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Prajnya: The Journey


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An account of Prajnya's work and experiences from 2007 to 2017, prepared as a presentation on the occasion of Prajnya's 10th birthday.

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Prajnya: The Journey

  1. 1. PRAJNYA: THE JOURNEY The Road, TheTravelers, The Milestones
  2. 2. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)
  3. 3. 2006
  4. 4. In 2006, we executed ourTrust deed and worked on getting Section 12AA registration under the IT Act. And waited. The PrajnyaTrustees met for the first time on March 14, 2006, on MSN Messenger which was and remains what we can mostly afford!
  5. 5. 2007
  6. 6. The IT registration happened in January but we got the notice a month later. Six months of administrative prep work followed and theTrust launched Prajnya Initiatives on September 9, 2007, the anniversary we celebrate today. The vision for theTrust is very large, painted on a canvas without borders. The Initiatives are one part, the doing part or if you like, the NGO part of the Trust.
  7. 7. In 2007... • We designed our logo, set up a bank account and website. • We made our first friends in Chennai’s social sector: PCVC. • Our first volunteers found us: Jayalakshmi, Nandhini and Sweta joined Uma andAnupama Shekhar, whom I had already roped in. • The idea of doing the 16 Days of Activism took root. • We had our first Oral History training session. • We decided to hold an IntercollegiateQuiz onWomen in South Asia onWomen’s Day 2008. • 2007 was a year of meeting, greeting, asking, learning--which in fact, remains true.
  8. 8. 2008
  9. 9. In 2008, we also got our first (and only) grant:The Sir RatanTataTrust gave us a small grant to do pre-launch research for the Education for Peace Initiative.Three short studies were published in 2008-09, the last of which defined how we would approach this work. ● Akila R., Mapping Educational Policy Structures and Processes in Tamil Nadu ● Anupama Srinivasan,A Survey of Civil Society Peace Educational Programmes in South Asia ● Priyadarshini Rajagopalan, FromAgenda to Action: Interpreting and Implementing the NCF Peace Education Guidelines. GynelleAlves responded to a Facebook request for design help and made this logo for the Education for Peace Initiative.
  10. 10. The first Prajnya Intercollegiate Quiz on Women in South Asia, won by the MOPVaishnav team. The first Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against GenderViolence! Logo specially designed for us by Deepak Harichandan; can’t now imagine the campaign without it!
  11. 11. In 2008... • We held the first quiz and launched our first blog on the day: “keepingcount,” because we intended mainly to be researchers on women’s participation in public life! • We got our first summer research interns, who researched and wrote our first women’s history projects. • Sweta researched and compiled a directory of Chennai women’s organisations, through which we made other friends. • We had the first Campaign--but along with that, hired our first full-time person--although just for three months. • We also got our 80G exemption status!
  12. 12. 2009
  13. 13. The firstWomen’s History Roundtable series was launched in March 2009.Two series, four seasons of sessions were held before the series halted. Dr. K. Srilata was our first speaker. In 2009, women’s history was still at the core of our gender equality work. Summer interns worked on women’s history and women in politics projects. And in November 2009, we did our first LifeStories interview.
  14. 14. The PrajnyaArchives went live on September 28, 2009. The Archives are a user‐generated repository of visuals that can be used for writing much needed histories of South Asian women who have been active in the public sphere over the last century. Since 2009, we have received contributions via the website and through photo-calls issued from time to time.
  15. 15. “We are really excited to be finally doing this. LifeStories is one of our dream projects, and while we still don’t have any funding for it, we are getting started using our personal resources because we cannot wait any more.” (PSWWeblog) “For us, it was long held dream come true to begin this oral history project. And the first one only whetted our appetite.To many more such wonderful memories as we continue with this effort!” (UmaVangal)
  16. 16. The first edition of the GenderViolence in India report was published in 2009.Three journalist friends volunteered to write sections of the report. The GVR was intended to be a ready-reckoner for mediapersons or anyone who quickly needed to access definitions, numbers or other information.There have been three editions of the GVR since. The GVR cover was also designed by GynelleAlves. In 2009, we prepared a listing of Chennai distress helplines, “Call for Help,” for the first time. This has been verified and updated every year, since.
