When the Godhra Riots happened, the realization that it could take an event as horrific as the victimization of an entire community of people to move us into doing something more than to sit, pontificate and posture in the comfort of our own homes stunned me. This wasn’t first time we had known or witnessed riots; we weren’t the first generation of young people in the world to the address the aftermath that violence, stigma, prejudice and discrimination leave. Yet we joined the ranks of those who have remained silent to these injustices over the years, whose silence has often been misconstrued as submission, acceptance or disinterest. Many of us chose to disengage, without really ever considering the alternatives as a choice.
As a young woman, I realized that I was powerless and that I was not alone. Would this be the legacy that we left for future generations to come? That my generation stands and watches silently as people lose their lives? Our curiosity in wanting to challenge the education we had received within the four walls of a classroom and applying it outside to life, began a journey that has brought all of us to where we are today. That year, that month, was the beginning of a series of sparks that lit a fire in me, that changed irrevocably, the direction of where my life was headed. I began to challenge the points of intersectionality in my multiple identities, the labels I had adopted at birth and had never questioned since: my gender, ethnicity, identity, privilege, nationality, sexuality and religion.
I live and work in a society where the complexities of patriarchy, religion, culture and differing economic and social lifestyles have a strong role in their authority, liberating or constricting the role that young people can play in society. This increasingly defines and limits the framework in which young people can explore, challenge and identify potential within themselves. Personally, it’s really challenging doing this work as a young woman at times, where both parts are hard – being a young person and being a woman. India is such a strongly male dominated leadership space, I’ve become used to being in rooms with meetings of mostly men.
There is an inherent discrimination present in society against women, in particular young women, and assumptions about what their role should be in the working world. Just like the tax officer who gave us our exemption license, and then asked me when I was getting married, since it was such a good thing that ‘ladies did charity work.’ Or the expectation that I would complete my education, work for a few years, eventually get married and have children and not want to deviate from that pattern. The idea that generations of young women do not believe they have potential, and that their talent and opportunity will never be given a chance, is a reality that must be challenged.
When I began this work, people in my community told me at every stage , that change wasn’t possible and that this wasn’t my path. Women in own family and community told me, as a girl to be ‘careful’, as women entrepreneurs weren’t considered ‘good marriage material.’ They didn’t make good wives. I was told that I should focus on growing up, finding a husband and having children. Living in a tremendously strong patriarchal society, my parents and my brother had to defend my decision to many people, but they stood by me and their strength gave me the unusual freedom to challenge the societal boundaries of being a girl.
I’ve learnt over the years though, to not accept such statements silently and to actively challenge them. As a young feminist, I am part of a much larger movement that works towards the empowerment of young people, with a specific emphasis on the rights of women and girls. Finding my identity in feminism and the courage to be myself is a big part of what motivates me.
I wanted to build an enabling environment that provided opportunities for young people to access information and services that enable and promote their rights. I wanted to provide support to ‘non mainstream’ issues as well, such as artist rights. The arts have never traditionally been considered to be part of the ‘development paradigm’ and as a musician who came to the Human Rights world of work; I felt strongly that the arts and artist rights are a cause in of themselves and not simply a means to an end. When we structured TYPF, we ensured that we had a division dedicated to look at the need to train artists to build livelihoods and provide them with platforms to exhibit and explore cutting edge work within the arts, with specific regard to the absence of an integrated and diverse music education and arts programme in India.
Earlier this year, I received a request from an 18 year-old young woman, as I very often do, to find a safe and affordable health clinic that could provide her with the safe abortion services she needed. She called me at 3am, her parents had asked her to leave their home, as they were embarrassed of an unwanted pregnancy. It took us half the night to find her the services and support she needed and I will never forget how upset, scared and worried she was. Young people, including young, unmarried girls, do not have access to critical support systems that address their health but rather are judged and stigmatized. Furthermore, the majority of young boys and men in our generation are brought up to associate and internalize ideas of masculinity associated with patriarchy and violence. Within our homes I felt, we weren’t challenging these values.
I grew up with very little information on my sexuality, body or right to health, despite being a privileged young person. No one ever taught me that women have the right to experience pleasure. We are always taught about our sexuality and bodies with fear, as if it is a disease and almost never, as a right that can be celebrated. This must change. If young people are trusted, given accurate information about their bodies and encouraged to make informed decisions, they can be empowered to protect themselves and support their peers.
It is in this work, that I have recognized the growing challenges and the need to create sustainable dialogues and bridges between people. As a young person growing up in an urban city like Delhi, I was curious to understand why young people did not take the steps necessary and stand up for issues they felt strongly about. Was it systematic indifference, cynicism, a lack of responsibility or simply not knowing how to get things done how were restricting movements and communities of young people from ‘taking the plunge’ and standing up for issues they felt deeply about or working with one another. I realized that it wasn’t as simple as that.
There are people who care, but don’t have the resources they need to be able to stand up and speak out. We are a factionalized generation of young people who aren’t speaking to each other as much as we should. For many of us, there isn’t as much acceptance of identity and diversity, or challenging power or privilege, as there should be. As we’ve discovered, there are multiple movements of work happening across the world and within our own country, that most of us would like to be connected to, but aren’t.
There is a time when everyone realizes that they need to stand up for what they believe in. It is about recognizing what ignites passion within you, in a manner that nothing else does, and for me that is why everything continues. For young people across the world today, global and local approaches to addressing issues increasingly need to be synchronized; there is a need for stronger understanding and ability to negotiate the complexities of differences, which requires us to work together.
This begins by creating platforms and accessing shared knowledge where people can learn more about each other and build a common language, where we can agree to disagree and still provide equity, respect and equality. I refuse to believe that in my lifetime, this is a utopian concept.
Founder, August 2002