Talking Gender: Boy in the Ghaghra

It’s late November, but we don’t need our sweaters when we board the bus for a two hour ride to the village (Hardauli) in Uttar Pradesh to conduct our theatre session. Driving past green fields fenced in by dry broken branches and a thick mesh of cobwebs, the bus drops us at the highway. From there we walk half an hour to the village under a scorching noon sun. We wait outside our workshop space and hope at least some girls will show up. Slowly girls trickle in. 10 -12 girls have showed up and we don’t expect more will come.

We start with warm up games but everyone’s imagination is consumed by the festivities of weddings. Even those who don’t have to attend a gathering are restless with the ambient excitement. One facilitator brings this excitement into the session. She suggests that everyone break into pairs and describe to each other one time they went for a wedding, and the outfit they wore on this occasion. Their favourite outfit. The time they enjoyed getting dressed the most.

The facilitator then asks them share each other’s story with the wider group. We hear about outfits of all colours, shapes and styles, bought from the town nearby (Banda) all the way to Bombay, and hairstyles to accompany. Each outfit holds within it a story – of separation, migration, travel, aspiration, desire, flirtation! They tell us about the compliments they received, the intimacies built with other girls when dressing up.

Then, one girl shares how her father doesn’t encourage her wearing clothes that are too revealing, something sleeveless for instance. She speaks about her struggle to wear what she wishes, and her desire to wear jeans. “My father says jeans won’t suit you”, she says. “But I fought with my father and bought a pair of jeans. I wore them once”, she adds, gleaming!

“Would you wear jeans to a wedding?”, one facilitator inquires. The girls respond with a resounding “no!”.

“Why not?”

“Well, because Ghaghras are pretty! And we’ll feel so left out if we’re not wearing such pretty things”

Then one girl says “At least its good for us, we can wear both, boys can’t wear Ghagras”

“Why not? Maybe they feel like it? Just like we want to wear what they’re wearing?”, one of us asks.

“No it shouldn’t happen… We have enough rules on us, so this one they can deal with”. The girls are indignant!

There’s giggles breaking out here and there, and then one girl bursts out “We have a boy in our area, who wears Ghaghras”

All the girls seem to know or at least know of this person, so one after the other they add snippets of information, building up an image in our minds.

“He recently started wearing ghaghras”

“He changed his name too”

“He’s our age”

“He lives by himself, and this other boy has recently moved in with him”

nandini 1

“He dances”

“He dances at weddings”

“He’s weird”

“He’s actually really nice, this one time when we met on the street, he called out to me and started talking to me… its really difficult to be awkward around him because he talks so nicely”

“He’s a friend of my mom’s”


The fact that one of the elders is accepting of the boy strikes some girls as unusual. They expect elders, the custodians of tradition, to be opposed to this act of transgression.

“He talks to my mother”, the girl continues.

“My mother is nice to him too. She says he’s a human being like all of us. He comes and hangs out at my house often. He even dances with us. I have videos.”

Phrased this way, the rule-breaker as a human being, all other girls get on board. The initial disgust and giggle-fest subsides as if they have tacitly started being okay with him. “He’s nice” they collectively agree.

One of the facilitator asks, “What if we were to include him in this theatre group?” Maybe she was trying to test this new found acceptance.

“Yes! That’s a great idea!” A lot of the girls are game.

Another facilitator teases this out more. “Are you sure?”, she says, “I mean, just a minute ago we were playing games where we were literally on top of each other and touching each other in many ways, will you be comfortable doing that with him?”

This question has context. The community does not allow this group to include boys in their activities. It being an all girls group is the foundational agreement upon which they make this space possible.

“It’ll be weird at first but eventually we’ll get used to it”, one girl said confidently

“And what about parents, will they allow?”, a facilitator asks.

“No they won’t, if we told them. So we just won’t tell them”, another girl replies.

