Civil society and youth outreach/capacity-building
As part of our wider focus on inclusion and identity politics, OS began a sustained process of reaching out to LGBT communities in Pune this year. OS has become a safe space for exploration and discussion of issues related to identity and sexuality, with a fortnightly Queering Saturdays forum attended by 20-40 queer people and anchored by Imran Ali Khan, a young designer and writer who works with OS. We have forged strong links through sharing of resources with The Queer Chronicle, an e-zine with a wide readership, Prayatna, Birds of a Feather (BOAF) and Samapathik Trust, LGBT support/activist groups. A two-day Q Fest was organised at a public auditorium in December, attended by roughly 400 people. Film screenings were interspersed with plays, book readings, poetry and music. A discussion on Queer Identity in the Arts was held, with Ashish Sawhney (director of Happy Hookers), Sunil Gupta (photographer and gay rights activist), Shobhna Kumar (publisher of India’s first queer publishing house Queer Ink) and Arun Mirchandani (author) discussing the emergence of a prominent and visible queer presence in mainstream cinema, writing and the arts. Other forums included Ma Faiza (musician, DJ and gay rights activist), Ram Naidu (architect), Bindumadhav Khire and Apphia Kumar (gay rights activists) discussing whether their sexual identity was their main identity.
In January a group of about 30 young people gathered at OS to paint posters for the Pride Parade taking place in Mumbai, in an atmosphere of festivity and solidarity.
The Prayatna LGBT support group which has primarily members from Marathi- and Hindi-speaking backgrounds meets at OS every 3rd Saturday of the month.
Violence against women: OS and the Pune branch of Network of Women in Media organised a panel discussion, Living Without Fear, on the issue of violence against women, in response to the many recent incidents of rape and violence. Issues discussed included VAW and the law, the role of the police and special cell for women, the role of the media, why attitudes have not changed despite decades of campaigning by women’s groups, whether moral policing and controlling the mobility and clothing of women is the answer.
Open Space, Point of View, and WAVE (Women Aloud Videoblogging for the Environment) organised the exhibition The Inner Courtyardin November, of photographs by young Muslim women who have experienced domestic violence. The photographs were exhibited at Tilting Art Gallery as well as at Open Space. Three of the young women photographers interacted with viewers on the last day.
Reading Sita: In continuation of its exploration of popular culture and its influence on societal roles, stereotypes and attitudes, OS held a day-long seminar titled ‘In Search of Sita’, with readings, recitation, screenings, lec-dems and performances. Is Sita the ‘well-behaved’ woman who allows herself to be controlled by the men in her life? How have the culturally diverse interpretations of Sita/Janaki been sidelined by conservative forces in favour of the meek TV-Ramayana version? Is Sita as an icon relevant any longer? Panelists included Dr Malashree Lal (academic) and Namita Gokhale (founder of the Jaipur Literary Festival), editors of the recent book In Search of Sita, Dr Rashna Imhasly Gandhy (Jungian psychotherapist), Aman Nath (art historian who made a presentation on Sita in Victorian art), Priya Sarukkai Chabria (poet and writer), Pratima Kirloskar (moderator) and Dr Kshama Vaidya (natya sangeet exponent who has played Sita and other classical figures on the Marathi stage). Madhureeta Anand’s film Laying Janaki to Rest was also screened. Roughly 150 people attended.
Feedback: “For me the seminar on Reading Sita worked wonderfully because it touched on several ideas of the nature of identity, and I understood it in terms of not what it has been but what it is today. Sacrifice for a modern woman doesn’t mean the abandoning of her identity but the embracing of multiple identities… The seminar seemed very comprehensive in its approach to the subject matter, and was tightly bound to the ancient texts but very aware of its modern significance.” – Reshma, 30, artist and disability/gay rights activist.
Mother: Caring our way out of the population crisis: Dr Beth Osnes screened her film Mother, which talks about the world population crisis and described her work in teaching mothers to use their voices to speak up for the world’s children.
Peace, Diversity and Pluralism
Open Space organised a series of public lectures under the title Keeping the Peace this year, to focus on arenas of conflict – cultural, ecological, human rights-related, political – and the ways in which they may be resolved.
Ashok Vajpeyi, chairman of the Lalit Kala Academy, inaugurated the series with a public lecture very close to OS’s heart: the importance of building – and defending -- open spaces for dialogue through the arts and literature, and the threats to these open spaces today.
Maja Daruwala, director of CHRI, delivered the next lecture, on the efficacy of the human rights approach to conflict transformation, at Symbiosis Vishwabhavan.
Dr Eddie Rodrigues, sociology professor at Bombay University, spoke about caste as an area of continuing conflict in India. The lecture was held at Fergusson College.
