Uncuff India Episode 5: Caste violence, resistance and justice

Episode 5: Caste violence, resistance and justice

Through the fifth episode of the podcast, we aim to unpack caste violence, its agents and its various manifestations. Our insightful guest, Dr Swati Kamble, also speaks to us about the history of Dalit resistance, the role of women in the movement and also how writing became the medium for seeking justice.
Dr Swati Kamble is an anti-caste intersectional feminist and independent researcher-activist whose research broadly focuses on human rights and social justice movements, decolonisation and intersectionality. Currently, she is researching the digital activism of Dalit women and middle-class Dalit women’s mobility in the Indian neo-liberal market and is also collaborating with Dalit, indigenous and marginalised groups and organisations in India for the mapping and archival of indigenous forms of knowledge and decolonisation.
Content warning: mentions of caste violence and genocide, untouchability, physical abuse, gang rape, rape, sexual assault

Transcript

[Intro]

 

Abhinaya

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Uncuff India Podcast. I’m Abhinaya and my pronouns are she and her. 

 

Uttanshi- My name is Uttanshi and my pronouns are she and her. We are your hosts for today and it’s lovely to have you all listening in. 

 

[Intro ends]

 

Uttanshi

In this episode, we aim to understand the processes which inform writing and sharing about violence by the State, particularly by and about people from Dalit communities. We will do this by exploring how the State treats their writing and reporting of state violence, and will critically assess the challenges that the Dalit communities face, including the institutional violence embedded within the process of speaking up. 

 

Abhinaya

And State agencies are modeled on existing, unequal social systems. In practice, this can look like replication and aggravation of existing forms of violence. This becomes possible for the State due to the socio-political, and oftentimes even legal sanctioning of the actions of these agencies. Moreover, given that India’s ranking in the Press Freedom Index has only dipped consistently in the recent past, the silencing and erasure of marginalized narratives is often the outcome. Given these circumstances, through this episode, we aim to understand what’s speaking up against the State and or even speaking out about one’s lived realities mean for people at the intersections of these multiple vulnerabilities. 

 

Uttanshi

Thanks Abhinaya for that. To discuss this and to share their insights on this very important topic with us, we have with us Dr. Swati Kamble. Swati is an anti caste intersectional feminist and independent researcher activist. Her research broadly focuses on human rights and social justice movements, decolonization, and intersectionality. She has a PhD in Socio Economics from the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Geneva and her doctoral research focused on the political mobilization of India’s caste affected, caste oppressed communities, their movement history and how this movement has shaped oppressed caste women activists into agents of change. In this research, she studied how Dalit women activists influence policy processes by negotiating and navigating androcentric upper-caste bureaucratic spaces of power. Additionally, she has studied Roma women’s movement in Hungary and how the European Decade for the Roma Inclusion Plan policy did not reflect the issues of Roma women that the Roma civil Society has been advocating for. Currently, she is researching the digital activism of Dalit women and middle class Dalit women’s mobility in the Indian neoliberal market. She is also collaborating with Dalit indigenous and marginalized groups and organizations in India on a project around mapping and archival of indigenous forms of knowledge and decolonization. I am so thrilled to have you join us for this episode, Swati. It’s been phenomenal to be learning from you and to be hearing your thoughts on this very, very important topic. Thank you for being here.

 

Swati

Thank you so much, Uttanshi. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

 

Abhinaya

Thank you so much Uttanshi and  Swati. I think to start off Swati, I think that there’s a tendency to generally deny that caste violence even exists in our society. So would you be able to shed some light on instances of violence that Dalit communities have experienced in India?

 

Swati

Yeah, Thank you very much, Abhinaya. Absolutely. There is this tendency due to the constitutional safeguards that exist today-  be it on paper most of the times that within India, Dalit communities marginalized communities in general be it also the Adivasi Scheduled Tribes Vimukta and (NT and DNT)-nomadic tribes and denotified tribes communities that who are protected, who have affirmative action, you know, reservation ensured through affirmative action or there is atrocities Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 that ensures that you know any form of atrocities against these marginalized communities would be punishable offense. So, and untouchability is constitutionally abolished within India we have these, you know, very very strong legal frameworks that address these injustices, historical injustices meted out against the untouchable communities of yesteryears who are named now Dalits and other vulnerable communities. But our society has not caught up to the constitutional morality that we have. And as we know that the fabric of our society, our Indian society, is a caste fabric, it’s woven in caste. So, all around us we see instances of violence right from institutional violence where students going into higher education or for that matter primary schools, you see that students experience casteism, students are told I mean they’re they are told about their caste while they are asking difficult questions. So, you are always told that you know be grateful for the favor that is done to you by the State. So, State and the society thinks that you are this protected category and are now benefiting from these fruits and you’re not deserving of these fruits. So you have case very, very famous case of Rohit Vemula in 2016 where not only was he a very brilliant scholar, we got to read him only through his suicide note which caused fervor in our our Indian society. And it led to a very strong momentum of student movement within India. A student movement of anti-caste communities, anti-caste students were when he asked difficult questions in the institutions around the Hindutva nationalistic rhetoric that is going around him and other anti-caste students were not allowed to enter the university premises. And when they protested by staying outside the university premises, it’s almost looked at as you know, the very symbolic performance of caste. Where you are ousted, you are ostracized in the similar fashion as written in the scriptures, like you’ll be punished if you have dared to read the Vedas, you will be punished with molten lead in your ears or your tongue would be chopped off. This is what scriptures prescribed, some 2000 odd years ago, 2005, 500 years ago and these archaic rules you see being played out in contemporary times too very very much. Where as a form of protest, Rohit Vemula committed suicide and the anti-caste community’s term it institutional murder. You have this very strong instance where his suicide note talks about his birth being his fatal accident that a human is not acknowledged for his shared humanness. But there will be these labels of caste, of gender, of how much money you have, what is a social cloud that you have, what are your social networks. These are the ways in which humans are graded. And that’s what we see time and again in our Indian society and it’s not only in this direct form of violence that we can not only it’s not only in this direct form of violence where people are murdered, people are killed, but also structurally because you’re not expected to be in these spaces, you’re not allowed to be in this spaces. So when you be there, you be amicable, you be docile, don’t ask questions, follow the norms, norms prescribed by the caste. You don’t do that. You are going above what you’re supposed to do. So this very strong power dynamic conflict arises when subversion takes place within the marginalized, when marginalized ask difficult questions, when marginalized ask truth. Speak truth to the power- the power be it educational institutions, power be it the State, political institutions, judiciary, you get confronted, yet you know Dalit communities have been very, very assertive asking for their rights because there is a 200 years long legacy of movement social movements and that really sort of has emboldened, emancipated a whole lot of Dalit communities. You have other very recent instance of Hathras gang rape in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is, I dare say, one of the most feudal states in India, most populous state and very divided state in the contemporary Hindu nationalistic State that we are in and you have three years ago, this young woman who was gang raped by the Thakur caste men and her mortal remains were burned by the police. So, police and judiciary worked hand in hand in covering up the entire atrocity that was meted out. Not only that, when the verdict comes out, you see acquittal of the four out of three of the accused and only one of the accused convicted and convicted under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. Despite the dying declaration of the victim who named clearly that she was forcibly sexually violated. So you see that our Indian society is very much steeped in this brahmanical patriarchy where Dalit communities are also taught lesson by controlling women sexually by, you know, doing this. So, Dalit women bear the multiple burden of violence. So you see, educated masses, the critical mass within the community gets the strong bowl blow. The women get the strong blow and these are the ones who are at the forefront of the movement too. So, their assertion on top of the violence that is over, like omnipresent, you see that when they assert, when they dissent and when they ask difficult questions is when they also experience violence. Yes. So these are two instances, but there are multiple of them. In Maharashtra you have Khairlanji that happened in 2006 and I was 20 year old who had just come abroad to study in Sweden. And I remember this very clear, clear as day September of 2006 when we heard of how the entire family was hacked to death, death, how the women of the family were raped, brutally dismembered and the violation is beyond, you know, it’s such a monstrous act. The violation is so extreme that one disbelieves. So I think the majority of society also plays an ostrich. It puts head under the sand and says, oh, look what all we have done. They had only reservation for 10 years. It was meant to be 10 years. It’s been prolonged and it’s been prolonged and it’s been prolonged all the while forgetting that the reservation is not an act to just remedy the, you know, class of poverty. It is an act to reparative justice, you know, all those in historical injustices need to be turned. That’s when we can say that this form of reservation can be ended or when the violence is like not only absence of direct violence, because absence of direct violence can be created by snifling the voices, but you could also, I mean you have to focus on restorative, reparative justice.

 

Uttanshi

 Yeah, no, definitely, Swati. I think there’s so much to unpack in your answer to our question and I think.

 

Swati

There is, yes, yes, it’s very complex.

 

Uttanshi

Yeah, definitely. And you know, I’m very intrigued to also step in to just break down some of this complexity a little bit more for our listeners. And I wanted to understand from you, you know, you shared experiences and examples of people from the Dalit community speaking against this form of violence and, yeah, you know, not being silent in the face of this sort of violence. And I wanted to ask. You, you know, what are, what are some of the ways by which we can start thinking about the challenges that a Dalit person faces when they come out and they speak truth to power, right?You of course mentioned some of them, but if you could just highlight, say two or three for our listeners to get that understanding and to be able to really empathize with the challenges that members of the Dalit community may face, it will be really, really fantastic.