Just like that, the excitement around this topic fizzles out and we’re back to elaborate descriptions about Anarkali suits and evening gowns.

nandini 2As facilitators we were stunned by what we had witnessed. How did a random conversation lead up to such a moment and quite casually back to random conversation? It felt like a kind of rupture in the status quo articulation of the group around this ‘gender queer’ person. It’s possible that the same conversation could have happened in the same set of girls if they met somewhere else, but that it happened in an NGO space and in front of akaryakarta felt significant. The ease of the conversation, uninterrupted by jargon, stood out for us. The girls rather than the facilitators set and owned the language and terms of the conversation.

Source : ‘Between spaces and conversation: a book of stories’, Nirantar Trust.


“अच्छी लड़की”, “बुरी लड़की”

कार्यशाला के आखिरी दिन हमने लड़कियों को जोड़ों में बाँट दिया और उन्हें कहा कि वे अपनी जोड़ीदारों को लेकर “अच्छी लड़की” और “बुरी लड़की” की मूर्तियाँ बनाएँ (उन्हें खुद ये मूर्तियाँ बनकर खड़ा होना था)। इस एक्सरसाइज के माध्यम से हम ये दिखाना चाहते थे कि अच्छी और बुरी लड़की की सोच असल में जाति तथा औरतों के बारे में प्रचलित पूर्वाग्रहों और मान्यताओं पर ही आधारित होती है। बतौर फेसिलिटेटर, हमें लग रहा था कि प्रत्येक प्रतिभागी अपनी जोड़ीदार के साथ जिस तरह काम करेगी, उससे यह समझने में मदद मिलेगी कि वह लड़की उन विचारों को किस तरह देखती है। इस गतिविधि से प्रतिभागियों को जाति के बारे में समाज की बजाय अपनी सोच पर ध्यान केंद्रित करने का मौका मिलता है। इस गतिविधि में कुछ प्रतिभागी बेचैन लग रही थीं मगर ज़्यादातर लड़कियों ने खुलकर हिस्सा लिया।

buriladkiजब “बुरी लड़कियों” की सारी मूर्तियाँ एक कतार में खड़ी कर दी गईं तो पता चला कि उनमें से ज़्यादातर के बाल अस्त-व्यस्त थे। वे आदमी की तरह टांग खोलकर बैठी दिखाई दे रही थीं। हाथ में शराब की बोतल थी। इस बहाने गुस्से, भूत-प्रेत के साए और शराबखोरी जैसी चीज़ों पर काफी बात भी हुई। “बुरी लड़कियों” की मूर्तियाँ एक बेबाक अंदाज़ का प्रदर्शन कर रही थीं। उनके हाव भाव से उनकी ख्वाहिशों और यौनिकता का इशारा मिल रहा था। उनके कपड़े जैसे दिख रहे थे, जैसे उनके बाल बना दिए गए थे, जिस मुद्रा में उनका शरीर तय किया गया था – उन सारी चीज़ों से निचली जाति और निम्न वर्ग के बारे में उस इलाके में प्रचलित स्टीरियोटाइप्स का साफ पता चल रहा था। सहभागियों के मुताबिक टांगें खोलकर या सटाकर बैठने का फर्क “बुरी लड़की” और “अच्छी लड़की” के फर्क को दर्शाता था।

जब “अच्छी लड़की” की सारी मूर्तियों को कतार में खड़ा किया गया तो उनमें से ज़्यादातर प्रार्थना करती दिखाई दीं। उनके सिर दुपट्टे से ढंके हुए थे। उनमें से कुछ पढ़ने-लिखने वाली या स्कूल जाती लड़कियाँ भी बनाई गईं। मज़े की बात यह है कि उनमें से एक लड़की वीणा भी बजा रही थी। एक नज़र में ही पता चला रहा था कि वे ऊँची जातियों से और उच्च वर्गीय परिवारों से ताल्लुक रखती हैं। अच्छी लड़कियों को ज़्यादातर “पूजा” जैसे नाम दिए गए थे। इससे भी उनकी ऊँची जाति का एहसास मिलता था।

