at the centre new

This article is based on our research work in the two resettlement colonies of Dakshinpuri and Sanjay Camp, located in south Delhi, with twenty participants: ten girls and ten boys. They are all 15 to 22 years of age and attend either school or college. They belong to primarily the Dalit and Muslim communities, which is also a representation of the demography of these two resettlement colonies. We focused on studying five themes: work, friendship-love-marriage, state-citizenship, media and education. The research methodologies we used were focused group discussions and in-depth personal interviews. The questions we tried to explore include the following:How do young people living in Dakshinpuri and Sanjay Camp experience personal relationships and what meanings do such relationships hold for them? How are these relationships influenced by differences in class and gender? How do they perceive and differentiate between romantic relationships and friendships?

Ideas of love and friendship collude and intermingle to produce colours that cannot be clearly differentiated. There is neither one simple definition of either of the two nor a homogenous experience of it. Yet, we are conditioned to compartmentalize these almost as if the experiences that come with romantic love and those that come with friendship can be segregated. From the idea that love is eternal to establishing that there is one and only one true love (sacha pyaar) to how love demands a performance of the normative roles of femininity and masculinity, Bollywood is, for our participants, undeniably theone source of information that defines and dictates how to behave in their friendships and romantic relationships.In Dakshinpuri and Sanjay Camp, opportunities for friendships with people of a different gender are restricted and kept under surveillance. Schools, tuition centres and participation in activities organized by Action India (a long-standing NGO working in this area) provide the only spaces where these fleeting moments of interaction, permissible yet controlled, are available to them. Friendships that brew here could then be continued outside in public spaces like parks and malls where they “cannot be seen” by others who may report it to their families. The consequences of being caught include stricter control on the girl’s mobility to the point where she may even have to stop going to  school; the boy,however, could escape with a firm warning. With increased access to smart phones and the Internet as well as social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, young people are finding ways to negotiate these boundaries of surveillance and desire. Girls who are first generation learners have ensured that their families cannot access their password protected phones, while others have found ways to hide their social media apps. Girls enjoy being in multiple romantic relationships online while simultaneously being able to maintain their anonymity. For the boys, anonymity isn’t a concern.

When we conducted the boys’ focused group discussions on the questions of friendships and love, we noted that some boys were emotionally intimate in their male friendships while some were not. Is it because they fear being vulnerable in male friendships but yearn for that safety in romantic relationships? What is the role of masculinity here? Or is our own understanding of intimacy, as emotionally invested conversations with each other, biased because we imagined it in a way that can be conceptualised as conventionally ‘feminine’? Sharing personal narratives of struggles and finding solace in knowing that you are not alone in that struggle, sharing anger and laughter with each other and providing the unflinching support that perhaps the family failed to, shapes those moments of intimacy within female friendships. Boys too experienced closeness and vulnerability within their male friendships, but differently from the girls. As both groups have gotten older, the meaning of friendship has changed with time. Their childhoods were marked with carefree play in the streets, with unrestricted interactions, even with children of different genders. This changed when the girls turned 8-9 years of age and the norms around being a “good” girl began filtering into their upbringing. The boys,now,find closeness with each other by networking, especially for employment opportunities. For them, a friend who can give information regarding jobs and give money in times of need is a close friend. By sharing experiences of transgression and narratives of challenging norms around mobility, the girls find meaning through solidarity. The burden of earning and financially supporting their families for the boys and breaking prohibitions on their daily living for girls forms the core of their friendships. Not just friendships, patriarchy has also defined how they fantasise about their future lovers or spouse.

We observed that none of them used the word “love” directly. Instead they had different terms to identify romantic relationships such as “someone special”, “main love” or “that kind of friendship” (woh waali dosti). The girls fantasised that their lovers and husbands would allow them to study further and work outside, to maintain their friendships, to not be suspicious of their male friendships, to accept them as they are, and would be open minded and share in the household chores, and not be violent with them. In short, they wanted someone who is not a reflection of how their lives have been so far; someone who can enable them to actualize their aspirational selves. The fantasies of the boys, on the other hand, sharply contrasted with those of the girls – their hopes for the future were in direct conflict. The boys’ expectations reflected the gender stereotypes about South Asian women – fair complexion, ‘good’ behaviour that is defined by respecting others,being traditional (sanskari), caring towards the husband and his parents and wearing clothes that do not ‘offend’ others.The boys also feel immensely burdened with having to continue the family lineage. “How will the stories of my grandparents be passed on if I do not have a child?” asked one boy. Coupled with the responsibility of procreating and carrying the family name, they also anxiously articulated the importance of having a son.For them, a “complete” family comprises of their parents, their wife and their two children­–a boy and a girl. To ensure this, they cannot challenge the norms of caste purity by marrying out of their own choice.

Girls viewed marriage as yet another hindrance in their lives.“What do we get after marriage? Sadness and restriction, nothing else. I have seen women around me. They are busy with their kids and family, they don’t have time for themselves…we cannot achieve our dreams after marriage. We are tied with relationships in marriage. It is better to live alone and have freedom to do things for myself.” The girls present a contradictory duality of their expectations from marriage – on the one hand,  a hope that it could liberate them from their current state of surveillance, and on the other, the knowledge, from observing lives around them, that marriage can be yet another form of a very controlled life. The boys described marriage as a rupture that breaks male friendships as familial responsibilities begin to take priority. For the girls, change in residence and the consequent lack of contact with their friends after marriage was the main reason for a fracture in female friendships. When we asked both to imagine their lives if they were 30 years of age and unmarried, the boys were seemingly apprehensive at the thought of being unmarried so late in their lives and insisted they would be married by then. They imagined living either alone or with their parents if they were still single. The girls seemed to have had invested enough thought and time thinking about this possibility many times before;they imagined a life with diverse family structures like live-in relationships, living with only friends, living alone or adopting and living as a single mother. Could this difference be because on the one hand boys have the freedom of mobility that leads to other privileges like pursuing education, forming friendships and loitering in public spaces, but on the other they have had no opportunity to feel, emote and think through the burdens of patriarchy? “A lack of safe space for boys to share their anxieties, vulnerability and stress is leading to a decrease in their socio-emotional understanding of themselves,” explained Soni ji, a senior NGO member from Action India.

The most striking facet of the reality of both boys and girls was the common fear of forming friendships across gender, which all participants felt. Boys feared being rejected or even reported to the police for “misbehaviour” while the girls shared that they do not understand boys at all and are not able to relate to them. They wished that co-education would be made mandatory by the government so that schools could provide that safe space where girls and boys would not hesitate to talk and would not be scared of each other.This would help in building an understanding of the self and the other that would gradually change the prejudices they harboured against each other. These girls and boys want and do seek out spaces where they can have an opportunity to understand each other. As people working in the development sector or otherwise, can we listen to the boys and their increased sense of being invisibilized? Not for once denying the need for sustained efforts towards girls’ empowerment, but ensuring that this time the ‘other’ side is not left behind creating ruptures and fragments of a different kind in the movement towards gender equity. Can we observe the changing landscape of gender and address the various contradictions that emerge in how girls and boys understand themselves and each other? The need perhaps is to create spaces where the sharing of one’s own narratives and listening to those of others is enabled.

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शहरों  की चकाचौंध और बदलाव को देखकर लगता है जैसे पूरा शहर बदल गया I ऐसा लगता है, लोगों का जीवन भी बदल गया होगाI लेकिन, अन्दर झाँकने पर पता चलता है कि  अभी भी आम लोगों, खास तौर पर हाशिये पर रह रहे लोगों का जीवन नहीं बदला है I धर्म और जाति से जुड़े मुद्दों पर मीडिया, नेता और सत्ताधारी लोग बहस करते रहते हैं I लेकिन, लोगों की बुनियांदी जरूरतों की ओर क्या किसी का ध्यान जाता है? अगर कभी चला भी जाए तो हवा के रुख की तरह आकर चले जाने में उसे समय नहीं लगता।  नीचे दी गई कविता में लोगों के रोज जीने के लिए चल रहे संघर्षों की झलक दिखाई देती है I 
विकास शब्द सुनकर लगता है,
वही पड़ोस का लड़का,
जो कभी इधर – कभी उधर,
बस दौड़ता रहता है I
बड़ी – बड़ी मीटिंगों में,
बड़े अदब से लेते हैं यह नाम,
कभी ठहर जाती हैं आखें,
कभी ठहर जाती है जुबाँ I
दिल्ली के फ्लाईओवर देखकर,
लगता है विकास, अभी – अभी आया है I
बस अब और देर नहीं I
लेकिन जब मैं दिल्ली की सीमापुरी की गलियों से गुज़री,
तो मानो अँधेरा सा छा गया I
उन तंग गलियों में झाँकने,
कभी विकास आया ही नहीं ?
पुरानी दिल्ली की जामा मस्जिद के पास टूटे रास्तों,
खंडहर से खड़े मकानों को,
अभी भी न जाने क्या आस है।
मौसम की मार को सहकर भी,
सत्ता की शतरंज में गिरकर भी,
चाय की उस पुरानी दुकान पर,
अभी भी कोई खड़ी है,
विकास के इंतज़ार में,
मगर विकास को फुर्सत कहाँ, इस धर्म के बाज़ार में,
न जाने कहाँ छिप गया वो, कौन से दरबार में?
ढूँढती रही मै बेखबर,
हर चहरे, हर दीवार पर,
उन ठेलेवालों, हिम्मतगारों पर,
जो रोज हैं जीते, रोज हैं मरते,
दिल में आस का दिया संजोये !
कभी न कभी तो आएगा,
जीवन रौशन कर जायेगा  ‘विकास’ I

Understanding the Self and the Other through Technology

cropped-cropped-nirantar-logo-final-2.jpgThe following is based on our ongoing research on young people living in a resettlement colony, Dakshinpuri, more specifically, Sanjay Camp, with 20 participants -10 girls and 10 boys, between the ages of 15 and 22 years. It commenced in January 2017. Community members in this resettlement colony mostly belong to Scheduled Caste and Other Backward Castes (like Valmiki, Khateek, Baniya), with Valimikis and Muslims forming the bulk of the population. The research methodology included Focus Group Discussions facilitated separately with girls and boys on five themes; namely, Work, Love-Friendship -Marriage, Education, Media, and State-Citizenship. These were followed by two rounds of in-depth personal interviews that focused on how these affect their structural and personal realities/selves.

Dakshinpuri and Sanjay Camp are both situated in Ambedkar Nagar. While the former is a recognized resettlement colony the latter is an unauthorized Jhuggi Jhopdi (JJ) colony. Its geographic location is telling of its socio-economic standing in the city. Situated in the south of Delhi, the most developed part of the city; it is surrounded by the most luxurious shopping malls and sprawling housing localities of Delhi. This exemplifies the paradox of urban development where a population of about 60-70 thousand lives in a compact and dense housing system, on a small piece of land – the disparity of unequal distribution of resources of land, water and electricity is too stark to be ignored.

Among our participants, except for four girls, everyone has a smart phone for personal use. While the boys have complete autonomy over their phones, the girls’ phones are also used by other members of the family, mostly their mothers. In addition to that, their brothers, younger or older, have access to their phone and Facebook passwords. Most of them have more than one profile on Facebook, one where their identity is not altered which is used with close friends only and the other where their identity is confidential which is used to chat with people outside their friend circle. This anonymity affords them the safety to talk to people far and wide, in Delhi and in other cities. Their Whatsapp profile photos and Facebook photos reflect their aspirations of a life they hope to live as young adults once they attain economic mobility. Social media then gives the opportunity to project oneself as one would aspire to be, within certain boundaries of anonymity. This research  explores how the proliferation of technology, especially social media, changes the ways in which young people in the resettlement colonies of Dakshinpuri and Sanjay Camp navigate terrains of friendship, mobility, family, romance and leisure, and how this technology changes their relationship with the State and the City?

Exploring the inter-generational nuances, we found that their mothers often don’t have a phone or use the dubba ‘family phone’ (an old style Nokia phone with a torch) restrictively to call or receive calls which is taught to them by their children since they cannot read or write. Fathers have a personal phone but are not on any social media platform. In the current scenario where India is being reimagined as ‘Digital India’ to capitalize further on the encroaching capitalist agenda, the research  wants to explore where this population is placed and if they are even a part of this re-imagination.

In the age of politics being run through PR agents, social media serves as the medium through which propaganda speeches are made and shared and information about employment opportunities or other government schemes and policies are sought. While one has access to information (employment or computer coaching classes) does one really have access to these opportunities? The absence of education and economic structures creates a gap in the presentation of these opportunities and the actualization of these aspirations. While technology has widened the access to the city and its offerings has it further accentuated the already demarcated class boundaries? What kind of a subject is being constructed by the State driven processes of digitization? Who is this new citizen – what is their relationship with the State? One part of this research is an attempt to understand how one defines Citizenship through technology.

हाॅकी खेलती लड़कियाँ

कात्यायनी पिछले 24 सालों से अलग-अलग पत्र-पत्रिकाओं में राजनीतिक, सामाजिक और सांस्कृतिक विषयों पर स्वतंत्र लेखन कर रही हैं। उन्होंने कई कविताएँ और कहानियाँ भी लिखी हैं। नीचे उनकी एक कविता से अंश दिया गया है।
आज शुक्रवार का दिन है
और इस छोटे से शहर की ये लड़कियाँ
खेल रही हैं हाॅकी, खुश हैं लड़कियाँ
फिलहाल खेल रही हैं हाॅकी, कोई डर नहीं
बाॅल के साथ दौड़ती हुई, हाथों में साधे स्टिक
वे हरी घास पर तैरती हैं
चूल्हे की आँच से, मूसल की धमक से
दौड़ती हुई बहुत दूर आ जाती हैं
लड़कियाँ पैनल्टी काॅर्नर मार रही हैं
लड़कियाँ पास दे रही हैं
लड़कियाँ गोल-गोल चिल्लाती हुई
बीच मैदान की ओर भाग रही हैं
लड़कियाँ एक-दूसरे के ऊपर ढह रही हैं
एक-दूसरे को चूम रही हैं
सीटी मार रही हैं और हँस रही हैं
इसी तरह खेलती रहती लड़कियाँ
निःसंकोच-निर्भीक दौड़ती भागती रहतीं इसी तरह
और हम देखते रहते उन्हें
पर शाम है कि होगी ही रैफरी है कि बाज़ नहीं आएगा
सीटी बचाने से और स्टिक लटकाए हाथों में
एक भीषण जंग से निपटने की तैयारी करती लौटेंगी घर
अगर ऐसा न हो तो समय रूक जाएगा
वज्रपात हो जाएगा, चक्रवात आ जाएगा
घर पर बैठे देखने आए वर पक्ष के लोग पैर पटकते चले जाएँगे
बाबू जी घुस आएँगे गरजते हुए मैदान में
भाई दौड़ता हुआ आएगा और झोंट पकड़कर घसीट ले जाएगा
अम्मा कोसेगी किस घड़ी में पैदा किया था ऐसी कुलच्छनी बेटी को
घर फिर एक अंधेरे में डूब जाएगा
सब सो जाएँगे लड़कियाँ घूरेंगी अंधेरे में
खटिया पर चित्त लेटी हुई अम्मा की लंबी साँसे सुनती
इंतज़ार करती हुई कि अभी वे आकर उनका सिर सहलाएँगी
सो जाएँगी लड़कियाँ
सपने में दौड़ती हुई बाॅल के पीछे
स्टिक को साधे हुए हाथों में पृथ्वी के छोर पर पहुँच जाएँगी
और गोल-गोल चिल्लाती हुई एक-दूसरे को चूमती हुई
लिपटकर धरती पर गिर जाएँगी
(निरंतर के प्रकाशन ‘हमारी कलम से’ में प्रकाशित)

समन्दर पार

पंडिता रमाबाई (1858-1922) का पूरा जीवन एक अनथक यात्रा है। जब वे छह महीने की थीं तभी उनके पिता सपरिवार तीर्थयात्रा पर निकल पड़े थे। पुराण बाँचते हुए पूरे परिवार ने भारत भ्रमण किया। उसी बीच उनकी पारंपरिक शिक्षा-दीक्षा हुई। यात्रा के दौरान अकाल में उनके माता-पिता की मृत्यु हो गई। आगे उन्होंने इंग्लैंड जाना तय किया जिसको लेकर लोगों में हलचल मच गई थी। उस समय समुद्र यात्रा को पाप माना जाता था। और उसमें भी स्त्री का अकेले जाना किसी के गले नहीं उतर रहा था। रमाबाई ने यह पत्र महाराष्ट्र के अपने मित्र सदाशिव पाडुरंग केलकर के नाम लिखा था। उन्होंने मराठी भाषा में इसे किताब की शक्ल में छपवा दिया। इंग्लैंड यात्रा के बारे में लिखी गई यह किताब बिकेगी, ऐसी उम्मीद थी। छपाई का खर्च निकल जाने के बाद बिक्री के पैसे रमाबाई की पढ़ाई के खर्चे के काम आएँगे, यह भी इरादा था।
सेंट मेरीज़ होम, इंग्लैंड
प्रिय भाई,
कल दोपहर में आपका पत्र मिला। उसे पढ़ते समय मेरे मन की हालत क्या थी, इसे बता नहीं सकती। अपने लोगों को छोड़कर दूर चले जाने वाला आदमी ही यह समझ सकता है कि मैं क्या महसूस करती हूँ। आप इसे दूसरे अर्थ में नहीं लीजिएगा, मगर यहाँ पर आना मेरी खुशकिस्मती है। अभी तक मैंने बहुत परेशानियाँ झेली हैं और उसके बाद यहाँ का जीवन वाकई सुखमय लगता है। ईश्वर ने यह अच्छा मौका मुझे दिया है।
मनुष्य का जीवन एक नाटक है। हम रंगमंच पर जो देखते हैं, वह मिथ्या है। हकीकत में हमारा जीवन ही नाटक है। लगभग एक साल पहले मैंने आपको बताया था कि मैं यूरोप जाना चाहती हूँ। मेरा इरादा है कि वहाँ जाकर मैं मेडिकल की पढ़ाई करूँ। 20 अप्रैल, 1883 की शाम बंबई से हम ‘एस.एस. बुखारा’ नामक पानी के जहाज़ से इंग्लैंड के लिए रवाना हुए। आप सबने यह यात्रा करने से मना किया था। और मैं अपने दोस्तों से ऊपर नहीं हूँ, लेकिन मुझे लगा कि मुझे जाना चाहिए। मैं इंग्लैंड गई ताकि अपने आपको जीवन और आगे के काम के लिए तैयार कर सकूँ। मेरा फैसला सही है और मैंने वही किया जो करना चाहिए था।
जहाज़ में मेरा केबिन बहुत सँकरा था। छः सीट थी, पर हम तीन ही थे – मैं, मेरी बेटी मनोरमा और मेरी दोस्त आनंदीबाई भगत। हमारे साथ कोई विदेशी नहीं रहना चाहता था, इसलिए हमें सुविधा ही हुई। सत्ताइस दिन का पूरा सफर था। उसमें हम लगभग आधा पेट खाकर रहे या कहिए  आधा भूखे। कारण यह था कि जहाज़ पर जो खाना मिलता था, वह खाया नहीं जा रहा था। फिर भी मैंने ईश्वर को धन्यवाद दिया। उसकी कृपा से कम से कम समुद्र के बीचोबीच खाना तो मिल रहा था।
मुझे शुरू से मुश्किल का सामना करने का अभ्यास है। इसलिए दूसरों की तुलना में कम दिक्कत हुई। पहले भी अपने पिता के साथ जहाज़ की यात्रा कर चुकी थी। अपनी माँ-बहन-भाई सबके साथ जहाज़ से मंगलोर से बंबई और बंबई से द्वारका गई थी। इंग्लैंड की इस यात्रा में एडेन देश होते हुए 1 मई, 1883 को हम स्वेज़ बंदरगाह पहुँचे। वहाँ हमने जहाज़ बदला और कलकत्ता से आ रहे दूसरे जहाज़ पर सवार हुए। इस जहाज़ का नाम था ‘एस.एस. केसरी-ए-हिन्द’। यह स्टीमर हालाँकि ज़्यादा बड़ा था, पर भीड़ भी उतनी ही थी।
चार दिन बाद हम जिब्राल्टर देश पहुँचे। उसके बाद समुद्र ने भयानक रूप धारण कर लिया। हमारा स्टीमर बहुत झटके खा रहा था। इतना कि हम केबिन के एक छोर से दूसरे छोर तक एक दूसरे पर लुढ़के जा रहे थे। सारे मुसाफिरों की हालत खराब थी। यदि हम खड़े होने की कोशिश करते तो दीवार से सिर जा टकराता था। 16 मई को लंदन के पास के एक बंदरगाह पर स्टीमर ने लंगर डाला। बंदरगाह पर सेंट मेरीज होम (ईसाई नन की संस्था) से दो सिस्टर मुझसे मिलने आईं। उन्होंने मेरा प्रेम पूर्वक स्वागत किया। उनमें से एक सिस्टर का परिचय मुझ से पूना शहर के सेंट मेरीज़ होम में हुआ था। उनके साथ एक और सज्जन थे, जो बाद में चले गए। सिस्टर के साथ मैं सेंट मेरीज़ होम  पहुँची, जहाँ अच्छे से स्वागत हुआ।
फिलहाल यहाँ आकर मैंने अपनी पढ़ाई शुरू कर दी है। नई दिनचर्या में रम गई हूँ। काफी कुछ पढ़ना और जानना-समझना है। भारत में क्या चल रहा है, इसकी खोज-खबर भी रखती हूँ। अभी यहाँ बाहर घूम-फिरकर नहीं देखा है। आपको फिर लिखूँगी, जब कुछ जान समझ लूँगी।
आपकी रमा
(निरंतर की पत्रिका ‘आपका पिटारा’ के 98वे अंक ‘दुनिया की सैर में प्रकाशित)