As a feminist and the coordinator of the Women’s Development Cell (WDC) of Lady Shri Ram College, questioning gender norms and writing long-form rants about unequal rules and regressive laws has almost become a part of my routine. Despite multiple and erratic Facebook comment wars and after umpteen discouraging conversations, I have managed to keep despair at bay by arming myself with peace and positivity derived from my involvement with the WDC and One Billion Rising. But time and again, there was a sense of distance and inadequacy which took over whenever I ‘unfriended’ any old Facebook friend over their blatant sexism, or when I criticised the Surrogacy Bill without ever having met a surrogate mother. In times like these, I knew I had to delve deeper into my own arguments, understanding all aspects of a problem, and coming up with its solutions. Only by overcoming these personal barriers could I hope to do full justice to the larger movements I have mentioned above. That’s when Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC) came to my rescue.
YLAC is an enterprise committed to enabling curious young minds to become harbingers of change through a comprehensive outlook towards law, governance, society, and the ground realities of our country. Joining their ‘Policy in Action Program’, I was able to juggle with an unmatched variety of subjects and was able to look at social issues under an entirely new light. The sheer diversity of the classroom was absolutely astounding with no two people having an identical academic and professional story to tell. The conversations over tea could range from the yoga experiences of a lawyer in the making to the mystique of Satan in “Paradise Lost”.
Is there more to the parliament than just subsidised samosas? Are all MPs school dropouts with nothing better to do than trying to run the country? Can I, as a student who has strong opinions backed by solution oriented resolutions do anything to change how my country functions? With positivist answers to these questions and more, I gradually uncovered what YLAC really was: a revolutionary engagement and learning platform allowing students and young professionals to step out of their shells and discover the pragmatics of their opinions and professional partaking.
Right from brushing up my knowledge of secondary school political science to enabling me to meticulously craft a real policy brief, their programme served as a brilliant introduction to the world of public policy in general and Indian legal and political methodology in particular. Through minutely planned and strikingly executed sessions, the YLAC team ensured that each candidate derived maximum benefit even within the limited time frame.
As a student of English literature, a gender activist and most of all, an opinionated young individual, I had been looking to engage with the practicalities of Indian policy for quite some time. Though my motive behind applying for this programme was limited to understanding the political and legal systems, our team’s project on the Surrogacy Bill greatly corroborated my understanding of the healthcare industry and the Indian social fabric as well. I was delighted to see how seamlessly it fitted into my work on gender. It made me realise how much a basic comprehension of the legal, political, and social proceedings through public policy could help the youth to channelise its thoughts and opinions and create real change in how things work. The fact that each team part of the programme was working directly under MP offices was a delectable icing on the cake, allowing us direct access to the workings of the system.
Working in a team had never been something I was comfortable with but this collaboration has changed that forever. With two engineering professionals, a political science student, and I constituting the team, the heterogeneity of the squad added to instead of taking away from the efficiency from our work. In fact, it was heartwarming to see the men in the team comprehending with analytic fervour the gendered nuances inherently present in the topic. Such an interaction ensured that we learnt as much from each other as we did from the project assigned. Over countless cups of chai and incessant riots of laughter, our team managed to come up with a near perfect policy brief.
While all projects rolled on at their steady pace, the weekend teaching sessions always brought in a new angle to whatever we were doing. With workshops on everything from the structures of Indian governance to engaging a varied audience through compelling writing, the sessions were full of ideas and information waiting to be explored. On the final day of the programme, a guest address by Mr Gaurav Gogoi (MP, Lok Sabha) was organised which greatly changed everybody’s perception of the internal happenings in the parliament and acquainted us with the amount of research and intelligence that our elected representatives actually invest in.
Under the aegis of committed and distinguished facilitators straight out of Harvard and Oxford putting their distinctive education to good use, a month spent with the YLAC team while grappling with the intricacies of the Indian legal and political setup was indeed an unprecedented leap into new horizons.