Saturday, December 31, 2016

Curtains! (But we'll be back!)

The first campaign of the third cycle was in many ways exactly like the very first campaign we did in 2008. We were resource-strapped at the outset. We had a core team of two-plus-administrator, but hardly any volunteers from our own community and of course, the campaign was cyclone-hit! But the memory of having pulled off the 2008 campaign against the odds and the ability to compare our situation now with our point of departure, encouraged us to stay the course confidently.

We first met Raga when she applied to be Campaign Coordinator in 2013 and we hired her instead to manage our media work that year. She stayed on to volunteer and then to join Prajnya officially as our first Programme Officer for the Gender Violence Research and Information Taskforce. This year, because we were unable to hire a Campaign Assistant, she ended up having to be Campaign Coordinator--full circle, there too, in a way.

Many delays, cancellations, planning and re-drawing sessions later, we are actually about to declare the 2016 Campaign Season closed.

This year, we did some very innovative things--the Mannequins were our greatest hit, of course, but to my mind, Letterbox Resistance will also be something to remember. We came up with that after our original plans for Day 1 changed but it was such a wonderful process that I am sure we will repeat it. The multi-generational conversation was something we'd wanted to do for a very long time and we hope we've set a process in motion with this one. The experience of working with Women's Christian College students was an excellent one. The fiction discussion was great fun!

Thanks to the Chief Minister's death and the cyclone, we still have programme commitments to fulfil. In January, we will hold a half-day training on gender and militarisation at the University of Madras, and we will meet with the Soroptimist Club members in Chennai for a talk on ending gender violence.

As we close the Season, I will repeat Raga's thanks to everyone who supported, partnered and was a resource person for this Campaign. My great thanks for Santha's logistical support and to Raga's calm shouldering of great responsibility--this could have been an impossible campaign to pull off.

We will see you next October, when the 2017 Campaign Season opens. Until then, stay safe, stay vigilant and stay political! 

2016 Seasons ends, 2017 planning begins!

At the beginning of the campaign season, when we hadn't managed to find a Campaign Assistant, Dr Swarna Rajagopalan joked that I got my wish, just 3 years late. But better late than never! The 2016 campaign has been exciting, educative and full of surprises. We were worried about rains and floods before we started, and by the time the official campaign season came to a close, we had to contend with a cyclone, the death of a sitting Chief Minister, and a whole lot of rescheduling. But despite all of that, this campaign, in my opinion, was amazingly successful.

Thank you's have to go out to a whole bunch of people for making this possible - partners, volunteers, participants, friends... But there are a few I would like to send out special thanks to.

First, to the people who partnered with us to provide us with mannequins for the Dummies' Guide to Sexual Harassment. The idea was attractive to a whole lot of people, and got many people talking about the campaign and about Prajnya - and it wouldn't have been possible without Sundari Silks and Tranz Mannequins.

Then, to the poets who brought us their words and their energy at short notice for the Poetic Companion to Dummies' Guide - it was a fitting end to the campaign, and you were the only ones who could have done it.

Thirdly, to the volunteers who helped with the planning and the programmes - thank you for being there year after year, and for cheering the core team on in many ways.

I had two partners in crime for this campaign - Dr Swarna Rajagopalan, who spent countless hours planning and guiding us through the many events this campaign, and Santha N, our administrator, who tirelessly ensured that the campaign ran smoothly and all the logistics were in place.

The day before the campaign started, Santha and I were at Sundari silks, trying to wrap our mannequins in gauze bandage and ensure that their saris were tied properly enough - something we estimated would take a maximum of 45 minutes. Well, we were very wrong, and by the time the wrapping, tucking and pinning was done, Santha was calmly fielding a hundred calls from people who were waiting to settle the mannequins in at their temporary homes. Through the campaign, she's helped me stay calm and ensured that all last minute panic situations are smoothed over. Thank you, Santha!

Dr Swarna and I have a history of giggling our way through tricky programming and scheduling and (sometimes) difficult people - and planning this campaign was no different. Our calendar changed not just 2 days before the start of the campaign, it had to be modified and adapted halfway through as well. But through the ups and downs, she helped us all stay calm with our eyes on the prize - Thank you, mam, for never letting anything feel like a catastrophe, and pulling us through aaram se!

Considering this was my first and last campaign as Programme Officer for Prajnya, the 2016 campaign will always remain very special to me.

The campaign season has officially closed - but as I've learnt in my years of volunteering and working with Prajnya - we're always, in our heads, planning for the next campaign!


