Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Curtains!

 Curtains down on the 2021 Campaign. We're a pack of exhausted and wounded soldiers still! And looking forward to a hybrid campaign in 2022.... inshallah!


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Blissful Benediction

The Blissful Benediction

by Niroopini Muralidharan

I am writing this blog post to convey a special message of thanks to the amazing feminist tribe I have found at Prajnya.


I want to first thank Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan for her constant guidance. There were times when I felt like I would never match up to her expectations of me, but was always met with cheerful encouragement and support. As this was my first professional experience, I was naive about a lot of things, and she mentored me with patience and warmth. I’m grateful to have worked under her expert guidance and am sure I will pay regard to these lessons far into my career.


I also want to thank Ms. Sudaroli Ramaswamy for her support during the campaign. There were several incidents where she gave me advice and held my hand when I was lost during campaign preparation.


Next, I want to thank Santha akka for her constant motivation and kind words. She made sure I felt comfortable at the workspace and gave me incredible advice that will help me both in my personal as well as professional life.


I also want to express my gratitude to Dr. S Shakthi and Mrs. Nandhini Shanmugham for cheering me on throughout the campaign. Everytime I turned to them for help, they extended their support smilingly.


Many thanks to my Prajnya friends Ms. Maryam Nayaz and Ms. Sandhya Srinivasan for their timely assistance, support and camaraderie.


A huge thank you to God, my family and friends for their support and encouragement.


Finally, a heartfelt thanks to all the resource persons, partners, donors, interns and volunteers involved with the campaign. Without them, the 2021 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence would not have been such a success.


Letter from Maryam

Hello everyone!


This is Maryam, Programme Associate at Prajnya. I have been keen to work on the 16 Days Campaign ever since joining Prajnya in April of 2021, and am glad to say that the experience exceeded my expectations and hopes by a lot.


The past 2 months flew by me in a blink–I remember welcoming our 2021 Campaign Associate, Niroopini, one Monday in October, utterly clueless about how the next few weeks were going to pan out. I have to say though, that every stage of putting the campaign together, no matter how frantic, was thoroughly exciting. Being able to work closely with my peers at Prajnya and beyond opened me up to a world of learning, and getting to attend the expert panels and discussions was the cherry on top in this experience. 


I’m grateful for the wonderful guidance and unwavering support received from Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan and others at Prajnya. In Niroopini, I’ve found a dependable and honest friend whom I will cherish for a long time. I’m glad to have been a part of the 2021 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, and look forward to many many more.


The Prajnya Gratitude Post

The Prajnya Gratitude Post

by Niroopini Muralidharan

Days are flying by; I feel like I just joined Prajnya as the 2021 16 Days Campaign Associate, and we’re already working on post-campaign operations. The knowledge I have gained and growth I have witnessed in the past 2 months has been immense. 


I’m grateful to Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan for trusting me with the 2021 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, and I owe a lot to this opportunity. When I first joined, I was filled with self-doubt and uncertainty as I found myself surrounded by people I looked up to for a long time. My doubt was met with trust and support from everyone here. As a fresher, I wanted to work at an organisation where I was respected and had respectable peers, and I found just that at Prajnya. 


I had a wonderful time listening to and learning from the eminent feminist voices that were involved with the campaign. I found myself challenging my own views and opening myself up to a world of knowledge.

Every part of putting the 2021 16 Days Campaign together was immense fun, and I’m glad the Campaign was such a grand success. I’m proud of what we put together as a team despite the pandemic and Chennai floods.


I would like to thank everyone involved for your support, the 2021 16 Days Campaign would not be what it is without you. Thank you!


I’m officially signing off as the 2021 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Associate, but would love to stay on as a volunteer for as long as I can.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Day 14: Child Marriage Consultation

 


On December 8, 2021, Prajnya invited partner organisations from around Tamil Nadu to share with us their experiences and insights on the rising prevalence of child marriage in the pandemic period and their thoughts on how to prevent this. The consultation was preceded by a survey. A report on the survey as well as the statements during the consultation will be published around Pongal 2022. Here is a short summary of major themes that emerged at the December 8 consultation.

Causes of growing child marriage prevalence

Social workers and activists present at the consultation listed several contributory factors. The most common among them was economic distress. Poverty, joblessness and migration made parents likely to get their daughters married early. Knowing this, it was observed, middlemen (marriage brokers) prey on single parents to entice them to get their daughters married. Poor awareness--not just in the community but critically among the police, child protection services and government offices were also important for the failure to prevent child marriages. 

