Longing for Dignity

Transforming  human trafficking ecosystem

Sometimes we need to walk to the edges of our civilization to see deeper truths. Human trafficking is one such edge. It is a story of how human can reduce humanity to an object for flesh-trade.

I was ignorant and apathetic to the world of human trafficking until two leading non-profit organizations, working on anti-trafficking, invited me to facilitate a dialogue. They asked me to help them solve complex systems challenges in their field that was leading to internal ideological conflicts and impacting their collective work.

We convened a group of men and women committed to fighting against this gruesome act of humanity. At the end of the first day, we sat in a circle and shared painful stories of how young girls and boys are sold, how their innocence is manipulated, and their dignity is destroyed. As they introduced me to the dark world of human trafficking, I felt deeply sad, angry and helpless. I had no courage to facilitate a dialogue on such a painful topic. At some level, it was hard for me to relate to their complex challenges.

Honouring the FieldKali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

Coincidently, the workshop was scheduled during Navratri (April 2017)– a festival where Hindu’s worship nine avatars of Goddess or Divine Feminine over nine nights. On that particular night, it was Day 7, Kalaratri pooja. I invoked the Goddess in my meditation and confessed my limitations as a man holding a conversation that related to deep dishonouring of the feminine. I asked her to help me in my role as a facilitator. Image of Kali with Shiva lying on her feet popped up with two clear insights: 1. Listen to the body (Kali doesn’t like anything heady) and 2. Surrender (as Shiva did)!

Next morning, instead of conversations, we used an embodied contemplative theatre practice called 4D Mapping to understand the social system that leads to trafficking of girls. 4D Mapping is one of the practices of Social Presencing Theatre developed by Arawana Hayashi. In this, we work with complex systems challenges, embody key stakeholders and co-create a social sculpture of current social reality. This process makes visible the hidden dimensions of the social field and generates in-depth data about the shifts that could move the whole ecosystem towards its wellbeing. Most importantly, this process required us to surrender our agenda and listen to the wisdom of our bodies.

Participants played different roles representing victim girl, her family, her dignity, police system, shelter homes, anti-trafficking NGOs, the justice system and customers. As we embodied the roles and relationships between various actors, all the stories from last night and many generations, become alive. We were uncovering the primal patterns of systemic oppression: where suppressed-sexuality turns women into objects of sex; and upheld-morality fights back to give her justice. She suffers on both ends. Sacrificing her dignity and freedom. While we walk the clean streets with our pants zipped and collars upright.

Collective Resonance: 

When we sat back in a circle to reflect on what we just experienced, the whole room went in deep impregnating silence. There was an unspoken resonance vibrating through space, transforming words into tears. After a while, few spoke from their heart. Others nodded in deep acceptance.

A man who played the role of a ‘victim girl’ shared that while embodying her role, he could feel her trembling fear and pain in his body. He added that while every other player in the act were pulling or pushing the girl to justice, all that she longed for was acceptance and dignity from her family.

A woman who played the role of a ‘policeman’ shared that while playing the role, she felt exhausted and misjudged by others. All that policeman wanted was appreciation and dignity for his work.

Another woman who embodied ‘family’ found herself powerless and filled with shame. All through the exercise ‘family’ kept lying on edge away from ‘dignity’. She said, “I know the girl longs to come back, and everyone else judges me (family) for letting her go, but I have no dignity left within myself. I have no agency or power either.”

Everyone in the room, including me, cried as we embraced the fact— we all were somehow victims and contributors, unfairly stuck in this systemic suffering. And each one, irrespective of our gender, longed for acceptance and dignity.

Collective Resolution: 

Slowly our heart-felt reflections transformed into collective resolve.

A program leader opened her heart and said “I think we got it wrong from the beginning. We got so invested in our idea of justice that we turned insensitive to girls need. How different are we from the trafficking ecosystem that robs her of her dignity? We need to redefine our purpose from anti-trafficking to pro-dignity”.

A young man who works with communities and shelter homes said “I have been feeling this for long. Her dignity dies at the source: when her family sells her due to their vulnerable social-economic conditions. We should work at the source instead of trying to fix the problem after she has lost all hopes in the trafficking system”. Another leader declared: “Let’s redirect our attention and funds for bringing dignity to girls and working with their vulnerable families”.

