More than 40 programmes were conducted in Pune, many of which have been intensive training programmes that ran from 2-15 days in duration. The themes that we worked with in this year continued to be broadly -- gender, sexuality, identity, pluralism & intercultural dialogue, participatory governance and sustainable development. We continued to emphasise cultural expression as a way to stimulate dialogue and understanding of these issues amongst the middle class audiences and youth we work with. A selective listing of programmes follows:
Gender & Sexuality
1. Vagina Monologues in Marathi: Vandana Khare, former coordinator of the Pukar Youth Fellowships, presented first a reading, and later a performance of her Marathi translation of Vagina Monologues, Yonichya Maneechya Gujgoshti. Both were designed to break the silence surrounding women’s sexuality. Held in auditoriums in the heart of the old city, the programmes reached out to a wide cross-section of the Marathi-speaking middle class and were extremely well received. As a parallel activity, OS conducted 5 workshops on Breaking the Silence Around Sexuality in peri-urban areas of Mumbai between September 2009 and February 2010. 54 female (college students, homemakers and sex workers) and 20 male participants (college students and unemployed fresh graduates), mainly from Thane district, participated. Many of the participants reported that this was the first time they felt they could discuss sexuality issues in a safe space. Vandana is now collating some of the narratives into a small booklet which could be used as a workshop discussion tool with other groups.
2. ‘Good Woman, Bad Woman’, an OS publication examining the impact of popular culture on gender stereotyping, by Anuja Ghosalkar and Shai Heredia of India Foundation for the Arts was released at the Women’s Studies Centre and Sociology Department, Pune University with an illustrated lecture/discussion. The faculty are keen on OS providing more such inputs to the Cultural Studies curriculum in the coming academic year, in the form of film/literature/theatre inputs.
3. Sexuality, globalisation and Indian women: Australian PhD scholar Leigh Williamson, in association with OS, has been studying the impact of globalization on upwardly mobile Indian women. Her report will be submitted to OS in the forthcoming year and will be published as a booklet examining the sexuality and relationships of young Indian women. She also conducted a workshop for OS on self-image and the role of the media in perpetuating gender stereotypes. The workshop was for college students. Workshops of this kind, examining gender roles in popular culture and everyday life, will be part of the OS campus outreach in the coming academic year.
1. Cyber-activism: 2-day workshop on cyber-activism as a tool for generating awareness, advocacy and action through the Internet. Facilitated by Frederick Noronha, leading advocate for free software/Open Source technology and co-founder of BytesForAll. Participants included representatives of NGOs, IT professionals, media professionals and interested citizens.
2. Web technology for non-profits: 4-day workshop facilitated by designer and techie Prayas Abhinav, OS Fellow from Bangalore, on Open Source software for non-profit uses. Participants included software engineers, web designers, students of computer science, law, members from NGOs and e-learning professionals.
3. E-governance: Dr Anupam Saraph, Chief Information Officer of Pune, took an OS workshop on e-governance and online communication strategies for efficiency and transparency in governance. Participants included students, journalists and citizen activists.
4. Advanced course in Right to Information: 2-day training in collaboration with CHRI, Delhi, conducted by Venkatesh Nayak and Nawaz Kotwal. 38 participants, comprising law and media students and faculty, journalists, and citizen activists.
1. Climate Change: Open Space and Janwani jointly organised a discussion on Climate Change at the Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce auditorium to share the insights of delegates to the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change. Speakers included representatives from KKPKP, a waste-collectors initiative, environmentalists and alternative energy specialists/entrepreneurs and representatives of industry. A resource booklet on climate change has also been published by OS.
OS has collaborated with several colleges in the past year including:
--In collaboration with Freedimensional.org (an international network that hosts activists in art spaces and uses cultural resources to strengthen their work) and the Sangam House Writers Residency, OS organized a one-day symposium at Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, where 10 writers from different countries and India engaged ACJ students and faculty in a dialogue on freedom of expression and censorship in their countries. The writers had been brought to India by Sangam House.
--Symbiosis Law School: Lecture on Human Rights day. We are actively working with their Human Rights Cell and hope to have a formalized agreement with them for curriculum enrichment inputs in the coming academic year.
--2-day workshop on Gender and Identity at Fergusson College, Pune.