The rise in child sexual abuse and incestuous sexual violence was also a trigger. 

Astutely, some participants observed that the uncertainty induced by the pandemic also influenced parent decisions to get girls married so they would be secure should the parents die. 

More cynical reasons proffered included the lower cost of weddings during the pandemic (fewer guests, no travel, etc.). The widespread use of smart phones, necessited by online schooling, exposed children to chat rooms and pornography. Parents, less educated than children, had no way to monitor this. This drew children into romantic and sexual relationships and marriage. 

Finally, some participants also mentioned traditional practices of arranging marriages early within the family in order to keep property intact. 

If girls became vulnerable to early marriage, it was mentioned repeatedly that boys were likely to be used as child labour. Girls who went to work and who were earning well, were sought after for marriage too. 

Remedial measures 

The most important remedial measure, suggested by almost every participant was awareness. Community awareness of the consequences of child marriage, especially on the health of young girls, is important. So is the creation of awareness in government agencies responsible for preventing child marriage and punishing it. Participants listed in this category, the police, the social welfare department, protection officers and even local health services. 

The second was the setting up of protection offices closer to the community and not just at district or block headquarters. 

The third was prompt registration, trial and punishment of cases. 

Day 15: Dignity at Work: Video Launch

Report by Maryam Nayaz

On the 15th day of the 2021 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, Prajnya, in partnership with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung launched a set of videos on workplace sexual harrassment awareness and workplace rights for informal sector workers. The videos were intended to reach three demographics of workers: agricultural workers, street vendors, and domestic workers. They were designed to be circulated on the mobile (through WhatsApp, for instance).




Two sets of videos (Tamil and Hindi) were made public during the launch event with videos in three more regional languages–Telugu, Marathi and Bangla, set to go out soon.


The full playlist is available here.


The videos were a Friedrich Ebert Stiftung India project, where Prajnya served as script consultants. During conceptualisation, Prajnya held a series of consultations with workers’ organisations, unions, and representatives from each group. They each highlighted concerns and barriers to safety and redressal they noted through their experience with workers. With the findings from the advisory sessions, Prajnya developed a script in English that was translated into the five regional languages.


Translators:


Tamil: Sudaroli Ramasamy

Hindi: Shruti Nagar

Marathi: Girija Godbole

Bangla: Asmita Basu

Telugu: Usha Kanth


Voiceovers:


Tamil: Akshaya

Hindi: Lakshita Mavi

Marathi: Girija Godbole

Bangla: Asmita Basu


The videos were produced by NoLogo.


Those involved in consultation, production, translation, and dissemination, as well as members of FES and Prajnya's networks who work with these stakeholders were invited to the launch event on the 9th of December. The Tamil and Hindi language videos premiered on YouTube and were streamed on Zoom. Members of the audience then shared their feedback and spoke about further steps to take beyond awareness and rights education.


If you would like to receive a set of videos on your phone for circulation, please WhatsApp us at +91 97908 10351, telling us your name and organisation, and we will send them to you.

Day 16: Regional Perspectives on Honour, Violence and Women's Rights: A Panel

The final day of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence was on Regional Perspectives on Honour, Violence and Women's Rights: A Panel Discussion. We closed with a panel that depicted how violence in the name of 'honour' transgresses borders. Here, pride takes the front seat, thereby justifying gruesome killings, often with the support of the state's machinery. 

Our facilitator of the session, Kiran Moghe, opened with how "the question of women's honour is tied up with the community and she represents the community/ collective honour, which has a bearing on her everyday life; she is subject to several kinds of restrictions on her basic freedom and on her basic right to life. These are very fundamental questions related to our existence as women."

Our first speaker, Jagmati Sangwan addressed the manner in which the state and its units have failed to address the brutality that is honour crimes, with a focus on the ground realities in Haryana. 