  17. 17. 2010
  18. 18. We were part of theThird SamsungWomen’s International Film Festival, organising a screening and discussion called, “RealWomen, Reel Lives” on biography, history and cinematic representation. We also acquired a new flyer and we have retained the design ever since!
  19. 19. The Prajnya 16 Days Campaign partnered with Chennai Police for the first time and also ventured to discuss digital security issues. The ‘campaign sabbatical’ entered the Prajnya calendar for the first time, as we decided to take 2011 off from planning the campaign--to take stock, to recharge and to pay attention to other parts of Prajnya.
  20. 20. 2011
  21. 21. The PrajnyaArchives launched its first thematic call for photos: Rainmakers, or resourceful women. We received almost a hundred entries from around South Asia, about 40 of which went into an exhibition, that was shown. Rainmakers had a jury from different parts of South Asia, something we are proud of.They selected the following photos as most representative of the theme.
  22. 22. Making Numbers Count: The GenderViolenceTally September 16, 2011: Our first full-day seminar on the challenges of data collection around gender violence. “The lack of accurate, accessible, updated and relevant data on gender violence remains a real stumbling block for the many non-profit organisations and governments that grapple with this issue.Why is it so important to have this data, to understand it and to use it properly? Given that gender and sexual violence get little attention, numbers become essential for ‘flag-waving’, for holding up as evidence, proof, to backup anecdotal evidence. Most of all, good data conveys the urgency of the problem in ways that nothing else can.” (From the seminar report).
  23. 23. For the 2010 16 Days Campaign, UmaVangal had drafted ‘Screening with Sensitivity,’ aTV screen-writers’ guide. A 2015 revision of the guide was adopted by the BroadcastingContent Complaints Council as a resource in its training and consultations with networks. In 2011, we joined again with the InKo Film Festival to organise a gender sensitisation and scriptwriting workshop, “Writing Gender,Talking Ideas,” where film-makers led a two-day workshop for screenwriters who then submitted scripts.Two scripts were selected for further discussion at a consultation over coffee.
  24. 24. Starting in 2011, Prajnya hosted Hollaback! Chennai for four years. Hamsini Ravi and Shakthi Manickavasagam anchored the work at different points.
  25. 25. 2012
  26. 26. 2012 was also important to the Prajnya Resource Centre on Women in Politics and Policy-- which is the home for all our women’s history and women in politics projects--for two other reasons. First, we started a short-lived collaboration with the ‘Writing Caste’ blog project to document as history how caste and gender rules intersect in people’s lives. Second, we started a blog feature called ‘The History Room’ featuring interviews with feminist historians.
  27. 27. On International Day of Peace, 2012, we held Kriti, our first peace education training for teachers. It was: “our attempt to begin the conversation of Peace with some educators in the city and to encourage them to implement some of the NCF guidelines for peace education that lie dormant within the 2005 guideline document.” Other Peace Education projects had to be set aside in 2002 for financial reasons. Peace, the most urgent need of our times, has consistently had sit on the back-burner for lack of resources.
  28. 28. The 2012 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against GenderViolence had 9 public events! We did our first video series, Chennai men say NO! to gender violence, for the campaign featuring well-known men from various fields. We crowd-sourced poetry and produced poetry chapbooks that were shared at the Campaign Poetry Reading. We began doing ‘Community Cafes’ at the 2012 campaign and discussing bystander intervention.
  29. 29. AND… we celebrated our fifth birthday in style, with cake and a gathering of friends! And we wrote down what we wished for year 10!