--3-week art camps titled Bridging Cultures at the Mahindra United World College, Abhinav Art College as also with students of NID and other art schools in Ahmedabad, resulting in collaboratively painted murals. The art activity was preceded by day-long orientation sessions on diversity, pluralism and the need for sharing spaces.
--Screening of Kabir Project films at FLAME Institute of Liberal Arts, followed by a concert by folk musician Mukhtiyar Ali.
--Talks by Rajni Bakshi, author of Bazaars, Conversations and Freedom, on the effects of a market-driven economy and its implications for Indian society, for MBA students of Pune University and Fergusson College.
--Lalit Kala Kendra of the University of Pune – screening of Shabnam Virmani’s Koi Sunta Hai leading up to the Kabir Festival, exploring ideas of pluralism and social justice.
--Department of Social Work of the Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth – orientation for students in development communications.
--Art workshop on peace and panel discussion on a human rights approach to terrorism at Bharati Vidyapeeth Engineering College, Pune.
Capacity-building in creative expression
Open Space has always believed in supporting, giving space to and building capacities for creative expression. Cultural expression and the arts we believe have the potential to question attitudes and prejudices, impel reflection and effect deep and lasting social change.
1. Creative writing workshop: 5-day workshop integrating the craft and genres of creative writing with field visits, observation exercises and photography. Facilitated by Dipallé Parmar-Haworth, artist, writer and poet. Participants included freelance writers, journalists, content developers, technical writers, a Vipassana teacher, a scriptwriter and an architect. The workshop was repeated to accommodate participants who had been turned away in the first round.
2. 7-day Poetry Master Class : Facilitated by poet, writer and editor of the Talking Poetry platform on Open Space, Priya Sarukkai Chabria. Designed to deepen understanding of the techniques and art of poetry writing and reading. Participants included students of literature and law as well as IT professionals.
3. 15-day Creative Writing Master Class: Facilitated by Priya Sarukkai Chabria. Participants included professionals and students.
4. All-India creative writing contest: Following the positive response to the OS-HarperCollins poetry contest last year, this year we announced a creative writing contest on the theme of Open Spaces. Over 80 entries were received and judged by three eminent judges including Editor-in-Chief of TimeOut India Naresh Fernandes, poet and writer Jerry Pinto and Priya Sarukkai Chabria. Entries came from students of all faculties, young professionals, bloggers, theatrepersons, first-time writers and professional writers. The best of the stories exploring the concept of Open Spaces will be published on the OS site and in book form.
5.Digital Filmmaking: 10-day workshop facilitated by filmmaker and IIM alumnus Nitin Das. Participants were from a variety of backgrounds, including two 19-year-old students, three doctors, and an educational consultant.
6.Meet-the-musician: An interaction with Ma Faiza, India’s most famous electronic DJ. She shared her background as a women’s rights/gay rights activist in the UK, discussed the evolution of rave music, the need to engage with one’s community and ways in which this can be done.
7. Indian epics in theatre: A workshop facilitated by Dr Arshia Sattar, Sanskrit scholar, translator of the Ramayana and Kathasaritsagar for Penguin, writer and former programme coordinator of OS. Participants clamoured for a workshop on modern Indian theatre which will be held in June. This workshop will also examine free speech and censorship.
1. Human Rights in Frames Film Festival: Open Space hosted the 5th Tri-continental Film Festival in Pune, curated by Breakthrough. The films reflected people’s struggles, displacement of populations caused by development projects, human rights violations, repercussions of war, propaganda and war, freedom of speech and sexuality.
2. Film Appreciation Workshop: An introduction to ways of looking at cinema, conducted by four leading film scholars, Ajit Duara, Samar Nakhate, Avinash Deshpande and Anil Zankar.
3. Open Space-Shamiana Film Club: Open Space initiated a monthly collaboration with the Mumbai-based 'Shamiana' film club to screen short films from India and across the world at Open Space, Pune.
4. Cities in cinema: 2-day lectures and screenings for over 250 students of architecture from different colleges, faculty members and professional architects, in collaboration with Forum for Exchange and Excellence in Design (FEED), Pune.
