Make My Space- Ab Nahi Toh Kab?

By Mahima Dev

Hoshiyaar banoongi, sabse main ladoongi,

Arey mujhe kya rokegi yeh duniya,

Kal logo ke bandhan ko sehme main chali thi,

Aaj bandhan ko tode main aage chaloongi,

Duniya tere samaaj ka hoon ek hissa main,

Apna adhikaar lekar rahoongi!”

A pleasant poem with a strong message, recited by Vacha girls during their street plays and performances.

Every now and then the brave girls at Vacha shed light on important social issues and bring public awareness through street plays. But brazenness is not always welcome, especially in the Bastis they call home.

When the girls and Vacha mentors first started presenting these street plays in Bastis and public areas, they were greeted with dismay. Most girls’ own families and neighbors discouraged them. There was an unnerving incident wherein a brother pulled his elder sister by the arm, screamed, “How can you do all this” and dragged her home. After much pleading and persistence on the part of the girls, their parents reluctantly permitted them to perform but with the caveat that they would do so in Bastis far away from home, “Do whatever you want but we will not be party to this nonsense!”

The girls felt dejected but jumped at the opportunity of being able to enlighten the people of other Bastis. And they did. Overtime, people started speaking and praising the girls’ enjoyable and hard-hitting street plays. The girls were motivated to work harder. Eventually, there came a time when the Basti leaders, who had once shunned the girls’ plays, invited them to perform at events and occasions. They have really come a long way and we are very proud of our girls!

One of the most impactful plays by the Vacha girls is called Make My Space- Ab Nahi Toh Kab. It deals with a topic which is usually taken for granted: access to public places. Due to the obsolete social outlook towards girls freely accessing public places, amplified by the lack of security thereof, an important aspect of a girl’s developmental process gets obstructed. The girls have put it in a rather clear manner – “What is a public place? Is it a religious place…? But people of all religions are present here today. So, it cannot be. Is it an educational place? But people from all walks of life- uneducated and scholarly- are present here today. So, a public place is all these things and much much more. Public places such as libraries, sports grounds, hospitals etc. are the most essential contributors to our growth. It’s the valuable social setting where we get to interact freely with people of diverse religions, cultures, languages, ages and sexes. Yet this right is sometimes taken away from us.”

In a survey of 1000 Mumbai girls/women conducted by Vacha in 2015, it was discovered that-

1) 60% of those surveyed were scared to use public toilets.

2) 40% found libraries unsafe.

3) 40% found roads and sports grounds unsafe after sunset.

These figures are appalling.

We tried unearthing the causes of these findings and found case-specific reasons.

Public Toilets-

Public toilets, a basic necessity, are not accessible to women mainly due to the fact that places around such bathrooms have transformed into frequent meeting spots for drunkards and substance-abusers. The ladies bathrooms neither have lights nor proper doors. In some cases, no water or dustbins are available in the toilets. Women are charged more than men at such toilets because apparently women make more of a mess. All these factors mean that parents often times do not allow their young girls to use public toilets. Parents believe public toilets contribute to more sickness than open defecation.

Sports Grounds (Maidans) and Public Libraries-

These areas are often desolate and have therefore turned into hubs of eve-teasing and sexual harassment. Instances of serious sexual crimes perpetrated in desolate areas or abandoned locations, are abundant. These areas are mostly frequented by men, with little or no women in sight. This makes not just the girl but her parents very uncomfortable as well. In addition to this, girls coming out of home at night is a taboo and their parents have to hear taunts by neighbours. For these reasons, girls are not allowed to freely access parks, maidans and public libraries.

These issues need the attention of the government and local authorities, but above all awareness of the general public is imperative. We must realise that these are problems of our own and need our initiative and cooperation to be solved. If around 40% girls feel unsafe in ‘public places’ then can we truly call them free and independent. Can we call ourselves and our nation free?

Vacha has initiated the first step to help all girls reclaim public places. We have been actively involved in renovating toilets in certain wards, by putting in petitions and following up with local authorities. In addition to this, gender sensitization classes have been held with young and adolescent boys for an all-rounded understanding of girls’ issues. Awareness sessions in bastis in the form of Sports Days in public maidans on Republic Day and Independence Day have been a huge success.  The Learning Community of which Vacha is a coordinator, holds Seminars by the name ‘Reclaim the Public Place- “Ab Nahi Toh Kab”’. The next seminar will be held on the 10th and 11th of February 2017. You are welcome to attend, find details here- http://bit.ly/2jOR55C

We hope you will join us in this bold endeavour.

11th Edition of Newsletter by girls and youth released!!!

Every  year on 26th January and 15th of August, girls and boys from  Vacha centers in Mumbai & Kalyan in  Thane  come out with a community  newsletters .

They voice their thoughts & concerns about issues in their locality. It is also a platform to share their experiences    and  creativity. They form their own committees for resource mobilization, Writing articles, photographs, creative page as well as editorial and dissemination.

Each release is inclusive of community event and action such as street play, rally, public speech, poster, photo exhibition, slide presentation with power points on issues like education, gender equality, ration etc.

We share with you some glimpses of the newsletters and accompanying events. Do write back to us about this.

Newsletter Glimpses- January 2014                                                   newsletter glimpses-2014

Book Review: Rights of Adolescent Girls in India: A Critical look at Laws and Policies. Author Saumya Uma. Published 2012, A Vacha Publication.

‘ This is a timely publication on the most neglected segment of our society, adolescent girls. perceived as a burden by parents, neglected by policy makers, subordinated by patriarchal system, adolescent girls in India hImageave to tread a tight rope walk. The author rightly avers that in India, that experiences of adolescence for girls are greatly different from that for boys…..’ Prof. Vibhuti Patel reviews the book in Indian Association of Women Studies (IAWS) Newsletter of January 20013. Click on the link for the full review: http://www.scribd.com/doc/128199909/IAWS-Newsletter-January-2013

Through the eyes of Girls – experience at Kala Ghoda

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.

– Amrita De