 

Swati

Definitely. So you know I can go back to 2007 and eight when I was a master student and I decided to look at the constitutional guarantees or amendment that’s were made to ensure political participation of women and schedule caste and scheduled tribes. So because and this is also in the background of the 90s where we were really looking at decentralization of government and when we look at decentralization, it looks like ideal panchayat Raj where people have power or to true democracy where, you know, people collectively make decisions about their ways of living in the village. It sounds very sustainable and it sounds very romantic also. But looked at from the caste lens, the villages small, you know, closed knit communities tend to be the dense of, you know, casteism and violence. So, my research was looking at the violence experiences experienced by  Dalit communities, specifically Dalit women in the in Maharashtra in beed district- Marathwada region of Maharashtra, which is also within Maharashtra context is one of the very kind of a state region where Dalits have experienced extreme forms of violence also because of the existing movement of existing vibrant Dalit movement there. So, you see side by side the existence of Dalit movement and violence. The Maratwara region experiences the NAMANTAR ANDOLAN server, you would want to look that up. Namantar Server is changing the name of Maratwara University to Dr. Ambedkar University. Now Dr. Ambedkar had contributed tremendously in building educational institutions and, you know, laying out a framework for educational upliftment of marginalized folks. And so, therefore, it was only logical for the state of Maharashtra to lend that honor to him by giving the name of the university and symbolically, it’s not a very huge act, but when the society is casteized, when the society does not acknowledge the revolutionaries and leaders of the communities and when these symbols become, you know, markers of creating histories, taking spaces, acknowledging laying claim to these public spaces, universities, roads and so on, statue building, all these become contested issues. How do they become contested issues? That’s, you know, you rewriting that you were here, you are marking, you’re creating a signpost and then that signpost is not accepted by the dominant society. So, Marathwada region is a very unique region and that’s why I chose to go there to work with a Manavi Haqq ka Abhiyan, which means Human Rights Campaign organization led by late advocate Eknath Awad and there I was looking at how Dalit women are trying to participate in this constitutional amendment of 73rd and 74th Amendment, where you can participate in the Panchayat Raj as a chairperson. You can go for elections and become the chairperson or be the members. Now what was happening in 2006 and seven is that a lot of reports were coming forth. What kind of reports were coming forth of the political participation after a decade, decade and a half of this amendment implementation is that women are merely while women’s participation has increased, they are merely proxies or beti bahu brigade as in beti bahu and wives, daughters, wives and daughter in laws were made proxies to the seat of chairperson. So, the whole business would be taken care by the men of the family and within the Dalit communities it would be the landlord. So, the power dynamic in the villages were playing out and so this was the reporting that was going on in the newspapers and so on. On the other hand, I was also reading civil society organizations, reports, reports of assertion of Dalit communities to exercise the chairmanship and and then the violence meted out to them. So, you had NCDHR bringing out a report called Dalit Women Speak Out and there they mapped out violence against women who were participating in politics. In that research, I looked at 20 women who were participating in politics and, as a young researcher, I saw that you know I went with this feeling that our I went with this knowledge because, you know, you are also studying in educational institutions which are highly colonial, highly upper caste institutions. So you sort of take in what is told to you and I thought that I will have narratives of women experiencing extreme form of violence and I did encountered a lot of, you know, experiences of violence, but what intrigued me further was how these women were in the face of violence still going ahead, claiming their rights. So how did they claim their rights? They were not allowed to sit on the chair. So I wouldn’t be sharing the names of the women. This was already a decade and a half ago, but one of the women that I interviewed, she ensured sitting on the chair by having two police personnel around during the meetings. Another one invited during the flag hoisting of 26th January. She was not allowed to hoist flag for first two years. The third year comes, a whole team of police who stand there and she hoists flag in the presence of police. Now, she tells me these both women told me with amusement, but  to have these mere simple symbols of your citizenship as your as being a chairperson being played out you you are sort of having to have police protection. You have someone who went up to Supreme Court because she had a no confidence motion against her because she was asking too many difficult questions during the her chairmanship and she went ahead from High Court to Supreme Court and in the end the President of India felicitated her and she was very proud, but the ordeal that one goes through to sort of claim your simple citizenry rights that should be just ensured to you and it’s it’s quite intrigued me and it sort of turned my attention to look at what are the factors that facilitate the marginalized communities to sustain against all this backlash against all this violence and that’s what my research kind of tried to bring forth. You have many, many famous cases where you know a tribal community person, Mathura Mathura’s case or you look at the Bhavri Devi’s case, you see that these victims of violence, rape then become sort of face of the movement. BhavrI Devi in fact became so very active in her like trajectory after being the survivor of violence. So, these are a few instances from the like your yesteryears, you have the whole strong movement that has come up in recent years against the institutional violence that is taking place, student groups emerging. So, these are the instances where members of the Dalit communities are kind of and writing sort of like intellectually engaging, keeping the discourse going, talking over and over and over again that look around you violence happens because it can be easily forgotten to the point that, you know, Dalit communities are accused that you are crying the same cries all over again and you’re playing a politics of this caste discrimination to forward your own interest. These are the sort of accusations that are slapped at Dalit communities, leaderships and yeah we can even further talk about, you know, other sorts of allegations that the lit women face, Dalit men face, the question of Dalit patriarchy- the term that is introduced by the lip scholar Gopal guru. But how it is used, misused, twisted. How intersectionality is misused and twisted in our future questions.

 

Abhinaya

Thank you so much for your insights on that question, Swathi, and also for. Also, for depicting what forms Dalit resistance has taken over the years and what it manifests as as well, and since you also specifically mentioned the role of Dalit writing in sustaining and nourishing the Dalit resistance movement, I wanted to understand from you if you could elaborate on that a little bit more and also shed light on the value continuously writing about violence against Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi folks bring the brings to the table.

 

Swati

Thank you Abhinaya for that question. Dalit writings in recent years and even in the past years, like you know if you go you’ll have to trace back the history of the one of the first sort of documentation of Dalit writings you you look at  Mukta Salve was one of the students of Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule, the first educators of in India of indigenous, you know, background and Mukta Salve writes very critically about the plight of Mahar and Mahan communities in Maharashtra and you see her ask very, very critical, pertinent questions and she talks about the multiple burdens faced by the Dalit women. She talks about intersectionality. I mean, of course, intersectionality came into being just 30 years ago, but the intersectional way of thinking already existed in Dalit writings. So she talks about how Dalit women bear the burden of labor. So, they are laboring classes, but laboring intellectuals. You see that they are, you know, in her writing she talks about how they have to give birth to their babies without a roof and the grueling labor that the men and women continue and that education is going to emancipate them. So, this emphasis on education is already there right from the beginning because she’s the one of the first ones of the community who has received, you know, the benefits of it and has gained her own voice. You come to the 60s and the 70s and you see Dalit writings taking much more revolutionary edge in terms of, you know, the Dalit Panthers movement, which led to literally movement to use literary movement. You look at Namdev Dhasal’s writing, it’s so explosive. One of the poem that touches me to the core is man- you should explode and you you get so uncomfortable by the way he is pouring out this sort of, you know, destruction and towards the end, he says once you are done with all this destructive way of being man, you should become human and that, like you know, is the essence of  Dalit writing. I feel Dalit writing invites us to find our humanity. It democratizes our, you know, social fabric which is, you know, very graded. So, you see in the 60s, 70s, 80s, much more Dalit literature coming up, which is it was coming up in such a sort of form that the label was attached to it-Dalit literature. You have Arjun Dangle’s Poisonous Bread, you have the Yapawars Baluto in Maharashtra, you have Urmila Pawar and Urmila Pawar writing. We also wrote Histories, a book where she’s documenting the activism of micro organizations of the little women in the city of Bombay in Maharashtra and she’s trying to unearth and uncover all these unnamed unsung heroines and heroes in her writing. Across India, writing sort of became an exchange within the communities to come together to mobilize. It was sort of a kind of creation of manifestos. What are we experiencing? What are we aspiring to? And it’s so it’s a very radical form of kindness, if I may say so. It’s a radical form of asking critical questions. It’s brave. And I don’t want to romanticize because there are a lot of issues within Dalit and other marginalized communities, but you know, women have been also at the forefront of asking these critical questions through their right things. They have also talked about the way Brahmin Brahmanical patriarchy has affected the Dalit Solidarity or Dalit household. You have Bama’s writing Karukku and you have U-turn by Omprakash Valmiki in the north. So these are very, very interesting books and thoughts produced in them kind of give way forward to Dalit communities. It’s a venting and you know the literature gets sort of accusations that it is descriptive, that it is experiential, that it is anecdotal and that there is no analysis, but if you read through, you see greater philosophical thoughts in those writings. My Mukta Salve is talking about education as emancipation. I mean that’s that’s so profound- like Jyotirao Phule talks about truth seeking society where he’s talking he he invites you to have a critical mind and you know this is way before Pedagogy of Oppressed which invites you critical consciousness came into being and I it’s it’s it’s really for me I feel that it it has made- I mean in in the the the 70s, 80s literature has kind of given a foundation for Dalit communities. And you you see in contemporary times, Dalit women mostly engaging in writings on digital platforms, art, they’re using digital platforms to communicate through their art forms, through their writings, by talking to each other, they’re coming together and internet space, which is also where you know now talking about marginalization, talking about racial discrimination and sort of has kind of garnered some attention- you see Dalit women hypervisiblised in a certain way and Dalit women try to challenge that. They try to challenge the victimization that is their victimization imposed on them. They are they have been victims of the violence, but that is not the only narrative that defines the lit women, Dalit women’s multiple, multiple ways of being are showcased in these forms of writings or communication and knowledge creation and in fact, you know, writing is a contemporary form relatively new to our human society, but before that, there have been indigenous ways, anti-caste ways of being. You know, to the point where I would even say that the dissenting communities of the yesteryears got this and I think I know that Ambedkar writes in his book Whoever Who were the untouchables, Who were the shudras– he’s in fact trying to say that the, you know, when the human divisions happen, those who were defeated or those who were asking who were dissenting were graded lower in the hierarchy. And so it was very important for the caste norms to in fact Ambedkar’s writings are also so very important. It’s no, it’s like, you know, intellectual work and I would also take it as very important literature. And he’s talking about castes in India, their genesis, the mechanisms and so on. Early in the 1930s, already in 1960s, sixteen is his first essay caste in India, then he in 30s, he writes Annihilation of Caste. So, in that 20 years of span he’s already thinking of how these mechanisms have worked to divide our society and how we have sort of ways to annihilate. I we’ll just briefly for a minute talk about someone who is sort of scholar of conflict and peace from Norway- Johan Galtung who, in fact, talked about triangle of violence and this this scholar in fact talks about how a structural violence, cultural violence and the direct violence clubbed together intensifies and creates this whole you know strong wall and I think Dalit writings have been trying to take off brick, brick by brick this structure and in his works around aspiring to peace, Galton also talks about, you know how we should focus on not merely in absence of violence as achievement of peace or achievement of conflict being resolved, but we have sort of have to envision this world of cooperation coexistent Co have like co creating justice. So we need to weave a new fabric of justice, and that’s what, you know, indigenous communities, Dalits have been trying to write.