  • "Usually common people around us take honour killings and honour crime as due to generational gap of ideas, parents losing control over their sons and daughters-in-law But our experience is that there has been a whole political economy attached to this issue. The political economy is to maintain the hierarchical social structures and cultural norms in the society. The control of female sexuality is crucial in patriarchal setups and hegemonic societies. If the women exert their choice in the issue of marriage, there is a seed of formation of an egalitarian society coming into existence as a result of these marriages. This concern, we feel, has been given the name of honour to control the sexuality of women. This is the crux of this issue."
  • "The major distortions made here to punish these couples is by tampering the birth certificate and showing the couple as underage, and registering cases of kidnap and rape against boys. The human rights protection agencies have delayed and ineffective responses. The judiciary here doesn't take suo moto cognisance of such cases. Most social organisations and NGOs avoid speaking on such issues because they fear and targetting."
  • "The nature of this violence, like dowry, is where one's own people get involved in crime and killing, maybe under huge social pressure. So, nobody comes out to register the case. The judicial system needs witnesses and proof of the crime. The onus has to be shifted on the criminal.

Watch Jagmati Sangwan's video here. 

Vincent Kathir, from Evidence, was our second speaker. He highlighted, through heart-wrenching anecdotes how the state, at various levels have failed to accurately report these crimes.

  • "From my experience, honour crimes are the product of structural patriarchy, male chauvinism as well as caste."
  • "In an RTI filed for the number of honour-related crimes show fifty-five cases of honour killings, but the Tamil Nadu government says there are only four cases in the last five years. Since 2005, when we started working on honour killings-related cases, [we have seen that] honour killings happen across the state and 60% of the time on women."
  • "We tried to challenge every honour killings legally but we have succeeded in a few cases...We cannot expect the government to show interest that the families would. In some cases, families are hostile, and in some cases, they come to a compromise."
  • "In my opinion, in the field, I have worked in human rights since 1995, and since 2000, I began working with honour-related crimes - this is a terrible and brutal form of murder. A few years back, the Supreme Court said that states should file an affidavit. Only twenty-two states accepted [that there is a presence of honour killings in the state], but till now the Tamil Nadu Government has not accepted that there are honour killings here. This is a dangerous situation.
  • "In 2019, Madras High Court, in suo moto regarded our Evidence report on honour killings and then ordered the government to respond. Immediately, the state government responded in front of the High Court that all districts will have a protection cell formed for inter-caste couples. I verified this a month ago. Out of 38 districts, only 3 districts have formed the cell. The other 35 districts have not formed the protection cell."

Watch Vincent Kathir's presentation here.

The third speaker, Benazir Jatoi, highlighted the perspectives from Pakistan showing the commonality of this issue across borders.

  • "You talk of caste, caste is the excuse used. We may not have an obvious caste system, but we use other words. We use religion. We use gairat, which roughly translates to honour. It is the socio-economic guise that we give on how we control women through violence and discrimination."
  • "The irony in the whole situation is that we keep fixing the law till the situation is perfect. Every time a case of honour crime catches the public eye, the lawmakers perfect the law so that the loopholes identified by activists are closed. 
  • What the laws failed to recognise, and laws are limited, the trial judge doesn't have that capacity, with all due respect, to separate honour from murder."
  • "When we use the word honour, we, as activists have no other language. We use the language of our community. If we use honour before killing, we have already given them [the society] one justification to get away with it. Honour is a justification...so dishonour is perhaps the language we should walk towards. Because, we must take away that justification that is the stranglehold of all this."
  • "In Pakistan, the Penal Code is intertwined with the Islamic law....we allow [for the existence of] certain Islamic laws which are forgiveness and compromise....Forgiveness is a very big part of religion. What they don't take into account is that forgiveness before the crime is also a very big part of religion. But, here once a crime is committed, forgiveness is invoked."
  • "While we talk about violence against women and honour crimes, in particular, what we need to address is what is the relationship of women with the state. I feel, if there is a relationship with the state that women have, it is indirect. Women don't have a direct relationship with the state. If that relationship exists, it is weak, and that relationship is breaking down. When there is a weak and indirect relationship, things like COVID-19 has highlighted that anyone already discriminated against will be discriminated against further. Anyone prone to violence will be much more prone to violence."
  • "We don't talk about sexuality [like the first speaker highlighted] enough but it comes down to that. Why do we fear sexuality so much? Why does patriarchy make us fear sexuality.? It starts from the control of sexuality. It is a box that we belong in. But, they tell us that we should exercise our sexuality because we should give birth, and give birth to many children.....but that sexuality is feared when we exercise it. It is different when someone else controls it. Sexuality needs to be viewed from the point of view of the global south."

Watch Benazir Jatoi's presentation here.

Our final speaker was Shalini Umachandran who highlighted the importance of sensitive reporting in cases of gender-based violence, especially honour crimes.

