One of the most striking and beautiful features of our country is the diversity it carries and this diversity stands on many grounds- multiple languages and dialects, religions, regions, ethnicities, cuisines, gender etc. It is a land that is based on respecting differences, rightly called ‘ever-ever land’ by Shashi Tharoor in an article published in The Guardian. He explains it as a nation emerging from an ancient civilisation, united by a shared history and sustained by pluralist democracy. One of the complexities that is brought about by such diversity is for an individual to understand their own identity by bringing together all these different elements and then, understanding the ‘other’. This situation has often been used for political gains in our country. In the north-east, many young people face this due to insurgency in the area. ‘Be a Jagrik- Samvidhan LIVE!.., Live the SDGs’ is facilitating journeys for young people in the North-East to reflect on their own identities, finding connection with people who are ‘different’ than them and understanding the larger socio-political context of the area by performing tasks that pushes them to think about their rights and duties more critically.
Getting started with refl-action
“I invited some of my friends home at the time of ‘iftaar’ when we break our fast in the evening during the month of Ramadan. Some of my Hindu friends helped my mother to prepare the meal as well”, says 16 years old Masoom, one of the jagriks from WAY Foundation, a youth-led organisation based in Guwahati. Masoom lives in a locality where Hindus and Muslims live together but have certain boundaries when it comes to understanding each other’s religions. He said that, “ I have had these friends for many years and we spend a lot of time together but we do not talk about our religion much. Although my friends do not eat some of the things that were being cooked, they were still curious to understand what all we do in the month of Ramadan and this opened up more space for deeper conversations.”
Another task required a pair of jagriks, Sufiya and Violet to visit religious places and ask some questions to the people related to some common religious practices. It was a challenging task as Violet identifies as an agnostic and Sufiya is a Muslim who had to visit a Hindu temple, but the task helped both of them to delve deeper into their own beliefs and ask each other more questions about their belief systems. Violet says that, “Secularism is one of the values on which our Constitution is based and recently there has been a lot of disturbance in the north-east regarding the differences in the religious beliefs of Hindus and Muslims. In a way, this task helped us to build our own perspective on what is going on and to challenge communalism.” Sufiya and Violet study in the same college and have been friends for a while but they had not discussed these aspects of their identity earlier.
While some Jagriks deepened their understanding about other cultures, some also explored their own culture and identity more deeply. Ritsali from the organisation Can Youth performed a task related to Fundamental Duty of promoting his own culture. He sold products related to his culture and generated a dialogue around it.
Although our Constitution mention words like ‘Secularism’ and ‘Fraternity’, the meanings of these words is often lost when it is not translated into an experience. How is one supposed to understand what cultural differences could mean or to empathize with the ‘other’ without really understanding the identity of that ‘other’. Debshree, a Jagrik from Farm2Food realised when she had to visit localities that had people belonging to religions and cultures other than her own. “I was always very curious to learn about other cultures especially the Mising community but I did not have a medium to go out and talk to the people of these communities because they stay far but through the Jagrik task, I had an opportunity to do that. One of the girls from the Mising community is now teaching me their language and I understand their culture more.”
The young people in our country live on ‘cultural islands’ limiting the opportunity to have conversations and build connections that transcend the boundaries of religion, culture, caste and language but such instances are often an opening towards building a society where different identities can co-exist. A deeper understanding of the self and the ‘other’ also helps to instil more empathy and to navigate through the narratives of identity politics that are divisive in nature.
When there is a conversation around identities, the identity of a ‘citizen’ and what shapes that identity cannot be missed. Keeping this in mind, some jagriks from Inside- North East, a Manipur based organisation celebrated Republic Day by talking about the Constitution in a sports event that they organised in various schools in the area. This helped the youth in the area to actually ponder over the words like ‘independence’, ‘republic’ and ‘fraternity’, the meanings of which are generally lost in our day to day lives.
The game is helping the youth to learn and unlearn meaning of their identities in the ‘ever-ever’ land and to make a difference in the society around them. The initiative is also providing a space for different youth-led organisations in the north-east to find a common space to come and work together about the issues they feel strongly for. Sonal, one of the leaders at WAY Foundation shared that he has been working to expand his own understanding of the other areas of the north-east such as Manipur and has been able to find a common ground with other organisations working there so that the initiative would have a larger systemic effect. The campaign has indeed helped people to find a space to belong together in the diversity!
Be A Jagrik is a massive campaign which intends to make a huge impact. We need your support. If you like what we are doing,contribute to our crowdfunding campaign on Global Giving
Many Jagriks have been inspired to initiate social action in their communities. You might like to read the story of Jagriks from Jharkhand
Also read about the National Celebration Event in February 2019
This article has been written by Bhavna Khattar who is a content writer with ComMutiny.