By Pooja Malhotra:
Commutiny – the Youth collective has been facilitating an online and offline campaign exploring the realities of how dominant gender norms create restrictive situations in our lives. Called MustBol, the campaign is a call to young people to examine violence in their lives and speak out against it. To recognize it, to talk about it and to address it.
Soumya Tejas, an active volunteer and member of the core group which co-leads MustBol, feels that the campaign has been successfully exploring and leveraging the power of social media for social change. Though it came as a shock to people around her, Soumya quit her job as a software engineer at HCL to join MustBol. Defying all norms, she has set a new stage for herself and MustBol has been the wind below her wings. She shares that she loves being a part of this collaborative and co creative space and has recently shot a short film titled ‘In The name of Love’. In a tête-à-tête with Pooja Malhotra, Soumya Tejas talks about her journey, her views and concerns, her experiences and her latest film.
PM: What is it that inspired you to be a part of the ‘Must Bol’ campaign?
ST: It was the harm our society and its values had been doing to my friends which stirred me the most. I always wanted to do something but never understood how. Then I came across the MustBol Campaign and realized that it was looking for volunteers. I simply jumped into it…didn’t even give it second thoughts before applying…and since then, there has been no looking back!
PM: Please share in detail about your journey as a MustBol volunteer.
ST: I was working as a Software Engineer when I first dropped in for a meet-up for MustBol volunteering. I have always been pretty ‘anti-system’. I hadn’t realized how I became a part of what I was against and left my passion somewhere behind.
I chose to drop my job, be a part of this journey, and simultaneously explore life and what I want to do with it.
It became a circle of great trust and self-exploration for me, especially with activities like ‘Identity mapping‘ and ‘Get Real’ at the initial stages. More than being able to open up, it was the genuine intention to deeply look into personal/individual experiences these people had had, that really attached me to this campaign. We were a group of around 30 people, 33 including our facilitators, who jot-down a list of agreements like – being non-judgmental, understanding, trusting confidentiality – for all the conversations, we would have under the MustBol umbrella.
It was beautiful to see how I was talking about things that I had earlier started hiding/stop-from-expressing to the circle that has been closest to me – my friends.
More than talking about others’ and their issues, it became a journey on talking about ‘ourselves’ and how ‘I connect to issues’.
After spending a good amount of time in exploring aspects like – power, sexuality, love relationships, we sat down and zeroed in on the issues that we want to talk about to people in our MustBol journey…issues that we could really connect with.
I had a personal connection with all the themes that we chose for our campaign. These were –
– Violence in Intimate Relationships
– Bystander intervention in sexual harassment at public places
– Communication with parents around issues of GBV (Gender-Based Violence).
PM: So how did the idea of ‘Film making’ come up?
ST: I was actively involved in the campaign and at the same time, I was also in contact with one of my friends, who was feeling a lot of pressure from her partner to exchange photographs that she did not want to. I could relate to her helplessness as well as feel the lack of places where people could talk about such things and take a stand around issues of violence/harassment in intimate relationships.
There was a need to break the taboo – where women could easily talk about their desires, their problems, and also take leadership in tackling the same. I felt that a lot of people will be able to connect to this.
And so we also started exploring ‘Film-making‘ at Must Bol. It came across to me as a very powerful tool with which we can communicate with and reach out to the public. My first film titled ‘In the name of Love’ revolves around this pressure faced by women in intimate relationships to exchange their nude photographs/videos. I, along with six other team members, made this short film wherein we wanted to convey that when you force your partner to do something that they are uncomfortable with, it is ‘violence’. I think it is very important to talk about that thin line which separates love from violence. While all this happened, film-making also clicked to me as something I felt very passionate about; adding to the content I felt while campaigning with MustBol.
PM: What else are you doing to spread the message further?
ST: Must Bol has been going to different colleges to talk about violence in intimate relationships and one of the most common question that has come out is – “How do you understand whether it is love or it has become abuse?“…. A question with which probably all of us can connect.
PM: Tell us how all this has affected you as a person.
ST: In the initial days of my college, I was very good with my verbal-communication, public dialogue, and was taking lead with a lot of things. Then I had this series of events in my life and there was a huge depression phase. With it I lost my interest, my self confidence, and that ‘charisma’ to speak out.
At MustBol when I started participating in various ‘on-ground’ activities, wherein I had to go to different places and actually speak to people and also take on active leadership; I took it as an opportunity to fight with myself and be the same person I was then. There have been instances when I did it well, other instances where I failed badly but I think if I keep trying things will eventually get better and better… The battle is still on but I think it would have been very difficult, in fact next to impossible for me to even think of it if MustBol wouldn’t have happened.
PM: How have you lived 5th space?
ST: MustBol has been that 5th space for me where I meet up with other members and can just talk about things, express myself without the sense of being judged.
Though I have been able to live a lot of it in my peer group, where I actually share a judgment-free and understanding bonding with my friends, but one difference which was very important to me was – friends tend to get biased towards you at times, because they have this soft corner for you, but in my 5th space, the views and responses were unbiased. This really helped me grow as I could realize where I was going wrong or needed to rectify myself.
In a campaign where we talk about Gender-Based Violence issues with other people, I think it is very important to first be sorted out with them in our lives. I cannot imagine how I could have done that if I wouldn’t have been living the 5th space at MustBol.
It was beautiful to look inside ourselves collectively, understand the self plus the society in a better manner, and change myself where needed.
PM: Further, how do you think we can create 5th space among family and friends?
ST: I think what we need most importantly is good communication. It all starts there.
Once we start communicating instead of hiding/suppressing how we feel about things like – what bothers me or wish things were the other way, we give the space to the other person to be able to understand and connect with us better.
It also somewhere encourages the other person to share the same with us. This is how I believe we can include a 5th space into our family and friend circles. It encourages trust in a fun, joyful, transformatory way. The culture of the 5th Space attracts young people by encouraging trust and openness and by creating opportunities for young people to take on leadership roles, so they can experiment without fear, make mistakes, and learn in the presence of experienced facilitators and supportive peers.