Creative Responses on Dalit Feminism By Teenagers: Part 2 of 3

This is one of the microadvocacy projects by the teen fellows of Orikalankini’s 13 week teen fellowship. Each week the teens meet an activist(Anannya G Madonna, Abirami Jotheeswaran and Priyadharshini) from a marginalised group to hear from them and express or apply their learnings in an art form. Applications for this is free but rigorous. The fellowship opens in June every year. Please follow orikalankini on facebook and instagram to be updated.

For this assignment, each fellow had to research questions for and have a telephonic interview with a Dalit feminist. We also had an activist speak to them and answer their questions for an hour. They have expressed their learnings in various forms.

  1. Diya

2. Khushi

3. Tenzin

I got to interview dalit feminist Priyadharsini.
And I felt that it doesn’t really matter whatever the roots you belong to but the thing that matters is you work hard yourself and you need to beautify yourself just like this lotus flower whose root is dipped in mud but still manages to shine out.

Artist Bios

I am Diya, I shine when I use my passion to read and write to create a world where people know their potential and have no resentment towards each other irrespective of their diversity.
You can reach me through instagram – @blithesquesttoread and my blog – diyaguptamyself.wordpress.com

I’m Khushi Patel an 18 aged teen. Presently working on myself in respect to understand the world out there a bit better.
I shine when I use my deep sense of emotions and calm, gentle way of expression to connect, galvanize, nurture people in order to create a safer place in the world for women and children with awareness about sex education and sexual abuse.
You could connect me via Instagram my username Id is @khwaab_khushi
Or mail which is beingkhushipatel@gmail.com

Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-school-children-2?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=fundraisers-title&mlp_referrer_id=3649930

I am Tenzin Noryang and i shine when i use my creativity and hardwork to support and motivate people in order to make earth a safe place for everyone.

Fundraiser for the work I do : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-school-children-2?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=fundraisers-title&mlp_referrer_id=3649930

Creative Responses on Dalit Feminism By Teenagers: Part 1 of 3

This is one of the microadvocacy projects by the teen fellows of Orikalankini’s 13 week teen fellowship. Each week the teens meet an activist(Anannya G Madonna and Abirami Jotheeswaran) from a marginalised group to hear from them and express or apply their learnings in an art form. Applications for this is free but rigorous. The fellowship opens in June every year. Please follow orikalankini on facebook and instagram to be updated .

For this assignment, each fellow had to research questions for and have a telephonic interview with a Dalit feminist. We also had an activist speak to them and answer their questions for an hour. They have expressed their learnings in various forms.

  1. By Shwethambari:

2. By Ummul:

The session with Ananya maam(Anannya G Madonna) and the call interview with Abirami maam(Abirami Jotheeswaran) was really insightful and it helped me to understand more about Dalit feminism. I learned how patriarchy is the basis for the discrimination, sexual abuse and assault , the lack of opportunities etc. So from this session and interview I learned that it’s important to  learn about Dalit feminism to be a better ally and only if we educate ourselves we can help others too.I also learned how our privileges can make us negligent and blind to the injustice which is happening around us .So it’s important to acknowledge our privileges through which we can help others .My artwork symbolizes how we should smash patriarchy, its values , its beliefs and its stereotypes and by which we can empower each and every person.

3. By Zoya:

4. By Sanmyukta:

Pass the mic

The complex structures of hierarchical casteism, patriarchy and oppression.

The system benefitting the savarna men.

How can we stand and watch in silence,

As casteism and patriarchy is engulfing the society.

How can we stand and pretend that everything is okay,

As our growing ignorance lets someone get away with oppression?

To what extent are we willing to suppress in order to uphold our privileges?

Equal.

“Being Equal” is what we say.

Is being equal about

what we see on the mainstream social media?

Or is there more?

Is being equal about

Supporting the rights of the ones only I care about?

Or is there more?

Is being equal about

uplifting a few?

Or is there more?

Is being equal about

Just talking?

Or is there more?

Isn’t being equal about

Supporting the ones that need it the most?

Isn’t being equal about

Being anti-patriarchal?

Isn’t being equal about

Being anti-sexist?

Being anti-homophobic?

Being anti-racist?

Being anti-casteist?

We can only be anti-casteist

If we hold safe spaces.

Create policies.

Call out casteism.

And most importantly

Pass the mic!

5. By Mira:

Artist Bios

I am Shwethambari. I shine when i use my creative skills and politeness to connect and motivate people in order to develop a better conscience, and for them to realize their power to create change.

Fundraiser for the work I do : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-queer-and-dalit-folx?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=email-campaign&mlp_referrer_id=3660706

I am Ummul , I shine when I use my passion to read and my collaborative skills to create a world where people accept and embrace each other for who they are and help eachother and support eachother when a person suffers from any type of mental illness. Instagram Id:ummul_waheedha18

I am Zoya, and I shine when I use my humor and insightfulness to make people understand the importance of saving our wildlife and help them bond with each other while saving our earth!

