In Focus 19th February, 2015

Whose mindsets are we transforming, anyway?.

When we work on issues of violence against women, we can’t always escape the ‘us and them’ mentality. Us – the privileged, independent city-dwellers, and them – the denied-their-rights oppressed. It’s not often that we realise we’re the same people – the oppression we only hear about is the same one we face, and the independence we’re so proud of is no more than what the people in the communities work with have.

Sometimes it takes a real world experience to bust these myths.

The Mission Hazaar youth festivals were held in Jhajjar and Panipat in the first week of February. Together, they reached out to nearly 5000 students – both boys and girls – compelling them to confront the reality of gender-based discrimination and the lack of women around them as a result.

Realisation is always more effective than coercion. That’s why the activities during the festival were so effective at driving home the point that gender-based discrimination leads is all pervasive and all around us. Through the nagadaperformance, through our street play, through a magic show, and through roti making competitions.

But perhaps the real eye-opener for all of us was the interaction with the students themselves. During a theatre of the oppressed style street play, audience members come up to the stage and respond to a dominating father who denies his daughter the freedom he grants his son, forcing her to cook breakfast at the expense of her classes, demanding that she stay home after she reported being sexually harassed on her way back from college, and pushing her into marriage when she’s not ready. The conviction of the girls who came up to the stage defend their fictional (?) selves is enough to set most of us straight – how many of us can claim to have fought our battles with the same confidence and fearlessness? How many are as articulate when talking about an issue as complex and sensitive as harassment?

We hold events to reach out to communities in our target areas and transform hearts and minds. But who could know that those hearts and minds are also our own?

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