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. The heritage 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 young adults who believed that the religion of Muslims is "Muslimism", whose "family tradition is to avoid Muslims" and 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 the 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. OS-Ahmedabad also worked on a collaborative art mural project on the subject of cultural diversity with art students from different art and design colleges.
In Bangalore, poet and designer 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 www.cityspinning.org.
In Kolkata, Debolina Dutta, a young human rights lawyer, stimulated debate amongst young people through screenings, discussions and exhibitions. 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 magazine titled Positive Spaces, a collaboration between OS and Kinaara, an online literary magazine for students.
In Lucknow, Navras Jaat Aafreedi, who has a PhD in Jewish cultures in India, focused on highlighting the consequences of racism and communalism, and promoting 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. The films were watched and discussed by 4,000 people, mainly students.
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.
OS-Lucknow also hosted several 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 organised, 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 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 films and songs on migration, displacement of adivasis and adivasi culture, he held screenings and discussions at several schools and colleges in Ranchi.
In August 2010, Open Space will award three more fellowships for a period of 12 months each.
The call for applications is at http://openspaceindia.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=413&Itemid=139