In following days and weeks, insights were translated into new projects. Relationships between the partners has deepened and so is their collective advocacy for draft bill on anti-trafficking in India. However, there was another piece of the puzzle lying in the outer circle.

Customers & Citizens: Two sides of the same coin?

Throughout our reflective dialogue, I kept wondering about the mysterious role of the customers. How could men be so inhuman to turn a woman or a child into an object for the sex-trade? Don’t they get curious about her feelings, her fears, her helplessness?

In the paralysed stuckness of the customer, I could see wounded masculine energy that falls prey to their own repressed sexuality, and, gets stuck in corrupt game of sex, money and power.

Towards end, my attention shifted to yet another invisible role– bystanders or citizens. Those of us who are aware but choose to disengage from the dark quarters of sex-trafficking or prostitution. We do not want to get our linen dirty in this mess. We would instead write college essays on ‘legalization of prostitution’ or share WhatsApp jokes on ‘Bangkok holidays’. Aren’t we part of the social system that creates the ground for sex-trade? Haven’t we invented and upheld morality that shames sexual desires? Pushing it to shadow realms of prostitution and pornography. In that sense, how different are we form the customers who create demand and activate the human trafficking system?

We generated powerful felt-insights when we created the embodied map of the stakeholder, oppressors, rescuers and oppressed in the social system. I wondered, how we would place the feminine, masculine, child, shame, sexuality, dignity within our hearts? Who oppresses whom? What accentuates the customer? What disempowers the bystander? What is the divine within us really longing for?

Returning to the Woman within

After the workshop, I sat alone in the room, feeling the resonance of the dialogue we just had. Unresolved, I turned again to the Goddess, the divine feminine. She responded from within:

A woman is reduced to an object for sex
So you can strip her of all her dignity
And redeem yourself from your shame

A stone is turned into a revered Goddess
So you can project her dignified presence
And redeem yourself from your guilt

Where have you lost it, O civilized man?
Couldn’t you pause and feel the woman within?
She longs for dignity and your presence!

—————
This experience led me to a poetic exploration of the inner dimensions of masculinity; and it’s journey from woundedness (exploiting feminine) to wholeness (honouring feminine and healing the world); in my upcoming book “Trading Armour for a Flower: Rise of New Masculine
—————

– Manish Srivastava


Gratitude:

I am grateful to the leaders and team members of Kamonohashi Project and Save The Children India for this opportunity to learn and work with them. They are doing incredible work to transform the trafficking ecosystem. Pls, visit their website to learn more about their work and contribute to their projects.
Kamonohashi Project: https://www.en.kamonohashi-project.net 
Save The Children India: https://savethechildrenindia.org 

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Why is it so hard to forgive? (Part 1)

There are hurts that could rob us from our deepest power!

I started this year with a blog on forgiveness. It initiated me into an inner journey that made me confront some deeply frozen parts of my heart. I could not publish much through the year. As we reach the end of 2018, “forgiveness” has become a recurring theme again with reminders coming from the universe at an alarming consistency. The two recent ones — a video by holocaust survivor Eva Moses Kor and an insightful summary of Anne Lamont writings by Maria Popova, made me contemplate deeply on “Why is it so hard to forgive?”

There are hurts that are hard to comprehend. The sharp arrows that enter our castle before the defences were given a chance to stand for their honour. Those sophisticated insults wrapped in culture of neo-elites or seasoned patriarchs. The games played with our innocence. Those are hardest to forgive.

How shall we confront? It’s too old. Context has transformed to the extent that the oppressor looks more fragile than the oppressed. Inspite of re-building years of confidence and power that old arrow still lies frozen in some unhealed part of our heart. Why did we not let it go with other scrap sold at the end of each year?

Why do we keep these hurts alive? For logically we know that it serves none. Except, perhaps, a part of us that cries — “it was not right!”.

A big part of our anger is towards self for not being able to stand against that wrong. And somewhere we fear that if we let-go of that arrow we may make them appear right for all they did.