एक “अच्छी लड़की” ने मॉडल का भी रूप धारण किया था। उसके बाल लंबे थे और स्टाइलिश ढंग से बंधे हुए थे। उसकी पैंट घुटनों तक ऊपर मुड़ी हुई थी। जब हमने पूछा कि ये लड़की कौन हो सकती है और कहाँ की हो सकती है तो लड़कियों ने फटाफट बताया कि यह लड़की किसी रईस घर की होगी और उसने कभी घर के कामों को हाथ भी नहीं लगाया होगा। उनके इशारों से इस मान्यता का पता चलता था कि वह किसी सवर्ण परिवार की है क्योंकि बाकी घरों की लड़कियों को तो घर के काम करने ही होते हैं। उन्होंने यह भी बताया कि वह बहुत फैशनेबल लग रही है और उसने सारा समय सिर्फ सिंगार में ही लगाया होगा। कुछ लड़कियों का कहना था कि वह “शहरी” लड़की है। जब उनसे पूछा गया कि क्या यह लड़की उनके गाँव की भी हो सकती है तो उन्होंने फौरन पलटकर कहा कि उनके गाँव की कोई लड़की ऐसे कपड़े नहीं पहनेगी।

अचंभे की बात यह रही कि जब हमने उन मूर्तियों के बारे में और बारीकी से बात करना शुरू किया तो लड़कियाँ बताने लगीं कि यह लड़की किस तरह के खानदान की रही होगी। उन्होंने कहा कि ये लड़की जरूर “जनरल” (हिंदी में “सामान्य” श्रेणी) की है। हमने उनसे एक बार फिर पूछा कि क्या वे यकीन से कह सकती हैं कि यह लड़की वाकई ऊँची जाति से है। उन्होंने भी और ज़्यादा यकीन से अपनी बात दोहरा दी, “वह यकीनन ऊँची जाति से ही है। कोई भी उसे एक बार देखकर ही ये बता देगा!” लड़कियों ने इस बात पर भी ज़ोर दिया कि निचली जाति की लड़कियाँ अपने बाल ऐसे नहीं बनातीं और न ही गाँव में ऐसे कपड़े पहनती हैं।

लड़कियों ने जाति पर भी खुलकर चर्चा की हालाँकि हमने जाति के बारे में कोई खास सवाल उनसे नहीं पूछा था। इस चर्चा से ज़ाहिर हो गया था कि एक “अच्छी लड़की” और एक “बुरी लड़की” के विचार में जाति बहुत गहरे तौर पर पैबस्त है। साथ ही भले ही उनके लिए जाति के बारे में खुद अपने विचारों पर सोचना और उनको बेबाक ढंग से स्वीकार करना मुश्किल रहा हो, मगर जब उन्हें किसी दूसरी लड़की के शरीर पर अपने मूल्यों और सोच को अभिव्यक्त करने का मौका दिया गया तो जाति के बारे में उनकी सोच खुद-ब-खुद सामने आ गई थी। असल में हम सभी पर राजनीतिक रूप से स्वीकार्य (पोलिटिकली करेक्ट) बात कहने का दबाव हमेशा ही बहुत ज़्यादा रहता है। इसकी वजह से कभी-कभी हमारे पास खुलकर अपनी बात कहने की गुंजाइश नहीं होती। हम जाति के बारे में अपनी सोच, जाति आधारित ऊँच-नीच के बारे में अपनी मान्यताएँ और ऊँची जातियों को मिलने वाली सामाजिक सत्ता वगैरह के बारे में खुलकर बात नहीं कर पाते। मेरे खयाल में ये वो मुकाम है जहाँ फेसिलिटेटर के नाते हमें जाति के बारे में चर्चा के दौरान पैदा होने वाले टकरावों और मतभेदों को और सख्ती से संबोधित करना चाहिए, खासतौर से जब हम जेंडर और यौनिकता के बारे में बात करें। जेंडर और यौनिकता के बारे में समुदाय कैसे सोचता है, यह समझने की चेष्टा कर रही फेसिलिटेटर्स और शोधकर्ताओं के तौर पर हमारे लिए ज़रूरी हो जाता है कि हम जाति की अपनी समझदारी पर और गहराई से सोचें। इस बारे में सोचें कि जाति किस-किस ढंग से अपने आपको अभिव्यक्त करती है और समावेशन व बेदखली के हमारे दैनिक व्यवहारों को किस तरह प्रदर्शित करती है।