  • "Very often, how the survivors or victims were affected as human beings are erased from the reports. We need to hear about how drastically their lives change and how shocking it is."
  • "What we call honour killings is not just limited to patriarchy, gender, caste but also about personal choice. It is about a society that doesn't respect personal economic and political freedom. We need to widen our understanding and reporting so that all of this comes into it."
  • "It is not just inter-religious or inter-caste. In India, it is about any two people from the same subgroup that isn't approved, and so they send clans."
  • "It is this refusal to accept and understand the need for personal freedom which we see at a personal and family level; it is spread much wider. We see it in government policies, in the toxic bigotry we see in our daily life and on social media. It is not just a family issue."
  • "Most underreporting is by the state and not the media or Civil Society Organisations. Journalists do cover these in detail and CSOs do a lot of reporting. In the last few years, it has become more detailed, careful and in most cases, a lot more sensitive. But we need to be mindful of how we speak, behave and the language we use in newsrooms when we speak with friends and our attitudes so that people can make their own decisions and don't have to follow archaic rules."
  • Some of the Dos given by her were "If you're interviewing a survivor, make them comfortable. Get their consent before quoting them. You will go by their decisions on how much detail you will go into. It is possible to have a perfectly accurate report without being intrusive and causing more trauma to someone. Keep your tone empathetic and neutral. Keep the organisation that helped you get in touch with survivors about the progress of the story." while a couple of critical points to take note of are "Don't make promises because you know you can't keep them...Don't share contact details without permission."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Day 13: Reporting Gender Violence Against Persons With Disabilities: Media Training

On the 13th day of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, The Network of Women in Media in India, Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre, and Prajnya invited Dr. Aishwarya Rao to conduct a short training on how to report gender-based violence against people with disabilities, including themes of what is the appropriate language; what questions should be asked, and which ones avoided; and legal frameworks. Here are a few key discussion points from the session:

  • "Over the years we have seen reporting on violence, particularly in the context of women with disabilities has improved. Almost every year, once in every ten days at least, a mainstream newspaper or news channel talks to either me or my colleague in the disability sector, or the other women with disabilities I work with. And definitely, the reporters come with a good amount of sensitization. And so, the stories that are reported definitely show more focus, better language - there is definitely a significant improvement. But more work needs to be done."

  • "Though the scale of violence for persons with disabilities is high, especially for women with disabilities or persons who identify as women, coverage has seldom been adequate when you compare the extent of the problem."

  • "There is no big violence and small violence. Every violence, every infringement of a right, every harm, every suffering that anybody goes through on account of simply being of a gender that is different from the dominant gender or the gender that has the upper hand - all these are worth reporting. But somehow we see sexual violence gets more eyeballs."
  • "When journalists write or report instances of violence perpetrated on young women, other women, the minorities, sexual minorities or children with disabilities, here are some pointers that are important for us to keep in mind when such reports or stories are made:

1. To be accurate and use the right language

2. To get the survivor's voice out and to not victim blame

3. Talk to experts

4. Educate the public

5. Include information where survivors and families can get assistance"

  • "Victims or survivors of violence, or persons upon whom violence ha been inflicted are many times portrayed as objects of pity. And, there is a great deal of stereotyping that happens. And, whether we like it or not, there is a great deal of disability voyeurism that happens."

  • "Popular narrative, at least in regional languages when discussing disability and talking disability has always been cringe. Sometimes I wonder whether the language itself is inadequate in explaining the disability and in explaining the life of a person with a disability. 



  • "There are some questions that are worth remembering to ask - 

How can I raise awareness?

Is the portrayal consistent with the respect for the person?

Name the disability and the vulnerability?

Link the issue to a larger overarching issue or a broad theme on the basis of which policy initiatives can be better informed."

  • "When there is a confusion, use the word disability and it is okay, rather than impairment, special needs, deficit, because then we are going to the definition of disability. Disability is not defined as a characteristic of that person. So we don't look at locomotive disability as an impairment of that person. Disability itself is defined as an interaction between the person and the environment...Disability is about how a person with a disability interacts with the environment...Instead of using wheelchair-bound, use wheelchair user. Disabled is the most preferred by activists. Persons with a disability or PwD is always safe....the appropriate words to use are a person with a developmental disability, a person with an intellectual disability, intellectually/developmentally disabled, a person with mental health issues, or a person with so-and-so diagnosis. Don't use a person with autism, use autistic or neurodivergent. Don't use patient. Instead, refer to them by their name- so-and-so who has this particular condition. Always refer to the person with the name. Don't use mute, high-functioning, low-functioning - it is best to leave out the description of functioning. 'Special needs' is not okay, instead talk about reasonable accommodation or modifications. Never use sufferer, afflicted, stricken."
Dr. Rao has generously made her presentation available to us for reference. You can access it on Slideshare.

