Panipat Diaries

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Dawa Lhamo Sherpa, PRIA intern, reflecting on her 1st field visit. She visited Panipat where PRIA’s programmes #MoreThanBrides and #KadamBhdhateChalo are going on.

I went to Panipat to attend the first community level event that was facilitated by the youth themselves. First to Namunda to meet with a group of community youth and then to attend the first public event that was organised by the youth group of Titana village. The event was to distribute “meetha paani” to the community, but they used the opportunity to also spread some awareness. They called it the “Sweet Water Day” and it was a day filled with fun, togetherness, deep thinking and a lot of learning.

Haryana over the past years has grown infamous for the violence against woman. Living up to its name, it has the 3rd rank when it comes to atrocities against woman. With the rise in the number of crimes against woman, a youth led initiative – Kadam Badhate Chalo was launched by Martha Farrell Foundation and PRIA in 12 locations across the country. Youth leaders of Kadam Badhate Chalo are undeterred in their efforts to bring about a change in the mind sets of the people, to educate and raise awareness on violence against woman and girls. It has been almost a year since this phase of Kadam Badhate Chalo began in Haryana and now the youth leaders have come on their own. Taking ownership of the program, they are creating newer groups and initiating several events to encourage discussions around the issues.

‘Youth Pehel’, a group comprising of about 15 members, representing the youth of Namunda village have been an active bunch of people. They have been working zealously to bring about change in the society. The session started with an introduction session by Mohit, the president of KBC’S Youth Pehel who gave us an overview of what KBC had been doing over the months. He talked about the visit to Delhi and the sports camp that had been initiated by them. He talked about the change that had come about in him because of KBC in terms of how he treated and interacted with women. Youth Pehel has also conducted a safety audit where they found out which places were safe for girls and tried to find solutions for the unsafe places. They act as sources for the people to report violence to and make sure that the grievances reach the higher authority and justice is delivered. Initiatives such as installing street lights, building good roads ensuring connectivity and spreading awareness in the form of rap songs or plays have been some of the works by this group. The first session in Namunda had about 20 youth participants and a few older audiences. A large number of girls were married even though they were minor. The audience was especially ecstatic looking at my fellow interns from Canada.

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The session started with an icebreaking question and answer round in which Will asked questions such as:

  1. Who is your role model and why?
  2. What would you do if you never fail in your life?
  3. What makes you happy the most?
  4. What do you want to learn?

These questions had to be further translated into Hindi and it provided us an overview of what the youth had in mind and what they were actually thinking of. The crowd was however unresponsive especially the girls. They had to be constantly coaxed for answers. The boys on the other hand were louder and bolder. This in a way threw some light on the patriarchal system ruling India where shyness and docility are seen as virtues that women should possess. Segregation in terms of interaction with the opposite gender can also be seen as a factor attributing to the awkwardness that girls feel in the presence of males. The answers from the youth did show progressiveness in terms of their thinking process – where boys wanted to work towards protecting woman and ending abuse; there was this one girl whose answer stood out the most when asked about what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to learn wielding as it was considered a job only for boys. She hence wanted to end gender stereotypes and break such notions.

This was followed by another session with Rachel, where she introduced the concept of gender violence and talked about the situation of Canada on such matters. She then started a game called ‘the clay and the sculptor’ in which everyone was divided into pairs. One became the clay while the other the sculptor. Certain situations were given and the sculptor had to sculpt the clay according to what emotions he\she felt. The game seemed a little klutzy at first since language was a barrier and it took them some time to understand it but once they got a hang of it, it got interesting. Some of the situations provided to them were as follows:

  1. The weather is beautiful outside and you’re playing a sport. How does that make you feel?
  2. What do you like to do with your family and how does that make you feel?
  3. You see something bad happening with someone from your community, what do you do? And how does that make you feel?

The answers varied from person to person. The last question was an impactful one in which most of the youth talked about how seeing someone being reprehensive pained them and made them cry but in terms of action none of them spoke about standing up for the victim. This game helped the youth understand the concept of consent and the choice to help someone in terms of when you see someone in danger. Standing up for women and against violence and the option of choice to act were important lesson learnt through this game. The session in Namunda ended with a delicious lunch served to us.

The next destination was Titana, which was a few kilometres away from Namunda. The youth of this village had organized an event where they were distributing sweet water while making people sign up and pledge to end violence against woman. A massive crowd had already gathered to welcome us as they too had received the news of foreign interns coming that way. The obsession and fascination of Indian people with fair skin is something that I’ve always wondered about. The treatment that our team received was overwhelming. Everyone wanted to take a picture or start a conversation. Not having the typical “Indian features” made me feel like an outsider in my own land when I too was asked questions about my nationality.

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Another surprising element here was the ratio of girls and boys. The crowd comprised of about 90% of men from all age groups especially the youth but only about 10% of women. This 10% included either children or old women. There were almost no teenage girls. Haryana has been following the tradition of child marriage since a very long time and being there actually made one realize the rate of female feticide and child marriage. Rekha, a 19 year old girl from Namunda village who had joined us on our trip to Titana talked about how poor the conditions of woman were in Haryana. She was married when she was 17 but had got divorced after two years of marriage. She talked about how girls were forced to undergo child marriage and how interacting with someone from the opposite sex, apart from your relatives, raised questions on the woman’s character. Women’s safety was a major issue for girls being married off early.

The event was attended by the sarpanch (village head) and was followed by two song performances which revolved around preventing violence against woman and female feticide. With the pledge to stop violence against women and promote gender equality, the event ended up with happy faces and hands holding glasses of sweet water prepared by the members of Youth Pehel.

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