Hello! I am Sanmyukta Shinde from Mumbai! I shine when I use my passion, kindness and perseverance to create, engage and inspire in order to create safe spaces and empower women!

Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-abuse-victims-get-legal-services-to-fight-their-battles?utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=fundraisers-title&mlp_referrer_id=3666504

I’m Mira, a grade 12 student who is interested to see a non judgemental society. I shine when i use my helpfulness and silence to support and grow with people in order to live peacefully with each other. Contact me on instagram, damn_i_cant_find_a_username and email, smiramantrini@gmail.com. Fundraiser for the work I do: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-queer-and-dalit-folx?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=email-campaign&mlp_referrer_id=3660706

Schoolchildren and Mental Health Care: Two Worlds That Rarely Meet

— By Ayushi Khemka

I remember coming back home from school and switching on the small 14 inch TV that we had in our room and getting glued to watch some random American disney shows dubbed in Hindi. Most of them were based on the high school experiences of teenagers and I, being one, used to love watching those pretty white people all dressed up in casual clothing and not a strict uniform, running here and there in their brightly painted school corridors and rummaging through their lockers. I used to be fascinated by not just the aesthetics of the schools that were shown on these shows, but also some of the minor characteristics of such schools, one of them being the presence of a counsellor. 

I went to one of those famous private North Delhi Jesuit schools, getting admission into which is an aspiration for many of the parents out there. The school had a huge playing ground, big spacious classrooms, massive auditorium and even a state-of-the-art swimming pool. Now, this is not me flexing about my school but rather, establishing the privileged ways in which the school functioned and provided its students with multiple facilities. As is common in every school, there were instances of bullying, harassment and abuse at my school too. All the facilities, you see, do not really mean much when it comes to providing a safe space to all the students. The facilities never extended to catering to the mental health of the students who came from a diverse socio-cultural background.

Years later, when I graduated from school and went to college, I soon grew a familiarity with the concept of a counsellor as people around me threw in the word in some random conversations or some such. Move ahead a couple or two years more and I watched another show based on high school experiences of a young girl, this time on Netflix, and had one of those whimpering (not a banging) mind numbing moments, if you will. With all of its problems around portraying suicide in an irresponsible way, I did find some parts of 13 Reasons Why speak to the school-me (or high school-me, as the Americans would call it). For those uninitiated, 13 Reasons Why traces the suicide of a young girl Hannah Baker at Liberty High and all the 13 reasons why she chose to end her life, including instances of bullying, harassment and rape, amongst others. While watching the show, I could recall a lot of my own experiences at my fancy Delhi school and yet there was one aspect, rather the lack of it, that disturbed me to no ends, that is the counsellor. In the show, the protagonist Hannah Baker seeks help from the school counsellor who though fails her in providing adequate support. For the adult-me thinking from the perspective of a high school-me, the mere existence of a counsellor and the very idea that if you were being bullied or harassed, you could go and speak to someone about it who is trained in handling such issues was simply alien and striking.

The adult-me kept on pondering over how when I came from a place of immense privilege, when it comes to the kind of school I attended as a kid, even that did not translate into having a basic mental healthcare system available for my perusal. The existing mental health discourse that we have going on on social media or otherwise, tends to be highly exclusionary and focused solely on seeing mental health as an apolitical, urban issue. However, this couldn’t be more wrong. Mental health is a political category. When I recall all the acts of bullying and harassment that I and some others faced at my school, one can gauge how those acts of harassment that affected our mental health were driven by the factors of identity and exclusion. A lot of the girls were slutshamed and abused by their respective boyfriends and sometimes even by teachers. A lot of the boys were bullied for not being manly enough. Students coming from minority backgrounds were called names and profiled due to their religious identity in a way that seemed harmless to most of the students then, but when you grow up and have the available resources at your perusal to identify microaggressions as such, you do see how the harmless was not really so. To add to it, there were teachers who proudly boasted of their Brahminical identity (in a Jesuit school nonetheless) inside the classroom and associated their fair skin tone with it, with no context to legitimise having such an unnecessary and casteist conversation in a classroom full of young, impressionable kids coming from various caste backgrounds. There were a lot more incidents of bullying and harassment that were driven specifically by the factors of gender, sexuality, religion, caste and class, among others. Yet, the thousands of kids studying in a school just minutes away from the Delhi LG office, were left to grapple with the immense feelings of fear, overwhelm and anger on their own. Approaching teachers and principals was hardly ever an option and even if you did, you would be met with scorn and chided again for not being able to handle your stuff on your own, with the school taking zero accountability.