Day 11: "Love, Sex, Relationships, Marriages": Despatches

These are despatches sent in by the convenors of Community Cafes around the country on December 5, 2021, afternoon at different locations around India. Almost all the convenors have all worked with Prajnya in 2020-21.

                                                                    ****************

A Note from the Coordinator of the Community Cafes

It’s been 60 years since the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed, making the demand and provision of dowry illegal in India. What a commendable job by the legislators, right? But like many of the other social evils we’re plagued with in our culture (child marriage, classism, casteism being only a few), the practice of dowry found a way to exist. From overt demands unashamedly made by the groom’s families, to subtle hints at it on the pretext of gifts, over time the practice has evolved, but the problem still remains the same: that women are viewed as a transactional entity. It seemed only fitting to talk about its prevalence during the 16 Day Campaign Against Gender Violence. 

But how does one approach this topic among people for whom this problem does not exist in its crude form? The essential aspect was realising that productive discussions about this topic involved more than just denouncing dowry; but also understanding the pressures of weddings, the norm of marriages, and the social non-acceptance of relationships outside of marriage. Our theme, Love, Sex, Relationships, Marriage, reflected this.

Naturally, the target audience for this was young people in that stage of life where marriage is a possibility, and who would be most affected by the social understanding of everything that comes with it. The conversation needed to be more open and collaborative and less lecture-like. Prajnya’s Community Café has always been a place of reflection and informal discussion. When you remove the constraint of a formal conversation that is limited in scope and guarded by rules of professional engagement, a wider arena of possibilities opens up. New perspectives rise and the discussions become less predictable. 

On day 11 of the campaign, December 5, six different Community Café sessions were held with people from different socio-economic backgrounds with the goal of sharing ideas and expectations, coming out better prepared for social pressures, and working just a little bit more towards fighting for the culturally unacceptable. 

Farheen Nahvi

Prajnya Intern and student, Sciences Po, Paris

****************

Nungabakkam, Chennai

3 p.m.

I invited my friends from my undergrad and postgrad with whom I had already had similar conversations on love, sex, relationship and marriage. It was a mixed group of people including a female friend who was married, an outspoken girl from my postgrad, the not-your-common next-door-girl from my undergrad, and two unsung feminist boys who support women and voice out for their rights when women themselves hesitate. 

I’d informed them about the Community Cafe and the integral part programmes like these play in Prajnya’s undertakings. They were so ‘down to begin’ the moment I mentioned the topic and RSVP’d as soon as I shared the invites. I shared a common link and around 3pm all 5 of them logged in. I thanked them for being present despite it being a Sunday afternoon. As soon as I threw the ice breaker question asking their favourite food and what they had for lunch after they introduced themselves, I could see that the gang bonded over steamed momos and a hot bowl of Maggi.

We began the discussion talking about marriage–the devoid contract that trampled over choice, dreams and happiness. One of them mentioned marriage as the best example of an over-promised but under-delivered form of relationship sugar-coated with the promise of a lifelong friendship. My married friend shared her insights on what exactly was on the other side of the line (for her). She said that her wedding had to deliver extravaganza just to meet societal expectations despite her not wanting so. We then went on to discuss flaws like dowry, marital rape, choice of child/abortion, and the hypocrisy where women demand luxurious weddings. 

During the discussion, we found ourselves talking about how people fail to recognize the mental and emotional adjustment every woman has to endure in the initial stages of a marriage. On the same lines, another person mentioned, “Marriage in the initial days is like living in the Big Boss house–instead of cameras, we have desi aunties”. 

The conversation slowly shifted to marriages during the pandemic and how child marriage was at its peak. A few strong points were stating financial insecurity being one of the major reasons for the pandemic marriages. 