So the arrow persists with its wound and pain. Wish there was a way to let-go the old arrow. May be, turn it into an artefact, return it to the shooter as a gift or make it a part of wind chime hanging on the neem tree next to the village well…

Wonder, what would the world be if that unhealed part of us discovers, that neither the oppressor nor the oppressed was right or wrong. May be, the arrow went both ways. The shooter bled way more than the wounded all these years. Though knowing that won’t heal or change anything either.

May be, it was all part of a grand design weaved for our own liberation. And while redeeming that wrong seem to be the only right choice, there may be another purpose this pain was born for. To help us reclaim our deepest power — — power to forgive!

As Eva says in her video “I have the power to forgive. No one could give me that power. No one could take it away. It was all mine to use in anyway I want”.

As we reach end of the year, I hope we make a humble beginning by letting-go old, deep arrows and healing our wounds. For “forgiveness” also comes from the same origin as ‘give’ or ‘gift’. This Christmas and coming new year, why not we gift ourselves, our dear-ones & our shooters, a gift of forgiveness!

Wish you a free and happy 2019!

Manish Srivastava
http://www.sacredwell.in
(Artwork by Manish Srivastava)

Divide and rule

(A reflection on current political environment in India and world. Poetry in Hindi followed by translation in English)

Divide and rule
इतना विदेशी नहीं 
जितना बताया गया 
धर्म और जाति के नाम पर 
इंसानियत बाँटने वाले 
आज भी सत्ता पर विराजमान हो रहे हैं 

Invitation card
पर किसी और का नाम है 
और अंदर कोई और मेज़बान है 
सत्ता का खेल है भाई 
कल तू देश से खेला 
तो आज मेरा एक प्रांत तो बनता है 

Nationalism
के नाम पर कितना खेलोगे भाई? 
आज इतना समझ आने लगा– 
नेताओं का nation जनता से अलग होता है 
उनकी परिभाषा में तो 

हम बस उनकी सत्ता और स्वार्थ के ग़ुलाम हैं 
पर ना जाने कब ये मदहोश जनता समझेगी 
Nationalism एक national-illusion है! 
जनता के अनजान डर पर पनपता
ये उसी “divide & rule” का वंशज है
और इंसानियत को बाँटने वाले -isms का बड़ा भाई

यदि दिल की खिड़की खोल के देखें 
धर्म के जड़ों को झँझोड़ के देखें
सम्प्रदाय के बेड़ों को चंद पलों के लिए तोड़ के देखें
और तकिए के नीचे से सत्य का पन्ना पलट के देखें
तो एहसास होगा कि हर लिबास के पीछे मैं हूँ
और समाज का विभाग कर के राज करने वाले खेल का 
सबसे बेख़बर मुहरा और सबसे बड़ी मात भी मैं ही हूँ 

— दिल की गहराइयों में क़ैद एक आवाज़ 
………………

Divide and rule
(English translation)

“Divide and rule” 
Is not that foreign 
As we are taught
Those who divide humanity
On name of religion and caste
Are still rising to power 

Who invites us to the show
Is way different from who rules 
So is the game of power 
Yesterday, you played the nation 
Dare not stop me from playing this faction 

Nationalism 
How long will you play this chord?
We can see now–
Nation defined by political leaders 
Is different from the ones they serve 
In their definition, 
Their ego & power is the center 
And we are their dumb slaves 

Wonder, when will we the intoxicated people realise 
Nationalism is a national-illusion
Thriving on the unknown fear of its people
Running the bloodline of same old “divide & rule” 
It is the big brother of all other “isms” that fragment humanity 

If we open our hearts 
Shake the roots of religions
Break the bounds of caste and creed
And pull out the truth hidden below our pillows 
We will know..
The one hidden in any costume is “me”
The one who gets played this dirty game of divide and rule 
And the one who looses the worst…
Is also “me”

— a voice prisoned in depths of our hearts!

from the Sacred Well
@sacredwell.in
(Manish Srivastava)

Image from https://m.downloadatoz.com/two-cats-and-a-monkey-story/com.storybook.catsmonkey/

India- Its time to own our own shit!

