आता तू मोठी झालीस
जोरात बोलायचं नाही
जोरात हसायचं नाही
नीट बस गं.
नीट कपडे घालायचे
फार कुठे बोलायचं नाही
तरीही काही झालंच “तसं”
कोणाला सांगायचं नाही
अगदी स्वत:लाही नाही’
delete करून टाकायचं एकदम
Story based on Sabah Wajid Ali Siddiqui, 19 years old, First Year BAF at MVM College
While interning at Vacha Resource Centre for Women and Girls, I came across a girl named Sabah. I was impressed by her confidence and gumption, she was never hesitant to put forth her view. I was surprised to learn that she was the same age as I am. She has been with Vacha for 9 years now. Just goes to show how a girl’s strong will and a little external push can create great outcomes. Here is Sabah’s story-
A timid smile and resolute voice, Sabah’s personality intrigues you instantaneously. She speaks with striking confidence about her journey. Her ambition acts as the source of her morale, never mind that resources and odds are not exactly in her favour. She soldiers on. Her latest achievement is a research paper on “The Role and Contribution of Small and Medium Enterprises in the Indian Economy” which was published by her college.
At first Sabah found it hard to cope in a college environment. If being a girl of newfound adulthood wasn’t already complex enough, she was suddenly amidst fluent English speakers. Up until the tenth grade Sabah had studied in an Urdu medium school. She was usually the outspoken girl at her old school, but found herself terribly quiet here. She was perplexed as this was all she ever wanted- going to college, pursuing a Bachelors in Accounting and Finance degree. In fact she was already the most qualified person in her nine-member family. What’s more, she’d even received the Shadhika scholarship. What she hadn’t accounted for though, was the language barrier.
After a few days and many awkward attempts at spoken English, she realised that although she was weak at English, no one, not even the teachers could speak Hindi as fluently as herself. Her grasp over economic theory and accounting too, was good. She cinched the opportunity with a speech and dazzled her teachers and classmates alike. That day she knew that she was in no way inferior, all she had to do was muster her courage and play to her strengths.
With her nascent confidence, she was determined to keep her winning streak going. She had heard, in the passing, about a study that her college was about to publish on “SMEs.” She wondered what they were. Abbreviations have always confused her, she turned to her most credible source- Google. This too, was only accessible to her at her college laboratory and at the Vacha resource centre. When she hit ‘search’ she was introduced to a new world that seemed both intriguing and elusive in parts. She delved deeper into the realm of Small and Medium industries in India. She walked through definition, marched through advantages, darted through importance and danced through economic impact. Her mind was aflame- she wanted to know more.
Sabah pulled out all stops, she elicited every source possible- teachers, mentors, family, and the ever helpful internet. Many weeks went into it. She even sacrificed a few of her beloved accounts lectures in college to gain practical knowledge outside. She says, “Research and application gave me a much deeper insight into economics and clarified many concepts on GDP. I have learned new words in English also. I think everyone should learn from books first and then apply in real life to fully understand subjects.” Many a time she found her near and dear ones concerned about her. ”Are you mad spending so much time in all this and missing classes too? The teacher said this was co-curricular, that means no marks for all this. Better forget it”, said a classmate. But Sabah knew better. She told her classmate that although the teacher would not award extra marks for her research, she would surely do better on her exams because of it. She toiled on, asking her teachers more and more questions each day. Crunching numbers and data was what she looked forward to the most every day. Because “at the end of the hard work when I get a clear conclusion, it makes me very happy.”
Finally, Sabah turned in her research to her teacher. It was a file that read “Role and Contribution of SMEs in Indian Economy.” Sabah beamed with contentment and pride as she handed it over. A few days later, her teacher asked her to wait back after class. “Sabah, the principal loved your thesis. It has been selected for the college publication. In the interest of the college students, we would love for you to present your thesis at the conference next month,” the teacher said. These words seemed like the sweetest song to Sabah. Her committed effort had finally borne fruit. In the next moment, it dawned on Sabah that she would have now to present her research to an auditorium full of students, teachers, dignitaries and international experts- in English! But she had never let anxiety and nervousness hold her back in life, and she was not going to start now. So she smiled and said, “Sure, madam.”
The conference day arrived quickly. Sabah had practised relentlessly, yet some nervousness remained, it was her first big address. The event started with the keynote speech by Mr. Vincent Wahrenburg, Head of Environmental Engineering, IRIANS, Berlin and a wonderful address by Mr. Chandrakant Salunkhe, Founder and President, SME Chambers of India. Next up was Sabah. She explained her thesis from beginning to end, about the importance of government support to SMEs, micro scale innovation, women entrepreneurs, and challenges in employment growth with proposed solutions. She ended on a beautiful note, “We must encourage girls to study and run their own small businesses, just like they run their households.” The content made up for any shortcomings in her linguistics. Everyone appreciated her presentation and signature confidence. Mr. Wahrenburg, congratulated her personally.
