Malavika's Journey as a Changemaker & A lingering Aftertaste
I think Justice as a concept is something most people think as already available with the simple existence of courts and the law. But what about the real-world problems faced by the underprivileged in society?
There are intense exploitation and discrimination and these are not issues which reach a court of law but are fought every day by millions. I, myself have seen and heard about gender, colour, race, religion & caste discrimination that happens around me every day, but other than speaking up a little or feeling guilty/confrontable, I know that I am not yet equipped to completely serve justice to victims of such discrimination.
So I decided to learn more about these issues, understand the complexities, appreciate the work being done by various agents of change, and hopefully feel empowered to be a part of the group required to help fellow citizens in my society who have no less right than me to achieve their goals.
I personally feel that the problem with societal issues is not that a law or rule is required to change such issues; it will take time, attitudinal change, awareness, education, co-operation and more, to join together, for change.
I decided to become a Changemaker so that with the research work, projects and content of this program that I will be exposed to, I can learn to be a more mindful, aware and an empathetic person. Then, on a higher level, I will be able to learn about solutions that I can offer to society for even the smallest of changes that I know will contribute to making an impact on a bigger scale.
Problems regarding livelihoods have personally affected me and continue to during these lockdown months. When I read an article about migrant workers trying to reach home in the scorching heat and disease-ridden air, I thanked my privileged circumstances. It is nothing but my circumstances that has made me the prince and them the pauper in this moment of life.
How can I help create positive changes for the underprivileged, especially towards women empowerment? I feel that India has changed over the years and is making progress regarding the issue of women rights. But I also believe that this change is extremely superficial.
A law or speech regarding women empowerment isn’t changing the fact that a girl is still being abused or denied her education in some part of the country. It is truly sad to see that while on paper women empowerment may be occurring, behind the curtain cases of domestic violence, rape and abuse still exists and are increasing.
Changing society and helping women towards empowerment will mean that we have to change the mindsets of the people, not just pass a bill. This is applicable to both men and women. There is nothing sadder than seeing an older or younger woman put down another, discourage her ambitions and remind her that she is a woman and not entitled to something. It is also not acceptable seeing a mother feeling guilty about the potential tarnish to her family’s name in society when she finds out that she is going to mother a daughter or she has to allow her divorced daughter to live with her.
Everything in society is currently seen through a lens of gender and if the lens itself can’t be changed, at least the perspective of the lens needs to be changed. Women themselves need to be told and made to feel that they haven’t erred in being born as a woman, having dreams, or wanting something in their life.
As a person, I tend to rely on my empathy to emotionally connect to the situation. I usually like to play role reversal and think about how I would feel if I was someone living below the poverty line. Of course, I would feel grateful for any monetary donations but somewhere I would want a more secure and stable future for me and my next generation.
Therefore, I personally don't think that donating supplies and money to them is enough or sustainable. I feel that when I and other privileged people like me are actually educated about the laws, economics, income inequalities and strategies of society, we won't have to rely only on donations but can actually be the changemakers right from the base of the issue. We can improve their lives by altering, campaigning, educating, pressurizing or advocating at multiple levels.
This led me to choose Aftertaste as the non-profit I wanted to work with during my journey as a changemaker. Aftertaste India is a social enterprise that works with the women in the urban slums of Mumbai and aims to “create a livelihood opportunity for the women, which is permanent and dignified, with fair wages and flexibility for their domestic responsibilities” through Art.
Aftertaste trains these women to become highly skilled artisans. Women and their families from these urban slums are usually trapped in a never-ending cycle of social poverty and economic poverty. These women would have probably given up their education somewhere into middle school, gotten married at a very young age and hence, will be forced to opt for jobs such as cooks or maids or some unfortunately demeaning jobs to make ends meet.
With these jobs only offering them meagre amounts of what is needed to survive, this pattern of stopping education, marriage and work will pass on to their next generations. Aftertaste’s founder Shalini Datta, has given these women an opportunity to take a tangent off the circle of poverty into a straight path of benefit.
Aftertaste has given them a chance to work as artisans, painters, craftswomen and designers, support their families through dignified means, experience independence, express themselves, and dream for a better life.
The part that touches me the most is that Aftertaste is not just simply donating money to these women but is actually giving them a chance to be independent, self-reliant and creative. Aftertaste has given them an identity.
I have only seen some of their magnificent products ranging from delicately woven dreamcatchers to lovely lampshades, but I can tell that each of these products has a story and a smile behind them. The minor imperfections we see on these arts and crafts shows us the human touch there is to these products.
Another thing that makes Aftertaste and its products so magnificent are that they are all 100% handmade and they make all of their products out of renewable and eco-friendly materials.
Being a feminist and a conservationist, I think coming across Aftertaste was like hitting a jackpot for me! Every product that I will help sell or endorse will be fulfilling someone’s dream and saving the Earth one step at a time.
I think that’s how I will enjoy the lingering aftertaste.
About the author:
Malavika Garimella, is a Grade 11 student from Greenwood High International School, Bangalore.