This poetry-prose is triggered by recent uprising of dalits (permanently untouchable low castes) as a response to increasing atrocities and injustice they have faced in recent times. Indian society is at another verge of evolution. This is an opportunity for us to clean years of shit that we had conveniently put under our archaic carpets!


It’s time for those
dancing on white marble floors–
To know where our shit goes,
who wipes our streets,
and mops our floors
Cause those who were
systemically condemned
to live in hell,
have awakened
and won’t do it anymore!

It’s time for all of us
to own our own shit!

While we dipped our fingers
in sandalwood with care,
They were neck deep
in our gutters and sewers
While we donned our white kurta
and self-righteous ego
They were stripped of their shirts
And dragged naked in streets…

Now the dirt inside
is staining the white

It’s time for all of us
to own our own shit!

As long there is a task in our mind
that we look down upon
And a part in our psyche
that we shudder to own
Or a longing in our vanity box
Thats too comfortable with low-cost helps…
There will be untouchables!

Untouchability is a social innovation, created by & for, all of us!

Ensuring guaranteed supply of cheap slaves generations after generations!

High castes download it as their birthright. Finding nothing weird in expecting a fellow human being to live on leftovers, forever. Neo-rich and middle-class play another game. On surface they try to look good by giving their used clothes and old electronics to their domestic helps (not very different from skinning dead cattle). However, deep down they also enjoy the convenient and low-cost labour that cleans their shit and supports their life while they pursue their big dreams. Thus they also collude with the existing system that cares nothing about equality, education and progress of dalits.

Lets face it…
Are we providing employment benefits and respect to maids, drivers, cleaners just like employees in business or public organisations?
Can we imagine them sitting on same table for dinner with us?
Why are the jobs like cleaning, sanitation, service, least valued and least compensated?
Why do we strive so hard to gather and show the power and influence but absolve ourselves of any responsibility to change the life of those living in slums and streets? Are we really curious? Or too quick to justify their condition as not our business?

We need to look within..
Each one of us
To shift the paradigm
From our homes, to our streets and the state

(Watch this video and read more below or click on this link)

 

A quarter of India is Untouchable
A quarter of India is systemically oppressed, dehumanised, suppressed–
to serve rest of us,
to clean our shit,
skin our dead cattle,
from generation to generation..
Keeping their mouth shut!

A quarter of India
Is excluded from the GDP growth saga
A quarter of India
Is not counted in great story of Indian compassion and humanity

This quarter of India is 300 million people.
As large as entire population of USA.
This quarter of India is boiling right now
Gathering like a human tsunami
Asking for justice
for generations of atrocities
Calling the facade off our faces

They have thrown the wrench
They are showing the mirror
and awakening the conscience of our country
its another service
This time they are helping us
clean our conscience!

Wake up India!
Its time to clean our own shit

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.sacredwell.in
manish srivastava
03/08/2016

—–

Some references:

Who are dalits? 
An assault on Dalits may have triggered the biggest lower-caste uprising in Gujarat in 30 years
Dalits pledge not to lift animal carcasses in Gujarat
Descent into hell: Mumbai’s dehumanised sewer workers 

 

 

Unfamiliar familiarity

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A rustic old man. Sitting next to me. In the middle seat of the aeroplane boarding at Abu Dhabi airport. His head low, feet tapping, carrying a restless, nervous energy around him.

An elderly lady, similar to his age, was sitting on the window seat. She was getting worried by the restless man. She asked the air hostess for a change of seat.

As I settled in my aisle seat I sensed the restlessness and discomfort that I was edging in the little 3-seat space on this plane.

The old man, grey-haired, unshaven, foul-smell coming from his mouth, looked very different from the way I would define a cultured international traveller. Yet, his rustiness, including his childlike curiosity to gaze at my iPad, was endearing.

I asked him, if he was okay?
He rested his head on the TV screen and said nothing.

An air hostess came by and inquired if he needs any medical attention. I translated the same from English to Hindi for him. He told us that he had an headache but he needs no medicine. Later he shared with me that while he was coming thru the immigration check, his daughter was in a different queue and she is held back. He was getting worried, what if she is in some trouble. I asked the air hostess to make the announcement. Our plane was still boarding.