Dr Linda Hess of Stanford University spoke to a packed audience about the new course in peace education that she is developing for Stanford University. The discussion was based on actual experiences in peace-keeping of both the audience and Dr Hess and probed deeply into the psychology of violence and our responses to it.
Dr Nivedita Menon, feminist scholar and political scientist, spoke on women’s responses to conflict in the family and outside it, to an audience of management students at the Indian Institute of Planning and Management.
Dr DilipSimeon, whose personal trajectory has involved being an active Naxalite to now being a committed peace activist, tried to get students to think beyond the rhetoric of Hum sab ek hain, about the violence implicit in public life and in their personal lives.Dr Simeon delivered 3 lectures in all, at IIPM, at MIT-School of Governance and at Fergusson College.
This lecture series will continue through the year, with Dr Sumona Dasgupta and Teesta Setalvad speaking in April. All the lectures will be made available for wider access on the OS website.
-- I particularly liked Dilip Simeon's lecture, practically everything about it, it was a memorable one, we still revisit it in some of the conversations that we have...thank you for all the programmes that Open Space has conducted with us, we learnt something from each of them! --Alia Farooqui, Fergusson College
Translating Bhakti: Renowned poets Gieve Patel, Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar shared their experiences in translating ancient mystic poetry – the poems of 8th century Tamil poet Andal, and the 17th century poet Akho who lived in what is now Gujarat, and the inherent ‘modernity’ in the attitudes and thoughts of these ancient seekers.
Valmiki in the 21st century: Sanskrit scholar and translator of the Ramayana and Kathasaritsagar Arshia Sattar took a week-long workshop on the many Ramayanas that exist within the Indian consciousnessand that have been reinterpreted in recent films such as Raavan and Sita Sings the Blues. The workshop sought to release the Ramayana from the unidimensional interpretation of the text by the Hindu right-wing over the last 2 decades.
Literature Across Frontiers: To encourage intercultural dialogue amongst cultural activists and as a sequel to the publication of the multi-lingual, multicultural volume Other People this year, OS presented the work of 8 poets, Indian and foreign, who have been translating each other’s poetry. The poets performed in Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi, English, French, Scottish, German and Manipuri at the Kala Chhaya amphitheatre to an audience of 50 people. This was a partnership with Sangam House Writers Residency and Literature Across Frontiers which promotes multicultural exchanges through literature.
Kumar Gandharva Darshan: OS presented a tribute to the life and thought of Kumar Gandharva, the classical vocalist and iconoclast who epitomises syncretic traditions and pluralism in music and religion, melding folk with classical, moving with ease from Kabir to Tukaram, in a concert by Pushkar Lele, a young Hindustani classical vocalist who interspersed the recital with audio-visual presentations on Kumar Gandharva’s life and work. This programme was attended by around 500 people, packed into the aisles and standing throughout the 3-hour concert at SM Joshi Hall.
Minimising biases in the law: Rakesh Shukla, Supreme Court lawyer, took sessions at ILS Law College and Symbiosis Law College on this topic. The workshops, attended by about 80 graduate and post-graduate students and faculty, explained the various ways in which bias creeps into the justice system – through the judges’ own caste, class and communal biases; through the way laws are framed – for example, the language used may be intrinsically unfair to women; and through ‘trial by media’.
Binayak Sen judgment discussion: In December, eminent human rights lawyers Vrinda Grover and Usha Ramanathan, and historian Dr Uma Chakravarthy made a presentation on the Binayak Sen case and the recent judgment at OS. Twenty young people – advocacy interns, law students, journalists and interested citizens -- attended. The presentation and discussion ranged from the legalities of the case to the need to take action against injustice as citizens.
Unique Identity Scheme (UID): More pitfalls than privileges? This workshop was conducted for students of Symbiosis group of colleges. The speakers were Dr Usha Ramananthan, Dr Ramakumar, Associate Professor, TISS, Vickram Crishna, regional coordinator Privacy International in Asia, Anupam Saraph, then chief information officer, Pune city, Lalit Kathpalia, director of the Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research and Dr Jaswant Krishnayya, founder-director of the Systems Research Institute, a non-profit think-tank in Pune. About 45 people, mostly students of law and computer sciences, participated.
Egypt: New possibilities: Dr Dalia Wahdan, Egyptian anthropologist, spoke about the revolution in her country and its historical and socio-economic background.
Students For Free Tibet: 20 Tibetan students met at Open Space to screen films and discuss future strategies for democratic action, including how non-violent strategies could be used in citizen political protest.