आखिर में, भारतीय समाज में जाति एक अतिनिर्धारक तत्व है। समूचे इतिहास में दलित बहुजन की ओर से हुए जाति विरोधी उभारों ने इन जटिलताओं को स्पष्ट रूप से उजागर कर दिया है और जब भी हमने अपनी जातिगत लाभ की स्थिति को छिपाने के लिए जेंडर और यौनिकता जैसी क्षैतिज पहचानों को ज़्यादा प्राथमिकता देने की चेष्टा की है, इन घटनाओं ने हमारी इस चालबाजी को बेपर्द कर दिया है।

जाति संबंधी हमारी वार्ताएँ अकसर सत्ता की बाहरी संरचनाओं पर चर्चा और उनको संबोधित करने पर केंद्रित रहती हैं मगर यह बात अकसर नज़रंदाज़ हो जाती है कि ये संरचनाएँ हमारी परफॉर्मटिविटी में कितनी गहरे तौर पर एम्बाॅडीड हैं, कैसे वे हमारे दैनिक जीवन का हिस्सा हैं और यौनिकता से कितने गहरे तौर पर जुड़ी होती हैं।


स्रोत : एक्शन रिसर्च रिपोर्ट “दायरों और दास्तान के दरमियान” से अंश

Found the wings to fly

image003When we think of education of girls, usually image of school going girls come in our mind. What about education of young girls who got married at an early age? What about education of out of school girls living in urban poor communities? What does education mean to them? Significant numbers of young girls who have dropped out of school are living in urban poor colonies.

Since 2015, Nirantar has been working with out of school/never enrolled young girls in Delhi and Bareilly under partnership with community based organizations. During the learning course we move out of the classrooms to explore nearby old markets, historical places, water bodies, parks, etc. to understand the significance of markets, water, natural resources etc. in our daily lives. Recently, we organized closing events of the learning course with community people to celebrate educational journey of young girls who have completed the course.

It was inspiring to see girls planning, practicing and organizing everything for learning course closing events. Everyone was participating in different activities based on their interests and shared their experiences of learning with all. In contrast with boys, most of them shared that they were not encouraged to complete schooling once they failed and they did not have friends to share their feelings without being judged.

image001One of them said, “I was really scared of school and teachers. I did not have friends in school and most of the classmates used to tease me. When I failed in class 6th, everyone started passing comments and advised me to discontinue studies. They always passed negative statements like, “You will not be able to do anything beyond household work”. After initial encouragement by a local organization, I was enrolled for the learning course and have successfully completed it. I have given fitting reply to those who questioned my abilities. In the learning center, I hada totally different experience as compared to schools. Here teachers are very friendly and always encourages us to learn without giving judgments.”

During the closing events, all the girls looked excited and one could gauge happiness on their faces while they were sharing their experiences.  It was amazing to know that merely one year of engagement with learners can bring turn around in lives of many young girls. Most of them emphasized the importance of center as a space to talk about their lives, anxieties, aspirations, relationships, confusions and also experiences where things went really wrong. Such a space gives them an avenue to talk about things without being conscious of the consequences. While trying to understand the lives of these young girls, it should also be noted that many of them were compelled to do all the household works and other additional jobs based on contract orders for sustenance of their families. They hardly found friends in the colony to share their personal feelings. During the learning course period, the center has given them an atmosphere for cultivating friendships and exploring new things, enjoying playing games and moving out of the boundaries of their areas.

image007During one of the closing events, one girl said, “Women are considered as enemy of other women and mother-in -laws are always against their daughter-in-laws but my mother-in-law has proved it wrong. I came for learning classes daily and she has taken care of my children. She wants me to study and complete my studies which I could not complete after dropping out of the school at early age.”

We had noticed another level of dedication and aspiration among early married girls who wanted to come for the classes. Most of them had to face negative comments, discouragements from community people and they had to negotiate with their families for long to continue studies after years of gap. On one hand, some girls face violence within families, especially by husbands who question the idea of continuing studies. On the other hand, some girls have also received strong support from their families who encouraged them to continue studies and also ensured that they attend the daily classes. At the end of the course, most of them shared that before coming to the center they did not know that they could be considered valuable. Diversity within learners in terms of their regions, ages, educational qualifications, languages, religions and experiences has become a crucial resource for the center. It brings out different voices on the table and life experiences of girls become learning for others.

