Expressions from youth on co-creating cities together
1. City Caravan : Where you learn about reality
Have you ever wondered that whatever we learn throughout our school and college lives does not apply in many real-life situations? Then why do we go to schools and colleges? We need to attend these institutions to learn English, to learn some bookish knowledge, through which we learn to ask certain questions. However, if we really want to come closer to society then we need more than just formal education and that’s where my journey began with the non-profit Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA).
YUVA Centre’s City Caravan 6.0 gave an opportunity to youth, like myself, who want to question the traditional customs of society and learn the reality of what different sections of the society go through. I spent 10 days participating in the programme, and I am glad that I made the decision to do this because it was very worthwhile.
City Caravan is aimed at giving the youth a base or a platform to connect with people from various walks of life, to directly discuss their issues and have some of the best intensive training sessions. It is not only giving us exposure to different societal issues but also a space to share our own personal life issues through which we as individuals have suffered.
The 1st day was related to the introduction of the city, its informal sector and about critical thinking. We learnt how to analyse a particular situation from all the different angles and then form our opinion on it.
On the 2nd day we were made to face some of the most sensitive topics which are close to our heart, i.e. religion, caste and class, and the issues related to them. We learnt how some people, for their own vested interests, divert the whole society and put restrictions on certain classes and castes in our Indian society. We spoke with people who have struggled a lot in their own life and fought for their basic rights to marry a person from a different tribe.
On the 3rd day the Caravan took us to a stop even more sensitive than religion, i.e., gender. With several varieties of activities and games and the involvement of each and everyone, we learned that gender is something which is created by society but sex is biological. Again, we spoke with people who have struggled due to gender differences and discrimination, including a transgender person, sex workers, and a single mother.
The 4th day was the best day, where we came out of our box and visited the important structures of the city. We saw everything from where the 1st mill was set up to other historical places of our city. We saw how there has been vertical growth in the city and how the worker or labourer classes are suffering from it. The best thing I learnt from this is that development cannot be kept in a single compartment but the meaning of development changes from person to person. So we need to re-define development.
On the 5th day, since it was Women’s Day, we went to a nearby garden and gave Secret Santa gifts to each other, and had a lot of fun. After that, there was the most important session, where we put forward whatever we have suffered in our life in front of the group. I don’t know how this happened or how we trusted each other, but we have created that space where we can talk about our own life struggles and what we have gone through in our life and share it with everyone.
The 6th day led us to interact with a member working for the International Labour Organization on the future of work and on the new emerging economy called the gig economy. We also learned that the informal sector is something which itself has penetrated into the formal sector and we cannot define it clearly and have to see it from different angles. We also learned about social media which affects us all.
The 7th and 8th day was all about policy formulation. Our friends from Fields of View, Bangalore joined us in this journey. They helped us understand the miniscule details of policy making by making us wear the cap of policy makers and teaching us how we can create awareness among people using different tools.
Finally, the last two days of the City Caravan were about exposing us to the infinite field of research. What exactly research is or how research leads to the opening of new solutions and new perspectives and newer challenges, were the basic questions we needed to understand and got the answers of.
Finally, it was time for the Caravan to stop. We needed to get off and kickstart our own journeys. We will be taking ahead our own individual caravans now, and of course to fill up our fuel, our YUVA Centre station will always be there.
Here, we not only learned about different issues of society but we also learned how to love each other, how to care for each other and how to go ahead together without any barriers of caste, religion or any other discrimination. We learned that there are no differences amongst us even if our ideologies are different and we just need to give respect to everyone’s point of view and together we will progress.
I can definitely say that I got a whole new perspective after being a traveller on the City Caravan and coming back to my life.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to appreciate the planners behind this idea, the management who took such great care of us, provided us with all the facilities, and the mentors, Mr. Sachin and Ms. Alicia, who were our constant companions and supporters in the Caravan.
Yasmin Mohd Bahoddin Faruqi, Assistant Professor of Economics at I.C.L.E.S. Motilal Jhunjhunwala College, Vashi Navi Mumbai
2. Mills to Malls — A Journey for All
We lost and found hope as we toured our city of dreams — Mumbai — in our City Caravan 6.0, a special edition with Mayuresh Sir who was on the steering wheel that day. This walking tour was named Mills to Malls.
