Churn

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By Malavika Pavamani:

Grace and Jerome have been two true ambassadors of 5th Space. These two young career counselors from the Bosco Institute in Jorhat, Assam in north east India joined the Ocean in a Drop learning journey (By Pravah) in March 2012. They expected that they would get a chance to discover more about who they are, as well as equip themselves with skills to work with young people in a more effective manner. The OID journey was indeed one that touched their lives in different ways.

This journey has been wonderful for me. It has really helped to discover the person inside me. I always had the interest of knowing myself in a deeper way but I did not know what it can do and how it can let us feel in life. Being a part of this journey helped me to understand its real value and importance.

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This journey has given me a piece of reality about my life which was very much needed at this point of time. It is such a huge relief keeping in touch with myself, appreciating for the good things in me and also putting more efforts in the areas in which I need to improve. ~ Grace

Had it not been for this retreat I would be satisfied with what I am. This workshop has taught me importance of self-reflection, self-realization and to share my feelings with others. This has helped me to build better relationships with the people around me. The confidence level has increased since I am now able to know my strength and weakness which add more value to the work. ~ Jerome

Grace and Jerome felt that their journey of self discovery and connecting with the self was made special as the workshop created for them a Space that was safe, collaborative, joyful, as well as open to experiment and innovation. Apart from the traditional Spaces of family, leisure, career, and friends they experienced a new dimension of 5th Space, an integral part of their life as young people.

Their role at Bosco Institute as career counselors involves working with students who engage with various communities to bring about change. Through their journey, they realized that to help the students function effectively, they should encourage the students to know themselves, their struggles and identity and then connect with the society around them. This led them to decide on conducting a three day workshop with these students to share the core learning from their 5th space journey.

In the process of creating and building an understanding of the 5th Space concept of youth development for the students, Grace and Jerome were exploring their own 5th Space too. Together with 35 students from 17 different communities, they looked within to see the depth that each of them has and how they want to take their own life forward. The session around the 5th Space made the students reflect on their own potential as agents of change.

A participant, Rebek L. Khiangte at the workshop said, “These three days’ workshop helped me to know myself better and what I want to be in the future. The workshop has given me the chance to know about others and rebuild my relationship with my classmates. I was also able to let go of my bad habits and nature which was a hindrance to my becoming a better human being.”

The most interesting experience for Grace and Jerome as facilitators of this journey for other young people was that the 5th Space was one that had organic renewal as a key principle. This meant that young people were by virtue of the diversity within them and their own uniqueness, constantly adding to the Space. The greatest challenge for them was a limited experience of the 5th Space themselves and thus limited knowledge about it. However with time they realised that it was a collective Space of sharing, trusting and creating. Thus the facilitators’ openness and trust in the process enriched the 5th Space. By the end of the workshop they were convinced that they would like to incorporate the concept of 5th Space’ in the career counseling programs with schools.

A special thanks to Grace and Jerome with support from Fr. Jerry, the Director of BI for having experienced the 5th Space, believing in and now creating ripples of it in the North East region. Since February 2013, a large graffiti board installed at the Bosco Institute serves as a 5th Space for students to express their ideas and experiences.

Photo Credit: Andrew.Beebe via Compfight cc

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By Sakhi Nitin-Anita:

While reading about the concept of the 5th space, what appealed to me most was the process of bringing the 5th space into the other four spaces of our lives. As an only child being raised by a pair of very radical and nonconformist parents, it has been interesting to realize how we have been incorporating the 5th space into our family. I call myself a ‘walk out’. ‘Walking out’ essentially is being able to critically examining the conventions of society and its institutions, and rejecting those that are oppressive or discriminating. It is also about ‘walking on’ to create more egalitarian and inclusive alternatives, be that in relationships, learning, or living.

In my family, it begins with our names. My parents have different surnames and I have a last names comprised of my parents’ first names. We want to ‘walk out’ of the two major systems of oppression in India — patriarchy and caste, and ‘walk on’ to reclaim ‘family’ as a group of individuals connected by love, trust, and shared values rather than a common-named unit headed by a patriarch male.

