Aam Sabha, September 2011
I have always thought about the need to know everything and be aware. However, awareness, in the definitive sense, has a broad purview, and this thought has always been accompanied by a probing question – if change needs to be made, is awareness solely enough? And so I carried many more questions like this, along with me to the very first ‘Aam Sabha’ of The YP Foundation.
When I entered I saw three corners set up in the hall on three different topics and young people like me walking around and trying to decide, as if going through the menu in a restaurant, looking around what food for thought they want to take back home – whether from the “Alternative Sexual Identities” by Maria Mehra, from “Safe Spaces” by Prabhleen Tuteja from ‘Safe Delhi Campaign- of the NGO Jagori” or from “Sexual and Reproductive Rights” by Anusha Hariharan from the queer collective ‘Nigah’.
The ‘Aam Sabha’ started with an ice-breaker where we had to gather into different groups in order to yell words that made us uncomfortable, out loud. Never in my life had I yelled the words penis, vagina and clitoris so loud. All this had already built up a curiosity in me, I knew I wanted to be a part of all the three sessions and so I decided to divide my time to all three topics accordingly.
Maria Mehra, a dynamic transgender woman, asked us in the session to close our eyes and listen to her voice. She told us that she had always had a feminine voice, that when she was a boy, her voice never cracked to acquire the baritone that we usually identify with masculinity. Our eyes still closed, she asked us to raise our hands if we still thought her to be a man or deserved to be identified as one.
A moment later, we opened our eyes, and looked around. Not one person had raised their hand, and it was in this silent agreement that our session with Maria began. In a society where gender roles are set in stone and anyone who fails to come under the “male” or “female” tag is just thought of as abnormal. The session went ahead with all of us getting acquainted with trials that people like her face in the world, from the difficulty to use public bathrooms as neither gender accepts them as their own, to the confusion while writing their gender in a government form. We listened with rapt attention as she told us about how she was blatantly rejected at a job recruitment agency because she was, well, ‘different’.
On the adjacent corner, the session on Safe Spaces by Prabhleen Tuteja addressed issues that I could relate to on a very close basis, and experiences that I encounter every day. Many a times while travelling alone in the city, when it gets a little dark, certain dimly lit and the not-so-busy areas tend to make me nervous, even if I’m familiar with the place; and the tag of “Unsafe City for Women” on Delhi/NCR doesn’t help! In the discussion, our group was further divided into three sub-groups and each sub-group was given a certain ‘identity’, like- a girl in her early 20’s from the North-East or a 20 year old boy carrying a lot of cash, and so on. We were to come to a consensus on how safe or unsafe a particular area in a typical Delhi neighbourhood (areas like a Temple, an ATM, a park, a college etc.) was for these different identities. It made us realise how certain problems affect different kinds of people differently, how one needed to look at things from the point of view of different people around us.
‘Aam Sabha’ held on 12 September 2011 was an initiative by ‘Reclaiming Our Choices’. The event was a discussion modelled on the concept of a ‘town hall’ on themes of sexuality and rights, alternative sexual identities and orientations, public safety and violence and involving young people in these discussions.
The Way Forward-
The campaign would move forward by forming and organizing events on lines similar to this “Aam Sabha” and by using interactive mediums like movie screenings across the city with the support of the partner organisations, professionals and participants in the following months.