  30. 30. “Why are so few roads named after women?” This question led us to “The Roads Project” undertaken by ArchanaVenkatesh with KanchanaVenkatesh.They “looked for roads (and Nagars) that were named after women – REAL women, not goddesses – and did some research on who they were, their stories, their lives, and the contributions they made to Madras or India.”
  31. 31. In 2012, we also began one of our most significant awareness activities: an annual engagement to sensitise the graduating students of MOPVaishnavCollege forWomen on gender violence. Our interactive sessions last 2-3 hours and cover gender violence in general, then focusing on workplace sexual harassment, street sexual harassment and domestic violence. This is done as part of MOPVaishnavCollege’s own ‘finishing school’ programme. Over six years, if you consider that at least 1000 students graduate from the college annually, that makes about 6000 sensitised young women, who are better prepared for the ubiquitous challenge of violence.
  32. 32. 2013
  33. 33. In February 2013, we organised the “Our Lives… to Live” Film Festival in partnership with International Association ofWomen in Radio & Television India and hosted by Goethe‐InstitutChennai. In addition to film-screenings, we organised two panels: ● Gender, Sexuality and Violence, featuring Revathi Radhakrishnan,Aniruddhan Vasudevan and L Ramakrishnan as moderator ● MakingViolenceVisible, featuring Geeta Ramaseshan, Anita Ratnam andTishani Doshi as moderator.
  34. 34. In March 2013, we organisedTrailblazers: A "discovery of Madras" history tour‐cum‐race. Participants were expected to follow a series of clues around the city ‐ with a twist: all the clues led to landmarks related to women who are (or have been) in the public sphere in Madras.
  35. 35. The 2013 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign againstGender Violence made a conscious effort to spotlight heteronormativity as a form of gender violence. A day-long discussion on masculinity signaled the importance of including men, and people of all genders, in the work to end violence.
  36. 36. We made our first video-resource (thanks to volunteers Jyothi and Ramesh), a film on disability, gender violence and law, featuring Amba Salelkar and Smitha Sadasivam in conversation.
  37. 37. 2014
  38. 38. “Do you know who the first woman in your family to graduate from a college/university is?” The PrajnyaArchives call for photos with stories,The First Graduate, got a tremendous response from around the region, and we realised anew how rare access to education still is for women. In association with PCVC and the Government Hospital (GH), we organised domestic violence sensitisation sessions for nurses.This followed up on a 2013 campaign training session.
  39. 39. “All I want is a room somewhere…” In May 2014, Dr. Jayashree and Dr. Desikacharulu generously invited us to use a room in their hospital as our office, and we have been there ever since. Apart from giving us a space to sit and store our growing baggage, this has also given us a space for meetings, for celebrations and even training sessions. In Prajnya-style, the room was furnished with donations by volunteers who got together to set up and decorate the space.With our own Rainmakers photos for art!
  40. 40. In September 2014, the Prajnya community sat down to have a very difficult but important conversation:To stay open or to shut down. Unending financial crises and a human resource base that has not grown much since the beginning were and remain challenges. We decided to take a call in six months but what we did with the six months made the decision to stay on course inevitable--we maxed out our dreams, so to speak, doing every single thing we ever wanted.
  41. 41. Through this year of churning, partners and friends reinforced the value of our presence independently, by reaching out to work with us. Once the decision was made, we heard that FICCI Ladies’ Organisation was going to recognise our work! Another small positive reinforcement at a dark time!
  42. 42. Saakshi Fellow Dr. Linda Racioppi’s research project on post-disaster gender politics has placed gender and disasters firmly on Prajnya’s agenda. In 2014, ahead of the tenth anniversary of the 2004AsianTsunami, we did two special programmes. In November 2014, along with Oxfam India and the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, we did a training for mediapersons on gender sensitivity and gender issues in disaster reportage. In December 2014, along with the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute and Swayam Shikshan Prayog, we were part of a briefing at theTamil Nadu State PlanningCommission whose papers were published as a booklet.
