I coordinated and guided this project, in collaboration with students at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology and IT for Change, a Bangalore based NGO working on digital rights and social justice. We engaged with four rural communities of Dalit girls and adolescents, in order to understand their daily practices and how certain power relations and processes of identity manifest in their daily lives. We created a set of tools and methodologies for facilitating dialogues about gender, self-expression and identity, making use of digital technologies as smartphones, tablets and sound recorders and exploring digital literacy as a process of empowerment.
Navigating the future
Having dialogues on gender and identity in the villages took us almost immediately towards dialogues to create and re-create the future. For the group of adolescents, thinking on what they will do in the immediate future is exciting and an important part of their processes of building their imaginaries about themselves and their communities. (immediate future means after finishing school in most of the cases). Even though the girls and adolescents can verbally articulate their aspirations for the future, creative pedagogies allowed us to recognize the sociocultural contexts that will allow them or not to pursue a particular path in life, certain constraints that will appear on the way, which power relations will have to be challenged and which negotiations will have to be established with their families.
On this matter, we incorporated elements of technology and digital literacy from two ends: One was to help the community to learn how to use certain digital devices (mostly cameras, sound recorders and tablets) and on the other hand, and more importantly, to find along with them, meaningful uses of those devices while facilitating dialogues about gender and identity, or more specifically, dialogues to explore the future. The activities using technology included taking pictures of certain labour relations in the villages, recording their individual perspective about their families, or using a 'selfie' as a tool for self expression. These activities were always accompanied by collective learning dialogues in the larger groups.
Critical pedagogy and Participatory Design
While working with Participatory Design (PD) methodologies over the last years, I have realized how this way of engaging with people in design processes is usually elevated as an ideal - romanticized, as if by bringing together different profiles of people will automatically ensure that there are not imbalances of power between them. Participatory design does come along with the tendency 'to help' the other, to locate 'the problem' in the context of the "community", but not in the context of the practitioner. This was the first power relation we broke within the project, aiming to create a common ground for learning.
Locating power relations in the body, in the speech and expressing the same with simple visual thinking tools was very valuable for students to locate themselves in a historical and political context.
One of the rights we explored was Enjoyment of the public space. The image above is a prototype for a digital interaction that uses a map of one of the villages to reveal the narratives associated to public spaces. The process of revealing narratives with specific prompts was very interesting because it helped the girls to narrate episodes in the public space, not only in their anecdotal dimension, but finding their own criteria to describe power. It also helped to find patterns with the stories of their peers and collectively think on strategies to navigate the public space without fear.
Exploring shared infrastructures between the online and the offline
We created 15 pedagogical tools that use a variety of creative processes as enactment, drawing, voice, game, collage, performance, comic, video collage and others, in combination with digital tools. More importantly, each one of the materials is accompanied by an ecosystem which not only depicts the larger framework of meaning where the pedagogy was designed, but all the supporting processes that accompany the pedagogical process outside the community center, and that serve as reinforcing tools for the girls in their everyday environments. Only when exercising their empowerment in the actual contexts of oppression, we are translating the creative practices into motivations for reclaiming our rights.
Above left: Deconstructing media. Using collage and pictures of the village taken by the community as background of an animated story (Student: Nikhila Nanduri). Center: "Modules on Leadership", using dices for creating alternatives for the future (Student: Anushree Chokappa). Right: Explanatory cards for the module on "Understanding menstruation" (Student: Nandita Ratan).