Categories
All Education NGO Organization Schools Social

It’s unbelievable how some Govt. schools in India have transformed!

This is the story of how a non-profit is transforming government schools in India to as good as private schools. I was commissioned to do this story last month. It is heartening to see an organization working towards improvement of government schools because if what they are doing can be scaled up, it will have a huge impact on the quality of learning that the majority of children in India have access to. I wish them all the best.

Categories
All Initiative Inspiring NGO Organization Social Woman-power

This girl reads out a poem for her rapist, and it’s beautiful.

Climb Against Sexual Abuse from Amrit Vatsa on Vimeo.

This is the first 3MS (technically, a little over six minutes 🙂 ) where I didn’t shoot anything. Climb Against Sexual Abuse (CLIMB), a global non profit, organizes climbing expeditions for survivors of sexual abuse, across the globe. They provided me with the footage from one such climb in South Africa (courtesy eNCA.com). At the end of this expedition, one of the survivors recited a beautiful poem that she had written. Listening to it will make you feel powerful.

vlcsnap-2016-03-13-14h43m05s15

Above: a snapshot from the video where a rape survivors reciters her poem.

 

This video story is obviously beyond her poem. It’s more about the need for more and more survivors to come out in open and speak up about what happened to them, without any shame or taboo. Yes, it’s not easy to speak up but it’s a viscous cycle – if the survivors don’t speak up every time they go through this, it will help sustain the existing rape / sexual violence culture and that will keep making it more difficult for the next batch of abuse victims. This is why, the cycle has to be broken. And that’s what CLIMB does.

If the survivors don’t speak up every time they go through this, it will help sustain the existing rape / sexual violence culture.

The idea to organize climbing expeditions is to give back to the abuse survivors, a sense of ownership of their own bodies, which can help them open up. When they are not organizing climbs, the members of this non-profit (spread across the globe – mostly young folks who also have their day jobs) help find survivors and then encourage them to share their stories (via blogposts, videos, workshops, talk sessions etc).

vlcsnap-2016-03-13-15h30m19s174

If you are a sexual abuse survivor, please share your story with CLIMB – info@climbagainstsexualabuse.com . If you were lucky enough to never suffer abuse yourself, do remember that statistically one in every 3 women suffers sexual abuse once in her lifetime (men too; don’t have the statistics with me right now) – so may be if you share this story, some of your friends might get inspired to do the right thing – share their story (in spite of the societal conditions where victim-blaming, gender policing, false notion of manliness and several other factors make it so difficult for them to do so). And you might be so surprised, how many people around you have stories to share!

You could also go to the CLIMB site and donate for the next expedition that they are planning (Mt. Kilimanjaro).

If you run a site and want to embed this video there, give me a buzz (amrit.vatsa@gmail.com and I will share the embed link – without which the video might not appear on your site because of its privacy settings; I will also let you know how to offer credits).

Video footage acknowledgements: CNN and eNCA.

I should also thank Poonam, the co-founder of CLIMB, who patiently answered my questions (which I sent to her over email) and her husband who recorded it so that I could use some of the footage, to create this story. CLIMB needs all the support they can – go for it!

Categories
All Education Initiative NGO Organization Schools Social

So you aren’t a child abuser; great! But did you know, you’re probably helping one?

I hope this 3 min story encourages parents, teachers and all of us grown-ups to realize that there are a lot of things that we need to learn about child sexual abuse, if we truly want to create an environment for our children, where they can openly report and fight abuse. To learn more, you can go through the links that I have compiled here.

I have known Nikita for few years now. When I met her last year, I was glad to note the kind of work that she was doing. In November 2014, I decided to see her workshops on prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, for myself so that I could create a 3MS from it. The actual workshop with parents was for over an hour, and then there was a separate workshop with children; my video story only shows a glimpse of that. Nikita and School of Life continue to conduct such workshops in schools and other spaces. The world needs more such people, and School of Life, other such organizations (and individuals working in this area) need all the encouragement that they can.

Acknowledgements:

  • Nikita Gupta for the story lead;
  • School of Life and its members (including Nikita) who conducted the workshop that I shot for this video;
  • My best friend Anshuman – for assistance during the shoot (and for always being my host every time I visit Delhi);
  • Princy, my wife – for assistance in editing (it took over an year to finally get this edited; and if I hadn’t asked Princy for help, it could have taken longer; the actual editing time was only 3 days though);
  • The Sixth Element School for allowing us to shoot the story in their premises;
  • The parents and the teachers who participated in the workshop (and especially the couple who we interviewed separately);
  • Ankit Vatsa, Nimit Jain, Nikita Gupta and Ashwini Joglekar for the feedback on the first cut and suggestions to improve the overall video-story.
Categories
All Initiative Inspiring NGO Social Woman-power

Story of selfless bravery! Inspiring!