This experience has been unforgettable for Sabah, she cannot wait to start research for her next presentation. She says, “I love presenting to people because I want my voice to be heard by many. I want to become a lecturer in accounting and economics someday.”
The article ‘Fight your attacker Tooth and Nail’ appeared recently in Hindustan Times on March 8th, 2014. You can access the article here http://paper.hindustantimes.com/epaper/viewer.aspx (bottom right corner). The article was an excerpt from a recently released book Fit to Fight by Vesna Jacob. This book seems to have come out in an opportune time, with rising media coverage of and public attention given to crimes against women.
From what could be gleaned from the article, Fit to Fight is meant as a guide for women to protect themselves from attackers. It has self defense lessons for women and girls and also a section that advises women on different ways to save themselves from attacks. One example is – ‘..Ask him if he has a daughter or a sister, and how he would feel if they were in your shoes..before you get to the physical part of the attack try to use every single thing that comes to your mind that can make your attacker hesitate..’. The book seems to have many more such lessons for women.
This book is only one among many such self-defense books, which focus on ways that women can use to prevent attacks against themselves. Also, in recent public debates about crimes against women, there has been a recurrent argument about women needing to know how to protect themselves from attackers. Well meaning films, articles, and other media have focused on how women need to be strong and fight against violence. However, such arguments leave me disturbed at some levels, because they put the responsibility of preventing violence against women, on women themselves.
What kind of message does a book like Fit to Fight give to women and girls facing very real threats of violence every day? What do we think of teaching self defense to girls as a way of protecting themselves? Does such focus on girls and women give them a sense of agency to fight violence, or does it put additional burden of preventing violence on the victims/survivors of violence?
We have just emerged from the hectic madness that was the Kala Ghoda festival. For eight days, twelve hours everyday, we were manning (womanning) the display we had put up at this annual Mumbai art festival. We were holding an exhibition there, of photographs taken by young girls living in the bastis (slum communities) of Mumbai. We called it, ‘Through the eyes of girls’.
The display seemed to be a meeting point of two entirely different worlds, the world that usually goes to such festivals to ‘see art’, and the world that (very uncharacteristically in this case) was displaying the art. While the former had all come armed with the best cameras to capture all the art at the festival, most of the girls whose photographs were being displayed, had hardly ever held a camera before they took these pictures, and have unfortunately not had much access to a good camera since.
They had been trained as part of a photography workshop held by Vacha, conducted by the Photography Promotion Trust. Being poor girls, they form a part of society that is disadvantaged by class, gender as well as age. Technology, something that many of us take very much for granted, has hardly been very accessible to this group. Facebook, blogging, even Wikipedia – the pride of the Internet that has claimed to make knowledge democratic – remains out of reach of these girls.
For them to display to the world, through their photos, how they see the world, was them subverting this digital knowledge divide. Like one visitor to the display commented, “Thank you for letting us see your world through your eyes.” Many do see ‘their’ world, the world of cramped homes and dirty alleys, but ‘they’ hardly get to show it like they see it themselves. Here they showed their homes, their families, their work and their play – daring people to see them as they are, clearly, without guilt, or pity.
Despite this seeming divide between those displaying and those watching, there were some memorable moments, when some parts of the public suddenly got the point of the exhibition perfectly well. For example, there was a woman (English speaking, well-heeled) who I noticed was reading the description of the display very intently. Then she began looking at the pictures, row by row, pausing at each momentarily. She looked so absorbed that I didn’t want to disturb her while she was watching. As she started to move away, I couldn’t resist wanting to know what it was exactly that had held her attention. So I asked, “How did you like the exhibition?”
To my surprise, she answered very simply, in a quiet voice, “I am very moved. I read the description. Very moving.”
The description had been about how the digital divide excludes poor girls – something this woman had had never experienced. If that had moved her, well, the exhibition was a success.
Vacha Centres came out with the sixth issue of Hamari Bateein a Newsletter on their issues. Girls wrote about events and issues in their bastis; they had also conducted interviews and took photographs. They had worked on the DTP process and disseminated the copies in their communities themselves.
There was a function in their basti to release the newsletter where approximately 600 people comprising of local leaders, community members and parents and some other children were present. The girls made power point presentations, delivered speeches, sang songs, exhibited photographs and drawings and performed street plays.