Sexuality Education Workshop in Kannada – Mysore

Our day began as early as 5:30 am on a Sunday when Charu picked us- Jasmine, Kiran and Aruna up. Jasmine had earlier insisted that we bring Kiran along since the presence of a man changes the way young boys listen and respond to a session, especially facilitated by women. I have learnt this to be true myself.

We landed up in Mysore where Chaitra and Mangala guided us into the community where Buguri is situated. The amount of space there for children amazed an urban space person like me which allowed me to look more into how spaces and behaviours, especially of children are so intertwined. Buguri Mysore is a tiny space and decorated very beautifully with art works made by the children. The atmosphere felt extremely warm and inviting.

There were about 15 children in the age group of 9-16 years and their curious younger siblings peeping from the window, who were ready for the workshop to begin. They were clearly prepared earlier for the session, seeming very eager and some, having skipped their breakfast. The 4 of us had squeezed ourselves between the children along with Chaitra and Mangala. Jasmine had already begun asking their names and it amazed me how in 10 minutes she had managed to remember most of them! She was also asking them who their favourite actor and actress were, later corrected by the children to ‘heroin’. At this point is when I realised that the session had already begun. Seemingly effortless and quietly warming up the children. The idea seemed to get the children to speak. The following questions were about make-up, what makes an actor ‘average’, beauty parlours, bullying and love. The role of gender and the opinions of the boys and girls were addressed subtly and with very minimal judgement. Jasmine was also careful not to ‘correct’ what politically may seem as ‘wrong’ answers.
The girls seemed to share very similar ideologies on these topics bordering feminism. Their responses and standpoints being very mature for their age. While the boys, had very mixed responses from- girls as bullies cannot be given a second chance, boys can be; boys should say no to dowry; boys don’t wear make-up because they aren’t girls. And interestingly, there were moments of exchange between the boys who answered differently trying to get one to see the other’s point of view. And this happened very conversationally.

Audio Podcasts as a tool

 

These discussions were combined with the playing of 2 podcasts made by Hidden Pockets followed by a discussion of the same. One podcast was on bullying in a school discussed between two friends that was later escalated to the faculty who handled it in the school assembly without outing the bully. The discussion followed with the children stating how important it is to address an issue in a more general sense in a school space rather than picking out the child at fault resulting in their embarrassment.

The second podcast was on growing up through an introduction to menstruation explained by a mother to her daughter with the growth of a tree as a metaphor. It also addressed changes in the body of teenagers and reassuring that changes are normal. The children reacted by discussing how some of them and their older siblings now have pimples.

This on one hand, with the verbally strong, there were some children who were very shy. Jasmine opened out to them an option of writing down their thoughts and queries without a need to mention their names. This was more than welcome in the group.

This time they took to write also meant that some would sneak out for a quick snack!
Soon after, Chaitra began to read the questions and I was wondering what this session had spiraled out into. The answers would definitely mean another session! The children were eager to know more on a range of subjects- child marriage, menstruation, friendships and medical help. Jasmine patiently responded to them all also keeping in mind to be sensitive while addressing the group as some content may not be suitable for the 9-10 year olds in the group, to be spoken explicitly.

We ended the workshop very warmly with Chaitra and Mangala handing us crepe paper flowers made by the children with their name tags on. As like one child said “Preeti manassinda barbeku” (“Love should come from the heart”), we left with hungry tummies and love in our hearts.

About Buguri:
Buguri (‘Spinning top’ in Kannada) is a community library for the children of the waste collectors currently in 4 locations in Karnataka- Banashankari and Hebbal in Bangalore, Mysore and Tumkur. Buguri is a Hasiru Dala (‘Green Force’ in Kannada) initiative, an organisation based out of Bangalore that works for the welfare of the informal waste collectors in Karnataka.
Buguri runs with a primary aim to work with the children in the age group of 6 to 16 years, in the waster collector’s community through books. The idea was to introduce a no-fee and a fun library space as a means to open them up to the magic of books and explore the empowerment it gives to young and fresh minds.

 

Author : Aruna

Image Courtesy : Kiran Sopanam.

Healthcare challenges faced by LGBT community in India: In conversation with Vinay Chandran

Vinay Chandran, Counselor and Executive Director of Swabhava is studying LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community and its access to healthcare in South India: the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This study is a part of a study by TATA Institute of Social Sciences in an attempt to understand the discriminations faced by the LGBT community in different domains – education, housing sector, healthcare and public spaces across India.

Started in 1999, Swabhava works to provide access to support services and counselling to members of the LGBT community. Swabhava has a helpline called Sahaya and an in-person counseling service. The organisation provides support information about coming out of the closet about one’s sexuality, family, relationships, and workplace, among others. It also provides referrals to doctors, counselors, access to support groups, be it for LGBT or queer adults. Hidden Pockets caught up with Vinay Chandran to know more about this study on LGBT community and their access to healthcare and share some of the findings of this study with our readers.

About the study

Hidden Pockets: What is the expected outcome of this national study on health related problems faced by the LGBT community?

Vinay Chandran: The overall project on LGBT discrimination is an exploratory study. It is about trying to find out the experiences of discrimination that the community faces in the country. It is important to record these experiences simply because the Supreme Court talked about LGBT community being a miniscule minority during the Supreme Court hearing against Section 377. This was cited as the reason to read down Section 377. This resonates with why we need to collect this data.

Hidden Pockets: What do you think would be the number that will make them (Supreme Court) recognise the LGBT community as an entity?

Chandran: It is not about that. The point is that the affidavits and other reports haven’t used the existing statistics and data properly. So we want to be able (at least in my case), to flood the market with this information about the discriminations faced. The conversation around discrimination right now is heavily focused on the LGBTQ sector and their legal rights. But this can also be seen as a systemic discrimination in the society and its functioning. Therefore there is more to it than just being abused by the law. It is a systemic thing and this adds to that questioning (of the system).

Hidden Pockets: What is this healthcare project focused on?

Chandran: Be it generic healthcare, seeking mental health services for LGBT people in terms of counseling and so on or accessing surgery without having prejudice thrown at them, we are looking at how the different mental health and medical health services interact with LGBT people and how we can improve that interaction and improve the experiences of LGBT people in that context.