This is a story from the mountains of Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand witnessed grave tragedy in 2013 when continuous cloud-bursts lead to heavy floods, killing many and washing away several houses. And from the tragedy, emerged two stories that I have tried to document. Both the stories intersect at one point and though there are a lot of underlying themes, one of the bigger themes that emerges is: ‘Good Deeds Come Back.’ Obviously, you should not just be good and / or do good because one day, your good karma will come back to you! Karma can take its own sweet time sometimes, as we all know. But then once in a while you do get rewarded for your good act in the same lifetime, (even when you did the things that you did just because you wanted to and not in the hope of any reward some day). And this is pretty much what this short-documentary (about 10 minutes) is about!

I came to know about this story from Anusha, a journalist and a mountaineer, who also started this thing called Summiting4Hope with her mountaineer friend Guneet. Summiting4Hope executes expeditions (presently in Uttarakhand), thus creating small employment for local villagers in the mountains and then uses any extra money generated to fund local projects in the village.

I had met Anusha in Jabalpur last year. I was in Jabalpur to shoot a short documentary about tree plantation, for Vodafone. She was there to write about the same. And soon, I visited Uttarkashi and a village nearby to shoot this (October 2014). Yes, it took me a while to finish making this, but better late than never! 🙂

Those who like the story and would like to contact these awesome women, can email them at subanusha@gmail.com or guneet223@gmail.com

Credits for Archival video:
1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv-7KrBWdoM
2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QW6Ebl5z4w

Categories
All Education Innovation NGO Organization Social

A bunch of school students have found a unique way to empower rural women

When you start watching this short documentary, you might not notice much beyond a bunch of girls trying to make something in a hobby class. But the impact of what they are doing, on their lives, will bring a broad smile to your face.

When Malaika wrote to me about some of the interesting and inspiring things students like herself were doing at Mahindra United World College (MUWC) of India, I had imagined a bunch of college students trying to change the world they lived in. It was only when I finally visited the campus last month in Paud, Pune, that I realized that these students (though indeed trying the change the world and all of that) were actually school students! MUWC is an equivalent of XI-XII standard school and the most interesting aspect that I noticed about it was that it had students from all over the world! Wow – I would have died to study in a school like after my tenth! I didn’t even know not for profit schools like these existed, when I was in school! 🙁

Anyway, so let me not write here what this latest short documentary of mine is about. You should see it for yourself. And if you like what these school kids are doing for the rural women folk (living near their campus), do show support in whichever way you can! You can share this documentary online or just drop a mail to them (seemacircle@gmail.com) acknowledging the their honest effort!

Categories
All Initiative NGO Social Woman-power

This short documentary will change the way you look at rapes. Forever.

Because rape is not always about sex from Amrit Vatsa on Vimeo.

I know this is a little more than twice the the ‘3 minute’ timeline but I failed to bring out the message in anything shorter (I did try)! I hope you don’t mind the duration! You can check out http://nocountryforwomen.org/ (or their FB page) to read more about what they are trying to say!

Here’s a little something that you can do, when you share this video

Can you recall an innocent incident (or story or anything) where Gender Policing happened but no one realized it – including you, but now, after having seen this documentary, you can clearly see it was in fact Gender Policing? Where in some way a girl / woman was rewarded for ‘acting like’ a girl / woman or a boy / man was rewarded for ‘acting like’ a boy / man (or were punished for NOT ‘acting like’ their gender)? And then write about it when you share this video (on FB or twitter)? Because that will have so much more impact than sharing it simply because you think this is yet another video about ‘rape’ and therefore is a good thing to share!

Please use these two hash-tags when you share:

#genderpoliced #nocountryforwomen

Understood the point of this video and want to do something more about it (than just sharing it online)?

Please email contact@nocountryforwomen.org if:

  • you are interested in having No Country For Women conduct a workshop (be it your school, college, workplace, residential area – wherever)
  • you are an activist and would like to collaborate
  • you are an organization and would like to be a partner or sponsor
  • you would like them to give a talk (at your workplace, school, college, wherever)
  • you wish to discuss the content of the video and No Country For Women’s work in greater detail

Please email to me at amrit.vatsa@gmail.com if:

  • you are a theater owner or someone who can screen this short documentary where relevant audience can watch it
  • you are a blogger or a writer – and want to bring out the message of this video to your readers (just write to me at amrit.vatsa@gmail.com and I will add your site to the embed white-list and the video can then directly be played on your site; it might not play by default).

