#KindnessMatters: What it takes to be a social change trailblazer
The Unesco Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) is launching #VirtualGandhiMarch, a social media campaign to mobilise youth to share their kindness stories, on August 12.
The virtual march is part of a wider mission, #KindnessMatters, for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a first-of-its-kind international youth campaign on kindness with the goal of mobilising the world’s youth to achieve the 17 SDGs through transformative acts of kindness, compassion, care towards self, others and the environment. The social media campaign has so far generated more than 3,000 stories from over 50 countries. The second phase of the programme, which will start in 2020, will mobilise UN Member States to declare an International Decade of Kindness.
People who change the world aren’t always who you expect. Sometimes, they’re just ordinary people who believe in a better world and have the drive and undying spirit to achieve their goals. These are the stories of a handful of such people from across the country whose innovative ideas and determination are making a difference in their respective communities.
In the run-up to the event, CNBC-TV18 is publishing a series of inspiring stories of people who are the trailblazers of social change. Below is the first:
Securing transgender rights through murals
A wall muralist, freelance artist, amateur anthropologist and the founder of Aravani Art Project, Poornima Sukumar uses public art to enable social participation of transgender communities.
Raised in a joint family, which soon turned into a nuclear one, Poornima grew up to become rebellious and lonely. Gradually her struggles made her more aware of the many social issues that go unnoticed.
From walking into Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru to pursue art as a hobby to enrolling for a fine arts degree, to graduating in 2008 and the next day starting her first job as an art educator at Inventure Academy, Poornima’s association with art has been constant. In 2012, she was a training faculty at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. By 2013, (she was 24 then) she decided to take a sabbatical from teaching and eventually started the Aravani Art Project.
The Aravani Art Project uses art as a tool of engagement. Through art, she aims to create safe spaces for the transgender community and enables them to connect with others in their neighbourhood.
It reclaims the streets on which so many transgender people suffer violence and discrimination. Started in 2016, Aravani Art Project draws inspiration from the Aravani festival, a celebration of the transgender community.
Since its inception, it has completed over 14 public projects across red light areas, ghettos and slums across many Indian cities such as Pune, Mumbai, and Kolkata with the help of the transgender community.
“From using art as a tool of engagement, I have embraced the community as my own and moved into sharing life stories, voicing challenges, and working in-depth with the members. The journey has been a mixture of adventures and crazy times. The only constant has been fighting against the norm.We advocate the idea of reclaiming spaces in the society by creating large wall mural projects to raise awareness and to create a voice for the community,” she says.
The projects mainly involve the community to collaborate with other artists and fellow society to join as we paint a mural together to create social participation and a safe space for conversations.
We hope to archive the cultural nuances like traditional practises, language, songs, myths and stories of the community, since it remains very vibrant and unexplored.”
“In 2014, I found myself doing well as a freelancer and I was approached by friend to help her out with film makers from London who were particularly interested in the transgender community. Since I had never interacted with the community before, this opportunity changed my life. It took about three and a half years to finish the documentary and I realised the disgust with which the transgender communities were perceived. I personally saw them as a thriving pool of beautiful human beings. It takes time for them to open up, but once you gain their trust, there is so much one can learn. We work with experts to help with trainings,” she added.
Since the transgender community is a close-knit one, working with one community has helped the Aravani Art Project connect with the community in different cities. In Pune, it is the Paithani saree while in Chennai, the jasmine flower blooms on the walls.
“The projects have allowed me to observe the community and its challenges, tensions, camaraderie and daily rituals. While painting the wall in Chennai, I stayed with the community for a week and experienced how they enjoyed celebrations like birthdays. Similarly in Sonagachi, the red light area in Kolkata, I met old transgender people who had lived during British rule. They felt things had gotten worse for them post their departure from the country,” Poornima stated.
The challenges that the community faces are still stuck at the basic level, and includes discrimination and a lack of empathy. As transgender people are considered “unnatural” they are unable to find jobs and often take to begging or sex work. Most often, they end up becoming the victims of harassment, social negligence, and societal pressure.
After facing years of discrimination, they are reluctant to take up jobs. They need the push and motivation to move away from the lives they lead now and go onto better things.
“The key is to be as genuine and honest with the approach, they do not encourage sympathy or being treated differently. I think all this is still a learning and will always be,” she says.
The Aravani Art Project
While Poornima’s close set of friends and family form her biggest support system she finds strength from her team which includes Sadhna Prasad, the Art Director and Viktor Baskin Coffey, writer and producer.
A big milestone in their journey was when Shanthi Sonu and Priyanka Divaakar from the transgender community joined the team with the assurance that they would participate in all future projects. The project’s increased presence on Facebook and Instagram and launch of its own website has given Arvani Art Project the much-needed publicity it deserves.
While they undertake commissioned projects which are paid for by MNCs and various companies, the public projects usually find support from city planners in different forms – travel and stay or supplies. Organisations like Aarogya Seva based in India and US have provided much-needed support and added value to the art projects by providing free medical checkups to the community while the project is being executed. These are little things that Poornima is attempting to do for the community.
Poornima notes that over the years, there has been more awareness about the community and support from the society to engage and interact with transgender people.
Courtesy : CNBCTV18