Challenges faced by the LGBT community

Hidden Pockets: From your experience, what would you say are some of the challenges that the community faces with respect to accessing healthcare?

Chandran: See healthcare itself is not a priority for LGBT people simply because of the fear of what it might entail. The context where medicine and LGBT meet could be in terms of sex reassignment, gender reassignment surgeries, sexually transmitted infections and mental health.

We have heard enough stories of the issues that transwomen face. I don’t know about transmen experiences but a lot of transwomen refuse to go to medical colleges for treatment. They say we don’t want to go to medical colleges even if they have a chest cold or a cough because the immediate response from the doctor is – ‘Take off your clothes, call the students and say this is what a trans woman looks like.’ They do this to their bodies without even asking their permissions. This is problematic because government medical colleges are the cheaper medical places for them to go to. Most of the people if you’re LGB (Lesbian, Gay and Bisexul) for instance can pass (without being questioned about their sexuality) if it is a cough or cold but not transwomen.

You can be a gay man asking help from a doctor and your sexuality wouldn’t matter but if it is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), which is another contact point, then you’re talking about doctors’ attitudes. One person we spoke to, went to a doctor with a STI and the doctor asked him if he was married and when he said no, the next question was if he had gone to a sex worker. The doctor asked nothing about other sexualities. When the client actually said that he’s gay, the doctor replied, ‘agh that’s why you’ve got it (STI). You stop that you’ll stop getting this.’ The sense is that if you are gay then it is automatic for you to get STIs. It proves whatever prejudice they already have in their minds.

Hidden Pockets: What problems do women face and trans men face with respect to accessing healthcare or sexual health services?

Chandran: I don’t have a lot of data about that. Bina Fernandez has done some work on the issues faced by women. She talks about lesbian and bisexual women accessing mental health and the kind of prejudices that doctors have more so because they are biologically female. Therefore the idea of reproduction and the need to reproduce also comes into the picture. Ketki Ranade has another paper in which she also talks about the same issues that lesbian, bisexual women and some among trans men face. In one particular context, a gynaecologist obstetrician who has otherwise good records of supporting trans women and trans issues refused to do hysterectomy on a biological woman who is trans man because he doesn’t believe in removing the uterus of a woman who has not enjoyed motherhood. The fact is that the transman has no desire for that body. But that is irrelevant to the doctor. He understands removing penis and testicles for a trans woman and recognizes the need to provide that surgery. But with a transman, he refuses to do the same.

LGBT community and access of the healthcare

Hidden Pockets: How does section 377 affect the LGBT community with respect to accessing health care?

Chandran: There are doctors who say that ‘if there is a law, you have to worry about the law’. There are doctors saying that I don’t want to become an abettor to a crime. But by and large doctors understand their ethical duties. Even if they provide fake treatments (to treat homosexuality), they keep quiet about it. If they publish it in a paper, they mention that treatment was provided and the patient successfully got married.

Hidden Pockets: Is it legal for a doctor to refuse treatment because someone is LGBT?

Chandran: There are doctors who can do that to anything, not just LGBT. There is no policy in India that addresses discrimination of LGBTQ people. NALSA judgement in 2014 (on transgender rights) is the first place where they’ve actually spoken about transgender people. They’ve tried to add sexual orientation but I don’t think the government is going to address it. However it’s the first time that kind of discrimination has been spoken about and the HIV AIDS bill addresses it in the context of HIV. There’s no other context where specifically someone says you cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We can start that conversation because of NALSA judgement.

Hidden Pockets: What is the cost of accessing SRS services for trans women? Which are the states where SRS services are available?

Chandran: Each state is very different. It depends on the kind of services that are available. Some hospitals offer subsidized services and some hospitals offer full services. In terms of government SRS services, it is only available in Tamil Nadu, among the Southern states. There is no recognized service center anywhere else that I have seen (in Southern India). NALSA judgment hasn’t been implemented right across the country so we still struggle with implementation of basic policies for trans men and women.

LGBT community and mental health services

Hidden Pockets: How do you work around the clinical diagnosis of homosexuality as a disease or condition by several mental health practitioners in the country?

Chandran: This is changing. There are a lot of practitioners who have caught up with the fact that it is no longer right to prescribe treatment for being LGBT. In fact, we’re getting stories where we actually hear people say that the psychiatrists are now catching onto the game because they can actually make more money by supporting the LGBT community as opposed to prescribing treatment. But as expected, the prejudice against the LGBT community remains. However there is a lot of improvement. What we want to do is improve the experiences of the community members. So when we present the study, we are also talking about creating outputs like booklets (for all) with the kind of questions you might encounter and how to respond to them. On the other hand booklets for doctors and counselors would give information about the kind of problems that clients might come to them with, clients responses and what would be the ideal (responses).

Hidden Pockets: The Mental Health Bill of 2017 mentions that no one shall be discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation with respect to access to mental health care. How does this conflict with Section 377?

Chandran: This is not a new problem. Government of India has always had policies on the left and punishments on the right so it is really not a conflict as far as we are concerned. If you consider the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), they have always had MSM (Men who have sex with men) friendly programmes and they also have section 377.

The conflict between the law and the policies

Hidden Pockets: How then can you also have section 377 when you have MSM friendly AIDS programs? How will people come out and say I have AIDS?

Chandran: You’re seeing it as a conflict. The government is not seeing it as a conflict. For them, on one side, the law will continue to do what it wants to do and on the other side, it wants to help. So it will continue to do so until it meets a block. During the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government, the Department of Health, Department of Law and the State Department had no objection to removing Section 377 and that’s how the Delhi High Court passed its judgement in 2009. Despite that, we had a bad response from the Supreme Court because the Supreme Court judges were fairly homophobic. Now in the current argument, it has become a cultural issue with morality and value systems. Now they (government) don’t see having Section 377 and MSM friendly programmes as a conflict. Healthcare can do whatever it wants but the law will do what the law has to do.

Hidden Pockets: How open are MSMs as they call, to actually coming out and accessing these sexual health services? Is there no breach of privacy?

Chandran: There’s been a lot of work over the last 14-16 years with NGOs and all these Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that are especially working around HIV. The conflict is not there. The conflict is when it comes to law. There is no intentional breach of privacy. Let’s put it that way. People are not going out of their way to say I’m serving homosexuals, come and arrest me so the programmes are going on and they maintain confidentiality because its HIV. I’m assuming that most other departments will keep their hands off. I haven’t seen this in any policy so I’m just assuming that that’s how it is.