Now, I am not sure if the presence of a counsellor would have solved every incident and made every student feel safe and secure in the school space, but it could have been a start, at least. When you think that if even such privileged spaces stay insulated from the mental health discourse around teenagers and young children, you cannot even begin to imagine the situation in spaces with less privilege and resources. With student suicides becoming a thing of everyday life, it is imperative that all the stakeholders involved in mentoring young children take up the issue of mental health seriously. Be it the school authorities, teachers, counsellors, parents, government bodies and the civil society, we all need to give up the very Indian mentality of living in denial when it comes to tackling difficult issues or having difficult conversations. Young children, like any other human being of any other age group, have a mental health and the way most of the schools function in India as a reflection of the biased and divided society lying outside the gated community of the school, their mental health is bound to get affected by all these factors and more.

The students need to be looked at as a diverse set of people rather than a homogenous mass just because they are all studying in the same school. Students come from different socio-cultural backgrounds and have varied amounts of privilege and capital. This acknowledgement of diversity cannot stop at the school admitting students from economically weaker sections as part of its administrative policy. We need to have counsellors in school and those who look at counselling not as something that exists in a social vacuum. Of course, the presence of counsellors raises pertinent questions around treating students as agential and consenting beings, a topic that merits a much more nuanced discussion that goes beyond the scope of this piece. Our schools are hierarchical and we can’t look away from that fact. The hierarchy is traumatising for a lot of the students and we need to consider this as an immediate cause for concern, lest we keep on stealing children of their dignity and selfhood.


We need to bring in the counsellor inside the classroom and make mental health a topic sans any taboo. When we can have students write their board exams for a subject called ‘Physical Education’, there should be no reason why we cannot have a curriculum on mental health. Training teachers in mental health first-aid and bringing in a fundamental upheaval as far as understanding the construction of identities and their effect on students is concerned could be a step in the right direction. Above all, we need to critically look at the institution of schools and not treat them as obscure egalitarian spaces existing in social isolation.

Image Source: http://www.schcounselor.com/

Author Bio

Ayushi Khemka created Mental Health Talks India in April 2018. She believes in channelising one’s vulnerabilities into an honest conversation that can potentially bring about a change in how we live and exist in the world. Living with depression and anxiety herself, she wishes to end the stigma around mental health in India. She is also a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University working on the intersections of gendered violence and social media.
 

MHTI links

FB: https://www.facebook.com/mentalhealthtalksindia

IG: https://www.instagram.com/mentalhealthtalksindia/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mhtalksindia

Lita’s Garden – To Dr Anand Teltumbde

Author Note: During Corona lockdown we were supposed to be home schooling our children whilst keeping up our own full-time work. Struggling with the standard curriculum, which neither they nor I found particularly inspiring, I decided to involve my children in my projects. 

It was July. I was making drawings about political prisoners in Bangladesh and India. At the time there was a call to write letters to the jailed intellectual Dr Anand Teltumbde, for his birthday. As I drew, I taught my son about Dr Anand Teltumbde. He listened, then wrote a letter of his own on top:

To Dr Anand Teltumbde,

Hope you are doing well. We all hope that you will be released from prison shortly.

I have been in a situation before where my great uncle, Shahidul Alam, has been imprisoned as well.

In my opinion it is very unfair how you have been put behind bars.

I am also very much love all the work that you have created.

Author Bio

Sofia Karim is an architect, artist and activist based in the UK.

Her work focuses on human rights across Bangladesh and India. She campaigned for the release of imprisoned artists, including her uncle, the Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam and Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera.

She is the founder of Turbine Bagh, a joint artists’ movement against fascism and the rise of far-right nationalism in India and beyond. She has staged protest exhibitions at Tate Modern (Turbine Hall) and has appeared on BBC World News, Channel 4 News, Al Jazeera and Sky News.

She is the founder of books4jail, a project that sends books from artists, writers and cultural institutions to prisoners.
 
She explores architecture as a language of struggle and resistance and began writing her theories on an ‘Architecture of Disappearance’ during her uncle’s incarceration. 

She is a visiting critic at Westminster school of Architecture. 

Responsibility of ‘teachers at home’

—By Ekta Andani

Through this article I attempt to bring to the fore the generous contribution of our teachers at home in fostering prejudice

Every Sunday morning at 11 AM a dark-skinned lady of lean physique came with a broom in her hand and shouted ‘didi’ from outside.  She was calling out to my mother or grandmother to open the gate. Instinctively my grandmother would ask us all – the children of the house to go inside. She would open the gate and step aside for the woman to enter and directly head towards the bathroom in the house. There was a bucket and a bottle of cleansing agent specifically kept separate for her to use. A big silver kada adorned on her right leg, this woman would mumble something in her language, do the magic with her broom and leave our toilets sparkling.

My sister and I, I remember, would peak with curious eyes from the window and she, the lady with the broomstick, always gave us her vibrant white-teethed smile before she left. On asking, my grandmother would only say – because she cleans toilets and always has germs on her we should never touch her or get closer to her.

