Oisin Tucker, MFF intern from Trinity College Dublin narrates the journey of Harish Kishnani, a Kadam Badhate Chalo youth leader from Jaipur, Rajasthan.
The individual in the photo is a 19 year old Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) youth leader named Harish Kishnani. Harish became a KBC youth leader in December 2016 but long before joining he has yearned to make a difference in the world by helping those less privileged than himself. During one of our conversations Harish made it clear that his goal in life is not making a lot of money. Harish believes that there are aspects in life (such as creating a better society) that are a lot more important than his personal desires. This is why he is passionate and dedicated to play his part in eradicating the societal problems which are eroding India’s national development.
It is not easy for anyone to witness a person’s hardship. It is common for an individual to want to support their community but the lack of knowledge on how to do so often prevents a person from taking action. Harish joined KBC because of his interest in promoting gender equality and securing female safety. He also joined the programme because KBC provided him with a platform to pursue his own goal of helping others.
Harish is optimistic about the possibilities of obtaining a safer and better society. However, he believes that major changes need to be made in order for this to happen. For example, people need to invest their time and learn about their rights; the youth should be provided with education that is interactive and encourages them to participate; the mind-set of society must to be changed; the community and the police need to trust each another; women should not be afraid to stand up for themselves and people need to provide victims with adequate support.
KBC has been a great learning experience for Harish. Since starting he has witnessed a change in himself and the other KBC members as they are more engaged and sensitive to the violence that women face on an everyday basis. The KBC youth like to keep up to date with current issues and educate others about VAWG. Whenever they see something interesting or read an article relating to the topic they share it with each other on their group chat. After sharing the article they engage in a group discussion where they express their views on the article; they talk about what should be done and the challenges they may encounter in doing so.
Education is a vital tool that helps one mitigate the challenges they may face in life. It opens up doors for new opportunities. What is sad is that not everyone is supplied with an adequate amount of education. This is why Harish, along with the other youth leaders are in the process of creating their own workshops to enhance their community’s knowledge. The KBC youth leaders are going to focus on schools and slums in order to educate them about issues such as gender awareness and women’s hygiene.
So far Harish has conducted three Participatory Safety Audits (PSAs) in Jaipur (Central Park, the railway station and Maharaja College). These PSAs helped them in analysing how safe or unsafe these public places are for women. After the completion of the PSAs, the youth leaders visited the appropriate authorities to tell them what areas they discovered to be unsafe, why they were unsafe and what the officials should do to make them safer. The sharing of the railway station was particularly a memorable experience for Harish as he was the one chosen to present their findings. The Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) at the time was especially impressed by their work. She praised the youth leaders and told them that in her entire time working in Jaipur not a single school, college or NGO had ever approached her advocating for female safety. Moreover, no one had ever supplied them with a list of suggestions on how to do so.
One of Harish’s favourite parts of KBC is being able to support students in schools and colleges. Not everyone is aware of their rights or what they should do in a bad situation. Due to this reason Harish feels privileged that he is able to share his knowledge on what he has learnt and provide these people with the needed support. A noticeable change that is worth mentioning is the youth’s perception of the police. According to Harish the police are not always aware of the problems that the youth face. In addition, the police do not always know how to interact with them. The KBC gave the youth the opportunity to interact with high ranking police officials and tell them what changes they want from them. Consequently, the youth lost all hesitation to approach the police, they become confident and comfortable speaking to them and their overall perception of the police improved.
After participating in all the KBC activities and examining their impact first-hand Harish has started to think about what their next move should be and how their campaign could be more effective. There are three PSA suggestions that Harish would like to implement for future PSAs:
- The youth leaders should collect photo/video evidence while conducting the PSA. This would prevent anyone from criticising their findings. It would also put pressure on the lower ranking officials to take action.
- The second suggestion is that a PSA should not be a one off event. It should be conducted regularly as this would show the youth how effective the last one was and make the police officers aware of the issues. Moreover, if an improvement is made the community will have greater trust in the police and other security officials.
- While conducted a PSA it would be beneficial to get it signed by the people living in the area (this will act a form of evidence and support) and also the signatures of the people it was shared with (this can be used to show the community that their concerns have been listened to and that the police are going to take action).
For the past few weeks I have been conducting research to see what impact the PSA has had on the security services in Jaipur and Harish and his sister Divya (a new KBC member) have been my co-investigators/translators. What I find amazing is that Harish is volunteering to work on this project during his summer vacation. After an intense academic year most students would want to relax at home and re-energise. However, this is not the case for Harish as he has shown that he is truly dedicated in creating a safer and more just society.
When I read and talk to people about how severe violence against women is in India and other parts of the world, it is hard not to feel depressed. Meeting people like Harish has given me hope that change is on the horizon. If all of India’s youth had the same mind-set as Harish, I could honestly say that we would have nothing to worry about. Harish is an inspiring young man that should be proud of the work he has done and continues to do. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know him and seeing the work he has done with KBC.