 

Uttanshi

Yeah. And I think especially when you are speaking about, you know, how powerful their voices can be, reading about their work can be. It’s really something that makes us reflect a little bit more on, you know what, what kind of literature or what kind of stories are we listening to when we grow up? And what kind of stories are we sharing with the people in ours?

 

Swati

Precisely. Precisely.

 

Uttanshi

Yeah. And I think it’s so powerful to listen to you and especially the final thought that you shared with us and our listeners about about, you know, we need to weave a collective understanding of justice and what that means for us and it’s just, you know, the entire time you were speaking Swati, I’m just constantly thinking about. How insightful this conversation has been for both Abhinaya and me, but also I’m sure it will be for all our listeners as well. I also know that there is so much to talk about, but thank you so much, Swati, for the time to do this, for, for talking about this, with this much patience and and and with this much care. It’s really been phenomenal to be listening to you.

 

Swati

Thank you so much, Uttanshi. I really look forward to this episode and comments of the listeners too.

 

Uttanshi

 Yeah, definitely. Swati, I also want to just take a quick moment to thank our listeners. 

 

[Outro]

 

Uttanshi-Thank you so much for tuning in today. Please leave us any questions you might have as voice notes on Anchor or in our Dms. We’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on this episode. This podcast is brought to you by One Future Collective. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook At the Rate One Future Collective and One Future_India on Twitter. And keep an eye out for future episodes.

 

[Outro ends]

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Uncuff India Episode 4: Invisible Wars and Vulnerability in Kashmir

Episode 4: Invisible Wars and Vulnerability in Kashmir

This episode examines the nature and sites of warfare and the changing definitions, experiences of war itself. The hosts and the guest also discuss the diverse ways in which the State encourages and benefits from gender minority groups becoming agents of war. The episode also looks at the role of women in peace building movements or as peacemakers. The perceptive Dr. Ather Zia features in this episode.

Ather is a political anthropologist, poet, short fiction writer, and columnist. She is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Gender Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley. She has published a poetry collection, The Frame, and another collection is forthcoming. Ather’s ethnographic poetry on Kashmir has won an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. She is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit and is the co-founder of Critical Kashmir Studies Collective, an interdisciplinary network of scholars working on the Kashmir region.

Dr Ather Zia, the guest for this episode

We are again accepting submissions for the Uncuff India Prize, a creative competition where listeners can submit creative pieces basis the theme of the episode and they stand a chance to win a cash prize of INR 1500. You can find more information about the competition here. What are you waiting for?

Transcript

[Intro]

 

Sanchi

Hello everyone and welcome to our podcast,  Uncuff India by One Future Collective. My name is Sanchi and my pronouns are she/her. 

 

Uttanshi

My name is Uttanshi and my pronouns are she/her. We are your hosts today and it’s so good to have you all listening in. 

 

[Intro ends]

 

Uttanshi

In this episode, we will attempt to understand the gendered notions of State sponsored violence in the form of war, particularly through an assessment of the ways in which it affects different genders, particularly gender minorities -as both victims and agents of this violence. We will also discuss the role of gender minorities in peacemaking and in peacekeeping. 

 

Sanchi

Yes, thanks Uttanshi. We know that States and State agencies are ultimately drawn from, and therefore, extensions of existing unequal social systems. In practice, this can look like heightened forms of violence, which stem from the socio-political and cultural sanctioning of the actions of these agencies. In these circumstances, what does it mean for people with multiple vulnerabilities to challenge perpetrating agents? It is these themes that we try to understand today. 

 

Uttanshi

To discuss this and to share their insights because of their research and in the context of their own background, we have with us Ather Zia.  Ather is the author of Resisting Disappearances, Military Occupation, and Women’s Activism in Kashmir, which won the 2020 Gloria Anzaldua Honorable Mention Award; 2021 Public Anthropologist Award and the Advocate of the Year Award in 2021. She has been featured in the Femi List 2021: a list of 100 women from the Global South working on critical issues. She is the co-editor of Can You Hear Kashmiri Women Speak, Women Unlimited 2020, Resisting Occupation in Kashmir and A Desolation Called Peace. She has published a poetry collection, The Frame, and another collection is forthcoming. Ather’s ethnographic poetry on Kashmir has won an award from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. She is the founder-editor of Kashmir Lit and is the co-founder of Critical Kashmir Studies Collective, an interdisciplinary network of scholars working on the Kashmir region. Ather, thank you so much for taking the time out to be able to have this extremely important conversation with us. We are very excited to learn from you and to hear from you over the course of this episode. And we really want to welcome you here. 

 

Ather

Thank you so much, Uttanshi  and Sanchi for inviting me. I am really glad to be in conversation with you and looking forward. Thank you. 

 

Sanchi

Thank you so much, Ather. Thanks a lot for making the time to join us today. We are absolutely delighted to have you for this conversation. And let’s begin right away. To understand the gendering of war, Ather maybe you could first have us look at warfare itself. So, can you tell us a bit about the nature of warfare and shed some light on maybe the sites where this can occur? What is a state of war and how has what we define as war changed over the decades? And can we necessarily see war and peace as strict categories anymore? 

 

Ather

That’s a very important question, Sanchi. I think, especially in context of Kashmir, we really need to see where the battlefield begins and where the sort of like, you know, the home and the hearth starts; or are they just meshed into each other. So, if you think about Kashmir from 1947 onwards, I’m going to talk about the case study of Kashmir. If you look at what’s been happening after 1947- when the two countries were created and when Kashmir emerges as a dispute between the two countries, but also through the eyes of its own people who wanted self determination and when this issue goes to the United Nations, what happens after, inside Kashmir, also forces us to think in the larger context of when we think about war and violence and battlefronts. It really forces us to think about what does war look like – especially in the modern, what is known as the “post colonial era”. Is it just soldiers? Is it just, you know, battles between two armies or does it really spill into civilian populations and does it spill into everyday life? And I think that’s what’s happened in Kashmir. You know, a lot of people, when they think about Kashmir or they talk about Kashmir, they’re like everything was good before 1989. And most of the times, you’ll see that a lot of people make 1989 a milestone year for the armed violence (which started in 1989)and then it kind of became, what they say, “violent”, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. And that makes us think about the idea of peace as, is peace absence of immediate and direct state and military violence? Is that what we call peace? And also the fact that, you know, what was happening inside Kashmir after 1947 was also the utilisation of or the weaponization of democracy or democratic symbols, especially electoral: the process of elections and all of that. So, I’ll try to talk a little bit about that because that gives us a perspective into how you can have a war happening and this can be so invisible and people are not even going to fathom what exactly is happening to these people who kind of rise into this armed struggle in 1989. And with most of the political analysts, especially in India, saying everything was good before that. So that’s something that we need to understand. So, right after the creation of two countries- In 1947, Kashmir emerges as a dispute between the two, of course, but also through the eyes of Kashmiris, who had seen themselves as part of some sort of a sovereign democracy where they probably had some kind of a deal with the monarch who was ruling them, but they were also a separate nation. So what happens in that moment is very important because we also see right from the get go, the weaponization of democracy that India did and for the next 74 years it was able to tell the rest of the world, and it still is, that we are doing or “we are being very democratic inside Kashmir”. Despite the fact that there is, there are several laws in place that suspend the civilian administration, which for all practical purposes is a client politician administration. So, what happens in 1947? Let’s kind of jump to 1951, when India decides to hold the elections with the help of client politicians. At that moment, the United Nations says that you can’t hold elections in a place that is disputed and that is subjudice, but India goes ahead anyway, says that we’re going to do the plebiscite. Now the people have been forced into partaking in the elections and the client politicians are the nominees. They are the ones who are going to be the politicians of the future, but all of this is done in the name of governance: that these disputed territories, both of them, need elections and they need to be governed and that’s when the actual violence starts happening. No one really talks about elections as violence, but I think when you think about Kashmir, the very weaponization of democracy and symbols of democracy, they become very violent. When you ask people who, for all practical purposes, are living in disputed territory, to partake in elections and telling them that this is going to be for governance – your politics of self-determination still stays, but the moment those elections happen, the moment “the government is elected”, something else starts happening, which is coups and, you know, rigging starts happening. The people who took part in elections, the client politicians, are thrown into jails. So, that is Kashmiri destiny with India from 1947 – through the 50s and 60s and early 70s and you see this politics of coercion happening. And you see on the other side, the civil administration also utilizing symbols of not just democracy, but also feminism as state feminism. And then bringing that all together and telling the rest of the world that we are actually conducting and we are executing democracy inside Kashmir because we are holding elections; and not making it seem like the battlefront it is because now they’re playing with the hearts and the minds. They are trying to win people onto their sides and that’s kind of the battle that India was fighting, but it also had military inside Kashmir, which was already doing the direct military aggression. It was already occupying lands. In fact, from 1947 onwards, till this present moment, the amount of land that is occupied by the Indian military, it’s the size of Dallas and the entire Kashmir is the state of Utah, slightly smaller and maybe, you know, as big as Britain. So you can kind of guess how much land is occupied by the army and that’s something that we really need to consider like- how does a battle look like inside a situation like this. And I think the bigger question there also is what does post-colonialism look like for places like Kashmir? I think that’s the bigger question. Does it even hold? Is it even a valid school of thought for places like Kashmir? Because when we talk about post-colonialism, I think one of the most violences that has occurred to people like Kashmiris is that post-colonialism hasn’t even talked about them. So, it’s completely quiet about such situations. So, should we say before 1989 that there was peace? What kind of peace was it? If you are doing this with the people, you’re steadily criminalising the movement for plebiscite or self determination. At the same time, you are engineering consent and you’re putting laws into place that is going to be, right from 1949 itself, even 1947 itself, put them behind bars for even asking the questions about plebiscite or self determination, but you’re not actively seemingly battling them because they haven’t taken up arms. So, in 1989, when Kashmiris actually take up arms also because of a lot of geopolitics that’s happening and they also took up arms in the 60s, but that movement was kind of suppressed within a decade. Are we saying that the armed violence is now erupting and Kashmiris are violent? Or are we saying if we look at it through the lens of what was happening from 1947 onwards, is this something that they have been pushed into a corner? And now they are taking up arms? So, I think when we look at war and battle and violence through such a lens where a democracy, “India”, is trying to coral these people into consenting for integration: how do we see pre 1989 and how do we see from 1989 till this point in time? I think there’s a lot of questions that arise as to what violence is, and how violence can look like. Sometimes the absence of direct violence might be construed as peace and quiet and calm and normalcy, but it is not because you’re doing violence by other means, while having a direct military aggressor in the region as well. I know that’s a long answer, but nothing is short about Kashmir. When we talk about Kashmir, you really have to talk about a lot. 

