Pick a group of 30 who want to understand gender and make films. The brief was simple enough, and so we started.
For someone interested in gender, young people, college gossip, fads, and meeting new people, the selections were quite the party! Considering our target group was college students, it was a Frat Party! We were the hosts, standing tentatively on top of a staircase, waiting for the guests to show up and hoping they have a good time when they arrive!
Like all good parties we began with the invitations. Meeting individuals and groups of young people in college campuses, other organizations, student clubs, through teachers and even caught a few who shared with us the familiarity of strangers sipping over boiled tea at a roadside stall. In the course of two months, we interacted with over 600 young people across Delhi (and yes NCR). Slowly, the confirmations came in... Few at first, but then in bigger numbers, till we have over 80 long applications to go through. The young applicants wrote openly about their ideas and experiences but one thing that struck us was how most youngsters saw gender based violence from a distance, as something that happens to others. Others from a different class or background. As we read further, it became clear that this was the idea that the campaign had to break.
In phone conversations with the applicants, we urged them to think about how gender and violence play out in their own lives. Once we got them to focus inwards, it was as though the floodgates had been opened and we got a real insight into the experiences of women navigating the streets of Delhi. The men were still reticent and spoke mostly of their friends or family members and very rarely about themselves. Every conversation sharpened the team’s understanding of young people’s experiences, and for that, I’d like to thank all those who took the trouble of filling in and sending us an application.
As we narrowed down our search, we invited some of the applicants to come and meet us for some fun and games. Over four weekends, we met groups of 10-17 people at the office, getting to know them through group games, discussions and interactive sessions. Some who could not make it to these interactions or contacted us later came for separately for small meetings and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know each person who showed interest in the campaign. We laughed out loud as teams strategize about the best ways for a blindfolded boy to help a girl with her feet tied cross an imaginary toxic river! Moderated discussions soon turned into heated debates, with us having to scream louder than the participants and risk losing our hearing and our rent agreement! The boys who had been quiet till now began to speak up about how they are oppressed by gender and the social pressures they felt, to be “real men”. While the house remained divided on whether gender oppresses everyone equally, everyone agreed that men are also conditioned and oppressed by gender. While some participants came with this notion, it was a revelation for others and it was great to be part of this collective “figuring out”. A lot of young people also brought out experiences of people with different sexual orientations and gender identities and the different kinds of violence that they face. The discussions also gave insights into the use of social media by young people and newer ways of engaging and strategies to bring together young people on social media came up in focused discussions.
As the fun and games continued, a picture of the final core group began to emerge. We had a bunch of feisty youngsters passionate about addressing gender issues and reaching out to other young people. Ready to engage with others and more importantly, with their own selves to explore the working of gender, social norms and violence, this core group would take the campaign forward and decide the course that it would take.
As our party finished, we had a set of exciting and energetic house guests, only too eager to stay back and help us clean up, rejuvenate and plan larger ones, with even more vigour, enthusiasm and buzz. All are, of course, invited!
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