attire and dance- definitely a woman”
“Girls are going everywhere, doing everything, girls can be Dabang, can climb mountains, ride bike and just anything”
The following conversations after this activity brings strange smile on their faces, surprises some, appears shocking to many and sets the ground for even more intriguing discussion over gender role, gender identity and LGBTQi. 

“I have been observing your stall for quite a while, there is so many people here sharing, the way you are having conversations so openly talking about the things we are not allowed to say, is so overwhelming. I also want to engage with the stall, tell me what to do”

It was fantastic to see huge out pour of people, coming in groups of young boys, girls, mixed groups, young and old people together, it just made me wonder that this issue is so important to us, so alive in our heart and yet we don’t talk about it. Interestingly there was  a group of photographers who also came to the stall, primarily they were clicking pictures of the various stalls, when they came to our stall, we were engaging in the discussion around “ Homosexuality is crime/unnatural or disease”. They just stopped, and asked if they could also engage with us!

Our stall was like a wild fire, which was just spreading from here to there to everywhere, even while the activity was going on, or discussion was happening- people walking by were joining in, giving their viewpoints and yes they had immense listening capacity because people were listening to each other as well.
A group had one man and 3 girls, and they engaged in a conversation around “Women (especially single ones) enjoy being the object of sexual remarks. A NO may actually mean a YES” – the man agreed to the statement but when the girls shared their opinion that a no actually is no, he couldn’t believe his ears so he said, “can you explain more, because I always thought on the same line. Oh god! How wrong I was!”

One of the conversations with a young college student really touched me, apart from resonating with our line of work that deals with diverse gender and sexual identity and need for having a dialogue, he used the metaphor of the torn chart of Traditional Gender Model and intact Authentic Gender Model, “ Even the nature wants these norms and traditional gender model to go away, you can clearly see that both of them can’t co-exist there need to be openness, so Traditional model is torn apart and what remains is Authentic Gender model”

In about 5 hours, I witnessed and participated in numerous conversations, heard enormous number of viewpoints and opinions and that just reflected the need of the work that we are engaging in through UnGender. It was an extremely overwhelming, engaging and powerful experience co-creating the UnGender stall at Prayag Digital Mela 2017.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Transition from a participant to the facilitator at Sexuality, Gender and Rights Institute :-)

As I step out of the car and enter into the Calista Resort located in Kapaskheda (New Delhi), I was experiencing deep silence in my heart, a strange sense of peace prevailed. I was going back to the space which had stirred me, questioned me, put me in a vacuum and facilitated me to understand that I can also question! That time I was struggling with my own self, the kind of work that I was engaging to and yes my everlasting struggle with organizational and social structure. But today, I was invited to facilitate a session on “Community work on Sexuality: Sahas” at Sexuality, Gender and Rights Institute organized by CREA. I don’t really have words or any other expression to share how immense this opportunity was for me and for Sahas!

Walking towards the reception, I was surprisingly welcomed by a familiar warm voice; it was Pratima ji, one of the few women who really inspire me. The session was about to begin and again a surprise- this session was facilitated by none other than Kiran Deshmukh, who works for Sangram and VAMP (Sangli) . It was one of the eye opening session last year which overwhelmed me and helped me understand the importance of passion and right intension for the work that we want to work ahead! Nothing has changed this year- I love her confidence, openness and her strength. In between, I met Pramada ji, she hugged me, showered me with all her love :-)

I am so proud of your work, and you must be proud of your work too but at the same time you should remember that there are many women who are doing amazing work along with you. You need to be aware of this and this would help you work ahead”, says Pramada Menon  

Every time I meet her, I only learn more and more, and my love and respect for her increases leaps and bounds. Coming back to the session, the questions and the language used by the participants baffled me and put me on a thinking mode. Why so many questions were asked? Is it because besides being an activist, she is a sex worker? Or is it because it seems utopian or alienating for women to believe that a woman can break the structures/boxes of social structure, enjoy and use her sexuality for earning her living? Isn’t it better if we question ourselves that why are we still bound by the structures?

The second session was facilitated by Pratima Kumari Paswan who is doing amazing work in the villages near Patna, where she facilitates adolescent girls around gender, sexuality and caste through the game of football. Through her incredible personal story she shared about her work, target audience and the challenges.

Dukhon ka cement, peeda ki eentah, anubhav ke paani
Ko sangharsh se joda gaya hai”, Pratima 

The three resource people who facilitated the session before me talked about the work that their organization is doing, their respective targets and the challenges, however my session was way different from them because my struggle began with the conflict from the organization structure!

I was getting tad nervous and anxious before my session, i would be sharing the space with the facilitators who have years of experience in the field of Gender and Sexuality. The chit chat and happy leg pulling helped me shoo away the anxiety and I was all set to undergo the transition from the participant to the facilitator :-)

It was beautiful and surreal to be able to share journey of Sahas, our intention and passion to prevent Gender based violence and how without any structural support we are able to pull of this dream! The session and question-answer round ended with loud round of applause. For few minutes I couldn’t believe that I have done it :-) honestly this feeling would take time to sink in.

