Shakthidhama – intervjuer och vänner

Innan jag åkte till Karnataka hade jag aldrig träffat någon från organisationen Shakthidhama. Det var min vän som är rektor på en skola i Karnataka som tipsade mig om Shakthidhama, en av hennes gamla elever hade varit volontär där.  De från Shakthidhma hade varit trevliga i mail-kontakt och telefonsamtal innan resan, men ändå går det ju aldrig att veta hur det kommer att vara väl på plats. Men oj oj oj vilken tur jag hade! Dels fick jag till mina intervjuer väldigt snabbt och smidigt. Det blev bara fyra intervjuer, för det var fyra i personalen som kunde prata engelska på den nivån. Men alla intervjuer var mer än en timme, upp mot en och en halv, och de var så fylliga och intensiva att jag absolut känner att de räcker. Jag försökte även få till en intervju med kvinnan som är Shakthidhamas jurist, men hon kommer bara dit då och då och sedan åkte hon utomlands så det gick inte. Men de viktigaste perspektiven för min uppsats fick jag från de andra som är socialarbetare och psykologer. Efter att intervjuerna var klara gick jag ändå tillbaka till Shakthidhama flera dagar. Personalen var så välkomnande och inkluderande mot mig och eftersom att jag fått göra intervjuerna så snabbt och smidigt så kändes det som att jag behövde komma tillbaka mycket för att upprätthålla relationerna. Dessutom blev jag riktigt bra vän med flera i personalen så det kommer att vara kontakter som sträcker sig långt utöver uppsatsarbetet. På bilerna ser ni mig med två av mina nya vänner från Shakthidhama. Nu är det dags att åka vidare till mina gamla vänner; hem till rektorn som tipsade om organisationen, där ska jag sitta och skriva på uppsatsen.

Shakthidhamas restaurang och skrädderi

I förra inlägget beskrev jag att organisationen Shakthidhama, där jag genomför min studie, arbetar med empowerment av kvinnor.  Det gör de genom en rad olika tillvägagångssätt. Många av kvinnorna kommer till Shakthidhama för att de är i behov av boende, och i många fall ett skyddat sådant. När de har landat och fått hjälp med eventuell sjukvård och några första samtal så kan de välja vad de vill engagera sig i; det finns en restaurang, ett glasskafé, skrädderi, trädgårdsarbete med mer. Personalen berättar att de flesta kvinnorna brukar vilja arbeta; “om du bara sitter på rummet så tänker du för mycket och då är det lätt att stanna kvar i depression. Om du är aktiv så är det lättare att må bra.” Dessutom ingår arbetandet, och speciellt lärandet av nya sysslor, i en långsiktig plan från Shakthidhamas håll. Om kvinnorna kan arbeta och försörja sig själva så kan de ta beslut kring sina egna liv utifrån vad de vill och önskar. Då behöver de inte stanna kvar hos sin mans familj av anledningar som boende och ekonomi. Att kvinnorna uppnår ekonomiskt självförsörjande är en av grundstenarna i Shakthidhamas vision kring att nå jämställdhet för kvinnor i det indiska samhället. Idag finns fortfarande en stark kultur av skam och tabu kring skilsmässor, och speciellt skilda kvinnor, i Indien. Ett giftermål förväntas vara hela livet, i folkmun till och med i sju reinkarnationer. Så även kvinnor som skulle kunna leva självständigt kan dra sig för att skilja sig på grund av allt skitsnack och social utestängning de skulle möta. Men genom åren har personalen på Shakthidhama sett fler och fler kvinnor ta steget till skilsmässa, speciellt om de vet att de har ett arbete och därmed kan fixa ett eget boende.