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This ‘walking out’ and ‘walking on’ extends to the other spaces too. In school, I was a ‘model’ student who scored good marks. But there came a point where I couldn’t help wondering what the point was to study all these subjects only for an examination, after which they would be forgotten. My father is a graduate in B.Sc Statistics but couldn’t help me in my calculations of the mean, median and mode! (Not doubting his intelligence!) To delve deeper into these questions, my parents and I decided that I would ‘walk-out’ (rather than ‘drop-out’) of school and begin my own journey of discovery and learning. In school, I was a passive receiver and memorizer of textbook knowledge. Out of school, I could take full responsibility of my learning, and thus, of my life!

What does taking ownership of one’s learning entail? In school, some higher authority who doesn’t even know me, decides what I should study and when I have studied ‘enough’ to be qualified with a certificate. But once I decide to take my learning into my own hands, I decide WHAT I want to learn, HOW I want to learn it and from WHOM. And I don’t need a degree or certificate to validate that I have learnt ‘enough’, as my learning will organically manifest in my work, in my life, and in who I am.

Taking ownership also means getting to know ourselves first, and learning according to our needs and contexts. It starts by asking a simple question, “What is it that I really care about?” It might be an idea, an art, or a skill, even a question we want to find the answer to. It might not be one thing, might be ten. Start from there. I believe all of us have the potential to do something great, as long as we’re truly passionate about it. Like Rancho says in 3 idiots, “Kamyabi ke peeche mat bhago. Kabil bano… Phir kamyabi to sali jhak maar ke peeche bhagegi.” (Don’t run after success, strive for excellence in whatever you do. Success will follow.)

Another important realization for me during the process of reclaiming my learning, which is also known as ‘self-designed learning,’ by the way, has been that everything is interconnected. Hence, we are not isolated individuals in this process but rather parts of a greater ‘self’ — the community, society, and the environment. Along with exploring and understanding ourselves then, another important aspect of learning is exploring and understanding the world — this larger self — and contextualizing our learning according to its needs.

Let me share a small story about my inner and outer journey of learning. I had gone to stay in a remote village in the forests of the Gadchiroli district in Eastern Maharashtra, as part of a youth social exposure programme that I was participating in. On the last day of my visit, I witnessed an act of domestic violence in the family I was staying with, which left me feeling utterly shocked and helpless. As I said, I had been raised in a gender non-discriminatory household and had never fully comprehended the exploitation that women in realities other than mine had to face. I realised that I was a woman too, and had I been born in different circumstances than my own, I, too, would have been subjected to this kind of oppression and violence just by virtue of being born with a female body. Trying to deal with and overcome this newly articulated fear, I resolved to learn about and contribute to a movement that was making an effort to change this attitude of discrimination and violence against women. And this too, started from looking within.

Beginning with our names, patriarchy and other forms of oppression have seeped into the core of our identities and relationships. My endeavour is to ‘walk out’ of them, and invite others to ‘walk on’ along with me.

Posted by Lata Jha in Churn

exams

By Lata Jha: 

I don’t know if we give this a thought too often. And regardless of whether we accept it or not, it’s true that people’s perception of us as children is determined to a large extent by how we fare in our academics. Which college and consequently, what placements we manage to get for ourselves.
I was a motivated student in school. And part of the diligence came from the acknowledgement and the appreciation the good scores, when they came, brought me. Academic success, not to be confused with academic brilliance, is a big deal in our country. The school and region toppers are always the ‘best, brightest kids’, which is a really strange presumption, if one thinks about it.

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While an important aspect of education and schooling is meeting and interacting with people, and often making friends for life, equally inevitable is the fact that one competes with those very people essentially in exams and later in life. I’m aware of how difficult it is for a ten year old kid who’s just begun to sense the competition around him, to deal with the fact that his best friend is getting better marks than him. Not just the teachers, but even his parents cite the friend as an example. It’s always about ‘You two spend so much time together. Why can’t you learn something from him?’ Which translates roughly into ‘Why can’t you get the kind of marks he does?’
So despite the fact that you share a lot else in common, you go home together, you spend your weekends at each other’s homes, you like the same video games, but you just don’t manage to get the same marks.