5. Cinema and literature: Screenings and talk by Ajit Duara.
1.The Kabir Festival, Chalo Hamara Des! An exploration of pluralism and cultural diversity through film screenings, conversations and music concerts (November 14,15,16, 2009): In OS’s biggest Pune event for this year we collaborated with the Kabir Project at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Either Or (a popular crafts store) and Symbiosis Law School to screen Shabnam Virmani’s quartet of critically-acclaimed films on the life and work of the15th century saint-poet, and the relevance of Kabir in 21st century India riven by religion, caste and class divides. The screenings at FTII and NFAI culminated in a unique music concert at the Symbiosis University auditorium that brought together some of the finest folk-classical-sufi voices of Kabir -- Mukhtiar Ali, Mahesha Ram and Pt Vijay Sardeshmukh. Over 1,200 people attended. Events of this scale are also important in bringing hundreds of new citizens into the OS network.
2. Wari: Pilgrimage of joy: Presentation of photographs and narratives by Sandesh Bhandare and Manjiri Khandekar of the annual 21-day pilgrimage that affirms cultural diversity and the spirit of voluntarism as thousands of devotees of saint-poets Tukaram, Vithoba and Dnyaneshwar walk from one temple town to another through Pune, hosted all along the way by voluntary associations and citizens collectives.
3. History of communal tension in Gujarat: Public lecture by peace activist Rohit Prajapati. The rise of Narendra Modi has been seen as central to communalism in Gujarat in recent years, but Rohit contended that the Gujarat riots of 2002 must be seen in the context of 50 years of propaganda of the Hindutva forces.
4. Buddhism, bhakti and beyond: India's great equalitarian tradition. Public lecture by Gail Omvedt
5.A market culture beyond greed and fear: Talk by Rajni Bakshi on countless initiatives worldwide to forge a new, more equitable and sustainable market culture.
6. Home-Schooling/Unschooling. Urmila Samson shared her family’s experience of stepping out of the mainstream school system and the change this brought into their family’s way of life.
Youth training: Anubhav, Journeys in a Changing India
20 young people, mostly students, travelled with OS on four weekend trips to help them understand issues related to social justice and sustainable development in India. We travelled to Hiware Bazaar, a village transformed by a dynamic panchayat where sustainable farming practices have reversed migration; to the waste-recycling units of Dharavi where enterprise thrives, to the Sakarshalas of Baramati where the children of migrant labour on sugarcane farms study, and to the biodiversity hotspot of Bhimashankar, where students lived with tribals, understanding their deep relationship with the forests and traditional conservation techniques. Pre- and post-visit briefings and documentary film screenings helped to build context and perspective. On the strength of the positive feedback received from participants, we are planning at least two such Anubhav Programmes every year.
Open Space Fellowship Programme
In the concluding year of the Open Space fellowship programme initiated in 2007, OS fellows worked in 5 cities including Lucknow, Ranchi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The overarching theme in all the cities has been the promotion of intercultural dialogue and cultural diversity, and facilitating a deeper understanding of human rights.
In Lucknow, Navras Jaat Aafreedi, who has a PhD on Jewish cultures in India, has been prolific in output, organising 56 programmes over 22 months. His work has focused on highlighting the consequences of racism and communalism, and the promotion of intercultural dialogue. On the 60th anniversary of the Second World War in 2009 OS-Lucknow organised a Holocaust films retrospective during which 46 film screenings/discussions were held over 14 days in collaboration with the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University and University of Lucknow. They were seen by 4,000 people, mainly students, and a trilingual brochure (English, Hindi and Urdu) was distributed among audiences. OS-Lucknow also held a screening of A Mighty Heart, about the killing of Daniel Pearl. As Pearl’s parents wrote in a special message for this programme: It is especially significant for us, and for Danny's son, Adam, to see Danny's legacy supported by people from the Muslim religion, the religion of the country where Danny's journey came to a sudden halt.We live in an era where hate propagates with Internet speeds, and one can easily get the impression that humanity is losing ground to a rising tide of savagery. Adam's generation must understand that this is a misleading metaphor; that underneath the surface we have an ocean of decency and goodwill, and that hatred and ignorance are merely islands that can be conquered. Lucknow also hosted discussions on Muslim identity through the screening of films such as New Muslim Cool and Being Osama. A series of diversity dialogues were held at Lucknow University between students of Afghanistan, USA, India, Pakistan and other nations. Several lectures were organized, including one on secularism by Prof Deepika Marya of the University of Southern Maine, Sadia Shepard, American documentary filmmaker and writer, and Prof Nadeem Hasnain, Pro Vice Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University.
