Monthly Archives: February 2014

Love is Love: Bringing Queer Pride to Guwuhati

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By Maya Bhardwaj and Aprajita Pandey

How do we know love is love? Just ask our organizer Aprajita.

While Aprajita was prepping for presenting a paper on democratic spaces for women at the Indian Association for Women’s Studies in Guwuhati, and after hearing about upcoming Queer Pride parades in Mumbai and Delhi, she wondered: why isn’t something like this happening in Guwuhati?

Organizing is about strategizing for action – so Aprajita jumped in. She and a core team reached out to the LGBTQ community and allies, pitching the idea of a Queer Pride Parade for the Northeast in February. Knowing they’d need to fund the event, they crowdsourced – donations came from individuals in Delhi, Mumbai, and elsewhere, all based on personal contacts and the story of hope and love that the organizers told. Our organizers were determined that it would be a grassroots event – so while they partnered with organizations like the Delhi Queer Pride Committee and many LGBTQ groups in Meghalaya, Assam, and Shillong, the event was one of people. Activists, allies, LGBTQ community leaders and members, college students and youth, social scientists and supportive policemen all popularized the event via word of mouth and on social media, and pledged to volunteer for what they believed in: the repeal of 377, equal love, and people powering change.

On the day of the Parade, our organizers saw massive coalitions solidifying between queer rights organizations and leaders, and were excited about strong press coverage. While some groups turned out to protest the Parade, the mood was one of positive dialogue and communication. Attendees wore rainbows, held posters, wrote poetry, danced in the street, and spoke with the community and the police against the hatred of the Section 377 decision. Aprajita told us that instead of feeling defeat, the Parade “capitalized on the anger, frustration, and discontent from the Supreme Court’s decision – we rallied with the press and the people to open channels of communication” and declare support for all LGBTQ people in the Northeast, all over India, and worldwide.

Reflecting on the event, Aprajita shared her biggest learning: the massive power we can wield when we come together. “It was a challenge to keep the power dynamics in the organization in line – but we used our snowflake model to make sure that rather than having one leader or a leaderless organization, that we distributed responsibility and ownership. That way, on the day of, thanks to the support of countless allies, attendees, and supportive police and passers-by, the mood was overwhelmingly one of joy. We were happy, full of energy and strength to come out in public. We were fresh, and we were alive.”

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Protestors versus Organizers: Finding the Sweet Spot for Leadership and Change at FLAME

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By Maya Bhardwaj

For the past month, our organizers Vidhi and Maya have been organizing at FLAME University in Pune, one of India’s first liberal arts colleges. We have been working with a group of students in FLAME’s Leadership Program, ranging from second-year bachelors students in the humanities, to final-year masters’ students getting their MBAs.

Beyond their academic interests, these students also varied in their hobbies – from photography, to entrepreneurship, to dance – to their leadership and communication skills itself. While some students had been at the forefront of starting campus activities and organizations, some of the students were of the “quiet observer” type – with one of the students specifically telling us that she needed help speaking to strangers and in front of groups.

At Haiyya, we believe that leadership is the ability to empower others to act with purpose in the face of uncertainty – so we were excited to jump in and coach these FLAME students on how to stand up for what they believed in.

During our first session, the students gathered on the grass outside to conduct an informal People Sabha, where they discussed issues that they faced on campus – from isolation from the outside world, to the food on campus, to classroom environments and job opportunities after graduation. As they worked through an issue-cutting session, the students broke down the problems they selected into bite-sized issues that they could tackle. They moved from poor medical care to the need for more trained practitioners available 24/7. For varying quality of instruction, they hit upon the need for students’ voices in teacher review. As the students narrowed from problems to issues, they began to chart the paths of their own solutions – and of their own agency as leaders.

Between the first and second workshop, the students turned to their peers to build their base. They focused on stories of hope: their personal stories, the emotions they told, and the shared possibility of change. The loosely banded group of learners used stories and connections to build core members and form a tightly-connected team of organizers growing relationships for change.

In the second workshop, we switched from issues to solutions. The students led a town hall to identify the target in charge of the policy they wanted to change. They brainstormed key allies to form coalitions with, and clarified their next steps for rallying campus together. As they came up with tactics like video diaries and petitions, they moved from assumptions of angry protests, to new prospects of proactive, cooperative action.

In many senses, our work at FLAME has been a microcosm of our work throughout India. It takes time and struggle to move from feeling alone and disenfranchised, to reclaiming our own autonomy to act. The greatest success we can see is in the students themselves – as with one of the girls, who, nervous to speak in groups at the beginning, stepped into to the front of the room during a particularly heated outburst. From a timid 20-year-old, we saw her transform into a leader in control, as she told the group, “We can’t focus on what doesn’t work – we have to find what does. Lets decide the tactics for who will reach out to each of our allies.”

By stepping up, the FLAME students embodied our sense of leadership – instead of charting a path by themselves, they found a way to engage others productively and empower them to act – to build a better FLAME, together.