Multi-city release of CCDS film on refugees: On June 20, World Refugee Day, OS organised multiple screenings worldwide of the CCDS documentary In Search of My Home by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, which looks at the problems of refugees in India through the lives of a Burmese and Afghan family in Delhi. Screenings were held at OS, at FTII, for 45 members of the Burmese refugee community in Vikaspuri, Delhi, at Pravah, Delhi, for 16 interns, at the India International Centre, with the Deputy Commissioner from the UNHCR participating. The film was also screened twice at TISS, by the Red Door Film Club, Shillong, at the Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation at Naharlagun, Arunachal Pradesh, and by groups in Sweden and San Francisco, who joined the campaign to screen this film through Facebook, where the film has 826 fans. The small amounts raised through sale of the film have been given by the directors to the two families profiled in the film.
Human Rights Day: On December 10, 2010, OS coordinated a multicultural celebration at Fergusson College, with Students for a Free Tibet, Sociology Club, Fergusson College, international students from various countries and many students from the Northeastern states sharing poetry and music. The students were happy that they had been brought together through the initiative of Open Space and many of them now attend each others’ programmes.
Globalisation and development
Unequal World: The impact of globalisation: This series of interactive lectures/screenings was planned from October 8-16 to give MBA students of Pune’s oldest management college, IMDR, an exposure to the flip side of globalisation, which is completely glossed over in their syllabus. The various sessions taken were:
- Corporate responsibility: Nityanand Jayaraman, leading environmental campaigner, took this session, using the examples of Bhopal, the BP oil spill and leading Indian corporations. This heated session examined whether profit and environmental sustainability can co-exist.
- The informal sector and how it supports our economic boom: Sharmila Joshi, former Senior Assistant Editor of Hindustan Times and researcher.
- What is Ethical Trade: Seth Petchers of Shop For Change explained the concept of ethical trade and ethical consumption. He described their efforts to promote fair trade in cotton.
- Screening of Nero’s Guests, which sees the agricultural crisis through P Sainath’s eyes – discussion on how globalisation has exacerbated the farmers’ woes.
- Discussion with feminist activist Ranjana Padhi on the effect of farmers’ suicides on women in the family, especially in Punjab where her research is located.
- Screening and discussion of Backstage Boys – Punjab’s Labour Goes Global, on the conditions in which immigrants work in the globalised economy.
Social exclusion in Indian society for Mahindra United World College students: OS conducted four sessions with international students of the Mahindra United World College’s summer exposure programmes, using games and discussions to help them understand the roots of inequality and the structure of caste and class hierarchies in India.
Screening of Nero’s Guests and interaction with P Sainath: A public screening of this film on the roots of the agricultural crisis was held at Symbiosis Law School. An intense discussion with P Sainath followed. The audience of about 100 comprised mostly journalism, law and management students.
Feedback from Dr Kalyani Bondre, Faculty, IMDR
Very informative, interesting and thought-stimulating. Speakers were well qualified and spoke from first-hand experience and fieldwork. The idea of showing excerpts from documentaries interspersed with the lecture was also very good. Hope to have more such lectures in the future from Open Space.
(Un)Building Blocks/Unblocking Building: Young eco-architect Sourabh Phadke demystified the process of building by getting participants to actually construct classrooms and toilets at Aman Setu school. The workshop ran over several weeks, teaching the participants that everyone can learn to construct safe and appropriate basic structures using waste and natural materials rather than cement, burnt brick and steel. The workshop was attended by 14 people aged 16-40, of whom only one had a background in architecture. The classroom, designed by the 3rd Std students of Aman Setu, and the eco-san toilets, were successfully built.
Feedback: “It will be good to have (more) workshops that bridge theories with action. The former as far as I get it, is OS's comfort zone. This calls for further introspection at the organisational level in order to find a balance if desired in the first place. Though I do understand that every thought is an action by itself. The group was great to work with!” – Sourabh Phadke, 28, architect and Open Space resourceperson.
Tree Fest: In late-July, OS initiated the Pune Tree Fest, a weeklong celebration of nature though art, poetry, music and activism. Multiple events were held at multiple venues including ‘Tree Poetry’ at the sprawling botanical Empress Gardens, where poems were read, and a drum circle and two local bands performed in a festive atmosphere with stalls put up by Daily Dump (a composting system), Either/Or, and an organic farm. An exhibition of photographs was held at the Balgandharva Art Gallery, where David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants was also screened. Importantly, the Tree Fest pulled together the energies and support of different groups including CSOs, the Garden Department of the Pune Municipal Corporation, the Pune builders’ association and over 300 BCom students of Symbiosis College who signed on as volunteers.