Hidden Pockets: Does that mean that they will not breach anyone’s privacy or ask for data?

Chandran: We don’t know. There’s not a written policy that says that they will not approach HIV organizations or that they will not touch them or go and infiltrate them.

Hidden Pockets: What kind of changes have you observed over the years with respect to looking at LGBT issues?

Chandran: As far as urban scenarios are concerned, there is a sense that a lot more people are familiar with LGBT rights narratives now and therefore are more cautious of providing that kind of (homosexuality curing) treatment facilities in urban scenarios. We don’t have full knowledge on what it is in rural areas. There are still people who offer treatment for homosexuality but they don’t do it openly. They don’t announce except if there is a religious backing to them. By and large in urban spaces, there is now some sense of awareness about the LGBT communities. So if a client comes to them and is LGBT then they are referred to us. This happens a lot more than it used to 15 or 20 years ago.

Podcast: Photo Essay Workshop with young girls living with HIV

What is the best way of engaging with your participants? Do you want some innovative ideas?  Listen to some insights from the first photo essay workshop conducted by Team Hidden Pockets with girls living with HIV.  This brief podcast will help you delve into the lives of young girls living with HIV; and understand how something as simple as clicking pictures can create a sense of accomplishment and ownership for them.  Knowing how to best engage with your participants is an art. Learn just that through this captivating podcast.

 

Ratnaboli Ray on sexuality of persons with psychosocial disabilities

Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan was a conference that happened on May 13 & 14, 2017, on ‘Sexuality, Rights and Persons with Psychosocial Disability’ co- convened by Anjali and ARROW (The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women) with support from CREA. Speaking to Hidden Pockets about the conference, Ratnaboli Ray, Founder of Anjali shared about Anjali’s experience and understanding to do with sexuality of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Listen to a fascinating conversation with Ratnaboli Ray where she explains the deeper nuances involved in the lives of people living with psychosocial disabilities. Hope you enjoy!

 

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan

Read more on Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan

Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan: What do those words really mean?

Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan: Abilities, independence and consent of persons with psychosocial disabilities

“Medication for psychosocial disabilities have effect on sexuality” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

“Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

Has the sexual right of persons with psychosocial disabilities been forgotten?

 

 

 

Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan: Abilities, independence and consent of persons with psychosocial disabilities

“I feel that people in this room are converted to their own ideologies. I have converted to what I believe in and necessarily not converted to what others believe in. When we talk to the converted, do we have common viewpoints on anything that we have talked about? When we say conversations, there are two sets of people talking and listening. We come in here and often say things like- I will tell you what I feel, why aren’t you feeling what I feel, but I cannot feel what you feel because what you are feeling is what you feel but you should feel and this goes on. And then it becomes activism versus mental health professionals’ vs somebody else.” – Pramada Menon, Co-Founder Crea; Session: Do Din Ki Chandni

These words capture the depth and seriousness of the two-day conference: Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan which began on May 13, 2017. The opening words of Menon’s talk during the concluding session, on May 14, 2017 also highlighted the difficulty of having meaningful conversations in the public sphere as evidenced in the issue around linking PAN card to Aadhaar. During the Supreme Court hearing of this case, the Attorney General had remarked that Indians have no right over their bodies: a remark carrying serious ramifications but which did not spark any serious debate, holding up high the remark by Menon that meaningful conversations in the public sphere have become difficult .It is in this light, Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan took place in Kolkatta as a two-day conference enabling meaningful conversations to happen around two of the most-silenced issues in the country: sexuality and psychosocial disabilities.

Most of the sessions in the conference involved social activists, psychiatrists, writers and other media practitioners to bring in different perspectives on the issues of sexuality, rights and psychosocial disabilities.

On May 13th, Chayanika Shah, a social activist and Dr.ShyamBhat, a psychiatrist curtain-raised the conference by acknowledging the silence around sexuality and psychosocial disabilities: there is suspicion and fear of sexuality; there is a tendency for human beings to repress their sexuality; breaking of any set norm allows law, medicine and society to define any act of sexuality as illegal, ill and illicit, respectively and this could lead to criminalization, medication or stigmatization with confinement being the cure for any sexual problem.

This problem is further heightened when it is a woman: expression of sexual desire- which is an expression of power- by women are feared by society in general; confining women to the household and restricting their movements by ‘forced marriage or even rape’ stiffling this power. Can consent, autonomy and capacity be viewed in a way that no one gets excluded in the politics of pleasure and pagalpan?

Capacity for pleasure and its politics

“Sexuality is a grey area but in mental health, the grey area seems even more intense.” – Pramada Menon, Session: Do Din Ki Chandni

Blurring the strict boundaries of black and white, the conference opened the floor for some important issues to surface over the course of the two days delving deeper into areas that were grey. One of the first primary issues that surfaced was the acknowledgement of the need and the ability of any person ‘diagnosed’ with a psychosocial disability for pleasure. Panelists on different panels acknowledged the prevailing notion that assumes that people with psychosocial disabilities need no intimacy. ‘Just roti, kapada aur makhan’ is enough and this ignores the presence of a deep sexual need and the need for union which remains unaddressed.

“It starts with wanting to look good, go out with a gate pass (to go outside Banyan) and then flirting saying that boy looks good. Whatever the age, the women (at Banyan) desire men. They are tutored only to desire a man.” – Dr. Lakshmi Ravikanth, Psychologist & Visiting Faculty at Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM); Session: Ajeeb Dastan hein Yeh, Kahan shuru Kahan Khatam

The need for intimacy of people living in institutions was acknowledged and so were the social stigmas associated with them finding a partner. The decision-making ability of people with psychosocial disability also raised questions around their capacity to be married.

Often, a person with any form of disability can only marry a person with disability. There are exceptions but are far and few. People with psychosocial disabilities are abandoned on disclosing their disability. This gets further intensified for women with any form of disability. Families aren’t too open or willing to let the daughters find a partner or be married. While marriage is looked at as a panacea for any issue faced by a man, it does not seem to be the case with women.

Non-acknowledgement of the need for intimacy and relationship results in viewing any effects of medication on people with psychosocial disabilities as ‘normal’. The loss of libido or any other side effects due to medication is often normalized or never discussed by persons under medication.