In few cases, community women stood up and shared their life experiences in their own words to highlight the value of education in the life of young girls.

image005One of them said, “I discontinued studies when my mother got ill and was also married off early. After few years, my husband died and I had to live with my parents. I was the youngest member in my family and I always dreamed to do various things in life, but now I am financially dependent on my brothers. I take care of all family members and also look after my paralyzed mother but my contribution is never considered valuable because I am not able to do any job like educated people. Why people always question girls and their intentions? Whenever girls are teased on their way back home, they are blamed for the incidence without knowing any other details. Why boys are not taught to behave properly with girls? Why cannot we allow girls to interact with the outside world?  Many women have to face lots of challenges in their lives and they hardly find someone to share their feelings. Many of them are forced to control their emotions and continue suffocating lives without finding companions to share their feelings. Do we realize the negative impacts of excessive control over the women in their households on their well-being? I could not complete my studies but I would request all the mothers to trust their daughters, allow them to move out of the houses and help them in continuing their studies.” 

It was really inspiring to listen to young girls talking about their lives and encouraging other girls to continue studies again. They had started to reflect on their own lives and decided to take some strong steps to lead lives in their own way. These girls have become a collective group who discuss their common concerns and want to support each other in dealing with their daily life challenges. After the emotional sharing in the events, girls came together to dance on popular local songs with full excitement. Many of the young girls, especially early married girls had not danced for years. It was heartening to see the girls dancing on the floor with the teachers and the married girls were dancing with kids. The closing events at various centers gave many inspiring memories to cherish in the future.


किशोरियों के उड़ान भरते सपने

anita blog 1

“इस दुनिया में असंभव कुछ भी नहीं,

मैं जो भी सोच लूं, वो सब कुछ कर सकती हूँ,

और मैं वो बातें भी सोच सकती हूँ, जो आज तक नहीं सोचीं

27 और 28 नवंबर, 2018 को उत्तर प्रदेश के ललितपुर जिले की महरौनी तहसील में  जोरदार उत्साह और मस्ती के साथ सहजनी शिक्षा केंद्र ने लगभग 260 किशोरियों के साथ किशोरी सम्मेलन का आयोजन किया.  इस सम्मेलन के दौरान होने वाले अलग अलग सत्रों की योजना रचनात्मक रूप से बनायी गई थी. इन्हीं में से एक सत्र में किशोरियों को अपने सपने बयान करने थे, इसके लिए वे कोई भी तरीका अपना सकतीं थीं.

anita blog 2

सभी किशोरियों ने बहुत ही उत्साह से अपने सपनों को सबके सामने प्रस्तुत किया. किसी ने चित्रों का इस्तेमाल किया तो किसी ने अपने अनकहे सपनों को कार्ड पर लिखा. किशोरियां जब इन्हें लिख रहीं थीं तो उनके चेहरे की जो ख़ुशी थी, उसे देखकर लगता था कि मानो उनके सपने उसी पल सच हो जायेंगे. किशोरियों ने अपने जो सपने हमें बताये उनमे से कुछ थे:

  • मेरा सपना है कि मेरा खुद का एक घर हो. घर, खेत और जानवर हमेशा क्यों पापा-भाई और चाचा के नाम होता है? अगर हमारे नाम से भी ये सब हो तो लड़कियों का महत्व बढ़ जायेगा और लोग इज्जत भी करेंगे.
  • आज पहली बार2 दिन के लिए अकेले घर से बाहर निकलने का मौका मिला तो बहुत ख़ुशी हो रही है ऐसे ही मैं कहीं भी अकेले घूमना चाहती हूँ.
  • मैंपुलिस में भर्ती होना चाहती हूँ ताकि अपनी  जाति (आदिवासी और दलित) से छुआछूत ख़त्म कर सकूं.
  • मैं8वी कक्षा में पढ़तीं हूँ, आगे भी पढ़ना चाहती हूँ और टीचर बनना चाहतीं हूँ.
  • मैं साइकिल चलाना चाहती हूँ.
  • मैं दिल्ली जाकर नौकरी करना चाहती हूँ.
  • मैं अपनी खुद की दुकान खोलना चाहती हूँ.
  • मैं आगे पढ़ना चाहती हूँ और डाक्टर बनना चाहती हूँ.