Life is strange and I now realize such things are inconsequential in the long run. But it’s hard for a teenager to accept and live with the idea that he’s just not as ‘bright’ as his best friend. It’s painful when your closest buddy is the class topper, the teacher’s pet, and you’re just part of the crowd. Or when he makes it to a top college and you don’t.

Especially since the exam season is on right now and very soon, it’ll be time for those traumatising entrances, students will find themselves measuring their chances and potential of ‘making it’ very often in terms of what their friends have done or will manage to do.

I have gone through the phase of wanting to be the best among my peers. And while even today, I don’t want to set mediocre standards for myself, I now believe in competing more with myself than with others. You gradually realize how much you can learn from your friends. They might be the same age as you but they can always provide so much inspiration.

With time, the first thing I’ve learnt is to take my course, not my marks, seriously. They say nothing about me. Secondly, and perhaps consequently, I’ve learnt to imbibe the best from my peers than wanting to outdo them.

Though I prefer to study by myself, a lot of great insights have come to me during interactions with friends, sometimes an hour before the exam. I’ve learnt styles of expression, methods of analysis, and sometimes, just ways of looking at things from them. So many times, they’ve been teachers, patiently explaining things to me that will help us both for exams whose results could determine a lot for us.

It’s often said that you’re born with family, but you choose your own friends. That you have the option to decide whether they are the right people to spend your time with. I completely disagree with that. I don’t think our youth weighs so many options before making friends. We might be rational, pragmatic people, but when it comes to friends, especially after a certain age, it’s heart over brain for most of us. They are people we can’t live without, and somewhere down the road, they become as much a support system as your family. Scattered in different parts of the country and world seeking education and jobs, you realize how ridiculous it was to have let barometers like scores and placements affect you. The bond is what matters, the lessons you learn from your time together is what you should carry home. That report card will rot away in some corner of the cupboard, but the memories will sustain themselves for a lifetime and even beyond.

Posted by Lata Jha in Churn

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By Lata Jha:

I’m sure quite a few of you would agree with me on this. For as long as we can remember, we wanted to grow up, do our own thing, be the kind person of person we wanted to be.
And yet, reality dawned upon me gradually, and not too gingerly when I realized doing my own thing meant earning my own cash. The world was hit by a recession when I was in class 10, but I think we, in India have been facing these issues for as long as one goes back in time.

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Agriculture has been our dominant economic activity and yet has been able to contribute only marginally to our economic growth in the last many decades. The youth that does manage to break away from roots and stereotypes faces severe unemployment. The foremost argument against this sad state of affairs, and one that we absolutely cannot refute, is that there are just too many of us competing for a very limited number of jobs. Precious little has been done to deal with this and either enhance resources or diversify them.

Our technological progress has only aggravated our dismal employment ratios. Machines have replaced men. And the result hasn’t been too good. India is not a country where we can comfortably let technology do the talking for us. Our labour is our pride. And even the most prudent among us know that it requires a great deal of creativity to operate even the most advanced and sophisticated machinery. On one hand, we haven’t been able to tap that potential fully and some of our brightest software engineers are twiddling their thumbs as managers at counters of cyber cafes. On the other, those still bound to tradition and norms, the ordinary B.A graduates haven’t found their place under the sun at all.

These issues can also be traced to our education system. Not most streams and courses are truly job or vocation oriented, and technical education is still not in vogue. Women are still outrageously underemployed and a lot of men too find it difficult to keep up with times and make much of the degrees they spend half their lives toiling for.

Unemployment today, has gone beyond just poverty and declining social prestige. It almost poses a threat of civil strife, where ‘sons of the soil’ take to the dagger and swords to protect their resources when ‘outsiders’ come to partake a share in their territory, on account of the lack, or absence of opportunities in their homelands.