SPIrit of Equality: Training at SPI Cinemas

It's very exciting for us when old partners continue to be associated with us for new programmes. SPI Cinemas, who worked with us on Safer Spaces in 2013, worked with us during Daan Utsav this year in October. During the campaign, we decided to deepen our engagement, and proposed a training session for their staff on gender and gender based violence. They readily agreed, and we were supposed to go over to their premises on the 5th of December - but the programme had to be rescheduled, and was finally conducted on the 29th of December. 

From exploring the difference between gender and sex, and busting some myths about gender based violence, the training tried to familiarise the participants with some important issues and get them to introspect on their personal stands.

The participants were mainly women this time around, but we do hope to reach out to all their staff over a period of time.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Poetic Companion to Dummies' Guide. Part 4: Sharanya Manivannan

Part 4: Sharanya Manivannan

I was told I could hold
the world in my hands,
but not how I had to
walk through it,
my body
bearing the memories
of these many maulings,
these many
other hands.

Read about the Poetic Companion to the Dummies' Guide.
Part 1: Alamu R
Part 2: Michelle Ann James
Part 3: Santha N

Poetic Companion to Dummies' Guide. Part 3: Santha N.

பெண்களின் முன்னேற்றம்

by Santha N.

பெண்கள் நம் நாட்டின் கண்கள்.ஏன் இவ்உலகின்கண்கள்.
பெண்களை மதித்துமனப் புண்களை அழிப்போம்..

 உலகை ஆளப்பிறந்தவர்கள்
பெண்கள் என அவையம் அனைத்தும்

இப்பூமியில் பிறக்கும் போதே
பெண்கள் புரட்சியாளராகவே பிறக்கிறார்கள்..
சாதனை, சரித்திரம் படைக்கவும்,
பூவும் புயல் வீசும் எனக்காட்டவும்,
விதையிட்ட இடத்திலே விருட்சமாகவும்,
விளக்கொளியில் மடியும்,
விட்டில் பூச்சிகளாக இல்லாமல்,
வின்மீன்களாகவுமே பிறக்கிறார்கள்..

பெண்ணடிமை பேணிய விஷவித்தகர்கள்
வீழ்ந்தொழிந்தனர் என, 
பார் உலகை ஆளவந்த பெண்களுக்கு,
புத்துணர்ச்சி தருவோம்..

 ஆடவரின் ஊனக்கண்களில் உள்ள,
துரும்பை அகற்றி,
ஆணுக்கு நிகர் பெண்களே என்ற,
மந்திரச்சொல் அறிவோம்..
ஆண் ஆதிக்கத்தை அகற்றிடுவோம்

ஏழு பருவ மங்கையரான பேதை, பெதும்பை, மங்கை,
மடந்தை, அரிவை, தெரிவை,பேரிளம்பெண் என அனைவரையும்
ஏற்றம் பெறச்செய்வோம்..

பெண்களுக்கு எதிரான வன்முறையே இனி இல்லை. பாதுகாப்பாக தான் இருக்கிறாள் என கூறுவது கூட ஆண் ஆதிக்கம் தான்

உலகில் உள்ள பெண்கள் அணைவரும் வன்முறை இல்லாமல் வாழ வழி வகுப்போம்.