 

Uttanshi

Thank you so much for that, Ather. And just while you were speaking, I’m really interested to hear more about how the definition itself has changed over the years and how, you know, and I’m just thinking as someone who’s done law as well, is just how this also becomes a way for us to move away from the protections available under, which can be available under, a “wartime situation”. When the meaning of war itself changes, and when what war itself looks like changes, these protections also become very difficult to be able to grasp and to imply and to ask for as a matter of right, which then also makes me think, you know, war is generally seen as a larger universal phenomenon. Do you think that these situations also affect people of different gender identities differently? Women, queer folks – do you think that there is a difference in how we perceive it and how it impacts us? And is there a difference in the public sphere? Is there a difference in the private sphere of how different genders experience and deal with the impact of war? 

 

Ather

I think the impact of war on genders, definitely, all genders experience it in a different manner. Because of the political, social, intellectual, economic status that the genders inhabit, they are different. Mostly women are the most vulnerable, old people are very vulnerable, children are very vulnerable in a war. So, I can again, you know looking from the lens of Kashmir, I do want to just flag this answer that I’m about to give, by saying that the Eurocentric academia or the Eurocentric school of thought often pushes us to think about gendered ways or gendered impacts of war as if the genders are, you know, inhabiting different spaces. Even though they are at different social, political hierarchies, but at the same time our societies, you know, I’d like to see our societies as South Asian societies. I think even if we are different countries, we are different peoples and cultures, there is a rubric that we share. The close knit communities, where men and women – they exist and coexist in different ways. Of course, there’s a patriarchal structure where the men, hierarchically, are stronger and they have a lot of power over women, they have a lot of power over old people and children and that is true for all our societies. So in that sense, yes, the impact of war and the way war is felt and experienced is different, but we also have to understand – when war comes to a certain community, like it did in Kashmir: the first victim and the first discrimination that it did bodily was against men. I’ll give you the example of the disappeared, the forcibly disappeared in Kashmir, we have more than 10,000 disappearances currently and these are mostly men, majority of them Muslim men, who were bearded from 8 to 35 to 40. So, what you see there happening is that these men left early in the morning. Some of them were commutants, most of them were non commutants. They left in the morning, never returned, maybe detained, jailed, killed, imprisoned. We don’t know.  So, I get asked this question a lot. There’s this movement called Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, which was founded by a mother and a human rights lawyer. The mother whose son Parveena Ahanger, whose son was disappeared by the Indian Army and it’s been a strong movement for the last 33 years and the question that gets asked about is the gendered resistance and the gendered impact of violence. Women suffer a double bind, you know? They have to fight the occupation, they have to fight the patriarchal military industrial complex, which is disappearing them in; and then they also have to fight the society because they have to push through certain societal norms to really become active and become these activists, which they have in the last 30 years. But at the same time, I always remind people, and my students, and whoever I’m talking to, that we have to understand that societies in South Asia, we experience war as communities – which is also true for other places. It’s the men who disappeared and women who were pushed into public. So, the first and foremost impact is kind of like the men were taken away. So, a lot of people are like, “so this is not a feminist movement, APDP, because these are women, they’re looking for their old patriarchal structures to be back, like their husband to be back, their father to be back”. So is that what it is? It’s not a feminist movement? And that kind of pushes us to think further. Like, what does feminism mean for our societies? Because I think for a long time, and not for the lack of decolonial literature that has been making rounds in the last 10-15 years, where we are thinking through our own cultures as to what feminism means for our culture, as what decolonization means for our culture. I think if you look through those lenses, there is a lot more generative debate that can occur and also we can kind of think through our own cultural problems because war also is a cultural problem. You might use the same technology that the Israeli settler state uses in Palestine as India does in Kashmir. You might use the same war technologies that, you know, American imperialism uses in the rest of the world: more than a 100 conflicts and violences and wars that it’s been part of. But at the same time, war is very cultural. How do people experience war? War also becomes culture. It’s like in Kashmir – war has become an invisible war. It has different names. People call it an unconventional war. They call it a low protracted conflict. They call it conflict, they call it dispute. But I really like to see it as a war that’s happening. It’s an everyday war. It’s not very new, but a very cultural notion of war, where people prepare for the war every day. They go out of their homes, they know they are facing a certain situation, they know they can’t move freely, they have bunkers, they have checkpoints. So it’s a very sensorial way of understanding war, in which women do suffer differently, men suffer differently, and other genders also suffer differently – not talked about – and in the end they all suffer together. So, I think because these are South Asian cultures, no doubt, you know, different cultures, different religions, different ethics and people. But at the same time the way war comes to Kashmir, the way people are experiencing war – that’s really nuanced, that’s really cultural, that’s also in ways fought back through religion as well. Like people are very religious, how prayerful they are. I’m not talking about the other aspects, but people have a different way, like women have a different way of fighting this war. And in my case study, which was the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, I really saw the different hierarchies that women inhabit. How they become active against the occupation; how they even implement the politics that they have garnered and gleaned in the last 30 – 33 years, which is based around mourning. So, it’s basically the politics of mourning. How they utilise the social norms and kind of like make them into activist norms; how their feminine consciousness becomes feminist consciousness; and also how their feminine consciousness is a feminist consciousness in the first place. So, I think while we need to pay attention to the gendered impacts and gendered experiences, I feel like our South Asian contexts would also be benefited if we did not pit men against the women, even inside the situation of war. If we really took them as part of the same fabric and how the dynamics they share and kind of began from there, which is not to say that we have to negate women’s very special double buy-in situations, but these have to be parallel processes. 

 

Sanchi

Thank you so much for bringing out all those brilliant points, Ather. I think I have learned so much from the last 10 minutes that you have spoken to us. I think the perspective that you offered is so nuanced and it makes me think of so many things that, like you said, does a postcolonial theory even apply to a context like Kashmir for us? How in different contexts, for example, if we talk about the global north, then the gendering that might happen in wars there is so different from our South Asian societies and we indeed face wars as communities and other communities also might face this. But your whole contextualization of how a South Asian society faces war, it’s been so insightful to listen to. Something that you said really stood out for me, which was, yes, genders suffered differently in a warlike situation and, especially, when you talked about Kashmir – but they ultimately suffered together. And I was just wondering if you would like to talk to us about how then does the state encourage and benefit from different genders and how do different gender minority groups, but also like you said, men, become agents of war and how does the state actually benefit from it? 

