Across the thresh­old

A so­cial me­dia cam­paign aims to bridge gaps be­tween com­mu­ni­ties by urg­ing peo­ple to visit ‘peo­ple un­like us’

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Pranita Kulka­rni

A so­cial me­dia cam­paign aims to bridge gaps be­tween com­mu­ni­ties by urg­ing peo­ple to visit ‘peo­ple un­like us’

As Zahida shab­nam, a history pro­fes­sor and a tele­vi­sion an­chor, stepped into one of the ghet­toes of the Gadiya Lo­har com­mu­nity in Jaipur on a sunny satur­day re­cently, the women there did not seem too keen to let her min­gle with them. in her blue cot­ton kurti, shab­nam seemed to typ­ify to them an ngo worker. prej­u­dice raised its hood in minds of the women of the no­madic tribe, in their colour­ful ghaghras and vi­brant ra­jasthani or­na­ments.

“They were not too happy about the lo­cal ngo work­ers they were fa­mil­iar with,” says Shab­nam. These work­ers would just click pic­tures, make prom­ises, but never re­turn to do any real work, they com­plained to her when the ice was bro­ken. For that to hap­pen, shab­nam had to tell them that she was there to ac­tu­ally un­der­stand the lives of the Gadiya Lo­hars, to know the com­mu­nity and its cul­ture bet­ter. on the spot she found hersef in­vited to a Gadiya Lo­har wed­ding that was tak­ing place the same day. The women gave her a black and golden ghaghra and some of their lighter or­na­ments. shab­nam says she never imag­ined it would hap­pen, but found her­self join­ing the women in their tra­di­tional dance, with which the baraat be­gins. “in their com­mu­nity, women do not ac­com­pany the baraat, but the men asked me to join them if i wished. it was such a big ges­ture on their part. i did not go, as i didn’t have enough time. i stayed with the women in­stead, and helped them cook lunch, and min­gled with their chil­dren,” she says. By the time she was leav­ing, such a good bond had been formed with them that the farewell was an emo­tional af­fair.

Zahida shab­nam was one of the sev­eral par­tic­i­pants of so­cial ac­tivist shab­nam hashmi’s anti-seg­re­ga­tion cam­paign, called ‘mere Ghar aa Ke Toh dekho (come, visit my home)’. The three-day cam­paign that kicked off on July 20 was launched to chal­lenge pre­con­ceived no­tions about peo­ple be­long­ing to an­other com­mu­nity, class, caste, re­li­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, lan­guage or re­gion. much like the theme of a re­cent Tv com­mer­cial of a tea brand – in which the dis­tance be­tween the two neigh­bours of dif­fer­ent faiths is shown be­ing re­duced by an in­vi­ta­tion to tea – the cam­paign fo­cused on re­duc­ing the dis­tance be­tween peo­ple from dif­fer­ent back­grounds. al­though the cam­paign was mostly prop­a­gated via so­cial me­dia, it re­ceived re­sponse from 18 states, in­clud­ing Gu­jarat, ma­ha­rash­tra, andhra pradesh, Bi­har, ut­tar pradesh and Jammu and Kash­mir. hashmi had urged peo­ple to meet at least one fam­ily from a dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity so that they would un­der­stand it bet­ter. They were asked to video­graph the visit or shoot pic­tures as a take­away of their ex­pe­ri­ence. a num­ber of such videos have been up­loaded on the Face­book page of the cam­paign.

Zahida shab­nam has a few take­aways from her visit. she told Gov­er­nance Now her re­li­gion did not have any role to play dur­ing her visit to the no­madic com­mu­nity’s basti. “There was no re­luc­tance or in­hi­bi­tion from ei­ther side once we started talk­ing,” she says. “They were open peo­ple. i also got to see that there is a sig­nif­i­cant change in their think­ing as well. hav­ing been tra­di­tion­ally no­madic, they want to set­tle down now. They want to progress.” She says most chil­dren of the com­mu­nity at­tend school and are quite smart. Though it was the mukhiya’s son’s wed­ding that day, none of the chil­dren wanted to skip school. “i was pos­i­tively sur­prised,” she says. “I asked one of the chil­dren to stay back and spend some time with me, but he left any­way.” The history pro­fes­sor says the visit helped shape her per­cep­tion of the com­mu­nity.

ac­cord­ing to hashmi, the root of prej­u­dice and bias is seg­re­ga­tion. The idea of the cam­paign came up be­cause she was per­turbed by the ha­tred and vi­o­lence per­pe­trated across the coun­try. “i have ex­ten­sively worked in Gu­jarat, and there, there are ar­eas and there are bor­ders. on one side there are hin­dus, and on the other side, there are mus­lims. This ghet­toi­sa­tion of both the com­mu­ni­ties is hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where,” she says. How­ever, through the cam­paign, an at­tempt has been made to re­verse it.

pooja shah from ahmed­abad speaks of how these un­marked bor­ders would have tripped her up in her very first steps to­wards a ca­reer. a fresh grad­u­ate, she has been of­fered a job in the sarkhej area of the city, but her fam­ily and friends ad­vised her against join­ing be­cause her com­mute would take her through Juha­pura, a mus­lim-dom­i­nated area. she was told it was dan­ger­ous. “i de­cided i wouldn’t put an end to my ca­reer be­cause of their mind­set and prej­u­dices about the mus­lim com­mu­nity,” she says. “That’s why I de­cided to go to Juha­pura as part of the ‘mere Ghar Aa Ke Toh Dekho’ pro­gramme.”