In Kolkata, Debolina Dutta, a young human rights lawyer, stimulated debate amongst young people through screenings, discussions and exhibitions (in collaboration with Oxford Bookstore and Seagull). She conducted intensive trainings in issues surrounding gender, sexuality, multiculturalism, identity and conflict-resolution for 29 students from different campuses, who went on to initiate the Positive Spaces Campaign in their colleges, trying to reduce discrimination against sexual minorities, religious minorities, dalits, the disabled and other marginalised groups. These young people made a 30-minute film on attitudes towards homosexuality titled Are We Talking Straight? Made by total amateurs, the film has been screened and appreciated at all the major gay film festivals in India, and also on several college campuses in Mumbai, Kolkata and IIM-A. The Positive Spaces campaign has also led to the publication of a 44-page magazine titled Positive Spaces, a collaboration between OS and Kinaara, an online literary magazine for students.
In Ahmedabad, Raheel Dhattiwalla, a young researcher and journalist, worked to bridge social divides (especially Hindu-Muslim) among youth by what she calls the “oblique approach”. She designed workshops and programmes that brought Hindus, Muslims, upper and lower caste youth together in collective activities on themes such as RTI, theatre, filmmaking and heritage walks. These walks, for instance, took students from West Ahmedabad into the old city-- with its multicultural history, pols and mosques-- for the very first time. For the first time in their lives, they set foot inside a mosque and also willingly participated in traditional rituals at the Jama Masjid, such as touching a pillar blind-folded to be granted a wish. Some of the young students who were part of that heritage walk were “amazed to discover Ahmedabad’s spiritual and multicultural foundation”. For someone like Jignesh Vanza who believed that the religion of Muslims is “Muslimism”, Deepa Mehta, whose “family tradition is to avoid Muslims” and Heena Shah who had never visited the Muslim areas of the city or had a single Muslim friend because “they can kill us”, this exercise was significant. “It is difficult to make the participants become friends in a year, but often it was the first time in 20-25 years that they had come across members of a religious group other than their own, leading to sitting and eating together and discussing their fears about the other,” Raheel writes in her assessment of her fellowship. OS-Ahmedabad also initiated a series of interfaces between civil society leaders and citizens of Ram-Rahimnagar, a unique settlement in Ahmedabad where peace between Hindus and Muslims has been kept through the worst of communal tensions. In the run-up to the general elections of 2009, OS-Ahmedabad partnered the Jaago Re campaign to get young people to vote. They made a series of short films on public attitudes to participation in governance.
In Bangalore, poet, designer and techie Prayas Abhinav worked on creating alternative spaces, both physical and virtual, for dialogue. His project was called Porous City, and it tried to create mobile cultural spaces for dialogue and interaction. Some of the spaces used included unused land and abandoned building projects. The project began with a competition and exhibition of designs for a “mobile cultural space” for Bangalore city. The exhibition drew audiences of artists, writers, journalists and others from all over the city and became an opportunity to discuss cultural spaces and scope for intervention. In August 2009, the first mobile space was set up at a construction site in Thippasandra. The space hosted a range of projects in conversation with the neighbourhood. Mathinahalli: playing with stories was a festival of exchange and mutual gestures designed to document the neighbourhood’s stories. At Mathinahalli, visitors could eat, get quick beauty fixes, get themselves sketched, learn craft and art skills and audition for a film in exchange for sharing their stories and experiences. In September, in sessions called Rewind Replay, children were encouraged to engage with forgotten traditional board games using sticks, stones etc called Navakankari, Choka bara, Aadu huli aata etc. The entire project is chronicled at cityspinning.org.
In Ranchi, trained social worker Praveer Peter’s project was the discussion of identity issues with Sarna tribal youth from rural backgrounds who had come to the city to study further. Between rural and urban cultures, and tribal and mainstream religious cultures he found this group confused and alienated. Using a handful of films on migration, displacement of adivasis and adivasi culture, he held screenings and discussions at several schools and colleges in Ranchi. We would have liked the work to go beyond this preliminary stage but it did not.