कुछ किशोरियां अपने सपनों को बताते हुए भावुक हो रहीं थी तो उन्हीं में से कुछ ऐसी भी थीं जिनकी आँखों में चमक थी, और सपनों को पूरा करने की ललक भी. ये सच है कि अपने इन सपनों तक पहुचने के लिए किशोरियों को लगातार संघर्ष करना होगा और उसके बाद भी ये पूरे हो पाएंगे, इसकी कोई गारंटी नहीं. मगर फिलहाल, ये चिंता छोड़ वे इन पलों में खुश हैं, किशोरी सम्मेलन के इन दो दिनों में उन्होंने खूब मस्ती की और जैसा कि एक किशोरी ने कहा भी – आप ऐसे ही हमें बार बार कुछ दिनों के लिए बुलाते रहना ताकि हम मस्ती के साथ-साथ दुनिया भी देख सकें.

Experience of Kishori Sammelan in Lalitpur

image005Shahjani Siksha Kendra (SSK) has been working with adolescent girls since 2015 on the issues of early marriage, low enrollment of girls and their early drop-out form schools. They are working to provide them opportunities for stepping outside their homes, providing educational opportunities and enhancing their self-confidence. SSK organised a kishori sammelan on the 27th and 28th of November 2018. 190 adolescent girls from 50 villages of 3 blocks; Mehroni, Mandwara and Birdha of Lalitpur district attended the event. The event was also attended by some of their parents, Panchayat leaders and teachers. The aim of this event was to bring together girls that SSK is working with and girls associated with other like-minded organisations in a space where they share and discuss their experiences and challenges that they have faced in getting the education they want. The event was designed in such a manner that the plays, panel discussions and sessions were such that they speak the language of the girls, be entertaining while ensuring issue based discussions. At the same time aiming for increasing interaction among girls of various villages.

In the 2 day sammelan, all the girls were given 3 colored ribbons and were divided into three groups. This was done in such a manner that girls from the same group are in different groups so that they can interact with each other. During both the days, a play and panel discussion was conducted with the girls. The play was directed and performed by the girls. The panel discussions also had girls from different villages, their parents and teachers. Topics of the two panel discussions were early marriage and the struggle faced during their education. During panel discussion on early marriage one of the parents, Jyanti shared that she is a single mother and despite the opposition from her family and the community she sent her three girls to school. They have now completed their graduation. She urged the gathering that all the families should promote their daughter’s education.


Three parallel sessions were also conducted which were interactive and creative in nature to promote informal discussion on issues ranging from the girl’s dreams, to inspiring stories of girls, to issue of gender and work, to health, to some general knowledge quizzes. The unique aspect about this sammelan was that these sessions were made informal and games such as snakes and ladder and musical chairs were tweaked in a manner that it took the shape of an issue based discussion. Girls were asked to draw their dreams among others.

In one such session, two videos were shown which showed success stories of girls in otherwise male dominated areas. Following this discussion was conducted with the girls. While discussing one of the sessions after showing the video of girls playing football in Jharkhand, the facilitators asked the girls to talk about the sports that they play and name some of their favorite sports. To this, some of the vocal girls suggested that their families don’t let them play games anymore with boys. To this, after some nudging from her teacher, a girl said that she has the support of her family and that she is a national level volleyball player. Similarly, in other group discussions, the girls suggested that their parents have supported them to drive tractors, which girls otherwise don’t do in their villages.

The result of this format was exciting and truly inspiring as organizers. The same girls who were hesitant to speak during the first sessions were all cramming to speak on the stage by the end of the sammelan. The girls were excited to participate in the discussions and the issues which could have otherwise overwhelmed them became a space for them to enjoy the discussions, participate in them and share their experiences. They shared their interesting experiences, expressed gratitude towards their family who is supporting their education and gave each other strength to continue their studies.