We started our journey from Kalachowki’s Indu Mill built by the Tata’s, which gave employment to mill workers and houses were built for them. The houses built for workers are still there while the mills are in ruins. While learning about mills in Mumbai we learned about Indian mill owners and how they earned money from the opium trade and invested it in the mills. Bringing their culture, class, and caste, they also played a role in furthering the British divide and rule policy. The rich became richer and the poor stayed poor or were left to die hungry.
We understood how the mills were the start of industrialization in Mumbai. The mills needed raw materials, which were transported to Cotton Green, a place where all the raw cotton was stored before being transported to other places. Even a rail route was built from there for easier connectivity. Most of the old architecture was built by Britishers with old basalt rock supplied from Malad and Kurla.
Lalbaug is a place where one can see the lifestyle of the workers who gave rise to markets in that area. The British Government had to build specific markets for the vendors like Fishmarket, Masale Wali Gali (Spices Lane), Chivada Gali (Snacks Lane), and a Tamasha theatre (entertainment theatre), which came from the east part of Maharashtra. We can see this all still existing in the east part of Lalbaug. In Lower Parel west, we see mills turned into malls.
The last stop of the tour was Worli Koliwada and Worli Fort which was built by Britishers in the early days of Mumbai, when the city was just made up of seven islands. We learned about the Koliwadas of Mumbai going into the Slum Rehabilitation Process. How can the first and original residents and areas of Mumbai be called slums? This is a question we can all ask.
This tour helped us understand how development has often benefited the needs of the rich more. We should now look forward to creating inclusive development.
Pranaya Patade, YUVA
Building Capacity through Community
To step out of your daily life and attend a 10-day youth training programme, living with strangers and being immersed in a crash course on urban development, livelihood, socio-economic issues, and policymaking, takes immense dedication. The participants of YUVA’s City Caravan 6.0 showed exactly that, along with great excitement and energy. I was honoured to get a chance to interact with them and document the event. To say I learnt a lot would be an understatement, but what I will remember most from this experience is the approach to learning and capacity building through creating a strong sense of community.
The participants have written about the sessions with different scholars and activists (in Part I of this two part-series, and in the two accounts above), but what happened outside of the sessions really formed the essence of the Caravan. Each session was like a stop along the journey but it’s also the journey that counts. Living at the YUVA Centre in Kharghar, along with the programme coordinators, immersed the participants into a learning environment, and created ample space and time for them to build friendships and have discussions to better process and digest what they were learning. During lunchtime, the speakers would eat alongside the youth, speaking more informally, answering their burning questions and getting to know each other as equals. After the talk show on gender and class, everyone had crowded around one lunch table with Vicky, a transgender person and activist guest, and there was laughter, conversation and chaos.
The participants were very open to learning and changing their perspectives. Each of them had a distinct personality, and were of different ages and backgrounds, but they were accepting and inviting of all differences. The programme created space for them to network, have open conversations on sensitive topics like gender, caste, class and religion, and built their confidence in various skills. Most of the group seemed to have an affinity for drama related activities, like mock-interviews, videos and street plays, which was used effectively by the organisers. Towards the end of the Caravan, the participants also became comfortable giving each other genuine constructive criticism.
I was impressed by their constant level of engagement. They were expected to actively learn and participate for 8–9 hours everyday, and they brought their 100 per cent to every conversation and event. They were always up for a challenge. I remember one of the participants mentioned hoping that there had been more dissenting voices in the session on religion and caste, for a more heated debate. The participants were also very practical, constantly asking questions about how things apply on ground and what they can tangibly do to make change.
The organisers interspersed the session with fun songs and games to avoid mental exhaustion. These songs were very inspiring in nature, some even about freedom fighters. Since YUVA is a right-based organisation, there was an eagerness to instill a spirit of action to drive lasting change, something which is otherwise usually viewed with scepticism. The Caravan pushed the participants to be ambitious, to be radical, while letting them know they have the support of each other and the organisation to rely on in their endeavours. I am eternally grateful to have been a part of this experience.
Niyoshi Parekh, Brown University, YUVA intern
This is the second article in a two-part series. Read part I here.