An unforgettable FAT trip!
By Risha Samanta
Exposure visits have always been a part of the Tech Center Curriculum. As soon as the girls finish their computer course, we arrange one for them. Throughout the duration of the course, we promise the girls that there is a surprise awaiting them if they finish their course successfully. It works as a motivating factor for them to come to the Center regularly. As many of the girls from the previous batch are involved the early and forced marriage project and are already being taught photography and being given workshops on issues ranging from patriarchy to reproductive rights and health, we thought an exposure to the idea of self defense would be a new one to accompany the learnings at FAT.
We got in touch with Red Brigade, an organization based in Lucknow. Founded in 2011 by survivors of sexual abuse, Red Brigade Lucknow’s mission is to achieve women’s protection from sexual violence and harassment in public spaces and homes by empowering girls and young women with self defense and martial arts and basic education on hygiene, sexuality, and rights. We thought it would be a great experience for the girls to understand the importance of speaking as survivors and not be passive and learn to vocalize and talk about experiences of violence. With lot to learn and much to share, we decided to start the tedious task of planning and executing this trip. Starting from the humongous and most challenging task of convincing the parents to booking and planning the logistics of a group of 35, the entire experience was overwhelming. As we work with young girls, it was more difficult to convince the parents to allow their daughters for an outing for a weekend outside Delhi. It took around 2 weeks to build that trust and faith and the importance of this trip for every girl, after which the parents were convinced.
Since the train was early in the morning, we decided to book cabs for all 32 ladies. We booked 8 cabs and from 4 in the morning, the drivers started calling asking for directions. Within getting ready and arriving at the office (pick up point), we were constantly on the phone guiding the cab drivers. Add to that the girls constantly calling as soon as they arrived in FAT. It was mind boggling to coordinate it all! At every step, we decided to first take attendance of all the girls to check if everyone is present. The attendance process started from FAT’s office at 4:45 in the morning. In 8 cabs, 32 people headed to the New Delhi Railway station.
We divided all the girls into 8 groups, led by 8 people from the team to supervise them. The train departed and thus began our incredible journey. Right from the time we boarded the train, the co-passengers were fascinated seeing so many girls together. We were presumed to be school teachers with a bunch of students. The adventure began right from there, as the team leaders wore multiple hats: guides, teachers, supervisors, instructors and friends.
The hotel in which we were staying had arranged to pick us up in a bus. It was a great experience. It was an all girl’s group going in a bus on the streets of Lucknow. We could literally feel all eyes on us! Soon, we arrived at the hotel hungry and tired. We allotted rooms to the girls by dividing them into groups of three. We made sure that the girls residing in the same room are not close friends. This way, staying together would be a new experience for them and everyone would learn something from each other. After lunch, we were so exhausted that we just wanted to call it a day. But for the girls, the fun had just begun.
We then planned a trip to Ambedkar Park built by former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, which was quite an unforgettable experience. Girls explored the architecture inside, clicked innumerable selfies and feasted on ice-cream. It was a fun evening for them! The fact that they were outside their homes in the dark in an alien city with so many other girls gave them an indescribable high!
The next day started off moderately late. The agenda for the day was to go and spend the whole day with Red Brigade. We took 8 autos and began our journey to Red Brigade. It was very far from where we were staying and it took a fair amount of negotiations with the auto drivers to go there. By the time we reached, it was starting to get extremely hot. Reaching Red Brigade’s office was another adventure. The lanes were extremely narrow and were full of craters. With pigs and sewage pipes staring at us, we paved our way through the streets. All the adventure paid off when we finally reached and the Red Brigaders gave us a warm welcome. They had made wrist bands for each one of us and traditionally welcomed us with a tilak!
They had already planned the activities for the whole day. Their office was under construction. It was the first time that they had a properly constructed, independent office space. Before this, they were simply operating under trees. People broke their makeshift setting 27 times before but they still continued to work. The discussion began on such an inspiring note. The girls were feeling extremely hot as they have never been exposed to a place which does not even have fans. It was then that we realized that we work with some priviledges. The kind of work that Red Brigade was doing, despite the lack of a proper infrastructure, was just incredible.
They started by sharing the story of how Red Brigade began started and their stories of surviving sexual abuse at different stages of life. Each story was extremely inspiring and triggered us to continue to fight violence and be open and firm about having zero tolerance towards it. The FAT girls and the team also shared the story of how FAT began, what it has been working on and how important it is to talk about the intersections between women and technology and looking at it from a feminist perspective. The story sharing was a wonderful learning and enriching experience. After having lunch together, Usha, who is the founder of Red Brigade, showed us some basic moves of self defense. The girls then tried some of the moves hands-on and tested their kicking and boxing skills with the help of the Red Brigade staff. It was an extremely empowering experience!
Soon, the day came to an end. It was time for a group picture! It was quite a task to fit 50 people in one frame but we managed to do so. We bid them goodbye with the promise to continue fighting oppression and patriarchy. What an enriching experience this was! The transformation we witnessed in some of the girls was simply amazing. The girls came back full of energy, smiling, laughing, chatting with everybody, eating to their heart’s content and inspired as never before. It was a trip worth it all!
Risha Samanta is a Programme Associate at FAT who takes care of our Tech Center programme