Non-Violent Movement and Storytelling
We are in the 13th week of the Rotary Peace Fellowship (Class 32) and just had a brilliant session lead by Dr. Jessica Senehi on Storytelling: Coexistence, Social Cohesion, Reconciliation and Healing. The professor helped us step back and think about storytelling in various contexts but starting with us.
Stories. There are so many of them around us. Every day. Every interaction is either a story or a plot for a bigger one and several small ones. We reflected and shared one such personal story that made us think about why we do what we do. Too often, in our hyper busy lives in the peace, development and social work sector, we may not be reflecting on the powerful, inspirational and yet immensely human stories we come across, most of which help us keep going.
With the group of fellows, I shared one story project: People’s Archive of Rural India, called PARI in short. Interestingly, PARI also means “Angel” or “Fairy” in the Hindi language. This archive is an ongoing attempt to record and share the everyday lives of rural Indians in photos, videos, audio clips and text. In their own words “PARI is a living, breathing journal and an archive aimed at recording people’s lives. Many worlds, one website. More voices and distinct languages. It means an undertaking unprecedented in scale and scope, utilising a myriad of forms of media in audio, visual and text platforms. One where the stories, the work, the activity, the histories are narrated, as far as possible, as far as we can manage, by rural Indians themselves. By tea-pickers amidst the fields. By fishermen out at sea. By women paddy transplanters singing at work, or by traditional storytellers. By Khalasi men using centuries-old methods to launch heavy ships to sea without forklifts and cranes. In short, by everyday people talking about themselves, their labour and their lives – talking to us about a world we mostly fail to see.”
I am talking about rural India, specifically in the context of non-violent movements and storytelling, because of the rich history of India’s struggle for independence from the colonial rulers. Growing up in India, we are told so many stories of the movement for Indian independence, steered by the non-violent principle of Mahatma Gandhi, called Satyagraha. Even in modern India, Satyagraha is a powerful tool against oppression and tyranny. Over the last few years, India has experienced inspiring, peaceful, non-violent protests, such as the Farmers’ protests and Shaheen Bag women’s protests against the Citizenship Act (CAA-NRC) in the national capital region.
Similarly, there has been a rich history of non-violent movements in India that have fought for human rights, environmental rights and the mitigation of climate change through the power of storytelling, puppets and theatre. The origins of green activism in India goes back to Gandhian ethics and social philosophy. For example, the Chipko Aandolan is one of India’s oldest non-violent, environmental and social movements that initially started to save trees and grew to be much more than that in the years to come. The country is home to several green movements, started by ordinary Indians, many of whom didn’t or don’t have access to social media and the other tools of technology we enjoy now.
For an important example, The Barefoot College in the Tilonia village of India has used giant handmade puppets to spread awareness about various causes in the villages and tribal hamlets for several decades. Even in this digital age where mobile internet is easily available, storytelling in various forms is fundamental to bring social change. And that will remain so, irrespective of technological advances and changes
Srini Swaminathan – India
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 32