Privacy is also an issue with persons with any disability, physical, intellectual or psychosocial, be it at home or inside institutions. Their need for space or privacy is not is never heeded, because they are not looked at as beings capable of understanding or making informed decisions. There is no privacy even to masturbate. This again stems from the medical model that looks at them as beings who need care. While the medical model only takes into consideration the right to care, the model built around psychosocial disabilities, moves away from the notion of care and towards the environment being accommodative for all. This also led to questions around homosexuality with respect to persons with psychosocial disabilities.

Is heterosexuality the only normal way in the practice of sex? When institutionalized, can and do people explore same sex relationships and intimacy? How is it viewed or dealt with inside institutions? How is it outside institutions? What about transgenders? How are they treated in institutions? Is there a policy at all for their institutionalization?

“Pursing a man is a sin and a woman pursuing a woman is not even in their imagination. If they are isolated for a long time then they crave touch. But we pathologise it and prohibit it for both, men or women in mental institutions. This may cause other issues or give rise to other mental issues.” – Ratnaboli Ray, Founder – Anjali; Session: Ajeeb Dastan hein Yeh, Kahan shuru Kahan Khatam

“I think we live in better times now. When I was an undergraduate student, homosexuality was seen as being pathological. By the time I was finishing college, homosexuality was to be treated only if the person who identified as homosexual wanted to no longer have it.” – Ajith Bhide, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and Vice President – Indian Psychiatric AssociationSession: Ajeeb Dastan hein Yeh, Kahan shuru Kahan Khatam

 Independence of persons with psychosocial disabilities

Understanding the ability of person with psychosocial disabilities requires the understanding of their independence and the power structures that control them, be it institutions, psychiatrists or even their families.

While institutions exercise their power in terms of administering medication, defining privacy of the patients and the capacity of the patients; among others, family as an institution also seems to wield its power in decisions around several issues. Psychiatrists acknowledged the requests often made by parents for their adolescent child going through puberty: the parents do not want their children to have sexual desires; they may also decide on the ability of their children to love or be married, especially if it is girl,and may even choose to institutionalize them without their consent.

Several psychiatrists, both speakers and audience, acknowledged the power that therapists hold in decision making for persons with psychosocial disabilities. Some also said that it appears to be so but the reality is quite different. There was also honest admission to the lack of answers to all questions or problems of all their clients. The psychiatrists have dilemmas too. Owing to the cultural factors at play, they are often unsure about the best possible route to take to handle a certain situation for their clients. There is also a certain power and gender dynamics that exists within the world of mental health practioners:

“Psychiatrist is usually a man and counselors are mostly women. It is still happening. In the advocacy (mental health rights advocacy) world, it still exists. There are very few ‘user’ (persons with psychosocial disabilities) advocates. There are very few of us (persons with psychosocial disabilities) even in the international space as well. In fact, very few psychiatrists want to sit in the same space as us. We are looked at as threats,” – Reshma Valliappan, Schizophrenist and Artist (As audience in the Session: Do Din Ki Chandni)

With institutions, psychiatrists and families deciding the ability of persons with psychosocial disabilities to seek sexual pleasure or companionship, what power do they hold? This steps into the terrain of consent.

Consent of persons with psychosocial disabilities

Consent is a conscious and unforced decision made by any individual to an offer to enter into a relationship or for sex with another human being. It includes her decision to say yes or no to invitations.

The conference then questioned the understanding of consent. What is consent to a person with psychosocial disabilities? Do they have a right to consent? Is their consent acknowledged? The speakers and audience delved deeper into these questions in an attempt to find some answers. Be it the ICD – 10 (Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders), the Mental Health Bill 2017 or UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities), none acknowledge persons with psychosocial disabilities as sexual beings capable of desire and pleasure.

With this background, defining consent for persons with psychosocial disabilities becomes a complex issue especially with adolescents with psychosocial disabilities. What is the right age to educate them about contraceptives, safe sex and other concepts around consent and abuse? Consent also becomes tough for people with certain other physical disabilities like visual and hearing disability. There is also the need for clarity about valid consent and concerned protectionism. There have been boundary violations, both as abuse and denial of rights.

“Even if they (persons with psychosocial disabilities) give consent, in case of psychosocial disabilities it is not taken as consent and that is the problem.” – Ratnaboli Ray, Session: Ajeeb Dastan hein Yeh, Kahan shuru Kahan Khatam

“Even if a person (with psychosocial disabilities) gives consent, it is not considered valid. Competence to give consent is important. Incompetence to give consent should be proven. Unless proven, all are competent. So most inmates (in mental health institutions) are competent.” – Anirudh Kala, Intercourse-Outercourse-Discourse

Questioning these issues of ability, independence and consent, led to more questions over the course of the two days. Some of them were:

What do we want out of safe spaces?

What is an institution? What happens when you question it?

Whose story are we telling? How much of it is eligible to be talked about?

How do we start looking at sexuality in a way that it includes everything, all the intersectionality – caste, class, gender, religion etc.?

Is there any mechanism to prevention of abuse and right to pleasure simultaneously?

What is to be done about assisted masturbation for people with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy?

Were all these and other questions answered? Abhijit Nadkarni, in his concluding remark during Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan, summed the answers to all those questions:

“I don’t know if I have got any answers but I have got a lot of questions for which we have few answers. We have got fewer answers that will satisfy all of us. Some answers will satisfy some of us and there are some that will satisfy others. If we keep the dialogue going between the different stakeholders then we will find answers to many more of these questions. As we know, a lot of these things happen in small incremental steps. This conference is one such step and mostly the first step is hugely the most important step.” – Abhijit Nadkarni, an addiction psychiatrist Session: Do Din Ki Chandni

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan

“Medication for psychosocial disabilities have effect on sexuality” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

Our conversation with Ratnaboli Ray, Founder – Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation began as a conversation around pleasure and politics present in the lives of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Understanding the intricacies of the politics around pleasure in these lives requires understanding psychosocial disabilities. What is a psychosocial disability? We thus find our into the web of pagalpan (madness)

Pagalpan:

Hidden Pockets: How would you define psychosocial disabilities or pagalpan?