The un-manifesto demands a government which realizes how these seemingly insurmountable problems boil down to the sole issue of unemployment. It may be an uphill task, but it’s certainly not impossible. Increasing pay scales, introducing innovations in small towns, better funding of employment exchange units, and the need to realize that public sector companies should not be left to languish; these are some of the simplest suggestions.

His problems are just as simple as the aam aadmi himself is. They require no revolution, unlike a lot of other things in the country. Just an immediate need to wake up and smell the coffee.

Photo Credit: Shubnum Gill via Compfight cc

Posted by Lata Jha in Churn

traffic police

By Lata Jha:

Most of us are harried and hassled when out on the roads. Bathing in the warm sunlight as you hum a beautiful tune, is the stuff that stories you read in primary school are made of. The impatient traffic out there is bad enough to take a toll on any of us.

However, more frazzled than any of us ordinary commuters are those sweaty, miserable looking creatures in a uniform completely inappropriate for the temperature, who seem truly unhappy with life. Life for our traffic policemen is really not easy. With plenty of inexperienced upstarts driving around in swanky cars and instances of road rage cropping up almost daily, they do have a lot on their plate.

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That doesn’t, however, take away from their responsibility. Instead of managing the crowd when it gets unruly and moving about to personally regulate traffic, a lot of the traffic personnel can be seen doing their own little performance on the streets. Stuti, a junior college going student, says they go berserk when they see a car with a red light, to the neglect of everything and everyone else. “Otherwise, they are least bothered about checking people without helmets or seat belts”.

Don’t mistake that for lack of vigilance, though. I’ve had personal experiences with some policemen who’d make it a point to show off and stop you for no fault of yours (or something minor which for the stud in the Mercedes would be an everyday thing) only because you’re a female with a meek-looking driver who doesn’t seem like he’d be able to stand up for you. Their subtlety is incredible though. Things will come to a point where you will offer to loosen the purse strings yourself.

In all the months that I’ve been in Delhi, not once have I seen a traffic policeman check guys when there are three of them on a bike. Or those simply misbehaving. They seem pretty hapless then. I’m not overlooking the fact that our traffic personnel work in such extreme situations and circumstances. But I think their job calls for a lot more vigilance. The un-manifesto would want the government to give up its chalta hai attitude when it comes to such everyday things. Corruption and complacence should not become so commonplace that you begin to make peace with them. Traffic is something that affects us all. You can’t always hope for a conscientious civilian to take the initiative and streamline things on the road like he does at home and work. It’s time we realized that some things are just meant to be governed.

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By Nitin V George:

Coalgate was stupefying enough for me to watch Kala Pathar – the Yash Chopra classic about coal miners – again. In the film, a catharsis seeking Amitabh Bachchan tells Rakhee, the resident mining town doctor, “Pain is my destiny and I can’t avoid it.”

Funny that: Pain and Destiny.

I started wondering if pain could be written into someone’s destiny, if some in this world were destined to be ‘sufferers’. And then how do you escape destiny if you were born into a war torn middle India Adivasi house? If prison would be your initiation into adulthood, if the women in your community would be seen as ‘easy’ hence drooled over, groped, raped; if dispossession would be the turnstile for your community’s entry into the media gaze.

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As a facilitator on the recently concluded Group Exposures to the Jan Satyagraha and Narmada Bachao Andolan, I had to suspend at times the fury that builds inside, at justice delayed, injustice, juris imprudence.

To wear a hat with mirrors which I could hold up to my volunteers to reflect, learn, get challenged and to find it in themselves to partake in that experience is great. To actually find a whole community of tribals whose traditional headgear is a hat with mirrors is blurring the line between metaphor and real life. Brilliant! And yet that’s what I found myself doing.

The Walk:
Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you…

“The government is for us? We don’t want to create any trouble. But what should be ours is not given to us; it is like they’ve forgotten us”

…If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

“Land is everything; it is our identity, our roots, our entire life, where will we go, if there is no land” 

Since Independence, generations of rural poor and marginalised farmers have been promised land reform. But what we see across India is the systematic enclosure of what was earlier a common terrain through reversal of land ceilings, mining, SEZs, deregulation of coastal areas.