Part 1: Alamu R
Part 2: Michelle Ann James

Poetic Companion to Dummies' Guide. Part 2: Michelle Ann James

In Memorium of a Photograph

by Michelle Ann James

A blinding flash of light,
Luminous, frightening.
You look away,
You have mastered the art of looking away.
It is only a second, few seconds.
Nothing to see there,
It was only a “flash”.
A flash that becomes a dream,
A dream that becomes a nightmare.
You learn to unlearn,
You try to un-see.
But it is an imprint on your retina,
A photograph frozen in time,
The one Ed Sheeran didn’t sing about.
This one’s a negative,
A bluish white glow.
You keep it in your shawl,
That you wear around your neck like a milestone,
An armour concealing your shame,
The shame your mother gave you.
You keep this for long,
A cherished memory with a stranger,
A faceless stranger with hands, only hands,
Hands out of his eyes, his legs, in between his legs,
A memory that involuntarily creeps up in broad daylight,
A lightning on a hot summer day.
Lights. Camera. Action.
Lights Camera. Look away,
Lights. Camera. Look away.
Lights. Camera. Look away.
Learn this drill!
Drill it into your memory,
Remember that photograph.
Looking away is an act of protest.
Master the art of never meeting the eye,
The eye is the catch.
Learn to look away at inanimate objects,
Or the ground.
The ground is the safest place.
Teach yourself to look down, head bowed,
Eyes lowered – the spit, the grime, the shards of glass,
Your feet.
The counting of steps… 101…102...103.
212 steps to reach home, to reach office,
To find a seat next to a woman.
Road sign flashes in huge block letters, in red.
Better safe than sorry,
Never ignore warnings, you teach yourself, you teach your daughter.
And yet, the photograph comes alive at times,
Like the summoning of a spirit
With eyes more real than a touch,
Touch more real than a strike,
A bona fide touch.
The power play of the fingers,
Skin to skin, only for a moment.
But the moment is for ever,
A place in time without tenses,
Three divorces and yet,
this moment stays new.
You die a little.
Breath hanging on a cloth line, washed out.
A scream caught on a fish hook,
You stand,
Like a shadow,
With your throat swelling up like a river in rain.
But all your body is ready for war,
You hair in attention,
Ready to take flight, run, wreak havoc.
You struggle to break free,
But there is nothing holding you back,
Just crippling, horrifying fear.
A diabolic force that needs some sort of exorcism.
The touch, the touch, the touch,
Latching on at the pit of your belly,
Ice sprouting from your bones,
Spreading in defying gravity,
Now you are posing for a ‘mannequin challenge’,
A camera coming your way,
A photograph from memory.
Unshakeable. Stationary. Dead.
A ghost.
A ghost that can see and touch and feel,
A ghost that can be seen and touched and felt,
Praying in silence for redemption,
Skin stretching to heal an open wound.
Now you walk,
Cold sweat dripping between your thighs,
Your ears melting in sulphur,
The death-like acidic trickle in your mouth.
The earth is shaking with fever,
You prepare yourself for the comeback,
The posing, dramatic, dreadful normalcy
Of a photograph.
A walk down memory lane,
To that hot day in the cruelest month,
You- mischievous, innocent –
playing with your Raggedy Ann doll,
your uncle, his lap, his hands, your terror –
you know the story.
The first time you learn to keep a secret,
The first time you internalise fear,
The first time you cry without a tear,
The first time you take a picture in monochrome,
The first time of you try to forget,
That picture of the
Raggedy Ann doll on your rocking pony chair,
The first time you set something on fire,
Waiting for it to annihilate you.
You recall all those school lessons,
Right touch, wrong touch – girls exclusive.
You sit there wondering why you failed in class,
Shame engulfing you like your first fire.
Fast forward.
After 44 years of the cold war,
You are in front of a jury,
Narrating your story
That they already know –
The protagonist of someone’s erotic adventures,
The “same, identical woman”,
The same tedious story.
All the cupping and the grabbing and the pushing and the squeezing –
Very graphic words,​
Very uncomfortable verbs ending in ‘ING’.
The jury cringes.
Words that you have perfected with practise and an unknown rage,
Words that took years of acknowledging,
Words that you have written over and over again,
On the foreskin of your heart.
Now, you cry, with tears,
You have reached catharsis,
And somehow,
Your mouth pleads guilty,
“Mea culpa”, you shout.
The jury charges you – guilty,
For the low-cut, skin tight provocation,
Your God-given endowment.
Your volition to say no,
Your Consent,
Guilty of all that is you.
The price one pays to be in view,
Alive, crying, skin tags and all
with a milestone around your neck,
Is a photograph with a blurred face and
A fake two-syllable name.

You convince yourself –
There is justice in a name,
At least you weren’t anonymous.
You convince yourself –
There is justice in a photograph,
At least, it was in colour.


Part 1: Alamu R
Part 3: Santha N

Poetic Companion to Dummies' Guide. Part 1: Alamu R

Part 1: Alamu R

நான் மனிதப் பிறப்பு அன்றோ?
என் உடம்பு சதையும் ரத்தமும் சேர்ந்தது தானே?
அதில் விருப்பும் வெறுப்பும் ஊறுமன்றோ?

என்னைக் காமப்பொருளாய் சித்தரித்து பார்ப்பது ஏனோ?
அதே காமக் கண்கள்
சீண்டத் துடிக்கும் கைகள்
சீண்டிய பின் வெற்றிக் கொண்ட துப்பு கெட்ட மனப்பான்மை

