“Tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet me yakeen kar,
Agar kahin hai swarg to utar la zameen par”
YUVA Centre resounded with this song, affirming how each of us can transform the world for the better. We were commemorating YUVA’s 39th founding day. As we looked back on our work, we gained a lot of energy from each other. Throughout the day, we reflected on YUVA’s work on ‘Peace and Harmony’ over the decades. Especially in light of the growing violence and disconnect all around, we underscored the need to nurture love and compassion.
Reflections: Looking Back and Ahead
The day started with YUVA colleagues participating in a discussion session, to consider how they can better work within the evolving socio-political environment. In group discussions, we reflected on issues of gender, caste, discrimination and more, charting strategies on how to participate, individually and collectively for change. YUVA’s monthly study circles have played an important role to help the staff dedicate time for learning and interaction, and many of these themes will be taken up further in these forums and beyond in the coming days.
Mani Mistry, YUVA’s Governing Board Member, reminisced about the organisation’s early days, from a small four-table office to where we are today. She highlighted how, along with the commitment to the work, it’s also important to celebrate ongoing milestones and achievements. Praising the team’s work and the advocacy for people’s rights that they continued during COVID-19, she said they have seen many obstacles and much resistance, but have come a long way. Delving into YUVA’s work during the Bombay Riots of 1992, she said, “As we engaged with communities and people, we realized more keenly how critical it is that we work with them, respecting their beliefs. Moreover, we experienced that even when the riot reached its peak, the youth we had been working with, irrespective of their religion, refused to participate in the killings and brutality all around. That was a reflection of how our daily work had had a deep impact.” She added that the biggest injustice to humankind is not to see examples of goodness, even as it may be easier to get sucked into negativity all around.
Reflecting on the far-sightedness of YUVA’s founder, Minar Pimple, she said that he had started mobilizing youth and community members and engaging with them before riots erupted in their areas. Others could not understand this, and wondered, “why is he doing this when Jogeshwari is burning?” To this he responded that he can’t stop violence in areas that have already been engulfed by it, but other areas can be saved from meeting the same fate. Stating such examples, she advised young colleagues to act with restraint during crises and not act impulsively. She mentioned that situations change, and in accordance with the changing circumstances, strategies must also be adapted while keeping Constitutional values in mind.
Lata Narayan, General Body Member, shared her learnings and reflections from YUVA’s journey as well. She also highlighted the growing sense of disconnect and separation becoming prevalent among people today. This increasing divide, she believed, is one of the most pressing issues globally. She emphasised the importance of making efforts to foster connections. Further, she pointed out that these separations, based on differing ideologies, only serve to breed mistrust. She posed a reflective question: Is this truly the way people want to live? Instead of fostering such divides, she advocated for a more inclusive approach.
Looking back at her experience with YUVA’s training programmes, she mentioned the training programme for female animators. Women from three distinct areas were chosen for this programme. Before the commencement of the program, various concepts, like ’empowerment,’ were discussed. It became evident that it held different meanings for different individuals. Hence, a shared understanding was arrived at after extensive discussions on these concepts. She underscored the pivotal role of facilitators in the training process, emphasizing the paramount importance of training them effectively.
She emphasized that if hatred exists in others, it is also present within us. She urged for introspection, highlighting the need to recognise our own tendencies of ‘othering.’ Addressing this internal bias is crucial. She believed that training should not merely be an intellectual endeavor but also a time for profound self-reflection. She also stressed the importance of using “I” statements to avoid generalizations and to be mindful of language, noting that this is a significant influence of the media. She asserted that peace is a continuous journey. However, she also pointed out that, at times, it’s necessary to disrupt peace in order to achieve genuine tranquility.
The anchor summarised what Lata Narayan said with the following poetic phrase:
दरिया की कसम मौजों की कसम
यह ताना बना बदलेगा
तू खुद को बदल तू खुद को बदल
तब ही तो जमाना बदलेगा
“I swear by the river, I swear by its waves,
This situation will change.
Change yourself, change yourself;
Only then will the world change.”
YUVA’s Executive Director, Roshni Nuggehalli, reinforced the principles YUVA stands for. She shared that YUVA must always stand for change, and we must remember that the world exists in all shades; nothing is black and white. YUVA must also embrace transience and must never fall be rigid in its approach. YUVA has always believed in dialogue and discourse and must always do so. She said that she is convinced that the grit and determination with which YUVA was formed four decades ago will continue to reflect in the work even after the next 40 years.
YUVA must never compromise on its core principles and must always work collaboratively with various actors and agencies for the greater good. She highlighted the importance of self-reflection and stated that it must never be ignored if one wants to continue making a change and impact for the better. She emphasized the importance of critical thinking in YUVA’s work and expressed the need to create a safe dialogue space.
Culture of Hope
Songs of protest and resistance have always been central to YUVA’s being and they formed a core part of the 39th year celebrations too. A variety of dance performances took place too, and a play was enacted, depicting YUVA’s journey over the decades in resisting for peace and harmony. Many YUVA colleagues recited their poetry, focused on themes of love and resistance, reflecting YUVA’s belief that love is resistance. The song “तू जिंदा है तो जिंदगी की जीत पर यकीन कर” infused energy in everyone. Translated into English it means, “If you are alive, believe in the victory of life.” The essence of this song is to inspire hope and resilience. It emphasises the value of life and the potential it holds. Even in the face of challenges and adversities, one should have faith in the power of life and its ability to overcome obstacles. The line encourages listeners to believe in themselves and the strength of life, suggesting that as long as one is alive, there’s hope and potential for triumph.
We Shall Overcome
Amidst the cultural performances and stirring speeches, a poignant installation stood prominently. This installation was not just a visual representation but a mirror to the society we inhabit, showcasing the recent surge in hate that has gripped the country. The installation was organised into distinct categories, making it easier for viewers to navigate and comprehend the depth of each issue. These categories included Caste-Based Violence, Patriarchy, Islamophobia, Gender Based Violence and others. Each category was adorned with clippings from headlines, newspaper articles, and reports. The clippings served as a stark reminder of the challenges that lie ahead and the urgent need for intervention and change.
However, the installation was not just about highlighting issues we face. Stories of hope and resistance celebrated individuals and communities from across the country who have stood up against this tide of negativity. Their journeys served as beacons of hope, sharing how, despite overwhelming adversity, the human spirit’s resilience and capacity for love and unity remain undeterred. The installation was a powerful juxtaposition of the challenges we face and the potential for change. It was a call to action, urging every viewer not just to be a passive observer but to be an active participant in the fight against hate and prejudice.