The Jan Satyagraha was a master class in non-violent direct action where communities across India walked 350 kilometres to raise attention towards land as a key asset as well as the prevailing conditions of landlessness and poverty. [Read more]

I spent three days in the run up to the Jan Satyagraha wondering if we would walk. Having to spend an entire day inside a tent listening to Jyotiraditya, the Scindia of Gwalior, talk about his emancipation plan for some tribal regions by re-opening abandoned mines was hair-raising. The rural development minister Jairam Ramesh trying to worm his way out by appeasing, pleading, parenting the 100000 people to not jam the streets of Delhi was amusing.

So we walked. And we talked. I listened.

Through historical cities, mofussil towns, farmland, and the Chambal, sleeping by the highway, singing, dancing, getting to know how, 50,000 people walking to Delhi to whisper into the Sarkaar’s ears that their Raj was found, proved to be an uplifting experience.

I interacted with tribal communities across India, who by choosing to walk, were re-writing their destiny and overcoming the inheritance of loss by playing a different power game; the politics of reclaiming, of non-violence, of challenging hegemony by turning themselves in; the politics of Satyagraha.

The Jan Satyagraha community tempo-kitchens were preparing meals for about 60,000-70,000 people on the move. The grains and finances contributed by scores of villages: well-wishers over a period of a year. Every town we walked to, locals would shower us with flowers, cheers and warm wishes- instruments to fight a Parliament, a system.

And while one Jan Satyagraha inched towards Delhi fighting for land, another set of Satyagrahis had just done the opposite. They were standing, immovable from where they first stood; in neck deep waters.

The Submergence

For 17 days, the ousted of the Omkareshwar dam stood in the waters that threatened to surround their village Goghul Gaon demanding proper rehabilitation as well as a lowering of levels of the dam water. [Read More]

For some the Narmada Bachao Andolan is a failed movement. Perhaps from the metros, from a lens that seeks all sides of a story, perhaps for those who want objectivity. I believe in the Narmada. And the Andolan.

So this is what we did. We sat and ate with the community at the site of the Jan Satyagraha. Spoke to the ladies who braved the rising waters, blistered, bitten and proud about what it meant to defend their land. We went to other villages in the upstream and downstream of the Omkareshwar and Maheshwar dams. We visited Dharaji, an old pilgrim site now tottering amongst mud mounds, rising waters, police posts and the prized memory of a submerged sacred 50 foot waterfall.

“It [standing in the water] did hurt. But this pain is less than seeing my village submerge.”

A signboard marks the entry to Goghul Gaon — it bars any government official from entering the village without permission. I wondered how stopping entry of officials would have worked. After 17 days in the water, the Satyagraha in Khandwa was called off after the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government accepted all the demands. [Harda protesters were arrested and forcefully removed from the water].

Spending time in NBA has given me insights into how to leverage systemic positions to a campaign’s advantage. That to reclaim rights, one’s appetite for conflict needs to increase. That one needs to create a ‘living’ politics — that it arises from the needs and challenges of daily life, is easily understood and that everyone needs to share that understanding of strategies and tactics.

The Group Exposure to NBA has planted the seeds of a new politic in my young volunteers. To be able to see a movement for rights and justice struggle against the dominant narrative of India’s emergence as a superpower has not only inspired them to look beyond their own sometimes self limiting stories of who they are, but what they can achieve and who they can become. They have decided to raise awareness about the village of Dharaji which will be under submergence soon and have formed a group – V for Dharaji. Resistance comes in different sizes and age groups.

Walking the jourmey from Self to Society

By Pooja Malhotra:

As Osho says, “The whole process of society is a kind of hypnosis; it conditions you to be this or that.”

Traditionally young people’s lives revolve around family, friends, career and leisure — the four spaces that make up their universe. They exist in their little cocoons and are distraught to find themselves; struggling to find answers to questions like ‘Who am I’, “What is the purpose of my life’….

