The word “Durga” captivated me, and there was no looking back. Having worked for 25 years, it was time to stop, introspect and reflect, and that is what I did. One of my first assignments in the social impact sector, involving outreach, was with Durga.
Priya Vardarajan, founder, Durga, has always been passionate about the cause of women’s equality – their agency to be who they are, without the fear of being judged and/or harmed in any way. She started her journey with I AM EVERY WOMAN, a blog, which resulted in about 75 women sharing their journeys of trials and victories via her blog. This extended ‘family’ then decided to come together, cement their bond in the form of offline meetings, understand, and help each other. Priya recalls: “This was way back in 2008-09, when social media had just emerged; many of us wanted to use this platform to voice our thoughts, and with each other’s help, we did just that. It may seem trivial now, but it was a sort of a victory back then. Things like securing a bank loan without the signature of a male relative, safety while venturing out of the house, and so many other issues were strongly present, no matter what a woman achieved. There was frustration and vulnerability, and this extended family would always stand by, no matter what.”
Priya’s experiences as a child and as a woman led her to want to do something stronger, sustainable and long-term; something that could catalyse change. That was the genesis of Durga. “We keep having a Nirbhaya, and there is media coverage, lots of it, and candlelight marches, and then everything is forgotten, and the same brutality is repeated in some form or the other, somewhere or the other in India. It is time for women to take their own safety seriously, and do something about it. We decided that Durga would serve as the beacon of hope and awareness, and this is when we took to active ‘trainings’; even then we received feedbacks concerning the length or the cost of the workshop. If we, as women, don’t take our own safety seriously, how will anyone else? And, INR 500 for a workshop of 3.5 hours duration, which will equip you well about safety, is not much of a comparison to a spending capacity of five or even ten times more for another commodity of luxury and/or recreation.”
Priya also cites other challenges: why don’t initiatives pertaining to women’s safety receive adequate funding? Often, the matter is rebuffed as trivial with the approach: “Nothing can happen to me!” She recalls how many times she is asked the question: “How can training of a few hundred women change perspectives?” Priya is ready with her answer: “We don’t and we can’t train everyone in the world, but we can start a movement of one leading the other — a kind of Domino Effect”. She also mentions that unless influencers like the government, policy makers and similar take up the promotion of the cause in their own hands, in whatever best way they can, no major impact will be seen.
However, what Durga has achieved is a lot in the form of Durga mentors who have stemmed from workshops conducted, and who have stood by the cause, no matter what, simply also because they have felt the struggle through their own battles. Durga’s DARES are individuals, who have stepped in when they see a girl or woman being harassed in any way. And that requires courage too. Till date, Durga has created 9,500 plus DURGAS, more than 120 DARES and above 10 plus Voice Labs. Durga has also worked extensively with youth in schools, colleges and other educational institutions. How does Priya envisage the future journey with Durga? “There is a lot to be done. A lot of collaborative effort will be needed to prevent voices from being stifled; to enable justice, equality and equity. It will take time, but there has to be a beginning sometime, somewhere. Right now, we are excitedly preparing for the Youth Summit that will be taking place soon.” Durga’s Youth Summit is one of its first kind of virtual summits, which engages with youth on subject matters that impact them from a personal and collective perspective. The summit aims to deepen conversations around these subjects, with active citizenship at the fore and through the lens of gender-equity.
Indeed, today’s world needs a number of DURGAS, who fearlessly, yet judiciously raise their voice against injustice. As Martin Luther King Junior once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Time to stand-up, and raise your voice for what you believe in, before it is too late. Food for thought?
Courtesy : Sarah Berry