Friday, 30 November, 2007

Chai and Change: A Day in Kaivalya

31 October 2007
Lajpat Nagar

How much ever I had read up about Hijras, Kothis – the transgender community at large - I was apprehensive about meeting and interacting with them on a one on one basis. Reading up was nothing but theoretical knowledge about them, their lives, but understanding the problems they face from a secondary source was a different thing entirely, in contrast to actually sitting with a kinnar over a cup of tea and discussing these matters.

We reached Milan - an organization in Lajpat Nagar that works with the kinnar community largely by educating them (kinnars that is, who are sex-workers) on having safe and protected sex through counseling amongst other approaches. Wednesday was a day when they all came to Milan, to have fun, sing, dance, discuss, confide, talk and get counseling.

Somehow when I entered the room it didn’t feel that weird. They looked different but otherwise it appeared like any other get together of friends who were sitting relaxed, smiling. I guess it was their warmth which made me feel the least bit awkward. Sneha, our Project Head, introduced me to Pinaki, a kinnar. I don’t know who exactly she was in Milan and she appeared quite busy, nevertheless what I really liked about her was her gentle and polite manner of speaking.

We basically spoke to Rajesh (Rajeshwari), Pankaj and another young boy who was in class 11th. They were guys who identified and comfortably acknowledged that they were gay. Above everything it was fun to talk especially with Pankaj who spoke unbelievably fast. He was a student of pharmacy and I must say one of the very lucky people to have an extremely supportive groupd of both family and friends. They spoke very freely about how some people in college knew about his true identity and how he maintained a dual identity in college and otherwise. In fact, their openness and warmth came across as a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t entirely sure if they would be so free in sharing their problems with us, how unfair laws were, the teasing and harassment that they encounter from other boys in the streets.

Something suddenly struck me when I saw one of them file their nails and I noticed their perfectly lined eyes and how they had threaded their eyebrows, was how much they fit the conventional tag of a ‘woman’. I was dressed like a jhalli - messed short hair, a shirt and jeans and I felt, I don’t know, alienated? That somehow, we (sexually and gender wise identified females) were moving away from the woman that they were portraying. (Not that I’m upset about it, but just a thought.)

It was friendly conversation and by the end of it I realized that I actually liked the whole 45 minutes of interaction with them. The ‘tota-ud’ game and their jokes - they were just like any other group of people we meet in our everyday lives - friends gossiping, sharing inside jokes, the same hospitality that I would probably show towards my guests at home.

But I guess on the whole the approach to identify them as ‘different and so stay away’ comes from people’s efforts to ‘normalize’ things in life. Where we reduce and try put everyone under 2 sexes and 2 genders. But there is a whole world that’s different and its fun to be friends and accept people as they are.

- Suchismita

Editor's Note: Kaivalya is The YP Foundation's newest project that engages young people in research projects, community interaction and participation in intervention based programmes to increase sensitivities and communication on understanding transgender identity and issues in India.

Kaivalya's First Event!

This definitely was important, after all the first event of Kaivalya was being held in LSR and the responsibility of making it work was on our shoulders. My first reaction – excitement, soon followed by incredulity with the realization that the Project Head was going to be out of town and finally moved to being amazed at the jolting effect of the two.

Not many things in college can pull me out of my year long stupor –a wonderful aftereffect of 55 minutes of insufferable, incessant noises we are subjected to in classrooms by certain individuals on a daily basis! Preparation begins with full force; all seems to be in order, just one tiny itsy-bitsy harmless question - will there be any audience???

For the first time in my life I hoped that my fate was not shared by anyone in LSR- in short girls do not find themselves staring at posters, getting excited at the prospect of learning about something interesting (for a change) and finally realizing, oh! The event happened last to last to last week! I have to stop sleep walking in the corridors! This called for immediate action - posters (that were visible to the sleep deprived also!), along with spreading the word, polite requests in classrooms and threat filled messages to friends.

I’m sure those who have lived in hostels or pgs’ would agree and understand the phenomenon of food fixation - eat anything and everything edible, anywhere or anytime - the purpose of our lives is to eat! On 21st November at 12:45 pm(lunch break), there was going to be a clash of the titans, the inquisitive mind v/s the growling stomach and I wished dearly that the former would win.

And then it happened, girls started pouring in; one after the other, inquiring if this was The YP event they had heard about. Three grinning faces could be seen answering queries, welcoming girls and as soon as the all the seats were filled, we started the presentation. Introductions- TYPF, Kaivalya, Naz foundation and the guest speakers Pinaki & Muskaan. I felt the atmosphere of the room was a mixture of emotions that have seldom coexisted; there was inquisitiveness, fear, prejudices, maybe even repulsion to some extent but above all there was openness.