Firstly, psychosocial disability is about the person who is experiencing mental health issues. Psychosocial disability is a language that has come into force through the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCPRD). Secondly, psychosocial disability as a concept moves away from the clinical medical gaze. It lays emphasis on a person’s life trajectory or lived-in experiences.

Hidden Pockets: How different are people with psychosocial disabilities from people without these disabilities with respect to sexual pleasure?

You need to realize that psychosocial disability is an invisible disability. Unless and until I tell you that I have a psychosocial disability, you wouldn’t know. They’d pass off as ‘normal’ people. With disabled sexuality, you can look at a body and know what the body can or cannot do with respect to sexual engagement or sexuality. Therefore there are complicated conversations around how normal it should be as far as sex is concerned. The understanding of sexuality of a disabled body can be mainstreamed. Or the disabled body could construct a different kind of a story about sexuality. As far as psychosocial disability is concerned, the body doesn’t reveal anything unless and until you are wandering on the street or locked up in an institution. Our experience shows that mental health conditions or recovery at different stages can intertwine with sexuality in different ways. For example, there could be a person with a psychosocial disability having problems with moods for 15 days in a month. During those 15 days, the person’s sexual expression is dependent on different factors such as mood, where the individual is, the culture and the context enveloping him or her. There is no common script for sexual pleasure or sexual expression as far as people with psychosocial disabilities are concerned. It varies.

Hidden Pockets: With no single template for their sexual expression, what are some common challenges that people with psychosocial disabilities face?

There are many challenges. Finding a sexual partner for persons with psychosocial disabilities is one of the major problems. It is fine as long as you don’t disclose your identity as a person with psychosocial disabilities. When you are dating or like someone, you would like to disclose who you are. You want to tell the other person that you are a person with psychosocial disabilities. And the moment they disclose their identity is when they lose their sexual partners. They are abandoned because they are conceived and perceived the way they are portrayed in popular imagination. This is because of the stigma associated with psychosocial disabilities. I think it has also to do with perception that people with psychosocial disabilities are not potentially sexual. The biggest problem lies with people questioning the sexual potential of people with psychosocial disabilities.

There is also the huge problem of the effects of medication. We know for sure that medicines given to control symptoms have side effects on their sexuality. Men may have erectile problems. Women may have lack of lubrication and dryness of vagina though the people with psychosocial disabilities tend to internalize it and think of it as normal and often do not bring up these problems  even with their consultants.

There are many other issues like where one lives. The set of challenges faced by people living on the streets are different from those living in institutions. The challenges tend to be different if the person has recovered and is living with the family. The challenges vary as and when the subject moves from one location to another but they are similar in certain contexts: like the challenges faced in the institution, are more or less similar to the challenges faced within families, since families are also mini-institutions largely mimicking institutional values.

There are legal challenges emanating from perceptions of non-affirmative sexuality. Even the United Nation Convention on Rights of Person with Disabilities (UNCRPD) doesn’t talk about sexuality in an affirmative manner. It still talks about sexual abuse, sexual violence and marriage. Therefore the discourse of sexuality is primarily limited within the framework of marriage, violence, abuse, assault and prevention and doesn’t talk about affirmative sexuality or about access to sexual services.

Hidden Pockets: With all these challenges, what are some ways in which persons without disabilities can become more accepting of persons with psychosocial disabilities as sexual beings?

This is a difficult question to respond to because it is tied to so many things.

Firstly, they have to be recognised as human beings and only after that arises the issue of their sexuality. In fact ‘recognition as a human being’, automatically implies that they also need to be recognised as sexual beings. But how will people with psychosocial disabilities be recognised as sexual beings without the strengthening of the de-stigmatization movement?

Secondly, we also need to think about public sexual policy and sexual policy within public health. Policies have to be framed for promoting healthy, affirmative sexuality. For example, within the confines of institutions, if a person desires to have private time for self-pleasuring then the person should be given a room to engage in self-pleasuring in private. There has to be access to toiletries and grooming facilities so that their sexual identity becomes visible as opposed to being invisible and these have to be framed as part of a policy. Without these type of policy changes, I don’t see how acceptance of psychosocial persons is going to happen.

More and more people with psychosocial disabilities need to come into public spaces and talk about their desires, their needs and challenges and make it a political statement because with sexuality, there is a huge dilemma about how public can you make the private. Whether we like it or not, sex and sexuality is very private. You have to be ready to bring it out into the public domain to make it a political statement. We activists can go out and talk about it but we cannot drive the agenda because I always feel like a voyeur. I’m privileged to many narratives. And I really have to deal with a moral and activist dilemma of whether we can make this public or not.

Hidden Pockets: This being a complex issue with complex solutions, what are the ways you encourage the participants whom you work with to explore pleasure?

One is legitimizing and de-shamming the subject and the other is creating a safe place for them to trust us.

We have been having these conversations with our participants for the last three years. In the first meeting, they asked me about the shift. I usually ask them if they have taken their medication, if they are well and if they are working. For the first time, I was talking to them about: whether they were in love; and encouraging them to talk about their love stories. Though it was new to them, they admitted to feeling good about talking about these areas of their life. It gave them a certain sense of complete-ness and wholeness. And all this depends on our alliance with them and the amount of trust and stability that they have with us because without trusting they will never ever tell us their story.

We have created a space that they know is a safe space, where they can come and talk about their pleasure. Most of the women have seen porn. Their husbands have made them see porn. Many said that they enjoyed it. Many said that they didn’t enjoy it. But they agreed to watch it because their husbands wanted it and they want their husbands to be satisfied so they watched it together when their in-laws were away and the house was empty. They watch porn together and make out. The important aspect is that they have opened up.

We have also spoken to them about how masturbation is ok and how masturbation does not lead to weakness as is usually perceived but then they say that they don’t have the privacy even to masturbate. You need privacy to masturbate especially in institutional spaces wherein if they are caught masturbating, they are punished because institutions have this assumption that relationships are heterosexual and hetro-normative in nature. Institutions have separate wards for women and men because; intermingling will create babies and chaos. Same-sex relationships are not even in the ambit of their imagination. The inmates are punished if they are caught self-pleasuring or seen with their partners resulting in their medications going up; being condemned to seclusion cells and being kept naked. Sexuality can become very obscene so we have to balance it in a way that it does not become vulgar and obscene.