Shakthidhama – kvinnors “power house”

Nu har jag kommit fram till staden Mysuru och organisationen Shakthidhama där jag ska göra mina intervjuer till uppsatsen. Shakthidhama initierades 1997 av en polisofficer, Mr. Kempaya. Han hade varit med och gjort räder mot många bordeller i Mysore och ogillade att lagarna inte räckte för att förändra situationen för kvinnorna. Han tyckte att det var felaktigt att endast kvinnorna straffades för sexhandeln och inte männen som var köparna. Detta var alltså ett år innan den svenska sexköpslagen infördes. Mr. Kempaya slog sig samman med en av Karnatakas mest berömde skådespelare samt inflytelserika författare, andra kulturarbetare samt socialarbetare och startade Shakthidhama. Namnet Shakthidhama är på Hindi, shakthi betyder power och dhama betyder house, Shakthidhama är alltså en plats för empowerment för kvinnor. Nu, mer än tio år senare, är kvinnors rättigheter något som tar omfattande plats i debatten i Indien. År 2018 utsåg Oxford Dictionaries begreppet nari shakti till årets mest använda ord på Hindi. Nari betyder kvinnor så begreppet betyder alltså kvinnokraft. Flera av personalen jag träffar på Shakthidhama har jobbat i många år så de har sett stora förändringar i situationen för kvinnorna de möter. Samtidigt är det många som säger att saker förändras väldigt långsamt. De menar att även om debatten och lagarna är annorlunda så ger det inte ger så stora avtryck i verkligheten. På bilderna syns en del av Shakthidamas personalstyrka, utanför samt inne på kontoret/receptionen. Var och en besitter väldigt mycket kunskap och erfarenhet och jag ser fram emot att få prata mer med dem!

Bangalore – Azim Premji University

 

Nu har jag nyss landat för femte gången i Bangalore, Karnataka. Första gången jag var här var 2005 och varje år sen dess har tävlat med det föregående om att hinna med flest förändringar. En viktig skillnad för mig personligen är att jag nu har flera olika vänner i Bangalore att bo hos, bland annat syskonen Vibha och Vijetha. De var mellanstadiebarn när jag först lärde känna dem år 2005. Nu läser Vibha sin master i pedagogisk utveckling på Azim Premji University så jag passade på att hälsa på där ett par dagar. Universitetet klassas som det “mest vänster” universitetet i Karnataka och nästan alla program har någon social inriktning. Eleverna jag pratar med har alla gjort praktik eller gjort intervjuer på organisationer som arbetar med kvinnors rättigheter, elevers känslomässiga utveckling i grundskolan, sophantering och liknande. En eftermiddag kommer ett gästspel till skolan, en teaterpjäs som heter “Just a woman”. Det är en monolog som har spelats i Indien och England med totalt 200 föreställningar. Pjäsen hanterar ämnen som barnäktenskap, stigmatisering av kvinnor och feministisk kamp. Efter föreställningen berättar skådespelerskan att hennes farmor brukade låsa dörren och inte släppa ut familjen om hon visste att de skulle göra något roligt, till exempel gå på bio. Farmodern hade aldrig fått göra sådana saker i hela sitt liv, så hon var helt enkelt avundsjuk. Skådespelerskan menade att det tar extremt lång tid att förändra normer och regler, och ibland kan det finnas oväntade anledningar för det. Jag hoppas och tror att jag kommer att få en hel del oväntade argumentationer under mina intervjuer när jag kommer fram till organisationen Shakthidhama i Mysore.

 

Train traveling, interviews and transcribeboredom

Time is flying by! It is easy to forget to update! A lot has been going on.. I had my birthday and went out of town for some celebrations. I have managed to complete five interviews all of a sudden. I am also getting more and more comfortable going on the local trains even if the train as such is not a one of comfort. If you are unlucky with the timing in the mornings and evenings when all of Mumbai also want to go on the trains.. yeah.. well, then you do your best to even manage to get onboard. Put your bag in the front, tackle the door from the side, try to get hold of the doorhandle and squeez your way up. And don’t be afraid to use them elbows your mother gave you cos you need them. At least I am a little taller compared to the majority which is an advantage. This week however I didn’t even make it further in the train than just to stand by the door. And here in India the door does not close.. Exciting to say the least… I wanted to take a picture but then it would have been for the price of losing my phone. Anyways, I try to avoid peakhours as much as possible. It is just not worth the bruises and the sweating and the stares I get from looking like the lost tourist that I am. However, I feel pretty proud about managing this good haha!