 

Background

When most of us in India discuss rape, we think of it merely as being caused by sexual frustration. However there is a lot more to the problem of rape (and other forms of unwanted sexual advances like cat-calling and groping) than just sex. It is important to understand this because unless we do, our solutions will be limited to combating sexual frustration. There is a lot of anger toward the issue, however without proper understanding, the solutions are limited to things like attending protests to “hang the rapists” and “bring in justice” etc. Yes such protests are important but there is so much more we can do. To fully tackle the problem of rape, we must understand its root causes. This short documentary highlights one of the root causes of rape, as well as how we can begin to tackle it.

Shreena and Ria (from India) are undergrads at Brown University (USA). They have been deeply affected by problems of gender-based discrimination and violence while growing up in India. They were frustrated at the ineffectiveness of current solutions and wanted to do something about the issue in a powerful, long-lasting way. They realized that to do this they first needed to fully understand the issue themselves. They began to conduct extensive research on the topic and took several related courses in university. They began to see how rape was about so much more than merely sexual frustration. They realized how something as simple as asking boys (or men) who cry, to ‘stop acting like girls’ or saying something like “boys will be boys” cultivates the same mindset that allows rapists to justify the crime. This might sound weird to understand and that’s why you need to watch this short documentary.

Shreena and Ria realized that unless there was universal understanding of this knowledge, practical long-lasting solutions could not be developed. Therefore they wanted to reach out to everyone in the country and help them understand what they had understood. And finally, they succeeded.

Shreena And Ria succeeded in getting a fellowship from Projects For Peace to run their campaign titled ‘No Country for Women‘, which they run with their Associate Director, Rishabh Singh (who is also an Indian undergrad at Brown University). They have been conducting workshops in schools, organizing a city-wide conference, giving talks and are currently developing a “workshop toolkit” – a developed curriculum to distribute across schools and colleges.

They broadly address the following key points (among many, many more):

  • Rape is not just about sexual frustration
  • Sex is biological, gender is socially constructed
  • Gender Policing can lead to rape
  • By definition, Gender Policing means forcing a man to ‘act like a man’ or forcing a woman to ‘act like a woman’ (and forcing need not be direct forcing; it could also be in the form of rewarding someone only because he / she behaves as per the societal norms)
  • The same mindset that feels like rewarding a person of a particular sex to act like their gender, is not very different from the mindset that feels like punishing one when one does not – and in its extreme form, this punishment takes the form of rape
  • Mild, innocent or even unintentional forms of gender policing happen all the time and everywhere. For example when a boy bullies a girl is school, the girl is often told ‘boys will be boys’ (which is gender policing because it passes on the signal to boys that for a boy to be a boy, he should be aggressive)
  • Just because we gender police with good intentions (like when we enroll a girl in a ballet class without asking her permission), does NOT mean it is okay to do so! Every time we do gender police, every time we ask a man to ‘stop acting like girl’, we actually perpetuate and validate the justification of so many rapists (‘she was dressed like that – she was asking for it’, ‘she was drunk and out late in the night, we were teaching her a lesson’ etc.)
  • Stopping Gender Policing will reduce rapes that happen due to social punishment alone. It might not stop all rapes completely, but it will definitely eliminate many scenarios that would have culminated in rape. It will also lead to less social pressure on individual identity and allow boys and girls to be whoever they choose to be.

Acknowledgement

  • Ria & Shreena for letting me bring out their core message through my short documentary (but most importantly, for making me see the nature of rapes in a new light)
  • Kumar Kislay – my cousin – for accompanying me for the first shoot (and for assisting in camera work himself)
  • My sister Arpita and brother in law Amit for not only letting me use their dining table in Bangalore as my workplace over last 8 days – but also for watching the work-in-progress as many times as I made them watch it, and also for all the valuable suggestions that poured in as a result
  • Arpita again for volunteering to do a small scripted piece in this documentary
  • My wife Princy for not making a big deal about me being away from her for 10 days so that I could work on this Project (and also for her feedback on the first cut)
  • Ankit & Neelabh for their feedback on the first cut (I hope I have been able to address most of their points)
  • NPS Bangalore for allowing me shoot in their premises when Ria & Shreena went there to conduct their workshop
  • Several others I might have missed

Credits