 

Ather 

I think that gendering really, really benefits the State, especially if the state is also portraying a sort of a feminist consciousness, if it can be called consciousness. I remember there was this one incident in around 2007 – 2008. I think the listeners are going to benefit more from concrete examples than theory. Sonia Gandhi came to Kashmir. And she actually addressed women separately, and she talked to them as Kashmiri sisters who had withstood the violence of the Kashmiri armed violence, which we call armed struggle- it has a definite colloquial name for it, which is tehreek, meaning revolution. But the Indian states portray it as terrorism to the rest of the world. And then Sonia Gandhi had this very specific speech that she talks to – I forget, I’m just summarising – but she was addressing Kashmiri women. She was telling them that you have suffered for the last so many years through this armed violence and she wasn’t talking about military violence. She wasn’t talking about the Indian states’ violence. She was talking specifically about how women in Kashmir have suffered their own men. So it was 2007 I think, and that made me think about brown imperial feminism. And brown imperial feminism is essentially-I know that you inhabit Indian identities, and I have complete respect for that as people belonging to a certain nationality. Of course, you should be proud. You should be who you are. But of course, we also have to be humanists more than we have to be patriots in that sense.  So that made me start thinking about brown imperial feminism that a lot of Indian feminists were bringing into Kashmir. That also made me think about state feminism, the history of state feminism in Kashmir. So, when I have been part of a lot of feminist collectives, especially those that emerge from India. And when I was younger, I used to be part of these conversations where we thought that, you know, as feminists, as women, we have some solutions. We’re going to think about this and then I had some senior activists who would say that this is to no avail, what you’re doing with these Indian feminists. But I had to have my own experiences, right? So, what they meant was that there’s going to be solidarity, but the solidarity is going to be very selective. It will not go beyond a certain point, but I was young and I thought maybe, you know, we can make a difference. These are different feminists. These are not feminists from the older generations, but a decade later I realised that Indian feminists did really have a very selective solidarity with Kashmiri feminists – and that was that until the point you called the Kashmiri problem and the Kashmiri issue as a human rights issue, it was all good. And the human rights violations don’t occur in a vacuum, they’re symbolic of the political dispute because Kashmiris are demanding certain things. That’s why they’re being abused. So the moment you talked about political dispute, your paths would become different because they did not want to talk against their own state. 

So, that became very palpable early on and that’s where you can kind of see where the State kind of makes inroads. And I’ll give you this very important example and I think that might tie this answer together. And that is when the Indian State de-operationalized and militarily took away Kashmir’s autonomy, one of the reasons that they told the rest of the world is that the special status of Kashmir has discriminated against women. It was actually able to get away with it and it told the rest of the world that Kashmir has become this virulent autonomous patriarchy, which is cracking down on its women and it told brazen lies to the rest of the world because one of the things that was happening inside Kashmir for a long time was this debate-what if Kashmiri women married non Kashmiris? What happens to their residency? Because you know Kashmiris had a permanent residency under the autonomy. They were citizens of Kashmir, then they also had a citizenry with India – they had sort of a dual citizenship. So, from the 60s onwards, what was happening was that women had to produce an unmarried certificate if they had to get a job or something, to prove that they were not married to a non Kashmiri. So what happened in case they married a non Kashmiri? So, a lot of people were under the impression that if they married a non-Kashmiri, they lost their dominion, they lost their domicile status, but that was not the case. They still retain the right to property, they still retain their right to franchise. And in 2002 there was a case, and the judgement said very categorically and clearly that women do not lose any domicile status. They still retain their permanent residency and of course the husband also becomes party to the permanent residency, but the only thing that was unresolved, which was done case by case basis with property rights. Like who gets that woman’s property? that couple’s property? It also depends on where children are. There was a committee that was educating this problem on a case by case basis and because of red tape there was no law coming through fast enough and I don’t know if that was even by design. So then the Indian government uses this very thing and dismantles the entire state and says, “there is discrimination against women”, and it’s on record. 

There is a public repartee happening between Indian Prime Minister Modi and the ex-chief Minister of Kashmir, Umar Abdullah, where Umar Abdullah’s sister has actually married an Indian, a non Kashmiri. And Modi tells the Chief minister of Kashmir that “your sister has gotten married, we will take away Article 370 and she can have her rights”. And the ex-chief minister, he talks back, publicly of course, through the media and he says “no, no, no such thing has happened. She hasn’t lost her status”. So, you can actually see the fudging that is happening between these two very prominent politicians and the Indian media is actually running with Modi’s version. I am, by no means, in sympathy with a current politician from Kashmir, but I’m just kind of like using this as an example. So, the “gender discrimination” was actually used as a straw man argument and this entire state was dismantled with the help of Indian feminists, who did not raise any question. And I’m using Indian feminist, the phrase very loosely. I don’t mean a particular group. There have been sympathetic feminists who have looked at Kashmir through a lens of political dispute and not just as a human right dispute. Of course, that goes without saying. But the majority of people, of which you women are also a party, and different genders are also a party: they saw this as gender discrimination. So that has been used. State feminism has been used. A lot of times you see historically people are like, “but women, they have like 42% – 50% literacy rate in Kashmir, so how is it even possible? Which means that everything good has happened from 1947 onwards; women are now in the mainstream and all of that. State feminism was deployed by client politicians in their manifesto. They were actually creating a constituency through women for the Indian government and for integration. So while women were pushed towards literacy, it was like – they could be doctors, they could be teachers, but they were not encouraged to think for themselves. Like if someone would think for themselves, if someone would question the Indian government, that was pure becoming a dissident, and they were thrown in jail. There was a solid, concerted criminalization. That’s not feminism! That’s not feminist practice! So we see state feminism in effect from 1947 onwards, which kind of helps them strengthen the idea of democracy. Which actually is not democracy but weaponization of democratic elements like elections. And then in 2019, we see this brazen use of gender discrimination. And now we see pink washing happening inside Kashmir, as if, you know, the rest of India or other parts of the world are better off than Kashmir and Kashmir is the only virulent patriarchy. And what’s also worsens Kashmir’s argument is the fact that it’s portrayed as – for lack of a better term – Islamic terrorism, which is such a misnomer: that it’s Muslim men who have gotten together, created a patriarchy and they’re cracking down on their women. And it becomes very easy in an anti-Islam, in an Islamophobic world, for the rest of the world to buy it. So I think that’s something that we need to consider about how state feminism, how feminism and how gender discrimination has really been utilised by the Indian state as weapons against Kashmiris. 

 

Uttanshi

Thank you for that, Ather. And I think that just brings me to my last question for you, which is what do you see the role of women, particularly as in the peace building movement, as peacemakers in such situations as well? What do you think is that role? How has that been shaped? How has that influenced situations of violence in the past but also now?

 

Ather

I think after 2019, so women as peacemakers and peace builders again, I think it really takes a society a long time to realise that, especially in Kashmir- I call Kashmir a working class patriarchy, and I think most of South Asia is a working class patriarchy, where women actually are working alongside men, you know, they’re selling fish, they are baking, they are street food vendors. So it’s not as if our women, you know, that’s where I kind of push people and push myself to think with less eurocentrism, because our societies have never been different in that sense, where they have kept women from the public life, women have been part of the economic strata all along. It’s just that socially they have inhabited a place where they were always secondary, always a lower rung, which is also true for the West. But going back to your question – how do we see women as peacemakers in a situation like Kashmir? I would say-I really don’t have a clear cut answer for that because I feel like women have been trying inside Kashmir for the last 74 years be side by side with men and have an equal say. Even if not an equal contribution and an equal share at the table where the negotiations happen, but they have been trying to be in a supplementary role, in a complimentary role, in the role of even playing chaperons to men because, you know, men disappear or are killed immediately. And the women in Kashmir, for the last 33-34 years have been chaperons of their men: if a man goes out, a mother or a sister will go along so that he’s not immediately killed. If they’re walking in the streets, they’re seen as a family, which also is not a guarantee of safety. You know, women are raped, women are killed. So, they have other issues that occurred to them. So, women’s movement or activism or role in peacemaking, I don’t really see it separately, but I do see women getting together and forming a movement, of which the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons is a great example, but again we can’t really look at it only from the lens of being a woman’s movement because these are mothers and these are wives who are called the half widows, for lack of a better term because they didn’t know whether their husbands are dead or alive, whether they’re going to turn up or what. So they’re called half widows. This movement has become formidable, even if after 2019 they’re not able to protest much because protesting has been criminalised inside Kashmir. We see a lot of support that men gave them so that they could form this movement. The co-founder of the movement is a pro bono human rights lawyer. The men from these families help women with paperwork. They help women with learning the legal ways and courts and police and whatever the processes were. It was just that they could not come to the forefront and protest like the women were, because the women were initially allowed to protest because they were just seen as women. You know, they also do not, they don’t inhabit an equal hierarchy with the occupation forces – because they see them as just women so they can gather together and do a sit-in and do a small protest because they’re just seen as mothers. They’re just seen as wives. What are they going to do? But the moment it’s a group of men who are protesting, they’re seen as a threat. So there have been several massacres where men came out in protest. Gaukada massacre from 1991, which was actually done to protest sexual molestation and rape. And so, you kind of see them being directly, becoming a massacre – they were directly shot at and the soldiers surrounded them and killed them, killed a lot of men in that protest, but with women it usually became this kind of a thing where they would get together and they would protest and then they would raise a little hue and cry. Do politics of mourning, basically mourning and crying and utilising the symbols of their social mores that were already present, which was mourning and kind of fashioning their protests like that. 

So in that again what we see is that women are protesting, they are being activists, they are trying to push the social envelope as well as deal with the politics of occupation. But at the same time, I would remind the listeners and I would also try to just stand in the fact that we are close knit societies. We can’t really have our movements separately. And I think that’s what I think of, when I think of peacemaking in Kashmir. And again, what does the word peacemaking do in Kashmir? There can be no peacemaking unless the political dispute is gone. A lot of people say, “Oh it’s a post-conflict society” – No! It’s not just conflict, because conflict is ambiguity between 2-3 people; no, this is a dispute – a territory, where people have their own demands, and you have to listen to them. It’s not just something that’s happening between two countries. So how do we think about peacemaking when we think about Kashmir without thinking that the political dispute has to be solved? And if we do not have 100% genuineness in solving the political dispute, we are paying merely lip service to settling women’s issues and to settling men’s issues, and to settling the issues of other genders on the gender spectrum. So that’s something that I would really foreground. 