 

Pictures from my trip to Gorai, outside of Mumbai, for my birthday

 

So as I said.. I have now conducted five interviews and have five left to go. It has been a little difficult to get hold of students and still trying to get the remaining interviews confirmed. I have transcribed two of them and it takes sooo much time. 50 min becomes 11 pages of text and about 4-5 hours of work.  The other three interviews have been in hindi where I have had the help of an interpreter. So waiting for her to give me a more detailed translation for the interviews before I can transcribe them aswell. But part from this tedious transcribing all this is fun. To meet people and learn new things. I am so thankfull to be able to do all this!

Until next time!

Take care,

Petronella

First week in Mumbai

India, Mumbai:
As part of my Bachelor degree in Social Work at Malmö University I spent five months earlier this year in Mumbai to carry out my field placement (Verksamhetsförlagd utbildning). The internship was with a non-governmental organisation called Vacha which focuses on girls’ and young women’s empowerment and education. Vacha is a term in several Indian languages meaning speech, articulation and self-expression and the organisation work to give the girls a voice and a platform to be able to speak up in their communities and public spaces. If you want to read more about their work in their community centres in and around Mumbai you can follow the link below: www.vacha.org.in

 

Going home in the “rik” Click for GIF

I am now back in Mumbai for a MFS and looking forward to further experience this fast paced and intense life that this city, with a population of about 22 million, has to offer. The people, the food, the sounds and the smells. The culture, the colours and celebrations. The luxury and the poverty. The traffic… well maybe not so much the traffic but at least you always have something interesting to look at while you are stuck in an auto rikshaw. Surrounded by hundreds of other “riks”, cars, motorbikes, trucks, dogs, goats, street sellers, all while in 36 degrees, breathing in the heavenly smell of pollution. How can one  not I love it?

 

Adventures in South Mumbai

 

 

India is the fastest growing economy in the world. However, not everyone seems to be onboard the fast moving train of progress. The Indian middle class might be growing but there is, for example, a gaping rural-urban divide as well as a gender discriminations when it comes to economic progress and development. So yes there is a whole bunch of inequalities in this country. Not only economic, but also when it comes to social rights  and opportunities. But there is also good things happening:

A ban of single use plastic
Decriminalizing homosexuality

The above links are just two examples of big top-level decisions. However, on grassroot level great things are happening every day. I have seen this during my internship and I get motivated by these hardworking people that want to see positive change in their communities and country.

So follow me on my two months minor field study to see where it takes me. In my next post I will introduce you to my project and the organisation I will be working with – Men Against Violence and Abuse.

Take care of eachother,

Petronella

Restlessness, royal ruins and reunions

I did not spend many days in Guwahati after coming back from my last trip before I was on the road again. In fact, I spent much of the second half of May taking sightseeing breaks from my writing and analysis work.

First I headed out for the Green Hub Festival at Tezpur University that screens documentaries about biodiversity in India and short movies made by Green Hub’s film students but also hosts a number of panel debates on environment as well as women’s rights. I attended a seminar on women’s security, watched some amazing movies on biodiversity and nature and spent the night in Okum Guesthouse outside Tezpur. North East Network, one of the organizations I’ve worked with here, runs the guesthouse, which is based in a tribal Mising village among bamboo houses, palm trees and paddy fields. Their veranda is probably the best thesis-writing spot I have yet encountered – writing and drinking tea with a view to woods and wild orchids made me incredibly mindful and productive at the same time.

As for many tribal groups of North East India, the Mising women have a long tradition of weaving. NEN also runs a project in the village with 13 women making handloomed products for the organization and thereby earning a little extra money for their households. I talked to some of them about their work and what it has changed for them and tested my own handlooming skills (or lack of the same) with supervision from the professionals.

Just call this product placement but if you get the chance to visit the Okum Guesthouse (which you should if you’re in India anyway), do take home some beautiful hand-made cushion covers, wall hangings or bags and support a good cause!

The heat has arrived in Assam and I’m suffering. Luckily, my landlord’s driver was kind to take me on a one-day escape to the neighboring hill state of Meghalaya. Meghalaya means something like “the Land of Clouds” and the place perfectly suits this name with its fresh green hills, wet but really enjoyable climate and huge cotton-like clouds rolling down the hill sides and turning everything into a misty wonderland or “Scotland of the East” as the tourist agencies say. Even though the clouds blocked the view to Cheerapunjee’s waterfalls and the Bangladesh border, I still enjoyed a day in the highlands with stunning landscapes and really good company. Binoy, my landlord’s driver is one of the most cheerful people I have met and long-distance road trips are just better when you’re travelling with a good friend.