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan

“Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

While on a search for #PleasurePockets in different cities and among different people, we discovered that pleasure often comes at a ‘cost’ for certain groups and for certain individuals. This ‘cost’ is especially relevant to people with psychosocial disabilities. Depending on who you are, what you do and where you live, this ‘cost’ has its own politics constructed around it. In an attempt to learn, understand and communicate the predicaments of people with psychosocial disabilities, especially with respect to the narrative of pleasure and the politics around it, we had an insightful conversation with Ratnaboli Ray, Founder of Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation.

Pleasure

Hidden Pockets: What is pleasure to you?

Pleasure to me is about access: to joy, to privilege, to accessing the world with all my senses and body, to dressing up and grooming. Even eating is pleasure to me. A beautiful rainbow is pleasure to me. Baarish is pleasure to me. I’m lucky and privileged that because of my class, education, and other positions (inherited or had the freedom to acquire) I’m able to access pleasure and enjoy these things in the way I want to. The very fact that I’m speaking to you on pleasure is also a matter of huge privilege. How many people do you think actually get to talk about their pleasure?

Hidden Pockets: Can you share a few things that you do to give yourself a pleasurable time?

There are lots of things that I enjoy: intimacy, intellectual conversations and eating good food. I have evolved my own aesthetics and style to dressing that gives me immense lot of pleasure. The fact that I know and am able to articulate my fantasies is also pleasurable to me.

Hidden Pockets: Often people hesitate to talk about pleasure due to its association with sex. What do you think blocks people from talking about pleasure, sexual or otherwise?

I think one of the main reasons for a majority not talking about pleasure is the social construct around us. These constructs and other social norms do not really give access to pleasure as it is seen as something that is illegitimate.

We also do not have the language to express what is pleasurable to us. Very few people have the language to talk about what gives them pleasure because we are not trained to articulate such thinking. And those of us, who access pleasure (and are articulate about it), are often labeled (meaning isolated), given names that aren’t nice, and made to feel hedonistic (which again) is not a nice word. Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent hence seen with censure.

Further, there is a gender bias. If a woman talks about sexual pleasure, she is stigmatized. If it is just simple pleasure, as against bodily and sexual pleasure, it is labeled as self-indulgent- which again carries a certain stigma.

In short, all the above either blocks the access to pleasure or blocks the articulation of pleasure- in spite of it being accessed- fearing stigmatization.

Politics:

Hidden Pockets: What do you think are some ways in which we could lift these blocks paving way for talk about pleasure, especially sexual pleasure?

The lifting of these blocks are gradually happening. Many of my feminist and other friends are making a conscious shift to talk more about pleasure like Paromita Vohra’s ‘Agents of Ishq’ which essentially talks about the politics of pleasure to give expressions about sex a ‘good name’ (legitimacy). The more we talk about sexual pleasure, the more we bring it into our everyday discourse without making it sound obscene or ugly, and this will help lift the blocks. I think that’s the only way we can stop people from shaming pleasure. Also, I think we need to cultivate a different language: words and expressions for sexual pleasure (without vulgarizing sexual pleasure) because expressing sexual pleasure often gets tied up with a certain colloquial language which often demeans sexual pleasure.

Hidden Pockets: What do mean when you say ‘giving sex a good name’?

By good name I mean ‘good,’ and not something as a value judgment.

In the times we are living in, there is a lot of clamping down hence the need to bring out our experiences of sexuality without either ‘clinicalizing’ or ‘colloquializing’ it. There should be a balance between the two.

Hidden Pockets: What is the thought behind Anjali’s conference, Pleasure, Politics &Pagalpan?

We are going to discuss about the practice of sexuality in general and the practice of sexuality within the realm of psychosocial disabilities. We are also going to talk and discuss about concepts like eroticism, pleasure, danger and fantasy to facilitate a change in the understanding of these concepts. There is going to be lot of networking. A thematic paper will also be published as a result of this conference. This paper will contribute to the intellectual discourse around sexuality since very little discourse or literature is available especially on sexuality of people with psychosocial disabilities. We are also hoping, through this conference, to usher in a shift in the acceptance and use of a better and healthier language while articulating the narrative of pleasure.

Hidden Pockets: With names like Do Din Ki Chandni and MakhmaliAndhera, the panels in the conference seem to have interesting and intriguing names. Why names associated with less serious concerns’ in a conference dealing with serious issues?

That is precisely the politics of ‘language’. We are trying to break the norm of the ‘language’ and how it is usually used in conferences by incorporating elements of popular culture to enlarge the scope of understanding of issues to a wider audience and to add a different flavor to the conference. Many of the panel titles have been inspired by Bollywood movies. I remember my own sexual journey was constructed by Bollywood films. So Bollywood has a very important role to play in our sexual lives. We cannot deny that. Bollywood has also become a global phenomenon. So it is not just about Hindi and Bollywood, it is also about popular culture. Its appeal, its kitschi-ness, its acceptability, and its quirkiness that triggers a different kind of imagination hence will have a healthy cross-over effect on serious issues in the conference thus breaking the traditional norms of how ‘language’ is used in conferences.

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan

Has the sexual right of persons with psychosocial disabilities been forgotten?

Married for over 14 years now, Purnima was 28 when she was sent off to her parents’ home: soon after her wedding; since her husband had to leave domicile for work. After six months, when her husband returned home, in a moment of fun, Purnima had locked her husband out of their bedroom triggering a series of events that toppled her life:

She was admitted to a mental hospital in Ranchi.

She believes she was admitted to the mental hospital in Ranchi as her  behavior of locking her husband out of their bedroom in a moment of fun was deemed unacceptable by her in-laws and they complained of her being a- “mental patient.” 

From thereon, she has had several instances of admission to and discharges from several mental hospitals; while she was intermittently made to stay with her husband though the intermittent staying with her husband did not result in her becoming pregnant.

Purnima complains of never having sexual attention from her husband and thinks of that as the reason why she has never become pregnant. She yearns for affection, touch and sexual fulfillment.

*****

Due to the stigma around the mental wellbeing of individuals, any person with psycho-social disabilities (or perceived psycho-social disabilites like Purnima) is considered ‘mad’ and a disregard for the person’s sexual identity sets in, explains Debayani Sen, Documentation Officer & Research Associate at Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation, a non-profit organisation working mainly in the areas of mental health rights.