The conversation also briefly touched upon teenage pregnancies and the importance of sex education. We discussed how schools that already had sex education as part of the syllabus needed to modify it in order to make it more inclusive. We also made progress on the topic of masturbation and self-love, and why it is still seen as taboo when the conversation pops up in an all-girls gang. Followed by which we discussed same-sex relationships and how society has still not recovered from love shaming, let alone sex-shaming. We also addressed the increase of dating and party culture. A friend shared an incident where school girls and boys are falling prey to it without having a proper idea of what they are getting themselves into, “Just for the sake of exploring their youth, they make rash decisions which can impact their entire life”. We further went on to on sexual harassment and how it has been experienced by both women and men. 

The conversation towards the last 15 minutes completely focused on how the law has addressed/handled such sensitive issues. Though there was disagreement on the impact of the laws and how its implemented from state to state (the session had people from Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) all of us came to a consensus that socially aware judges, sensitization to the bureaucrats, education and awareness to the public followed by a strong faith in the constitution can only address the issues of the modern society and evolving family systems. Since most of us were students of political science, we also discussed how politics and politicians play a major role in the law (be it facilitators or hindrances). We also discussed the capitalist economy and the billion-dollar businesses surrounding the concept of marriage and what we would do as responsible citizens of the present and the future.

Sandhya Srinivasan S

                                                                       ****************

Tambaram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

4 pm

Community cafe in Tambaram started off with fun introductions of Shilpa Reddy, Aishwarya Krishnan, Ajay Bhardwaj, Swetha Muthuswamy, Akshaya Nagarajan and Nirupan Muralidharan.

We began the conversation with marriage, love from traditional relationships to modern relationships, emotional intimacy, dependant connection and interconnection of feminism and families. We majorly spoke about Indian parenting style, children's needs, social institutions and stereotypical systems!

As a facilitator, I was observing and was neutral with all the topics that were discussed.

I also threw a personal question for all my friends regarding dowry and marriage in their own households. We also spoke about sex, consent, contraceptives, abortion, choices, motherhood and fatherhood. Many of them emphasized on individual preferences and respect towards their own choices than societal norms and stereotypes.

I personally felt that even though we had similar opinions, we had different perceptions and approaches towards life. As youngsters we concluded our community cafe by taking pledge to improve the society and should be more responsible towards citizens obligation.

I thought we'll end the session with 1 hour but since many of my friends had lots of things to share we extended it to another 1.5 hour

Niroopini Muralidharan

****************

New Delhi

4 p.m.

We commenced our session by playing a round of word association with the word “marriage” which sparked a conversation surrounding dowry, family, and unity. This led us to discuss how marriage, in most cases, feels more like a favour that we owe to our parents in return for all the basic resources and opportunities that are provided to us. We also explored how the possibility of never wanting to get married for some of us was very high due to the very patriarchal root of this institution that’s drenched in gender roles. This made us think about how our family dynamics have influenced the way we see marriage as an institution and enabled us to call out the obvious flaws that have been overlooked by the women of our families for generations. Interestingly, at this point, my other friend mentioned that one of the reasons she wishes to get married someday was to start a family and to be able to break patterns of inherently problematic marriages.

As the conversation progressed, one of my friends mentioned how she doesn’t correlate sex with love, and that they’re two different completely unrelated concepts for her. This motivated us to talk about the importance of physical intimacy and emotional intimacy and how these two different kinds of desires are subjective because different people exhibit different levels of emotions and physical feelings.

We concluded the conversation by talking about how grateful we were to be able to have such conversations that help us make intersections and connections not taught in schools or credential programs–between caste, gender, and poverty–that can sometimes perpetuate imbalance in relationships. Allyship is only possible when partners holding more social power/privilege (heterosexual folks, able-bodied people, cisgender people) are interrogating and deconstructing that privilege.

Niharika Tripathi

                                                                    ****************

Srinagar, J&K

4:30 p.m.

The Community Cafe is a great concept for a no-pressure conversation among friends, and that’s exactly how it went over at the virtual Srinagar session. We started with a rapid-fire game of word association to get the gears going; love, divorce, compromise, band-baaja- these words gave us the opportunity to explore our ideas and bring forth what’s on everybody’s mind, setting the tone for the rest of the session. It was a fun activity that revealed a lot about the notions we associate with relationships- like how some people think of compromise as “mostly necessary” or “healthy”; or that the word forever is synonymous with “monogamy” for other people. 