I felt that those present in the room were open to learning and sharing, to venturing into territory unknown to them, a willingness to put aside their pre conceived notions and were above all, open to the idea of change within themselves.

I am of the belief that personal touch can change perception on many levels.

The presence of Muskaan and Pinaki had a huge impact on the audience, the confidence with which they carried themselves, undaunted by the crowd, stares or questions, was unparalleled, and yes the realization that they are kinnars. Along with everybody in the room, I was pleasantly surprised at the completely new way in which they presented themselves.

We create stereotypes because it’s too taxing for the brain to understand every individual and we find it easier to group them as the same. At the end of the day, if we keep the image of hijras in our mind as those of people who clap their hands and create nothing but nuisance, won’t it just be easier to understand them?

Isn’t that what we’ve always thought and believed? This event truly took a brave step towards breaking this stereotype.

In some ways I felt they were more assured of their own identity than most of us in that room.

Would we be able to adequately explain if we were ever asked “What are you?” Here were two individuals who knew exactly what their sexuality, origin, history, culture, biological conditioning, social standing, weaknesses and strengths were. It made me think - what do we know about ourselves? At maximum, just about enough to decide whether we want to sleep or eat in the next two hours maybe. The rest is so largely defined by society and we accept those definitions blindly.

To stand in front of 85 women, explaining that they also desire to be female yet have a different identity, takes courage.

Coming back to the session, all kinds of questions were asked, some personal, others general, leading us all towards a clearer picture. Even when the session ended women chose to interact with Pinaki and Muskaan on a more personal level, a voluntary physical proximity I had never experienced before. I felt somewhere there was admiration hidden in everyone’s eyes for them.

We talk about strength of character, how very rare and how very honorable it is in today’s world. If only these were not mere words to adorn character certificates and letters of recommendation, if only we looked deeper into the meaning we would discover Muskaan, Pinaki and many others like them as truly being virtuous. What I gathered from this session was that they do not want sympathy, only acceptance and space to lead a life with dignity.

Finally the bell rings at 2:10pm, time for the official 100 meter sprint in the corridor, and beating the opponent into giving me my well deserved attendance and 55 minutes of back bench sleeping!

- Roshni.

Tuesday, 27 November, 2007

Right Every Wrong Social Justice & Action Conclave

‘Mitigating steps – individual, community, national and international levels: Debating a Domestic Strategy While Driving a Hard Bargain Internationally.’

The title of this conclave is more than slightly demanding in its expectations. ‘Opinions on Climate Change that will open your eyes’ Whilst I am not even close to being an expert on greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC or the Kyoto protocol, I will talk about my realizations with Climate Change, a little closer to home, focusing on the individual’s role and potential within the domestic strategy that now more than ever needs to be addressed, in a proactive, humane and responsible manner.

I recently read a comment by the former secretary of the Ministry of Environment & Forests that left me worried. The architect of the government’s climate strategy shared a comment, saying: “India is certainly not responsible for the mess. We are, in fact, victims of it. So why expect us to tighten our belts?”

I have worked for the last 6 years with The YP Foundation, formerly known as The Youth Parliament, a space where over 800 young people have come together, to build awareness on negating the validity of that statement.

· Rishab Khanna, is a 20 year old college student who created ‘Accentuating Eco Amity’, a project that engaged young people in understanding the meaning of the eco friendly label, enabling them to evaluate the implementation of the protocols for the eco label, as they are currently used by the hotels and local market retailers in his community.

· Shanta Rana, is a 23 year old who uses online communication to spread awareness on the effects of global warming amongst her peers, with an aim to try and influence a change in their behaviour.

· Simran Brar, is a 28 year old lawyer who started The Right to Information Programme for young people, a unique resource system that is designed to de-jargonize the law for young people, encouraging them to apply it more effectively to their environment.

· Devaki, was the 13 year old Prime Minister of The Children’s Parliament at The Barefoot College in Tilonia I met, who along with her peers, re designed the governance systems that impacted health, water and electricity in her village.

· Saudamini is 19 and Rohanjit is 18. Together, they coordinated a project that trained 15 young people to become peer educators on Child Labour and Child Rights, using workshops as a tool to teach 1000 school students in New Delhi about deforestation, child employment, environmental hazards and what students could do, to make a practical change.