“If a person is diagnosed with mental illness / psychosocial disability, the person is often labelled to be hyper-sexual or even asexual. This comes from the belief that in a state of ‘madness’ the person loses his/her inhibitions (so called proper behavior) and when these uninhibited expressions of sexuality come out in the open, they are deemed inappropriate to a ‘civilized society’; hence deemed hyper-sexual. There are times when an individual, known to live with mental illness, is simply de-sexualized, based on the assumption that he/she does not have the capacity to be a sexual being,” she adds.

Anjali operates in 3 government run hospitals in West Bengal namely Pavlov Mental Hospital, Lumbini Park Mental Hospital, and Bahrampur Mental Hospital.They also run a community mental health service.

A concern that seems to have emerged in these 15 odd years of work in mental health for Anjali is the non-recognition of sexuality as an important aspect of the person under treatment for psycho-social disabilities. Instead, precedence and preference in government run institutions is confined to addressing :issues of accessibility to medicines, proper facilities, treatment and infrastructure.

Social exclusion and life in an institution for years could lead to varied kinds of consequences. “The duration of a person’s stay in hospitals or (mental health institutions) could range from a minimum of a month or two to 10-15 years at a stretch, in some cases. During the person’s stay at a hospital, nobody even touches them affectionately. There are no loved ones or anyone they could say they love. They essentially suffer from what Ratnaboli Ray terms as ‘skin hunger’,” explains Sen.

This is further accentuated when it comes to women. Many perspectives and opinions have emerged during several Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) on sexuality organized by Anjali with female participants over time:

“In several focused group discussions with our female participants, they have articulated that, yes, they are sexual beings, they like to be sexual; yes, they miss their husbands; and they are in a constant fear of being reprimanded for any sexual expressions; they are even afraid to masturbate,” says Sen sharing some of the dominant experiences shared by the participants.

According to Treated Worse than Animals, a report on India by the Human Rights Watch, medication is often forced on women and girls with psycho-social disabilities to keep them in check ie within what is considered ‘appropriate behaviour’. This report highlights the issues faced by women and girls with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities in different mental health and residential institutions and hospitals in India. It notes cases of forced medication meted out to persons with psycho-social disabilities in both residential care institutions and mental hospitals. The report notes the common use of physical, verbal abuse and sometimes even sexual abuse.

“In case of rape, sexual assault or abuse, the perpetrators find it easier to make a person, known to have psycho-social disabilities, their victim, because they can get away with it saying that the person is ‘mad’; his/her words do not hold any weight! It becomes very difficult to seek justice for the matter,” adds Sen.

With the threat of being put to sleep or being abused, patients find it hard to voice their concerns especially with respect to their sexual needs. Apart from silencing people, medication could have other serious implications even in the case of people who are not institutionalised. Dr. Aniruddha Deb, a practising psychiatrist with over two decades of experience, notes that almost all mental conditions have some effect on the sexual health either directly or indirectly:

“Almost every psychological disorder has some sort of effect direct or indirect on sexual activity. Very often the treatment itself can have effect on the sexuality. It starts with people losing their sexual stability when they become ill and spreads down to the kind of relationship issues that they go through when they are mentally affected. This makes it difficult for them to develop a relationship or an existing relationship could go sour,” explains Deb.

Medication, if not done appropriately, could also have a serious effect on the sexual health or other health conditions of individuals: mental health or otherwise. Deb notes that the sexuality of individuals may get affected under any form of medication (for any conditions) including conditions like hypertension if not done appropriately. Some of the effects of inappropriate medication for sexual health are reduced libido, difficulty in achieving orgasm, difficulty in achieving erection, delayed ejaculation, among others.

“One of the issues that we face is: unawareness of these (sexual deficit) difficulties existing. Unless we directly look for it, people, any average person in our country, does not talk about their sexual deficit. Yes, there is a taboo around mental health but when it comes to a combination of mental health and sexual issues, the taboo is greater,” says Dr. Aniruddha Deb.

He adds that often the presence of the female partner with a male patient or the patient being a female also has an effect on the openness to discuss sexuality related issues with a male therapist.(The induction process with any therapist usually requires history taking which includes abuse of drugs or alcohol, bowel and bladder habits, other habits, menstrual cycle in case of women, sexual activity irrespective of marital status-only if the patient has reached the expected age for sexual activity-, among others.)

“Asking these details gives the patient or the patient’s partner the opening to later come back and talk about it with more ease,” explains Deb.

Even with in-detail note taking, people may hesitate to share details regarding their sexual activity. It may also take years before the effect of medication on sexuality can be identified. This sometimes could be a challenge.

“After 12 years of treating a man, the wife asked me if the fact that the man does not want to have sex be related to his mental health or medication. They had waited 14 years to muster up the courage to ask me,” says Deb recollecting the issue faced by a patient.

While several mental institutions administer medication to keep the patients under control, there are also cases of over dosage of medication requested by family members to curb the sexual urge of their relative. The request could be made by a husband, wife or even the parent of an adolescent with intellectual disabilities. According to Dr. Aniruddha Deb, in case of an adolescent with intellectual disabilities, if the individual reaches puberty and starts masturbating in public, the parent/guardian requests for medication to curb this behavior. Due to the biological nature of the need to masturbate, though medication is the solution to handle the situation, training is imparted to the parent to give the person with the said disability privacy to satisfy his or her sexual urges and also train the adolescent to understand that masturbation is to be done in private and not publicly, he adds.

In case of other psycho-social disabilities, the symptom of the illness could be excessive sexual activity as in the case of mania (bipolar disorder). Over time, with stability in the condition, the excessive sexual urge scales down. “The treatment is not to reduce the sexual urge but when the (severity of the) condition reduces, the sexual urge also scales down,” says Deb.

With illicit treatment meted out by institutions and requests-many a times inappropriate- made by family members, what protects the rights of the patients against any violation that they may face in terms of their sexuality and sexual health:

  • The Mental Health Bill 2016 was passed by the Lok Sabha in March 2017.
  • The Bill confers the rights on every person with mental illness to be protected from all forms of physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse.
  • With respect to right to access: the Bill confers right to access to mental health, care and treatment; and right to be treated equally: meaning the right to be treated on par with persons with physical illnesses and irrespective of gender, sex or sexual orientation. It is worth noting that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises homosexuality.
  • Electro-convulsive therapy, chaining and sterilisation have been mentioned under the list of prohibited treatments. The Bill also prohibits the provision of medical treatment without informed consent with an exception of emergencies.

