Archive | February 2014

Love is Love: Bringing Queer Pride to Guwuhati

Image

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.”

Advertisements

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

image

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.

Reliving the Experience: Community Walk in Malviya Nagar

Image

By Vishal Aggarwal

Seeing the events of the past few months in Delhi, it is clear that Women’s Safety is an issue that requires immediate attention – and I was excited to jump on board with Haiyya at the forefront. With Haiyya, we think about questions like: How can we make women feel secure on roads? How can women feel free in public spaces after dark?

I started working on Haiyya’s Rise Up and Women’s Safety Campaigns to find answers to these questions and create long-lasting impact in Delhi’s communities.

Until a few months ago, words like “field work”, “one on ones,” and “canvassing” spoke to me of something boring, tiring, monotonous, and irritating. It was only after the Rise Up Campaign in Delhi between August and December, started to empower women to discuss their issues and vote in the State Assembly Elections, that this picture got washed away from my head. After spending many hours per week actively participating in this campaign as a field organizer, I got a new vision of looking at my community and how I engage with it.

After the Rise Up Campaign ended, a long time passed I hit the streets again. Participating in the Community Walk on 13th Feb in Malviya Nagar let me head out onto the street and talk to the community about what mattered to them. After a small orientation we reached out to shopkeepers, autowallas , women who ran motels, and more. Through the walk, we aimed to better understand women’s perspective towards their access to public space in Malviya Nagar, and how they feel when they move out of their houses.

We covered an area from Hauz Rani until Khirki Extension, where we engaged with all different kinds of people. I learned how to engage a chaiwalla to get insight into women’s safety in his area. Seeing old ladies sitting outside their porches, I found out how much these ladies have to complain about. But I also saw how much the assumption of Delhi not being safe has been – often artificially – imposed on our minds!

But I didn’t just learn about mindsets and tendencies: I learned new things about myself as well. I realized how much these random conversations have helped me in improve my ability to communicate and connect. Every time I talk to a community member, I learn something new about myself: how to take people into confidence, how to make them feel secure so that they can open up to you, and how to show that I care. It was a whole new experience, one that I’m grateful to Aprajita and Haiyya for giving me the opportunity for, and one that I would love to do again. Next time, I want to bring others to learn with me at the same time.

Empowering Girls in Mumbai and Delhi – on Safety and Storytelling

Image

By Maya Bhardwaj

What happens when you get together a room of 35 giggly, enthusiastic, only Marathi-speaking teenage girls? Our Haiyya trainers recently found out.

Varsha Bansode, a past Haiyya Fellow on our first Public Safety campaign in Mumbai, is also an employee at the Akshara Centre in Mumbai, fighting for women’s rights. Akshara has been a partner with Haiyya in the past, as we have iterated together on our shared work around women’s safety and women’s rights, and use a similar framework of community organizing to develop leaders – in Akshara’s case, mostly women from lower socio-economic backgrounds – who champion causes in their communities.

Akshara is currently running a program called the Empowering Girls Project, where girls from low socio-economic backgrounds with learn the financial, educational, and life skills to graduate from higher education and navigate life as a self-sufficient woman. When we talked to Varsha about how she came to Haiyya and Akshara, she told us that she herself was no stranger to the struggles the girls from the Empowering Girls Project felt in charting their own course. Recounting her story, she said, “while my parents wanted me to take up nursing courses, I never wanted to pursue my career in it and I didn’t feel the inspiration or encouragement from my parents that I needed. I wanted to do something by which I could earn my own freedom. That led me to Akshara – and later, to Haiyya.”

Remembering the skills in leadership, teamwork, and communication she built as a Haiyya Fellow, Varsha decided to reach out to Haiyya to ask them to run a training for the Empowering Girls Project on working in teams. As Varsha described, “Haiyya helped me understand my individual power to develop my role in the community. Without understanding of community issues, we cannot work for community development or growth.” When our Organizer and Trainer Natasha heard about the opportunity, she knew it was a perfect one. “I was really excited to bring what I’ve learned from Haiyya about building leaders in our community through action to these girls, who have probably never thought about teamwork as a core component of leadership before. How could I say no?”

So on a Saturday morning, Natasha headed over to Akshara’s office in Elphinstone Road, armed with chart paper, markers, and handouts. Natasha planned to focus on working with the girls on communications skills and how to use their own stories to motivate others, how to build strong relationships and strong teams, and how to manage groups effectively. While the girls were initially shy, as Natasha worked with them, “they began to get really into telling their stories and using communications norms. They were all snapping for each other to show that they liked the stories, and they even started holding up their hands when someone was talking too quickly in Marathi!”

After many games of roleplaying and developing effective questions to bring people into an organization, it was time to say goodbye. As Natasha conducted the evaluation, the girls all mentioned that they loved the energy of the training – and that they now felt much more confident to use their own reflections and experiences to facilitate teamwork. As Natasha recounted her own pluses, deltas, and learnings in Haiyya’s format of evaluation, she told the girls about our upcoming work in Delhi on public safety – where women will be learning skills like we taught in the Empowering Girls training to build community teams fighting for safer public spaces for women. As soon as the Akshara girls found out, they wanted to get involved!

For us at Haiyya, this was an illustration of the power of really listening to the people with whom we work. Anyone can learn the skills it takes to make Delhi safer, or make Mumbai cleaner – we just have to listen deeply to what they want to learn and find out what motivates us, together. Right now, our organizers for Women’s Safety in Delhi are building relationships and growing strong teams – just like the girls at Akshara – by listening deeply to the issues that these citizens have, and figuring out how they enable each other to make a difference. And just like Natasha figured out how to motivate our friends at Akshara, our Delhi team is figuring out what works best to fight for what’s right, and training their teams on how to use these tactics as well. Whether we hear hope, or anger, or determination from our supporters, we have to remember to remain committed and enthusiastic about our work and to use our own stories not to be heard, but to listen to the stories of others.

Think you want to go through a training with Haiyya in Mumbai, or want to get involved in the early stages of our Women’s Safety campaign in Delhi? Head to www.haiyya.in to find out how. And stay tuned for more updates!