That was the lady who cleaned the bathroom in my ancestral house for more than 20 years. And the custom of her arrival on Sundays never changed. This custom perhaps is also the first and the most prominent imprint I have of caste and class discrimination that I witnessed as a child.

As I attempt to revisit my formative years – both inside and outside school, such vague anecdotal impressions coupled with a self-reflexive enquiry to understand the underlying patterns has resulted in a long list of questions:

  1. What was my friend circle like, growing up? 
  2. Were there demarcations of caste, class and religion in my classroom? Was I a part of them? A victim or a bushwhacker?
  3. What was the contribution of my teachers in supervising these demarcations?
  4. What role did my family play in the beliefs I imbibed as a child and the demarcations that I see retrospectively?
  5. Did I too, like my fellow friends cry over reservations and deemed them unfair?

Did you pause to think about these questions too? 

Good.

For most of my teenage years, the people I befriended and called my close friends were those from very similar backgrounds as mine – Sindhi, middle class, upper caste – who had similar kinds of sabzi and roti in their lunch box like my mother packed for me. We sat in the same row of benches, shared our lunch boxes, went to the same tuitions and often visited each other’s homes.

In my search to find a valid explanation to the homogeneity of this friend circle, there are many things I can point my finger to now. For one, I studied in a school where the majority was composed of the so-called similar background. But as I delve deeper, I can think of more reasons why my close circle lacked diversity.

Growing up, my grandmother invariably told all the children in the house to not befriend Muslim students in our class. And if someday one of us innocently mentioned a name that she identified as that of a child who must not be befriended she summoned us to a long lecture which began with ‘You have no idea how those people are…’. 

And it’s not just my story. As I spoke to more friends I learnt how the families invariably encouraged their friendships with those of the same class, caste and religion. (By no means am I claiming that this was the behavior everywhere, but one could agree that majority exhibited it)

A friend recollecting stories from his school days said that every time he fought with his friend who belonged to what was presumed a lower caste his mother subtly fueled those fights; concluding without any enquiry that the cause of the fight was the boy from the different caste. She however promoted his friendships with all the other boys from his own caste, often using that as an opportunity to expand their own upper-caste circles. 

It is parents who decide which school and what kind of children they want their kids to study with. In a school in Kozhikode, upper caste parents denied enrolling their children because ‘they 

don’t want their kids to sit with the parayas’(Athira,1). The implications of this divide, instead of diluting as a result of modern rational thinking, have become so strong that we don’t see a binary of upper and lower caste anymore. It is more nuanced. Allegedly, in this school in Perambra village, parents belonging to the OBC community stopped sending their children to school because SC(Dalits or Parayas as prevalent in the region) children came there.

How then does it remain a ‘school’, when the basic lesson of equality is not inscribed in its functioning? 

In Tamil Nadu, the parents association threatened to disrupt the functioning of a school when a dalit cook was hired.(Rajasekaran). Even worse, in UP, children refused to eat meals cooked by a Dalit woman. Within days, the school authorities transferred the dalit lady back to the school which was 16 kms far from her home; for surely the struggles of an under-privileged female weigh less on the scale when it comes to ‘purity’ of food consumed by upper class Brahmin children. 

But this is just one side of the story. 

On the other extreme of this spectrum are the parents of the marginalized – the ones who either stand alongside their children in this fight or teach them to accept and live with it or perhaps 

acquire the power of money to safeguard their children and eliminate the concept of caste from their lives. Many stories of parents who choose to not attribute a caste to their children have been recorded. And while the attempt is honest, are we not in our attempt to create a caste-free world, creating a caste-blind world? Isn’t then educating rather than protecting the children, the need of the hour?

Various studies on Parental Involvement in children’s education conclude that ‘Parents carry a huge responsibility for their children’s education’. Not only do the children grow comfortable with the unequal imprints of caste, class and religion their parents leave on them but they start emulating the same. Education is a very long scroll that presumably opens at school but travels through the nooks and crannies of our homes, societies and communities and a child learns from all those implicit patterns that are inscribed in our behaviors. Then it is not the sole responsibility of the school education, which involves the teachers and the students to overcome these biases. The lessons of secularity must begin from home.

How diverse is my friend circle today, now that my education enables me to think beyond my grandmother’s statements? I ask myself.

Reference links:

1. https://www.mangalorean.com/kerala-school-struggles-break-caste-barriers/

2. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/dalit-as-cook-in-tamil-nadu-school-angers-parents/articleshow/65061889.cms

3. https://www.thebetterindia.com/16955/men-silently-building-caste-less-india-one-child-time/

Featured Image: turbinebagh_art, madpaule_diaries

Author Bio

Ekta Andani is a graduate of the Young India Fellowship batch of 2020.

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