 

Sanchi

Thank you so much, Ather. I think it’s been incredible listening to you talk about all things from weaponization of democracy, about situating war and peace, and community in our South Asian societies. And also assessing the situation of Kashmir over the past decades. I think we are all taking a lot, and I think I’ll speak for our listeners as well, that it’s been a truly insightful experience to listen to you today. Thank you so much for that. And before we close, I would like to ask you if you have any closing thoughts on the conversation that you’d like to share with us. 

 

Ather

Yeah, I don’t know what I have to flag, but I do want us to kind of take this moment, this conversation when we’re thinking about Kashmir, per se. I also want to draw the listeners’ attention to the fact that from 1947 onwards, most of us have been quarrelled into following a pattern of living, whether that be political, cultural, or economic. This was left to us by the fleeing colonial powers and I do want us to think through the lens of neocolonialism. When I think about India, I don’t really think through the lens of post colonialism. I think it’s a neocolonial power and not just think, I know it behaves and it has the heart of a neocolonial power. It’s an imperial power that was left in place and not just as countries as, “democracies” that have been imported to our places. These are settler democracies because if we think about, let’s say, the United States – it’s a democracy to whom? It’s not democracy to indigenous people, whose genocide is still so unknown to people in our part of the world – that we still come to America thinking this is the bastion of democracy, but this is a democracy for a group of people, for the white settlers who came here. This is their democracy, but not the indigenous peoples’. And this is the democracy that is imported to the rest of the world, which is why you see so much dispossession happening in India currently: of the indigenous people, of Dalits, of the marginalised, of, “minorities” who are not minorities – Muslims are not minorities- 200 million people, how do you, of course like relatively, but you don’t call them minorities and push them into ghettos and say that that’s where you stay. 

So I think when we are thinking about Kashmir, I would urge your generation, I would urge the generation that’s listening to podcasts and the generation that is coming, I would really urge us to look at not through post colonialism but through the lens of neocolonialism and neoliberalism. And then think about issues like Kashmir and see how simple they are. They’re not intractable problems. They’re really solvable problems. If you get out of the mindset, like, what if Kashmir is granted independence? What happens after that? I mean, nothing is going to happen. And then start thinking about extractionism and thinking about neoliberalism, which really wants Kashmir for all the resources – the water and all kinds of minerals and now you also have lithium mines. And what is what has been happening after 2019 is really, really an extractionist economy that is cracking down on Kashmir. It has less to do with nations and nationalism, it’s more to do with neoliberal, extractionist policies, which is creating ecocide. So, I think that’s something that I would ask us to keep in mind. To broaden our horizons and not just look through issues of prestige and Kashmir being the crown of India and all of that, but really look at it through the eyes of the future rather than the past.

 

Uttanshi

Thank you so much Ather for taking the time out to have this conversation with us. I definitely feel like you’ve given us a lot to think about, a lot of thoughts to go back and to be discussing in our micro communities with each other. So from my end just a very big thank you for taking the time out to do this. 

 

[Outro]

 

Uttanshi

Thank you for tuning in today. Please leave us any questions you may have as voice notes on Anchor or in our DMs. We would love to hear from you. This podcast is brought to you by One Future Collective.

 

Sanchi

Yes, thank you so much. And don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Facebook at onefuturecollective and at Onefuture_India on Twitter. And keep an eye out for future episodes out every second and fourth Thursday of the month. Until next time!

 

[Outro ends]

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Explorations on Feminist Leadership | S1: Episode 7

Episode 7: Safety in Educational Spaces

The way educational spaces are conceptualized and the way they operate is with the image of an authority figure ‘passing down information/expertise’ to a set of clueless, naive students. As long as there is a rigid hierarchy of one who learns and one who teaches, there is limited scope to qualify an institution as a safe space. Manasvi, Sanskriti and Srishti aim to delve into the ideas of what educational spaces are, how they create a knowledge dissemination mechanism and why it often looks monolithic and what safety means and entails.

About the hosts

Srishti Ghulani is pursuing her MSc in Social and Cultural Psychology from London School of Economics and Political Science. She likes to research and write in arenas of classroom power dynamics and democratic education.

Manasvi graduated with a BA in Psychology in 2020, but most of her college days were spent working on the youth collective they founded called ‘Nathi Nonsense’. The aim of Nathi Nonsense is to use tools like art and media to design interventions for social transformation in young people and society. Manasvi currently co-leads two youth fellowships in the old city of Ahmedabad – Citytantra, a feminist grassroots fellowship aims at strengthening local governance for women through youth-led community media, and Shaharnama, a community arts and media project enabling artists to intervene and build fraternity in their community.

Sanskriti Bhatia is a recent Psychology and Sociology graduate. New projects have always stirred her creative side and she strives to take them up with zeal. She has always had a simple goal in her mind – to make a difference. She has a small initiative called ‘United We Fight’, which she co-founded with her best friend. Their idea is to create a holistic platform where NGOs can raise funds to battle numerous causes. Apart from this, she loves creating art, reading books, baking, and cooking.

Content warning: COVID 19, Punishment, Death, Victim Blaming, Sexual violence, Bullying

Transcript

Manasvi

Hello and welcome to “Explorations on Feminist Leadership by #OneFutureFellows2022”, a podcast by the 2022 cohort of the One Future Fellows, where we discuss, examine, and learn about feminist leadership. I am Manasvi and my pronouns are she/her.

 

Srishti

I’m Srishti, and my pronouns are she/her as well.

 

Sanskriti

I’m Sanskriti and my pronouns are she/her.

 

Manasvi

So today the three of us are talking about safety in educational spaces. We aim to unpack the terminologies of feminist leadership in educational institutes. What does it mean to be safe? What does a safe space look like? What positionalities do we as students and teachers hold? And can educational institutes ever become safe? And finally, do we see educational spaces as the monoliths we currently experience them as the status quo? There’s a lot to unpack here. And Srishti, I think I’ll invite you to maybe talk more on why we chose this topic.

 

Srishti

So the reason why we chose this topic is because all three of us are like everyone else, have been a part of educational institutions, right. And we’ve experienced the sudden and also like gradual change in terms of how they were earlier when we were young and how like we currently see them working as, how do we see like administrative issues coming up in educational institutions, how diversity is addressed in educational institutions or the lack of it.

 

Srishti

And all of these concerns were something that we, all three of us, were discussing when we were deciding on a topic for the podcast as well. Which is why, like, we think that this becomes like a very relevant topic in terms of how children or how students become like a part of community. How do they imagine a community? Where do they see themselves being safe? Can they ever imagine themselves being safe in any institution? But I think we’ll just start with, like, on that note, I think I’ll just ask Sanskriti, maybe, like, what do you think an educational institution can look like? What does it mean to be a part of an educational institution? Can we only look at it as like a four world classroom or do we also have like re-imaginations of what a classroom or educational institution might look like?

 

Sanskriti

Thanks for that question Srishti. I think it’s a really interesting question that we need to unpack. For me, and I think for everybody, the first thing that comes to our mind when we think of an educational space might be a classroom. The way we conceptualize educational spaces and the way they’re taught to us is with the image of an authority figure passing down information to a set of clueless, nice students. Consequently, the students that emerge from a system like this, which is what we imagine traditionally, are engineered to know only as much as as what passed to them, not so much as critical thinking or questioning and being curious.

 

Sanskriti

When I think of an educational space now, especially post COVID, I think of it beyond a classroom. I imagine my laptop and being in various courses and classes, like the fellowship that I’m a part of as One Future Collective, and being a part of this fellowship, I think I’ve learned the ideas, the importance of curiosity and asking questions and giving each other the space to ask those questions.

 

Srishti

I just had a like a just a follow up. I think a lot of us might learn the value of like curiosity. We might learn like inquisitiveness from educational institutions. But like, for example, coming from a personal perspective. Like for me school was just the most boxed up version of education that I can never imagine so. Especially because the structure of a school is such and this is just one example of what an educational institution is. But the structure of a school is such that you have to give boards. You constantly have to have like one-sided vision for what it means.

 

Srishti

But what do you think?  Like, where do you think this sort of, and when I went to college, for example, everything just felt so uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to not having a structure, right?  You like professors just do whatever they want. They ask you to do whatever you want to do. So do you think there comes some sort of, like, discomfort when you enter like, an institution or when you transition from institutions like that?

 

Sanskriti

I think yeah, I agree to that. Even when I entered college, there was a lot of discomfort in not having a structure and having to do things by yourself, having to read upon resources, researching by yourself. It’s a lot, and I think discomfort is a part of learning, and it does foster learning. And discomfort is not necessarily the feeling of not being safe is, I don’t think it can be equated with discomfort.

 

Manasvi

No, I think I would agree to that, Sanskriti. I mean, when I was also imagining what an educational space means to me, sure there were classrooms, but there has been different educational spaces where I found growth and discomfort has been a part of it. And a lot of times, those means, sure, fellowships or workshops were still more structured, but even, I mean the idea of a community learning together or as friends, asking each other the right questions and having conversations. I think that those are all educational spaces and those also be defined as something we are growing and I think the beauty of those are that we innately feel safe because those are with our friends. That is our comfort zone. So how can we sort of how can we use those values into a structure of educational spaces is a question that I’m also thinking about.

 

Srishti

Yeah, I think if both of you agree that discomfort doesn’t necessarily have to be unsafe, I think honestly, then Manasvi, my question like this is for you as well, like, what do you think is a safe space? Like what do you think, if there is a distinction between discomfort and unsafety, how do you draw that distinction and what does it mean to have like a safe space? How do you create a safe space?