A significant portion of the conversation revolved around marriage and its aspects, starting with its relevance, its importance, and whether or not we see marriage as an option for ourselves. There were different perspectives about this particular topic as everyone reflected on their own experiences and social situations. We talked about how different sexual identities need to consider the matter of legality on top of social stigma for marriage in India; we also talked about societal expectations placed upon women, and how it’s easier to get married when the alternative invites endless questions and pressure from society. Someone pointed out that in a society where marriage is considered the norm, it would also be professionally and socially advantageous. What I found particularly interesting, however, was how after listening to all the things that people who identify as non-heterosexual and non-cisgender have to consider regarding marriage, one of the (male, heterosexual, cisgender) participants pointed out how easy it was for him to think of marriage in much simpler terms. While on the topic of marriage, we discussed the politics of it- from traditional dowry and more evolved forms of pressure on the bride’s family, to how social relations and expectations of a certain standard of a ceremony have made a wedding into an institution and a market. It opened up a conversation about what kind of wedding we would want for ourselves, and how much role society would play into the planning of the same. There are a lot of different factors that affect our experiences- like our parents, or education, and factors that are yet to come into play in our future. There was an understanding among us that what we knew right now might change in the future, and as humans we are constantly evolving.  

The participants were very involved; asking questions of their own, furthering the discussion through anecdotes, and sometimes posing self-reflective queries about love and relationships. We agreed on a lot of things, and we disagreed on others, but the topic wasn’t black and white, and the discussions reflected that.

Farheen Nahvi

****************

Pallavaram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

5:00 p.m.

The community cafe at Pallavaram, Chennai began with a quick round of introductions - with Avani Binish, Vaaishnavi, Prayatna and Siddharth (who had to leave midway, unfortunately). We hit it off with an ice-breaker where we spoke about dowry, destination weddings, and abortions, the words that come to our mind when these words are mentioned. One of my friends, at this point, touched upon how the theme of the CC is quite interconnected. Because you have a concept of love, with or without which sex exists. You also have relationships and marriage that can be viewed as a Venn diagram intrinsically linked to the topic. And, then, you have themes like divorce and motherhood that go hand-in-hand with the theme of the CC. An intrinsic part to this entire structure is the taking and giving of dowry - that the value of women has to be proven. The participants stressed that it is an evil that continues to exist in our society because our families get to ‘govern’ our actions. 

A major part of the discussion addressed perceptions and stereotypes with regard to love, sex, identities, and relationships in queer spaces, as well as outside of it. My friends had all agreed that there is a lot of casteist and classist roots when we look into the theme of love, sex, relationships, and marriages, our own parents engaging in some of these problematic thoughts. Parents are often not open to the concept of 'love'. They aren't pro-choice. They also stress on the importance of marriage because 'motherhood' seems to be the ultimate destination. There is a gap in how the society views love, sex, relationships, and marriage and how individuals view it. My friends also spoke at length about queer circles, where there is this pressure to identify and label yourself, but, always, the society seems to think they know you better. It is essential to understand orientations go beyond sexual, gender, and romantic, there is so much on the spectrum of orientations that impacts the various facets of the CC [love, sex, relationship and marriage]. 

The CC ended with all of us opening up about how the relationships around us, with our parents/relatives/friends, have impacted our ideas of love, sex, relationship, and marriage. It was an hour (but, we wish it could have gone for longer) of warmth and solidarity where we navigated around intimate moments, unfamiliar territories, and experiences of love.

Meghna Menon

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Room #523 (Cuddalore, Karur, Bangalore, Tirunelveli, Salt Lake City, Chennai

7:30 p.m.

The community café I facilitated was one among a group of friends who met during our undergrad education at St. Joseph’s College of Engineering, Chennai in 2015. We lived together, learnt together, and stuck together through the years as roommates in our dingy and messy little hostel room, until jobs, higher education, and familial responsibilities forced us in different directions. The Community Café served as a long overdue get-together of sorts, and helped us understand our lives after college better.

The conversation began with discussing the depiction of romance in Tamil cinema, and how this distorted portrayal affects the lives of impressionable young people. The movie Remo (2016) was used as reference to talk about stalking, consent and how pop culture informs and shapes opinions. As someone who doesn’t follow cinema very keenly, it was disappointing (but not shocking) to know how the relationship between the male protagonist and his “well-meaning” mother was portrayed. This mother of a harmless boy, head-over-heels in love with a girl he barely knows blithely and enthusiastically cheered him on. It was alarming to see so many things dangerously wrong with a movie that was only released in 2016, when mainstream pop-culture had already begun taking up a “woke” facade.