My lovely neighbor Avishka also took me to Sivasagar, the old capital of the Ahom kings who ruled Assam for hundreds of years untill the British arrived. Sivasagar is a small town but with some very pretty ruins of the old castles and temples. It was a nice little tour and even nicer to meet Avishka’s family.

Sivasagar is only one hour from Jorhat so on my way back to Guwahati, I simply had to pass by the town to meet the people from Purva Bharati Educational Trust and the boat clinic again. I did some follow-up interviews with my participants in my field study but also just enjoyed meeting these inspiring people and their friends and families again! I also took a detour to the Majuli island to visit my “family” there again. If you have read my last post, you will understand why I enjoyed being back so much and why I was very sad to leave them all again knowing that I will probably not go back before some time (what is for sure though is that I can never visit India again without passing by the North East!).

My field study in Assam is coming towards the end and I only have few follow-ups and visits to complete before heading out for some more travelling in India and then home to Denmark/Sweden!

Where to begin? Covering three weeks in one post

I know, I know, I have been quiet recently. Actually, it is not because I am lazy – believe it or not – or because nothing happened. On the contrary, a lot happened and the past weeks have included lots of interesting and inspiring interviews, the classic traveller’s stomach problems, six-hours train rides and bum-hurting tuktuk rides on a muddy river island.

So, how do I cover all this in one single blog post? The easy solution: I don’t 😉 After the bihu festivities, the rest of April mainly went with conducting interviews and transcribing so these days I will just mention quickly. The women activists I have met here are all very informative and willing to talk and I have found a very diverse group of participants spanning from the well-educated middle class lady to the village woman who has seen too much violence and torture during the past decades’ insurgencies in Assam. They have all been incredibly open to talk to me so the past weeks have been busy but effective.

But now, after conducting my interviews and half of the transcriptions, it is time for the fun stuff! The past days I have spent outside my safe base in Guwahati more specifically, in Jorhat in Upper Assam, where I first was introduced to one of the coolest ladies I have met and her organization Purva Bharati Educational Trust (PBET) and later, visited a tea garden and got to meet the strong activists of the local adivasi women’s association. Besides interesting stories, the tea garden visit also included stunning views over green fields and a long-awaited tranquility after one month in bustling Guwahati.

Meeting with adivasi women’s activists in a tea garden
Momos (dumblings) with some of the PBET people

In the weekend, I went to Majuli – a small, but nevertheless Asia’s biggest, river island in the mighty Brahmaputra. The island is famous for its satras (monasteries for monks following the Vaishnavite branch of Hindu religion). One of my participants told me about this form of Hinduism in the interview so I was very excited for experiencing the culture that, according to her, created a more liberal caste system and better living conditions for women in Assam (I have my thoughts about the caste system, including the Assamese, but I will leave that discussion out of the blog).

After arriving on the island, I soon discovered that exploring Majuli and the satras is just easier with your own vehicle and a local guide as both public transport and English-speakers are scarce. However, I tried to make the most of it by hitching a ride on all possible vehicles – scooters, cars and tractors – to make it to the first satra (I also accidently paid 200 rupees for a ride but luckily most people were too nice to take advantage of a confused tourist, who did not do her research before going).

Majuli landscapes
Satra prayer house

My whole trip changed completely when I was on my way back from visiting the first satra, out of the five I planned to, and a car stopped right by my side. The door was opened and a father, mother and two children gestured at me to make me get in. Few minutes later I found myself drinking tea in the family’s home and desperately trying to understand Assamese chit-chat from the cutest 4-year-old boy, who did not seem to care about my limited vocabulary and confused sign language.

I spent the rest of the weekend with Prasanta and Banalata and their children. After knowing me for approximately one hour, they offered me to stay in their house and show me around the island. Prasanta took me to three more satras and a tribal Mishing village, where one of his friends invited for spicy but delicious lunch and home-made rice beer. I also had the pleasure of meeting Prasanta and Banalata’s neighbors and drinking endless amounts of tea. I was really sad to leave Majuli after just two days but back in Jorhat, the reunion with Smita, Arup and Sinumoni from the awesome PBET crew (and some more rice beer) cheered me up.