 

Manasvi

So think innately, everyone of us knows what’s the difference between a safe space where there is discomfort and an uncomfortable space where we’re not feeling safe. And other times it’s difficult to articulate that. But innately we have a gut field that says that, OK, wait, this is this is not safe. And I think I would define for me a safe space as a space which is very interested in my personal growth and very interested in investing that sort of love and empathy into my learning.

 

Manasvi

Because that space and people who are holding that space really believe that if we nurture an individual, that individual can do great things not just for themselves, but the society and community that they’re part of. And I think those safe spaces mean different for everyone. And I also believe that creating safe spaces not just the responsibility of a teacher for say when I say teacher, we usually look at them as somebody hierarchical. You come to those questions also but its just not the responsibility of them but is of everyone present. Make it a safe space for learner, for the teacher, for anybody present. And I think that we all need to invest in each other.

 

Manasvi

We all need to practice that sort of empathy to ensure and I also believe that when there is safe space, that is when identity creation happens. Because we are growing there, because we are having, because there’s a space to make mistakes, to explore, to, to do trial and error to see what works for you. And I think when we do that, there is growth. But do you guys have any more thoughts on this? Maybe what is a safe space for you, both of you? Sanskriti, maybe you can start.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah, I’m going off from you. I think the ideas of love and empathy really stood out for me when you mentioned it. Like, yes. So even within college, there are some classrooms, I think, that are guided by those principles and some that are not. And it’s completely not the responsibility of the teacher, it’s also the students. So if the students are really engaged in creating it as a safe space and giving each other the space to ask questions and even to make mistakes, I think if you have the safety that you can make mistakes in a classroom which is created by not just the teacher but also the students, it creates a really safe space. Because if I’m always worried that I need to, you know, answer correctly, I don’t think I would really talk about my reflections as openly as I would in a safe space.

 

Srishti

I think similarly similar to what you both of you said, I think when we look at what is the purpose of an educational institution? Sure, it’s to, like, impart knowledge. Sure it’s to give boards, I guess. Of course it’s like all, like all of that technical knowledge. But at its core and like fundamentally, it’s also to create, like, why are like fifty students in a classroom together, right? It’s not to have, like, a monotonous syllabus being taught to them by one authority figure, right? It’s also to create a conversation among those fifty students, which means that the core of, like, an educational institution fundamentally has to be some sort of, like, community creation, right?

 

Srishti

It’s to bring all of these people coming from different backgrounds understand their backgrounds way better than they would if they’re just more isolated, right. So I think when we talk about safety that like at least that’s what I experienced, not in my school but a transition I experienced in my like university is that when you have so many people and if you have like the capability of creating a space where people are like Sanskriti mentioned, like not afraid to speak up, not afraid to like sound stupid at any point in time. If all of that is created, then of course that’s a safe space at least in like the surface level understanding of it. Like we can’t discount that like the structural barriers that a lot of students might face regardless or like. But I feel like like that cognizance is also like a way to like a step forward towards creating that space, right? You recognize that these are the flaws that we currently have and you can like further work onto them, I guess

 

Manasvi

I think I’d really connect with it. And I think this brings me to my next question. We spoke a lot about the authority figure and sense of community building. I think that is a power dynamic that always exists in education spaces because there’s usually only one authority who’s responsible for imparting knowledge. What do you feel about Srishti? Do you feel that that sort of our dynamics makes it difficult to be a safe space? What should be the ideal scenario here?

 

Srishti

I feel like the the way I trace it back, I feel like educational institutions, and I don’t just mean a classroom, but like even like your parents also become like your teachers at some point in time, right? They’re the people who introduce you to the world, the norms of the world. And like informal teaching, like the way we call it, like all of that is introduced to us by our parents, right? I feel like then educational institutions become like some sort of like, they become the foundation of how we understand and perceive hierarchy, right? Because we see like our parents as more knowledgeable than us. Like our parents tell us, oh, we know what is best for you, which is why we want you to do this, which is why we want you to do this. When we go to a school, our teacher tells us we have this qualification, we know more than you, we’ve taught more students like than you ever have studied, right?

 

Srishti

So like, there’s always like a reinforcement of that hierarchy at all points in time. I think then, like the question that arises in my head is that whenever, assuming like a hierarchy is there at all points in time, like it’s there when you’re born, your parents are hierarchical in nature and like your teacher is as well, is any hierarchy ever a safe space, right? Which means that when we look at educational institutions, do we ever imagine them as spaces that can ever become space right, safe right? Because I think what like in psychology we call this aise like a reward and punishment mechanism. As long as, like you find ways to like “discipline” people into a system and not accommodate the system according to the needs of the people, do you really understand like what safety even means? And I think to understand like more about this because all three of us, some like have like the same understanding at this point in time. Great. I think now that will, like all three of us have narrowed down the understanding of an institution. Education institution is not something that’s like restricted to like an actual, like a school or a college.

 

Srishti

I think we now see educational institutions as also like a relationship between, like, for example, a professor and a student or like a parent and a child or even like peer-to-peer learning, right. Because we’ve also talked about how it can become a community in and of itself. But I also think like all three of us have sort of just talked about, even while we were discussing what we have to talk about, We’ve just spent so much time together that all three of us have the same line, same direction to what we’re talking about, same thoughts, even same experiences, because we’re from similar backgrounds. Which is why we thought that we’ll have another section where we invite some of the people that we know. We’ll understand their experiences as well, because we do understand that educational institutions can’t just be like a monolithic understanding of like three people together, right? And of course like more people the better, right?

 

Srishti

Which is why the next section is now going to focus on the three people that we talked to, to understand their understanding of and their experience with, like being safe, feeling safe or unsafe, and educational institutions interacting with more people as well, right. So without further ado, let’s listen to what other people have to say about this.

 

Sanskriti

OK, so I’ll just begin with asking the questions. OK, in two words, how would you identify yourself and are you a cat or a dog? OK, two words is a little hard, but the first one would be a dead tree. You know, those aesthetic wale ped that are, like huge and pretty. But you also know they’re dead. Yeah, that’s me.

 

Interviewee 1

And the other would be a rail track, an Indian rail track. It just keeps going on and on. It’s dirty, it’s clean. It’s taking you to places.

 

Sanskriti

And are you a cat or a dog person?

 

Interviewee 1

OK, I think I’m a dog person although I’ve never really had pets, but I really like dogs in general. I don’t have an issue with them, but I think with cats, I’m a little afraid, afraid. And you know that thing about cats, how people say that, you know, people are not really, people do not generally like cats because they know their personal space and their limits. So yeah, I think it’s that I want someone to like, let me love them whenever I want. So yeah, I think I’m a dog person.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah, I agree. Same, even I’m a dog person, I’m a little scared of cats usually.

 

Interviewee 1

Yeah (laughs)

 

Sanskriti

So since this podcast is about safety and educational spaces, I just want to know about which institution you studied in or are currently studying in and what is your idea of an educational space?

 

Interviewee 1

So I’m currently doing my undergrad from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University, and what according to me is safe educational space, right?

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

  1. That’s something to think about because I think when you think about safety and and education under one umbrella, it simply comes down to the freedom of choice, freedom of words and freedom to be able to get education in whatever field or area that you want, right? And that is not something that we’re always offered.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

Right from the beginning. It’s your cutoff marks. It’s the stream that you took. It’s the marks that you got. It’s the course that are available to you. It’s the seats that are available to you and whether or not you’re from a particular background, right.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

So I don’t think my college offers that kind of safety in any education. There are very limited courses. While I think most of my peers that I talk to on a daily basis and I engaged in, they tell me about, you know, their peers were studying so many different courses, so many different subjects. And yeah, so I think a simple answer would be, no, my college does not offer that kind of safety. And yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.

 

Sanskriti

From what I’m gathering your experience then, would you describe your experience as unsafe or safe in your own space?

 

Interviewee 1

  1. If it has to be black and white, I think it would be unsafe.

 

Sanskriti

OK

 

Interviewee 1

Unsafe education. But if there’s a chance of getting a gray area here, then it would be that. Because, yes, my college is comparatively much more better than other colleges. We have a variety of courses to choose from and a variety of professors and students who have come from all different parts of the country and walks of life. So yeah, there is some sort of freedom, some sort of safety, but I think we can do a lot more than just that.

 

Sanskriti

And you yourself feel safe, like every day when you go to college, do you feel safe?

 

Interviewee 1

I do not. I mean, it’s a very good thing that you asked knowing the answer already in your head. But like, yeah, I do not feel safe even though I live in I think one of the very safest parts of Delhi and my college is in one of the very poshest areas of Delhi. I don’t think that, you know, I have ever gotten up and started walking out without thinking of possible worst case scenarios. Like, right, like, you know, mera phone charge hona chahiye, do I have something to, you know, protect myself from, even if it is like just a bunch of keys? Do I have a pepper spray? I do not. Am I wearing something right? Am I wearing something that will attract a predator?

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

So yeah, I do not feel safe.

 

Sanskriti

Got it. So is that inside your educational space or outside or both? when you say that you…

 

Interviewee 1

I think it’s mostly outside my educational space, whereas inside my educational space it’s an all girls college. So yeah it is pretty good at creating a safe space for women and people who are studying there. So yeah it’s safe. My college is safe. But the journey to and to and fro in from is not.

 

Sanskriti

Got it, and you know, since we’re talking about safety, creating the safe space, what practices do you think we can adopt to make it safe? Like we as students, or even from the perspective of authorities, teachers, what can we do to make it safer?