But not ev­ery­one ex­pe­ri­enced the

“I de­cided I wouldn’t put an end to my ca­reer be­cause of their mind­set and prej­u­dices about the Mus­lim com­mu­nity,” says Pooja Shah. “That’s why I de­cided to go to Juha­pura as part of the ‘Mere Ghar Aa Ke Toh Dekho’ pro­gramme.”

kind of open­ing-up that shab­nam or shah did dur­ing their vis­its. in Gad­dha colony, near Badarpur in delhi, things did not go so well when 55-yearold Farida Khan, who runs a coach­ing cen­tre for girl dropouts, vis­ited a few hindu fam­i­lies. of late, there has been some dis­tur­bance in the area: a video­clip of a mus­lim youth beat­ing up a non-mus­lim had gone vi­ral over the past week and caused some com­mu­nal ten­sion. against this back­drop, the di­vide made it­self very ap­par­ent. The cam­paign­ers had hoped that such con­ver­sa­tions would take place over tea or snacks. Lunch or din­ner might be of­fered. in the process some of the bar­ri­ers might fall. But Farida Khan dis­cov­ered, to her cha­grin, that the fam­ily she vis­ited did not of­fer her even a glass of wa­ter. per­haps it’s the so­cioe­co­nomic pro­file of the area and the lev­els of ed­u­ca­tion in the area that were to blame.

The hosts, na­tive to agra, live in a small one-storey house. in the nar­row liv­ing room, where Khan sat on char­poy across from her hosts, the women of the house say they were all for peace and har­mony be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties. But prej­u­dices were openly ex­pressed. “our block is very calm. it’s the d-block, where mus­lims are in a ma­jor­ity, that is tense all the time,” one of the women told Khan as this re­porter fol­lowed the con­ver­sa­tion. dis­cus­sions veered into ar­gu­ments on top­ics such as triple ta­laq and ut­tar pradesh chief min­is­ter Yogi adityanath. Khan told her hosts that she ob­jects to some of Yogi adityanath’s state­ments only to run up against a ve­he­ment de­fence. Khan told this re­porter that mus­lims in the lo­cal­ity live in fear and un­der pres­sure. “i have ed­u­cated my son and i’ve asked him to dress in mod­ern clothes, but he re­fuses,” she says. “He wears a skull­cap, keeps a beard. i’m scared he’ll be tar­geted some­day for be­ing a Mus­lim,” she said. On June 22, Ju­naid ahmed, a 15-year-old boy, was stabbed to death on a train in haryana: his as­sailants iden­ti­fied and mocked him as a mus­lim be­cause of his at­tire and set upon him be­cause he was a “beef-eater” af­ter all. Khan prob­a­bly had that in­ci­dent in mind.

hashmi says she hasn’t seen any videos of par­tic­i­pants not hav­ing a good ex­pe­ri­ence with hosts, but she is aware of some videos from ma­ha­rash­tra where the awk­ward­ness was vis­i­ble. “mostly, the videos and sto­ries we have re­ceived are pos­i­tive and very in­ter­est­ing. a boy from hyderabad re­alised he hasn’t vis­ited his grand­mother in a while; when he heard of our cam­paign, he went and met her and sent us a pic­ture of his grand­mother. it’s sweet how peo­ple are in­ter­pret­ing the mes­sage in dif­fer­ent ways,” says hashmi. some par­tic­i­pants have cho­sen to visit shel­ter homes and ngos.

“This was thought up as a very small ex­per­i­ment,” says Hashmi. “We didn’t think it was go­ing to change much, but we had given this call. and the re­sponse we re­ceived is very en­cour­ag­ing. Lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions have picked it up, and they have asked us not to stop the cam­paign af­ter three days, so we’re see­ing if we could make it a weekly or bi­monthly thing.”

ac­cord­ing to hashmi’s team, over 4,000 peo­ple from 18 states par­tic­i­pated in the cam­paign. it ran suc­cess­fully even in strife-torn Jammu and Kash­mir. a team of three youths – ish­ti­aque, rafaquat and rauf – in­ter­viewed sikhs and mus­lims from a sikh-ma­jor­ity village called Tur­boni. They ex­plored the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties from both sides’ per­spec­tive. rafaquat tells Gov­er­nance Now, “We were re­ally ap­pre­hen­sive about the cam­paign. We were won­der­ing if they’d un­der­stand what these ran­dom mus­lim guys are talk­ing about, and why. But our ex­pe­ri­ence turned out to be re­ally amaz­ing. We saw real sol­i­dar­ity in the village, where a gu­rud­wara and a masjid are on the same street.” Rafaquat says the feel­ing of con­cord be­tween the com­mu­ni­ties was mu­tual. per­haps such cam­paigns will help re­in­force and high­light such feel­ings.


Zahida Shab­nam help­ing women of the Gadiya Lo­har com­mu­nity pre­pare lunch in Jaipur

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