  43. 43. The 2014 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign againstGenderViolence broke with previous formats by returning agency to individuals. 17 individuals, designated Gender Equality Mobilisers (G.E.M.s), took on the responsibility for organising gender violence awareness activities in their circles, social or professional.We reached a wider cross-section of people through the 17 individuals than we otherwise might have. 2014 G.E.M.s Devasena E.S.; Preeti Aghalayam; Pravin Shekar; Sudha Raja; Padmini Subramaniam; Sudha Umashanker; Nanditha Prabhu; Khushbu Sundar; Kavitha Muralidharan; Ramya Kannan; Zubeda Hamid; Dhamayanthi; SriramAyer; N. Shekar; Jayanthi Karthikeyan; Indu Balachandran; Rinku Suri Mecheri
  44. 44. “The lesson reinforced here is that every single thing we do matters.You don't need institutions or organisations; you don't need hundreds of thousands of rupees; you don't need a weekend supplement feature.You just need to decide that something matters enough to you to take action.” (from CampaignChronicle)
  45. 45. In 2014... • We hosted a discussion around Dr. Srimati Basu’s work on 498A and men’s rights movements. • We organised a a meeting on gender, sexuality and the Internet with Point ofView, Mumbai. • We piloted safety audits around Chennai with the Safetipin app.
  46. 46. 2015
  47. 47. In January 2015, we published a directory of organisations in South Asia that work for both women’s rights and peace.This was compiled on the basis of desk research byVignesh Rajendran and edited by Mitha Nandagopalan. A consolidated regional edition as well as country editions are available online.
  48. 48. PrajnyaArchives launched a call for photos and stories of women’s leadership that met with a lukewarm response, reminding us of the work that remains in giving women confidence about themselves. We ran a similar call in 2017 with similar results, reinforcing this conviction.
  49. 49. In September 2015, we were able to hire our first full-time team member, a Programme Officer for the GenderViolence Research and Information Taskforce (GRIT). Having Ragamalika on board full time opened up possibilities that we had simply disregarded, as she took care of both GRIT and non-GRIT work inevitably. We have now had a full-time person for two years and seen a team transition as well.Very grown-up!
  50. 50. 2016
  51. 51. The year opened and closed with poetry (and spoken word).
  52. 52. ‘ShortTakes,’ “power-packed talks by Prajnya,” in its first edition addressed the challenge of sexism in the media. During the 2016 16 DaysCampaign, we used the format to start a discussion on gender violence and literature. InApril, we organised a “Walk for Gender Equality.”
  53. 53. Prajnya’s first book! A co-edited volume by Saakshi Fellow Dr. Linda Racioppi and Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan.
  54. 54. In 2016, we participated in Daan Utsav for the first time.
  55. 55. Despite every kind of catastrophe and months of disruption thereafter, the 2016 Prajnya 16 DaysCampaign will be remembered as one of the most creative we’ve had.
  56. 56. 2017
  57. 57. In 2017... We have launched two new projects: 1. MenTalk Consent:Group discussions, training and research activities in collaboration with Dr. Sharada Srinivasan. 2. Namathu Nagaram Namathu Urimai: Rights education and citizenship practice in partnership with Roshni and CWDR. Through this year, every part of Prajnya will celebrate the tenth birthday both with an event and with an activity that builds capacity and/or scale, and deepens engagement with the community.
  58. 58. An AcrosticTo Sum Up Our Journey Persistent and focused as ants on a mission, Reaching out, on the tips of our toes, at the edge, to nudge the bar higher, Always willing to try, unafraid to fail, ever-ready to learn, Jealously holding onto every precious dream, impossible as it may seem. Never at a loss for new ideas or ways to complicate old ones Yearning for the break that will give us enough to grow and do more, but Adamant still, that we will be true to our vision, come what may, come what may.
  59. 59. To those who have walked with us so far and to those who are joining us here… It’s been an amazing journey, but we do realise… We have promises to keep And miles to go before we sleep….