These are only a few of the young visionaries The YP has encouraged. If you actually examine the relationship shared today between most young people and their environment, you will find a chasm. In their identity as citizens, their perception of how they be valid stakeholders and their understanding, of the realities of climate change and its impact on our planet.

And so, with each and every young person that I work with, reversing indifference and apathy is probably the most important thing we have ever done.

As has been more than well established at this conclave, I believe that as individuals, we do very much need to tighten our belts.

As a privileged young person, I have grown up in a country where it is often the urban educated that never seems to be inspired enough to challenge the status quo to become conscious leaders in their communities. Rather, we remain passive reactors and political commentators.

The historicity of emissions is to the crisis of climate change today, both misplaced and irrelevant. It certainly shouldn’t be legitimate argument enough for us to take the moral high ground at a time when we need to work harder than ever to preserve and protect all of that which we value and are so intrinsically inter dependent on. Equally important with the international dialogue, process of commitments and action, is the sharper reality where we need to look closely to the truth in our own homes and our own lives.

Climate change is not a new issue, it’s a multigenerational one. We know that. It’s certainly not something we haven’t heard about or tried to understand whilst growing up. But its part of a more basic attitude we have, as citizens in India, to at times refuse to be touched by a problem unless it travels from outside our homes, past our doorsteps, directly into our lives.

It is then that we choose to take ownership for where we live.

And this is the thinking value system that we are leaving for the next generation. For 70% of India’s population that is currently under 36 years of age.

70% that watches you and notices that the missing political leadership is not all that’s missing, that the lack of citizen caring or understanding is inherently absorbed by most of us with great ease, that there is a non integrated approach towards combating climate change with very little motivation to cross sectors and bridge divides in thinking and approaches.

There is very little I can say here today about the subject itself, that you will not already be acquainted with. But in my mind, the opinion that needs to open all our eyes is the one opinion on climate change that you yourself have. Are you informed? Do you have a connect with why climate change is an issue in the first place? Do you know what you can do? Are you enabling the environment in your home or your community to make these changes?

And if you aren’t, what are you waiting for?

As citizens, we do need to hold the government accountable. But we can also inspire and challenge it. Towards gearing an economy that is obsessed with measuring value beyond just GDP growth and towards helping India adapt to a lifestyle of sustainability. In doing so, we will address critical economic and social opportunities as well.

The oddest thing perhaps is that the simple solutions – better fuel efficiency, insulation, water heating, water harvesting, renewable energy, energy reduction, recycling, waste management – are very much solutions that lie within your grasp. And for once, they have the potential to make a significant amount of the difference needed.

So why does it matter so much whose fault we can call it? Or who we think should pay the price?

Because, in Malini Mehra’s words, ‘The global climate does not distinguish between borders. The greenhouse-gas emissions being pumped into the atmosphere do not come with country flags attached.’

And in the scheme of things, you and I will be directly responsible.

Reminding us that what is at stake here is life itself.
The lives of not just people, but organisms and living beings.

Whose voices we won’t always hear, whose perspectives don’t always get represented; but whose survival depends on the quality of the commitment you make to change your opinions, your attitudes and your way of everyday life.

- Ishita Chaudhry

Saturday, 10 November, 2007

Children for Change!

Please note that entry is free, but is only by RSVP. So if you are planning to join us, do let us know on the number given in the poster. Thank you!

Thursday, 8 November, 2007

Happy Diwali!

Wishing all our volunteers and their loved ones a very safe, happy and healthy Diwali this year!

From all of us here at The YP Foundation.

Thursday, 1 November, 2007

Young People Speak Out at the 4th APCRSHR




As young people attending the 4th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights, we strongly protest the ban against sex education recently imposed by 12 Indian State Governments.

The ban opposes the training tools used under Adolescent Education Programme developed by the Union Ministry of Education along with NACO and UNICEF.

This ban violates our right to information, right to education, right to health under the Indian Constitution and breaches India's international commitments under UN treaties and declarations.

Young people need comprehensive sexuality education so that they are empowered to make informed decisions relating to their bodies without fear, shame or guilt. Given the right information and skills, young people can negotiate high-risk situations more effectively and reduce their vulnerability to violence, HIV and substance abuse.

Arguments based on culture or morality, such as those made by the Chief Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh, are invalid and do not justify denying young people the information and skills they need and are entitled to.

Comprehensive sexuality education does not 'corrupt young minds' but that the lack of information leads young people to access false, incomplete and harmful information.

The YP Foundation supports this statement. Please check the following links for more information: