By Vasudha Ratawal
It has opened up gates to new ideas and hopes for youth. It has united youth beyond borders, youth who want peace and no war. SAYC is a vibrant platform for discussing our varied perspectives, a place to listen and speak simultaneously. It helped me deconstruct many myths and societal barriers which often stop the people of South Asia to unite.
Often piled up by theories on different ideologies and varied perspectives, SAYC brought cross-cutting experiences beyond the intellectual conflicts. Mostly caught in the intellectual debates we tend to forget the reason for the deliberations, the reason being bringing forward the lived experiences of mankind across the globe. We often forget to balance between the larger discourse and the world at the bottom for who we actually debate.
Three core themes of SAYC were:
1. Arts, Peace and Culture
2. Gender Equality
3. Social Entrepreneurship.
All three themes were the ones with which youth at present felt passionate about. Attended by almost 80 young change makers of varied professions from South Asian countries such as Pakistan, India, Maldives, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal, it is interesting to see that no matter of which profession or country we belonged the heart of the youth today beats for humanity and peaceful co-existence.
As a part of the SAYC culture all the participants were divided into different families. Each family had participants from different countries. Each family had to spend family time at the end of the day sharing their experiences, anxieties and how to take this process ahead. The sharing within the families helped in understanding each other’s interests; also sharing the inhibitions that we had about each other’s countries. SAYC gave a space to youth to talk about their common problems which have rotten their nations. The informal space helped in exchanging ideas and sowed seeds of new interventions from the perspective of youth.
The first day of the conference began with a talk on peace and culture. Religion being the most heated topic at present was also brought up by many participants of almost all countries as religion have systematically led to curbing of freedom of expression and have ignited communalism. Linking between the individual interests and of greater good the session triggered many questions among young minds. The idea of debates was not to provide answers of our queries but to trigger more questions.
An activity was conducted to understand the nuances of war, peace and revenge. We were divided into groups of three and individuals were named as A, B and C. All the three were given a chance to pinch each other, there were times when we had a chance not to pinch and let go. But in this activity the moderator played a major role in instigating individuals to take revenge. It was surprising to see that despite having an opportunity to not to pinch and take revenge many ended up taking revenge. This activity clearly made us understand the role of back forces and powerful leaders in instigating war and violence. This activity opened up gates to understand the dynamics of war.
The second day of the conference talked about gender inequality and discrimination. Beginning with the concepts of gender, gender inequality, gender and culture, transgender, LGBTQI the panel discussion went beyond the understanding of gender which is often confined to male and female. The speakers talked about instances in daily routine which are gender discriminatory but we often live in a state of denial. Open discussion indicated the alarming need to consider gender as an important aspect for sustainable development.
The panel discussion was followed by an activity ‘gender bender’. In this activity the larger group was divided into pairs comprising of a male and female. There were questions in set of three about gender and sex; discussion regarding sex and gender, how gender is part of an individual in daily routine, similarly, lack of freedom to talk about sex have further built up the problems. The activity helped in understanding that gender is omnipresent and effect each and every individual in different setting be it rural or urban, male, female or transgender. During the unconference time the issue of multi-layered inequalities was put forward to understand gender from the lens of the most marginalised.
The third day of conference was about social entrepreneurship and innovation. Most of the youth were clear about creating innovative and income-generating startups and wanted to go beyond just charity and non-governmental organisations ways of working. Giving space to new ideas in varied in different setting be it urban and rural, entrepreneurship was seen as an instrument to foster productive change. The third day of the conference also had a cultural night; participants from different countries performed and represented their nations.
Besides the formal and informal discussion, there was an activity called ‘unconference time’. In unconference time the participants were given space to take workshops and talk on the topic of their interest. I initiated discussions on caste during the informal time as most of the Indian were unaware of the caste marginalisation. Often living in the state of denial and ignorance the discussion was about the evil caste system and systematic marginalisation which have affected individuals in large way.
Importance of reservation, caste and human rights, caste and patriarchy, humiliation and caste, development of Dalits were some of the key issues which were discussed during this period. Most of the experiences were from elite upper caste perspectives which were anti-reservation and denied existence of caste based discrimination. The debate helped in deconstructing the myths of the participants on caste lines and put forward a new approach which was to annihilate caste and build an inclusive India. I am glad I got an opportunity to talk about the issue for which my heart beats the most.
(The writer is the Communication Officer at National Confederation of Dalit Adivasi Organisations, New Delhi and was a delegate of India at SAYC 2015.)