ஒரு தடவை கிடையாது
பல நூறு தடவை
பலப்பல வெளிப்பாடுகளில்
உருவங்கள் மட்டுமே வேறாயின

குழந்தைப பிராயத்தில் கண்டிப்பாய் சீண்டியவருண்டு
எனக்கு நினைவுதான்யில்லை
சின்னஞ்சிறு வயதில் விளையாடிக் கொண்டுயிருக்கும் போது
தோழன் எனக் கருதியவன் தோரணையாய் தொடையைச் கில்லினான்
பள்ளிப் பிராயத்தில் போதிக்கும் ஆசிரியரே
கண்ணத்தை சிண்டினார்
வீட்டில் யாருமில்லா சமயத்தில் மாமா மார்பகத்தை
இறுக்கி சில்மிஷம் செய்தார்
பேருந்தில் பயணித்த போது அப்பா பிராயமுடைய நடுவயதுக்காரர்
ஓரச்சிக் கொண்டே கையை பிசைந்து அற்ப சந்தோஷத்தை தேடினார்
காதல் எனக் கூறியவன் படத்திற்கு அழைத்துச் சென்றது
வலுக்கட்டாயமாக உதட்டோடு உதட்டை உரசிக் கொள்ளவே
மணமுடித்த கணவரோ ஒட்டுமொத்த கமப்பொருளாகவே
என்னைக் கருதி ஒவ்வொரு முறையும் அணுகினான்

அரிசி வாங்க கடைக்கு சென்றால் அங்கே
சில்லரை கொடுக்கும் சாக்கில் என் விரலை தொட்டு அணைக்கிறான் அவன்
அடே சண்டாளர்களா!

என் கண் இமைகளைக் கூட விட்டு வைக்கவில்லையே நீங்கள்!

ஒவ்வொரு முறை நடுநடுங்கி தைரியத்தோடு
வீட்டில் உள்ளவர்களிடம் சொன்னால்

'பெண் என்றால் இது எல்லாம் சகஜம்,
சகித்துக் கொள்ளக் கற்றுக்கொள்' என
என் தலையை வருடி கொடுக்கிறார்கள்.

என் கூச்சல் ஒலிக்கின்றதா?
யாராவது கேட்கின்றீர்களா?

நீ சீண்டி லயிக்கும் இடம் கிடையாதடா நான்
நீ மையலிட்டு விளையாடும் மைதானம் நான் கிடையாது

இது என் உடம்பு
என் உடம்பு என்றால் என்ன என்று புரிகிறதா?
உங்கள் மரைமண்டையில் உரைக்கின்றதா என்ன?

Read about the Poetic Companion to the Dummies' Guide.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Poetic Companion to the Dummies' Guide to Sexual Harassment

On December 10th, we brought the four mannequins together. A small group of Prajnya volunteers listened to the four poets read their work, standing before the mannequins.

The mannequins standing together already made for a powerful image.

When the poets brought their words to this dramatic visual, it was a very moving experience. Each poem is posted separately, along with a photo of the poet reading. We are inexpressibly grateful to the poets for writing for us at such short notice. We know this is because of how passionately they feel about this subject.

The mandatory end-of-campaign group photo!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Creation: A Poetic Companion to "The Dummies' Guide to Sexual Harassment"

The original plan was to gather up all the mannequins, heavily laden with their hand-stickers, and bring them to the venue of the Public Forum on Street Sexual Harassment. It was to be a visually dramatic end to the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence.

The plans had to change. Life's like that.

But to see off the mannequins which had spoken so eloquently to us and all who saw them about the everyday trauma of being touched, groped, pinched, stroked without one's consent, without some ritual to acknowledge their message, seemed wrong. We could not possibly just bundle, strip and return them to their generous owners.

So we returned to something we love at Prajnya--poetry. We invited four poets (Sharanya Manivannan, Alamu Rathinasabapathy, Michelle Ann James and N. Santha) who are a part of our community to contemplate the mannequins and tell us what they heard and felt.

We sent them these photos. They were to write a poem they could read/perform for us in the presence of the mannequins.

A Campaign Calendar in tatters

Swept aside by grief.
Blown away by cyclonic winds.

That was the state of our 2016 Campaign Calendar. We always talk about how November-December are so the wrong time for the 16 Days of Activism from the Chennai perspective--students are just coming back, the weather is unpredictable and often bad, the music season is starting and that means we can't find venues or audiences... but still the energy one derives out of working in tandem with colleagues around the world is unbeatable.

This year, the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister simply made the second part of our campaign impossible. We had barely recovered when Cyclone Vardha hit Chennai. We began to reschedule rescheduled programmes.

The Calendar we began with and the Calendar we now document are a little different! But it does not matter to us.

In 2008, when that cyclone washed out Days 2 and 3 of the campaign, it was a big deal because it was our first (and maybe last) time. Now we know--it really is our intention and our effort that count. We will do the things we set out to--within or beyond this campaign season.