Ayesha's In-Turn-Ship Journey

On the same note, Ayesha Adalakha, a student of Philosophy Honors, St. Stephens College, Delhi University says, “Till early December, 2012, I was in utter confusion. I felt completely lost in terms of what I was doing, what I wanted to do, who I used to be, who I had become and who I wanted to be. I had been told multiple times that I won’t find absolute answers anywhere. Studying philosophy in college had only strengthened my belief that nobody really knew what our purpose here was. This broke my spirit to such an extent that I didn’t find meaning or joy in anything I did. I didn’t feel engaged with my work, with my friends, not even with myself. This distance, though comforting, was pushing me into a passive state. But the energy, passion and drive I was accustomed to before this wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what. This discord hampered my decision making ability. Everything was slipping out of my hands. I was tolerating things I wouldn’t earlier, I was behaving like a character from someone else’s book, I wasn’t making any efforts to prioritize my needs, I was losing my temper all the time which made me melancholic, I was letting insignificant things become huge problems, I wasn’t thinking or feeling and was turning into exactly what I hated. I needed to stop. I needed a pause. I needed to smile!”

Is it possible for young people to expand their horizon and come out of their little cocoons and see the world from a broader perspective? Can young people develop a psycho social world view, which not only facilitates their self exploration but also enriches their relationships in the other four spaces?
The answer lies in creating a 5th Space — a space which augments their world view beyond the typical four space, beyond the received wisdom…beyond the ‘hypnosis’…

Ayesha found her answers in SMILE (Students Mobilization Initiative for Learning through Exposure), a national program which was started by the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGCSS) and supported by Misereor. The Delhi Chapter of SMILE is being successfully conducted by Pravah, as a part of its initiatives to create and develop 5th Space for young people. The first step to embark on the SMILE journey is-Inward Bound. It invites campus youth to embark on an exciting process of self exploration during which they get to know themselves better, confront and accept their multiple identities and find ways to connect with the larger world. Inward bound tents are set up on different campuses and serve as magnets attracting students from varied backgrounds to begin their journey of participation.

Volunteers at work ...collecting and piling up salt..near Manthan , Rajasthan during the 4th Orientation Camp for SMILE Inturnships

The SMILE in-turn-ship seemed to cater to my needs to the tee- To do something worthwhile, while learning about yourself. It seemed just like the sort of adventure that would break this cycle. Knowing that earlier I would never give up on such an opportunity, further plummeted my resolve to go for this- to remind myself of what I used to love. Little did I know that I would get so much out of this adventure”, Ayesha adds.

The next step in the SMILE journey involves inviting young people to lead and co-facilitate monthly youth addas, wherein young people meet and interact with each other, explore new avenues, organize events, exchange ideas and have fun. These experiences enable young people to begin to look at conflicts in their lives positively and at a deeper level, connect their learning to larger social conflicts in society. Once young people have travelled from ‘Me’ to ‘We’, its time they choose exposure opportunities with rural, hinterland communities and organizations or movements as well as NGOs.

As a part of her SMILE in-turn-ship program, Ayesha joined Hum Kisaan sangathan, a movement started in a small village near Jhiri, Jhalawar District, Rajasthan. Her project primarily revolved around teaching children – English, history, Hindi and science classes. She also conducted yoga and dance classes and choreographed a piece on Vande Mataram. She also got an exposure to the handloom business, worked the handloom, and organized their produce and designed garments and accessories with the cloth that would be sold in cities. Further, she helped the women with sanitation and added to their collection of embroidery designs.

Describing her journey, Ayesha says, “My journey had everything a fantastic adventure should. Right from when I saw my fellow Smilers at the bus station to when I got back home. When I met the group as we proceeded to the Orientation Camp before SMILE, at the bus depot, I knew I was in for something completely new. Our group was hugely varied in every sense you can imagine.”

Initially, Ayesha felt that she wasn’t there to make friends. She wanted to be alone, do a little thinking, and sit in a corner with coffee….But throughout the camp she had to work together with her group. She felt a little constrained because couldn’t communicate in English since a lot of her mates weren’t very comfortable with it; she had no choice but to translate everything in Hindi. At first, she found this to be frustratingly hard because she was unable to find the perfect words… but it got better with practice. In fact, she soon realized that just a change in language helped her to understand her feelings at a much deeper level.