Media and creative expression
Spoken Poetry for empowerment of youth: Sarah Kay, popular poet from New York, conducted a series of workshops in Pune at our invitation, at different colleges and at a popular cafe. Sarah is co-founder of Project Voice, an organisation that uses Spoken Word poetry to empower young people, especially those from difficult or disadvantaged backgrounds. She took two sessions with students at Symbiosis Arts College and Symbiosis Law College. We then organised a performance at the popular Mocha café, where other young poets also recited their poetry. Sarah also took a two-hour Spoken Word workshop at OS, which was attended by about 25 people.
Non-fiction writing workshop: Poet and writer Priya Sarukkai Chabria took a rigorous workshop on memoir, biography, writing for the media, reviews, etc. There were 13 participants, between the ages of 19 and 26.
Blogging workshop: Neil Sequeira, founder of BUZZ Factory, conducted an introductory session on blogging for 25 participants, ranging from college students to people in their 50s, all of whom wanted to know how to maximise the impact of their blogs, ,market them, and reach more readers.
Silence is Space: Christopher Mark Taylor, internationally renowned photographer spoke at OS on the technical and aesthetic aspects of photography.
Cinema City exhibition: In keeping with our efforts to bring innovative ways of documenting our changing cities and economies, OS brought to FTII, Pune, Madhusree Dutta’s exhibition Cinema City, comprising of installations, screenings, photos and live interactions which explored the invisible city that supports the film industry of Bombay. Screenings and a panel discussion on the ‘City and the Imagination’ were also held.
Filmmaking workshop: Filmmaker Nitin Das conducted a two-day intensive workshop on digital filmmaking for a group of 18 students and young working professionals. The workshop looked at a range of issues from the technical basics to how to market your film, online resources etc. The participants also made, viewed and critiqued a two-minute music video. Feedback:
“I write poetry on social issues, and now I plan on making super-short films, something like 'moving poetry'. This might first become a hobby and then turn into something more meaningful.” – Rajashri Gandhi, second-year student, Fergusson College.
Theatre of the Oppressed: A 3-day workshop by visiting American theatreperson Trisha Wagner introduced young people to Augusto Boal’s notion of Theatre of the Oppressed, a powerful transformative tool in dialogue-building.
Publications & Films
Other People, Edited by Arshia Sattar and DW Gibson of Sangam House Writers Residency, and jointly published by Open Space, Sangam House and InKo Centre, is a multilingual and multicultural exploration of diversity. OS collaborated in this venture because it represents dialogue amongst people, languages and cultures, because it celebrates inclusion and the universal values that bring us together across geographical, linguistic and cultural borders, and because it is open to poetry, fiction, non-fiction and drama. This anthology of contemporary writing brings together the work of writers from cultures and nations as diverse as Korea and Austria, Spain and India and in languages as dominant as English and those as nationally bound as Danish.
Q: Exploring Queer Identity, represents queer concerns and explorations of queer identity in articles, stories, interviews, photographs and art by predominantly gay writers and artists. An excellent example of dialogue across borders, this OS volume features content submitted by contributors all over the world, not just in India.
Notes from a Beautiful City: In the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, while the rest of the media focused on the magnificent infrastructure being built for the Games, and later the scams that were uncovered, CCDS focused on the invisible people – mostly poor migrant labourers -- who were building this infrastructure but who were banished from the international gaze before the Games could begin. A series of stories were filed on this, and we also made two short multimedia presentations on it (http://infochangeindia.org/Notes-from-a-beautiful-city.html).
In Search of My Home: This CCDS film focuses on India’s large refugee population and the absence of a comprehensive domestic refugee law to guarantee them basic human needs and a life of dignity. In Search of My Home is a journey with a Burmese and an Afghan family and the complexities in their everyday battle for survival. Weaving their emotional stories of hope and despair, love and loss, the film uses live-action, photography, music and text narratives to tell a story that is absent from India's collective conscience. This film was made by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, young filmmakers from Jamia Millia. The multi-city release of this film is documented above. (http://infochangeindia.org/In-Search-of-My-Home.html)
OS Resource Centre
OS now holds close to 3,000 books on a wide variety of subjects from globalisation to gender, media, art and theatre. We hold 512 documentary films on social justice and development issues and 403 world cinema and Indian cinema classics. We subscribe to 9 newspapers and 22 magazines/journals. The Resource Centre has over 100 paid-up members (which enables readers to borrow the resources); an average of 4-5 young people use the Centre every day for reading/watching or discussions over coffee (there is no charge for inhouse use of the resource centre). The resource centre has been brightened up and reorganised this year. Free wifi access has been provided for students/researchers. Programme staff make it a point to interact intensively with young visitors while they watch, browse, read, and discuss issues of social relevance.