Your story is so powerful and the way you spoke about it was even more beautiful. It was truly inspiring and keep doing this work, “says Shalini ji.

 It was so inspiring to hear you. It seems you like something you do it, like this…this and this and when you don’t like something you challenge it! I am doing a project on the same line, I had lot of struggles and I was disappointed but now after hearing you I am pumped up, I will keep doing this even if I don’t get funds for it, because it’s important not just from project’s point of view but also for me!” shared one participant.

It was indeed the biggest Ahha moment of this year; it was like coming back to the school as Alumni :-) My heart felt gratitude to CREA, Shalini ji and Pramada ji firstly for giving me an opportunity to be a participant at 10th Sexuality, Gender and Rights Institute in 2016, then supporting us with our work and finally having me back at SGRI in 2017 as resource person. 

I am just immersed in the beauty and happiness of this moment :-)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Horrifying two hours at Pathankot!

After a reflective and learning workshop ‘Buland Irade’ and a day trip to Mcleodganj, we were heading back to our respective places. All the other people had their train from Pathankot cantt station while I was travelling alone from Pathankot to Delhi. I was happy as I love travelling alone and I needed space for myself after the workshop. It was about 9 pm in the night when I reached railway station. The lane leading from the main road (which had 2-3 shops) to the station was narrow, dingy and dark, there were no street lights. As I walked with small steps, the darkness crept into my heart, I was feeling scared. 

I was told initially that Pathankot station is quite lively, there are shops open even at night and there would be quite a number of people, but there were few people loitering here and there, few sitting on the chair waiting for their train. I was relieved to see Daulatdhar express already standing on the station, so hurriedly I tried locating my coach. I saw a man following, his gait was weird, probably he was drunk, so I sat down but he kept walking, turning around and staring at me. I was badly uncomfortable so I shouted at him asking for what he actually wants? To my horror he turned back with a grin, “Can I help you? I thought you are alone, you might want something?”
I didn’t know how to react; I just gave him a dirty look. His stares kept haunting me until he disappeared in the darkness ahead. I was feeling hungry, I thought it would be better if I could go back to main road and get something to eat, however the thought to walk on the same dingy lane was scary. Left with no option, I walked back gathering all the courage, there was nothing great to eat, so I ordered aloo tikki bun. As I waited for the food to be made and cooked, I saw another two men sitting close by, constantly staring at me and drinking beer! Horrified I asked the food vendor to pack my food fast, I was scared and in my mind I was figuring out how will I run if anyone of them makes an advance at me? There was dingy lane ahead and dark road on the other side.

“tring…tring..” lost in the thought, I heard the voice, “madam ji aapka phone baj raha hai”. With all the chaos happening inside and outside, my bag fell down. The man came closer, his eyes hovering up and down on me tried picking my bag, before anything else would have happened my food was ready. I thanked god, hurriedly I picked everything and with heavy steps I moved back to the station. Finally I found out my coach as well, there was time before the doors would open so I sat on the chair reading the beautiful book by ‘Amrita Pritam’. 

I was feeling uncomfortable as if something was wrong! I looked up, I saw a man (he was someone who had authority to take care of the rest rooms) staring at me. He was big, dark, half bald, with big black moustache, he was wearing a shirt which was shabbily coming out of his pants- he was rubbing his chest with his hands, which was sometimes going down as well. The constant glares were creepy, I tried ignoring him. I didn’t really know what to do? What if I shout at him and he comes back to me? Moreover there was a couple sitting behind me, so I was little okay. After a while, the couple walked away, I was left alone. Now I freaked out as I could see him advancing towards me. In my mind I had already made plans of how to hit him, where to hit him and then running away, because I couldn’t see anyone who could help me. There were handful of people here and there but begging for help could hardly be of help. I was ready, he was coming closer, more closer, everything was blurring down… my heartbeat was fast…faster, I thought I would die, he sat down leaving one chair in between. Now he was few inches away, still staring at me without blinking. 

“Ghadi khul gayi hai, chalo jaldi jaldi” oh! Nothing brought more peace to my life than this one sentence. Within seconds, I picked up my luggage and ran towards the train. Relieved, I was glad that I was inside the train. But this happiness survived for only few minutes. Why? Because there were only 2 passengers in the coach, me and another man in the adjacent seat!!

I was wondering why all these things were happening to me? Thankfully this man didn’t say anything to me, didn’t stare at me, instead he spoke on phone with someone and then started hearing songs. Finally the train started, I adjusted my blanket and got inside it wondering how terrible it is for a girl to just travel alone in night. However you are, beautiful, ugly ( I don’t really believe in these terms), slim, fat, wearing shorts, sari or jeans you are always under scrutiny, under scanner of peering eyes, uncomfortable gestures, stalking and other extreme form. I was in a public place where there were people, still there were eyes following me, staring at me, looking at me lustfully, and making me feel like piece of skin! 

I was clueless as to what they must be achieving or gaining pleasure by just looking at me? The demon of violence is so ingrained that people don’t realize they are playing with someone’s modesty! Though I was scared and I am still horrified, my inner self is now more determined towards curbing gender based violence.