Sharing her experience with other students in the group Ayesha says, “All the sessions conducted at the Orientation Camp before SMILE were amazing. The others in the group didn’t take them as seriously, which angered me at times, but I learnt to make me it special for myself. Every discussion, every talk, every exercise gave me something to think about. Although I had already read of a lot of what was being said, I still managed to extract new levels of meaning from everything that was being conveyed. When everyone shared their experiences and learning from life, it not only created an environment of trust and understanding, but it also helped me feel like I wasn’t the only one with demons in my head and skeletons in my closet. It made me feel slightly more normal and hugely grateful for my situation in comparison to everyone else’s.”

Her search for her SMILE was not exactly like what she had expected, yet it was the beginning of finding the answers she was looking for. “What I expected and what I got wasn’t entirely in sync. The first few days were all about getting used to the environment. I met so many children that I had to consciously make mental tabs for their names. The people I met and the conversations I had were enlightening. They were not at all like the stories or movies; they were not at all like the archetypes I had in my head. They were far from hostile. Everyone was as intrigued as I was; they were incredibly inviting and had treasure chests of experiences to draw from. One of the first conversations I had was with a man called Gopal who worked in the handloom business. He asked me what the meaning of my name was, and I explained to him that it meant paradise in Persian. He then asked me if I was Muslim. That got us talking about religion and faith. During the course of this conversation, Gopal said some of things that we talk about in my philosophy class in college! I expected ‘everyone’ to be orthodox and biased in terms of caste, class and faith, but he said some unbelievably profound things. He said a man is what he thinks (Descartes), he said that religion was only a way of life and God was everywhere (Kabir), he said free will and destiny go together and you are what you make of your circumstances. He said superstitions were a fatalist’s explanation to failure and ascribing fate to situations was only ONE way of explaining the unexplained. He also said that facts were like mathematical truths- those that would be valid irrespective of time and space (Leibniz) I remember this so explicitly because these are some of the conclusions that I arrived at after studying some the greatest thinkers- out of books. And here was a man who hadn’t even heard of these thinkers and had arrived to similar conclusions by learning from life”, she says.

Ayesha was now looking at things from a fresh perspective.

“This is exactly what Pravah has thrown us into- a reminder of an experience that all that we needed to know, and all that there was to know could be learnt in the best way possible from Life itself. The rest of the internship was spent with this knowledge. I was 19 when I left for the internship, spent my birthday in the internship itself and came back a 20 year old. The internship addressed everything – family, education, drugs, relationships, friends and the self. Pravah had taught me about learning from life, I automatically went about experimenting with the tools I had now. I put words to practice and made every action count.

I have never felt so full of life. I was in complete awareness of what I was doing, how I was feeling and why I was feeling it. It was refreshingly free and gave me immense happiness. I felt like I was in a bubble of special energy that I never wanted to burst and would therefore have to protect.

Only then did I realize that this very bubble that was referred to as the 5th Space”, she says.

In conclusion, having a 5th space other than the traditional four spaces doesn’t take away… but only GIVES. The 5th space, though beautiful in itself is like the oil that lubricates between the other four spaces and keeps the other four independent spaces run smoothly too.

“In making others smile, I got my smile back. The line between the in-turn-ship and post in-turn-ship blurred and today I can proudly say that for me, the other four spaces are thriving only because of this new space that was created”, she adds.

Life is not qualified by speaking fluent English or wearing branded clothes or leading a rich lifestyle; it is in fact measured by the number of faces who smile when they hear your name!

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By Pooja Malhotra:

In the land where the idols of Durga (the Goddess of Shakti), Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge) are worshipped, women are often violated and ripped off their modesty & self respect. In the land where prominent politicos such as Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit hold key positions of power, there are women who feel powerless while commuting by public transport. In the land where women like Jayalalitha and Mayawati, are placed on pedestals and worshipped like Goddesses, there are thousands of women who suffer silently as they battle sexual assault, eve-teasing, verbal abuse and more. Double standards and gender bias in society is so appalling that there is an inherent need to create an ‘unmanifesto’- a voice which conveys what needs to stop, what needs to start, what needs to change. Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy that has somehow become an unwanted part of our existence.