Beautiful wetlands on Majuli
My sweet sweet Majuli hosts
Tribal bamboo houses
Masks for paunas (religious Hindu dramas)

I think it is safe to say that the hospitality and helpfulness of Assamese people is the most overwhelming and heart-warming I have experienced yet. Everybody has welcomed me like a member of their own family and shared their home, their food and lots of smiles with me. I am already planning another trip to Jorhat and Majuli just to meet these treasures again and I STRONGLY recommend everyone travelling to India to make a trip to the North East! I simply don’t have enough words for expressing how good the Assamese people have been to me.

Cheers in home-made rice beer!

Happy Bihu!

Bihu, or the Assamese new years celebrations, recently ended and after four days of watching butterfly-like dances and eating waaaaaay too many Indian sweets, I am back by the work table. So far, I have managed to conduct three interviews but in between transcriptions it is nice to look back at the Bihu holiday and some more colorful memories.

There are three annual Bihu festivals in Assam and the April Bihu marks the beginning of spring, which in the Assamese calendar also is the beginning of the new year (thinking about it, it makes quite a lot of sense to start the new year in the spring, when everything is blooming again and waking up from the winter sleep). The new year is said to be the most colorful of the Bihus and all over Guwahati, I found open fields full of families, women in beautiful mekhala chadors (the Assamese version of a sari), food stalls and scenes with traditional dances and music.
I went out with my neighbors all four nights to watch the dance shows. Some nights it was easier to find a place than others due to Indian time planning but I had a lot of fun anyway listening to catchy drum beats, wearing a mekhala chador (all attempts to blend in failed, though) and trying to copy the dancers’ graceful moves. Bihu dancing might appear simple but doing it without looking like a chicken just learning to walk is an art!

The day after the first Bihu night (last Sunday) it is tradition to visit the older family members and show your respect by giving them a gamosa (a pretty red and white fabric that somehow resembles a fancy towel and guess what – people actually use it as a towel). In return, one receives an overdose of sweets, tea and fruits. My landlords took me to their relatives to let me experience “the real Bihu”. For some reason, they did not care much for the dance shows at night but I enjoyed both family visits to hospitable cousins and the drumming and dancing, and I am so happy that I arrived here in time to experience Assamese festivities with my sweet neighbors and landlords!

Oye, Assam!

I have now settled in Guwahati, the biggest city in the state of Assam and my main base for the 10 weeks I will spend on my MFS.

The city is a wonderful chaos of people, rickshaws, fruit markets and (less wonderful) cars. My home is like a little oasis hidden away from the busy streets. I rent an apartment from a couple with a very big house and a garden. My apartment is in a smaller house in the back of the garden almost surrounded by palm trees and flowers and almost isolated from the noisy main road. My neighbors are three super sweet girls and in the main house live our landlords (who we call Uncle and Aunty) and five more tenants. On first floor, there is also a weaving shop with all kinds of beautiful fabrics and an owner who always serves me tea.

So, in terms of social life and accommodation, I have found my happy place to cope with the initial field study-confusion. I am in contact with many helpful people but coming to Assam opened up so many doors that were previously hidden and my idea of what topics are the most relevant in the area is expanding and expanding.
I am still focusing on women’s rights groups and the experiences of activists as it is my main interest. But the longer I stay here, the more I discover the innumerable complex relations in the state Assam. Tribal and ethnic tensions, memories of armed conflict and uncertainty of what is “the Assamese identity” all make for a super interesting but also very confusing place for doing research.

But for now, I just enjoy the hospitality of my hosts and neighbors (who are eager to feed me spicy and delicious Indian food – I think they got worried seeing me heat up the sorry leftovers of yesterday’s potatoes and daal). Moreover, the house is located just around the corner from NEN, a local women’s rights organization, and the staff there is helpful in finding me reports and more contacts. So, my next two months here look promising as soon as the post-arrival chaos has settled.

Photos are coming up soon! 🙂

// Ida