 

Interviewee 1

I think that’s a highly debated topic, something that’s almost exhausted now. You just can’t talk about it anymore because you’ve spoken too much without anything happening, right? But then at the same time, I think we can all start from the root, first of all, to not be judgmental when you see someone, a person. It’s not, I’m not even talking about seeing a girl, right? It’s just seeing a person. It’s like, mind your own business man.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

And if you see something bad happening, if you see someone getting uncomfortable, if there’s even if there’s like nothing that you can offer, just like, you know, be there to make them feel that you know it’s OK, if something happens to you, I’m here. So yeah, I think starting with that, not being judgmental and raising your voice when you see something.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah. These are really good points and thank you so much for coming here.

 

Interviewee 1

Thank you so much for having me here.

 

Manasvi

So OK, I’ll jump into the first question only. So what are the two things that you identify with?

 

Interviewee 2

OK, one would be a bag that I have which in which I carry like everything that I can need from like eye drops to a tape or some you know children anything that I would need at any it’s a it’s a purse that I have bag that I have that I always carry and it has now become a part of my identity and the other second thing would I think my kurtas, my clothes they are also synonymous with who I am

 

Manasvi

Great and at One Future Fellowship all the fellows are just crazy pet people. So as a ritual here, I have to ask you that what are you? Who do you identify with more, a cat or a dog?

 

Interviewee 2

I can’t. I can’t. I am, I am, I’m basically a pet sitter. You have any animal and I can pet and I can sit them for the rest of my life.

 

Manasvi

Wonderful. Great. OK. So coming into more serious questions. So tell me, where did you study? What do you think a safe educational space looks like? And what was your experience like with safety in those spaces?

 

Interviewee 2

So in an educational setting, I have studied in two schools, I’ve changed two schools, I’ve studied in one university and I have done a lot of small classes here and there, no dance classes, vocational activities, co-curricular activities, all of those things. So all of these spaces I consider, as you know, educational spaces that I’ve been part of here in Ahmedabad where I live. A safe education space, something that I imagine would be like “Taare Zameen Par” where Ram, Professor Ram is, you know, teaching students and taking each and every case individually rather than seeing them as a group. And you know, being really involved would be would be an ideal space like I would be, I would love to be a student.

 

Interviewee 2

My educational spaces have been, have been both safe and unsafe at times. I was definitely bullied in the second school I attended. But then when I joined college, it was exactly the opposite. Everyone was welcoming, everyone came from a diverse background and everyone was, you know, nice to each other and it was the wonderful space. School was very difficult. In my dance classes, I’ve seen the teacher being irritated when someone does not pick up things very fast as per two other students like they are disappointed in the people who are…they show disappointment and they project it on the students when they don’t learn it at the speed everyone else does, which is which kind of seems very unfair. So I think safety is to do with not just your classmates, batchmates, your colleagues, but also you know how the teacher treats you and how how they take you on the journey of learning

 

Manasvi

Interesting. So I think that naturally comes to my next question which is we believe we often talk about this, that safety sure is a huge responsibility of the teacher to ensure, but also it’s everyone in the space. So what do you think are some practices that we as individuals can adopt, either if we are a learner or a teacher in whatever spaces. What do you think are some practices we can adopt to ensure that it’s a safe space?

 

Interviewee 2

So again, I would emphasize on like it’s the perfect example of how a good learning environment would be, which is “Taare Zameen Par” and Amir’s classroom that is the ideal place of learning and it’s not just learning art or whatever subject that they are teaching you but real life skills are are the real base that you can maneuver through life. One way to do this should be treating young people not as, you know, stupid, but treating young people as people who are there for dousing their curiosity.

 

Interviewee 2

Young people who are there to learn. Young people who are dependent on a teacher to gain the perspective that they need to go through life, learn how to be curious, learn critical thinking, learn not to be afraid of asking questions and being different and also no surrounding, well, friends are supporting each other. They are providing solidarity rather than competition would be, I think, a safe space, not in the aspect of only learning, but also, you know, other fun times in college and school where you, you know, hang around with them and they provide you a genuine companionship rather than just, you know, something else.

 

Manasvi

Thank you. Thank you so much for such honest answers.

 

Interviewee 2

No problem.

 

Manasvi

Yeah. Bye.

 

Interviewee 2

Bye.

 

Srishti

Well, I think we’ll just begin with some introductory lines about yourself. So maybe you could just tell us in two words how you would, how you identify or what you identify yourself as and whether you’re a cat or a dog person. Because we truly believe that’s or whether you’re like neither, because that really tells us things about people.

 

Interviewee 3

Yes, there are two words in which I can describe myself. One of them is as a student because I think I only like to sit in a classroom, and the other is a friend because I like to sit in a classroom with my friends. So to the next question. I am as cat a person as a cat person can be. So yes, I’m a cat person and whatever that says about my personality,

 

Srishti

Interesting, very interesting. Yeah, we’ll just move on to like a few specific questions as well. But maybe you could start with where have you studied or where are you currently studying. Our, the topic of like this podcast is also like centering around what safety means in educational spaces. So maybe you could also describe, like your experience of perhaps what you perceive safety to be as in a classroom or an educational institution, and whether you’ve had any experiences of like safety or unsafety in these cases.

 

Interviewee 3

OK, so I studied in a convent school and then I studied in Delhi University. I studied Psychology at Lady Shri Ram College, and right now I’m pursuing my Master’s in Sociology. I think in terms of like, what is a safe classroom or a safe education institution. The word I would use for that is actually stable or something that’s not static. So probably stable or evolving because that’s the distinction that I make in something being safe and unsafe. Because I truly believe that being like anything, being safe, be it a classroom or a person or a situation is about the process of how you create security and flexibility in that situation. And that’s also how I look at an educational institution, talking about perhaps what’s the popular understanding of safety. I think one is that it doesn’t have to look at safety as an end goal, but as a process, which means that you always have to doubt whether the space is safe enough or whether it’s safe enough for everyone. Whether like that safety is something that you redefine at different points in time. So it’s a process because at all points there will be more categories of people, if you would want to call it that way. There will be more opinions, there will be, there will be contradictions to norms that existed before.

 

Interviewee 3

Do you have that flexibility to incorporate normative changes and changes for people’s needs, is what makes like an education institute safe for me? I think the second thing that makes it safe is that the, I mean we all know that all education, like all institutions are going to have some form of hierarchy, some form of structure. But what separates like an education institution, or probably makes it better, is that the kind of authority and hierarchy you see there has to be diverse. Like it has to be different from what you’ve seen in your house. Because as a first place you come to post your house and it can’t replicate the hierarchy that you have at your home. Which is why even though there will be a replication of community structure and stratas, it has to be in a way where at least this much you understand that community stratas can change. So if it can change from your house to your school, it can change across the world as well.

 

Interviewee 3

So the kind of hierarchy you see is something that has to be, I would say more egalitarian, but also in terms of like the the kind of authority that you say has to be different from what a parental authority has to be and that’s what makes it a community, that’s what makes it more democratic because that’s how you move towards it. The third thing would be that a safe space has to have space for disruption and anger and mistakes and hurt because without them you don’t really, you don’t really incorporate the possibility of dealing with insecure things. So yeah.

 

Srishti

Just a follow up on that as well. If you think that anger and like some sort of audacity and the space to exercise that audacity and express it is what makes a space or like an educational institution safe, do you think do you think like that’s ever possible in an institution? And if it is, what practices do you think can be accommodated within a system to allow for them?

 

Interviewee 3

So yeah, like I said, I don’t think that safety is an end product or a tangible thing or like a model of how educational institutes can work. I think it’s only a process, so it’s never ending. So I don’t think you can ever look at an institution be like now it’s safe enough. I think the question in itself is something and that becomes the one of the practices that you do, that you never stop asking that question. And that’s a question that’s constantly being answered by different people. It’s being answered by people that you are trying to make it safe for. For example, maybe in, like a lot of years ago, we were talking about education institutes being more safe for women. Right now, woman is probably not going to be the only social category that you talk about. Right now you’re redefining what womanhood in itself means. So who are these women that you’re talking about? What are the different, like stratas within women as a community and as a society that you’re talking about? And now who do you go to to redefine safety again? So that becomes one of the practices.

 

Interviewee 3

The other is that, like I I mean, of course there can be very tangible and negotiative practices to deal with things like anger and mistakes. But what I’m saying is not anger management. What I’m saying is finding utility in that anger in, say, any stakeholder, right? It could be teachers, it could be students, it could also be people in in higher, in higher like positions, right? Because I think anger says a lot about how that system is working because anger kind of tells you what is failing in that system. And most of all it has to be people not feeling safe or people not feeling secure. So you create a mechanism where anger firstly is devoid of its negative connotation and mistakes are devoid of the negative connotation. But you look at disruption and you look at having to rebuild things. You look at having like, like after a devastating incidence, You look at it and you take from it the things that it tells you about the social fabric of that institution.

 

Sanskriti

To our listeners, thank you for joining us and listening in today. We’ll end the podcast by questioning the integral practice of hierarchy. Who is a learner? Who is a teacher? Whose responsibility is it to ensure safety? Could feminist leadership be the answer? Values like respectful feedback, accountable collaboration, love, and empathy are at the center of feminist leadership. And I personally believe, and I think all of us would agree, that these ideas and others could definitely help us move towards, if not completely achieve, safety and educational spaces.

 

Manasvi

We really appreciate your support. If you liked this episode, please follow us on Instagram and Facebook @OneFutureCollective and at onefuture_india on Twitter.

 

Sanskriti

And keep an eye out for future episodes of “Explorations on Feminist Leadership by #OneFutureFellows2022”. Please leave your questions, comments or feedback for us on Anchor or in our Dms. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. Until next time, take care of yourself and we hope that we can explore more together.

 

Srishti

Bye, bye. 

 

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End of transcript

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