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A 23 year old brave young girl fought to the finish, after the gruesome sexual assault on the fateful night of 16th December, 2012, but a million aspirations died when she breathed her last. It could’ve been me/my sister/my daughter/my wife…these thoughts generated mass grief, public outrage, anger and frustration. But look at the irony — women were groped while protesting against sexual crime, they were inappropriately touched while rallying for women’s safety, young girls heard lewd comments as they marched with candles in their hands to sensitize people towards a safer city. Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy.

Taking advantage of the recent public demand to put an end to crime against women, political parties are bound to make ‘false’ promises on this serious issue. Unlike their manifestos of the past (2009 and earlier) where ‘commitment to women’s safety’ was never addressed, it is bound to be in the core agenda in 2014 and they’ll try their best to add political colour to it. The 2009 manifesto of a leading national party has an entire section titled “Fear shall no longer stalk this land”, but ironically, mentions nothing against sexual violence. The manifesto pledges ‘security, dignity and prosperity’ for each and every citizen but women’s safety doesn’t come into the picture at all. Well, my question is- even if they amend their manifestos and include women’s safety issues, would real action manifest? Will our cities really become safer? Will mindsets change? Will the prejudice against women vanish? Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy.

Bollywood numbers and item songs only add to the misery…this may sound irrelevant, but at a deeper level, the coming in of (aayi) chikni chameli or Sheila ki jawani or munni ka badnaam hona definitely has a deleterious effect on a person’s psyche. The vulgar lyrics somehow tend to stick to their minds (even in the absence of ‘fevicol’) promoting lustful desires and fueling inappropriate behaviour. Add to this ‘a bottle of desi’ or ‘hookah bar’ and you don’t even realize but the ‘balma’ is already there to ‘douse the fire’. So what does the young girl in ‘high heels’ do to escape the ‘shikari’ stalking her? The coping strategies include ignoring, avoiding eye contact, dressing up conservatively, going out only during ‘safe’ daylight hours and last but not the least, being accompanied by a trusted male member. We fend off all offense as if we are not offended; we bury the anger deep within us, endure the agony and suffer silently. Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy.

In the past few weeks, the police have taken ‘baby steps’, like activating helpline numbers and setting up fast track courts, to ensure that offenders are brought to the book, but these are tiny pills being popped in to cure a disease that has grown to epidemic proportions. The key lies in ‘prevention is better than cure’. It is high time we start making a concerted, collective effort towards a safer society. It’s high time the Durga in all of us reincarnates as Kali and conquers the evil. It’s high time we create our ‘unmanifesto’!

But is there a way to create our ‘unmanifesto’? Is there a way in which young people can be given the experience of democracy early in their life to prepare them?

What can we do to develop them as responsible participants in democracy?

Can upcoming elections be seen as a space or young people to engage meaningfully and build themselves while engaging in nation building?

How can we make this happen? We are happy to invite you on behalf of ComMutiny – the Youth Collective and Pravah for Democracy Demo: youth create an un-manifesto for 2013-14 elections.

The event being held on 23rd February, 2013, Saturday from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Vishwa Yuva Kendra and is aimed at bringing together facilitators/educationalists/professionals working with young people to bring their experiences and explore these themes. This event is a culmination of 12 similar events on youth development that have been held across 7 states in collaboration with our NGO partners over the last 2 months.

Many of us have been perfectly conditioned to suffer silently and continue to live in this submissive state. Gender bias is only a part of the big picture…there’s a huge plethora of issues – corruption, environment, poverty, unemployment — that infuriate us and should be a part of our ‘unmanifesto’. Come…let’s create history!

This article is a part of the 5th space series on Youth Ki Awaaz. 5th Space is an initiative to facilitate young people to expand beyond the typical 4 spaces of career-edu, family, friends and leisure by exploring the 5th space, a journey from self to society and back.

Photo Credit: Please! Don’t Smile. via Compfight cc

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