The topic of parental involvement in the romantic lives of young people remained central to most of our discussion. As a group of people to whom the proposition of marriage is becoming more and more real every day, views were shared about how marriages were forced to become in the name of culture. We spoke about how our careers and aspirations were being side-lined by parents who, otherwise, ‘wanted the best for us’. A few of us even spoke about how belief in astrology was validating our parents’ anxieties about their unmarried daughters. 

We also talked about how the excesses of giving away immoderate dowries under the pretext of financial security (for daughters) was forcing families of brides into debt in many cases. All of this forms the basis for a shaky and uncertain future for the lives of unwilling brides and their families, but is still viewed as non-negotiable. Someone very rightly brought up how financial literacy and financial independence was seen as less important in the lives of girls despite how household upkeep and financial management was demanded of being a “housewife”.

Despite being off the agenda, we found ourselves talking about the relationship between mothers and daughters often. About how mothers are made to bend and fold and not make a sound. About how mothers are expected to rear their daughters in the same way. About how the relationship between a mother and her daughter is both lovely and cruel because of societal pressures, family structures and generational differences. About how lives are spent seeing each other as the enemy when we’re living the same lives.

The discussion took many interesting turns before we decided to set a time and day and make these conversations more regular. Through this hour of chit-chat, we realised how our lives, despite our different choices, sexualities, and familial situations, were still connected by a string of madness. The madness of time (read: ability to be marriageable) being limited.

Maryam Nayaz

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Day 11: The Body Freedom Workshop



The Body Freedom Workshop: A Dance Movement Therapy Workshop by Kolkata Sanved



On the 11th day of the 2021 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, we organised a dance movement therapy workshop in collaboration with Kolkata Sanved.


Kolkata Sanved is a women-led pioneer in the field of dance movement therapy (DMT) for trauma healing and empowerment of marginalized populations who believe in using DMT as a tool to promote holistic well-being, enable individuals to be free from violence, abuse and exploitation and enhance the quality of life. The organisation's vision is to form a healthy, violence-free, gender-equal, creative society of empowered individuals and mission is to build an ecosystem for Dance Movement Therapy-for-Change across Asia, and to create leaders and changemakers in the field, especially from underprivileged communities. In an effort to achieve this, Kolkata Sanved is aiming to set up a Centre of Excellence on Dance Movement Therapy in India and South Asia. 


Dr. Sohini Chakraborty facilitated the session for us. Dr. Sohini is an  Ashoka Fellow, sociologist, dance activist, dance movement therapist, and is the Founder-Director of Kolkata Sanved. The Sampoornata approach has been developed under her leadership. She is an International Working Committee Member of Rise Learning Network, and Chair, Status and Development, World Dance Alliance, Asia Pacific.


We were also joined by Kolkata Sanved trainer Tilottama Chowdhury. Tilottama Chowdhury is one of the Founder Members and Senior Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) practitioners of Kolkata Sanved. She has been practicing DMT for the  last 12 years. She is skilled at working with different populations though her area of expertise which is using DMT for the trauma recovery process. She facilitates DMT workshops across the country and she is also a movement faculty of the Kolkata Sanved (KS) Leadership Academy and  KS Diploma in Dance Movement Therapy run in collaboration with the  Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Tilottama has also performed internationally with Kolkata Sanved. Her contribution in the social development has  been the development of  DMT practitioners and DMT leaders from the  grassroots. 


Dr. Sohini introduced participants to the idea of Dance Movement Therapy and how it can be used as a tool to connect with one's body. Tilottama Chowdhury then took over with an icebreaker for the group. Participants were asked to imagine themselves in a circle and to convey what kind of positive energy they wanted to bring to the group by engaging in a very brief activity.


The next activity involved participants using a vocalization technique to stimulate body activation/awareness. This included participants making several combinations of voices/sounds like singing, humming or breathing at varying frequencies while engaging different parts of their bodies.


The next stage of the workshop involved the use of instrumental music as auditory cues/simulation to evoke different emotions and allow the body to illustrate the same. This segment was broadly divided into 5 categories of energies: fluid, warrior, chaotic energy, poetic/aesthetic energy, and wisdom. A 3-5 minute music clip conveying each of these emotions was played in intervals with breaks where participants were urged to reflect on what each of the pieces made them feel/experience. 


Participants were then asked to share their reflections. The answers were overwhelmingly positive and a few participants even pointed out being pleasantly surprised by how the session made them feel.