However:

  • The Bill does not have any specific provisions for sexual and reproductive health except that it prohibits sterilisation of men or women when such sterilisation is intended as a treatment for mental illness. There is no mention about the need to address the sexual needs of persons with psycho-social disabilities. ‘Right to life’ guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution was used in the NALSA Vs Union of India 2014 with respect to transgender rights. Does it also apply to persons with psycho-social disabilities? Can this right be stretched and extended to include sexual health of persons with psycho-social disabilities?

Editor’s note: All the above said complex network of inextricably interwoven issues are having a direct or indirect impact on the non-recognition of sexuality as an important aspect of the person under treatment for psycho-social disabilities. In view of these complex issues, Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan, a two day conference on sexuality, rights and persons with psychosocial disability” is being co- convened by Anjali and ARROW (The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women) with support from CREA on May 13 and 14, 2017 at the Taj Gateway Hotel, Kolkata. For more information, click here. 

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics and Pagalpan. 

 

Lucknow’s first Pride March: Awadh Queer Pride March 2017, a photo story

Another city in India is now out and proud supporting the LGBTQA community of its city. On April 9, 2017, Lucknow held its first queer pride walk, Awadh Queer Pride March 2017. Here’s a photo story of the march capturing the words and emotions of the crowd that marched along the roads of Lucknow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Darvesh Singh Photography

Stories and Safe spaces in our work: SAHR

 The Role of Stories and Safe Spaces in Our Work 

“The idea this week is not to lecture or teach, but to experience.” – Sondos Shabayek, Workshop Facilitator

SAHR is a non-profit human rights organisation led by a global team of women with a mission to increase access to justice for women at the margins. We work in South Asia and the Middle East, bringing together expertise in human rights, law, academia and various forms of activism. The BuSSy Project is a Cairo-based performing arts initiative that documents and gives voice to censored, untold stories about gender in different communities.

Due to generous support from FRIDA, Shiva Foundation and Thomson Reuters Foundation in India, SAHR had the pleasure of hosting two members of the BuSSy Project in Mumbai where we conducted a five day workshop with our partners and peers. Hidden Pockets also participated in the workshop.

Empty Spaces

Just two weeks ago, 16 of us stood in an empty room to explore the use of storytelling in our work as women’s rights activists. This was the first time that BuSSy was conducting a workshop in India and the first time SAHR had held a workshop outside of our core work as experts in the law. This workshop represented a different part of our work – something that we call self advocacy. To us, self advocacy is about holding space for individuals and communities in contexts where empty spaces (space free of expectation) are not usually held. It is about asking why the voices of those at the margins are not heard as clearly as our own and understanding what role we can play in ensuring that these individuals have a chance to advocate for their own causes.

Participants of the workshop included lawyers, academics, social workers, therapists and journalists from across India, Singapore, U.K. and Afghanistan. Coming from fairly structured professions, we were intrigued; how could something as free-flowing as storytelling be joined up with something as structured as our work?

Before attending the workshop, we came in with the idea that they would learn about the different techniques and processes of documenting stories for our clients. Little did any of us know that in those five days each of us would don the hat of storyteller. By sharing our own experiences through stories, we left with a much greater sense of possibility about the power of storytelling for change.

Safe Spaces

One of the core learnings from this workshop was understanding the notion of a ‘safe space’ and how to create it. The idea being that the physical space (in this case, the room where the workshop was being held) would be a space where each of us could share our stories without those stories being taken out, without being judged and without expectation. In other words, a space where the storyteller knows that their stories are safe. As we learnt over the course of the workshop, creating a safe space is paramount in the process of story documentation since it enables a story-teller to trust the listener and share openly.

Several of the activities at the beginning of each day would be about building trust. Participants were not told that this was the aim of the exercises but, instead, they experienced the very act of building trust through participation. As the days progressed, we all eventually felt comfortable enough with the others in the room to share often deeply personal stories. Most of these exercises were simple and incorporated breathing, eye contact and games.

Creating a safe space also included some ground rules such as refraining from commenting or offering advice and practising empathy instead of sympathy when listening to another’s story. Before we knew it, we were peeling off our own layers in the safe space that we had created.

Sharing Our Stories

Throughout the workshop, every participant alternated between a storyteller (when sharing their individual stories) and listener (when listening to the stories of other participants). Each day would end with us sharing a story of our own. This included memories from school days, an experience of an incident on the street, a time we had asked someone not to leave and so on. Sometimes we simply told the story to a partner and other times we performed it as a small skit.

For me, one of the most powerful exercises that we did in the workshop was working in pairs. We shared our story with our partner who would then narrate it to the group in first person. Witnessing our stories being retold by another as though it had happened to them was an extremely powerful experience; I realised that my story which till now held meaning only for me, was actually a story worth sharing because of the impact which it had on a group of 15 others. I realised that no story was too trivial.

It was also powerful to feel that we did not have to do anything with our story. We could simply tell it. There was no need to use it for advocacy or a campaign. There was no need to add opinions or morals. It was transformative to simply share it and have others listen.

Role of Stories

Later in the week, we discussed the various forms of story documentation including comic strips, poetry, theatre, games, spoken word and more. We took inspiration from these but also began to understand how personal testimonies were the basis for all of them. We dove deeper into why personal testimonies (free of an agenda or goal) were key to capturing the reality of someone’s experience and how we could try our best to do that in our work.

Importantly, we also discussed the ethical concerns surrounding story-documentation including storyteller’s consent to have their stories shared/documented in a particular manner and our own responsibility when listening to someone sharing their stories. Given our work as lawyers, we were acutely aware of the power dynamics that could possibly play out with clients as well as the strict rules in which we tell “stories” in court. This workshop challenged us to think outside of these bounds.

As the workshop came to an end, we were bursting with ideas of how storytelling could be used in our own work and we’re excited to continue discussing these ideas in a monthly meeting we hope to now hold with the participants.

If you’re keen to join or learn more please feel free to contact nishma@sa-hr.org.

by 

Nishma Jethwa, Director at SAHR

Devika Agarwal, Member at SAHR