He got curious seeing me help him, and asked me in Hindi:
“Kya aap Pakistan se hain?” (Are you from Pakistan?)
“Nahi, Mumbai.. India.” (No, I am from Mumbai… India), I replied.
“Musalman (Muslim)?”, he further asked seeking some familiarity.
I was a bit reluctant to disappoint him again and said, “well, I am Hindu”
He responded with some assurance “chalo aap insaan hain, achchhe insaan” (Well, you are a human, a good human)

This short conversation seemed important for him to establish familiarity and relationship, that he could only find at a humanity level. Not national. Not religious.

We continued some conversation. I was assuring him that his daughter might be delayed in the long immigration queue for non-US passport holders at the Abu Dhabi airport. Every time a new passenger would board the plane he would hopefully look for his daughter to enter. And I would look at him to hear his relief. I secretly started chatting a Buddhist chant, that I used to practice few years back, for well being of his daughter. Somehow, I became a member of his family.

In the meanwhile, the elderly lady at the window seat started engaging with us by assuring the old man that the plane would not leave till his daughter is back. They started talking and the old lady exclaimed with a sense of new found familiarity.
“So you are from Pakistan, I thought you are an Indian!”

They spoke for some more time trying to figure out each-other’s native cities, community, caste etc. But their familiarity was short-lived. I could guess that inspite of their same country of origin, they had significant differences. The lady was turning uncomfortable with old man’s inquiry. The old man quickly resorted,
“Sabsi badi baat, aap insaan hain” (biggest thing is that you are human).

Once again, I found in their search for familiarity, they could not find a lot in common except their country and language. Finally, the relatedness was established as a human, beyond caste, class, creed and gender.

Three of us had been through awkward exchanges. While he thought, I might be a Pakistani Muslim, I happened to be an Indian Hindu. While the lady on window seat, expected him to be an Indian Hindu, he happened to be an Pakistani Muslim. Yet in that moment, we three were connected by a deep human emotion. A longing of a father to reunite with his daughter. Inspite of our non-familiarity, we were connecting to eachothers’ emotions like a family.

The old man shared his deepest fear. He was scared– what if his young daughter is abducted from the airport. Such things can happen in the world where he came from. He was shivering and stammering while saying that. His fear was real to him. He also shared that he was suffering from diabetes and the blue lunch box in his lap carried insulin. So far, I thought that this rustic village man was carrying his food in the blue lunch box. I regretted my judgements.

His open-heart sharing touched my heart. I thought of my father, who is quite emotional and rustic like him. I touched his shoulder and assured that “she will come”. Part of me was growing worried too.

Somehow, some other elderly men and women sitting around me started relating to this side of me. A women asked me to guide her to her seat. A man asked my help in opening his water bottle seal. I became aware of my youthfulness and felt valued in helping elders.

Suddenly, the old man next to me jumped in excitement.
“Meri beti aa gayi!” (my daughter has come)
He was half standing, trying to reach out to the aisle, bending over me and extending his hand out. His lips shaking, eyes wet, love evident.
I could see a young beautiful women walking towards us. She was assigned a seat somewhere towards the back of the plane. She looked at her father from distance, showing her hand as if asking him to relax. She looked tired and embarrassed by her fathers emotional expression. As she went pass our seats, she just said, “baad mein sab batati hoon” (will share everything later).

The old man folded back his extended arm trying to cope with the emotional expression that could not meet a response in reciprocation. He then turned to me and shared his gratitude for helping and comforting him. He said that this is father-daughter love and paused for a while. I held his shoulder again and asked him to relax.

This exchange between father and daughter had another quality of unfamiliar familiarity. An old rustic father deeply caring and expressing his love and worry. A young, modern daughter, feeling embarrassed to receive and respond to that love in public. The unmet longing of a parent. The overwhelmed distancing of an adoloscent. A real yet incomplete family.

I looked around the plane as it took off. So many people from all ages. Fathers, daughters, sons, mothers, wives, husbands. In spite of our distinct religious, national & racial identities, we are deeply familiar to each-other in our being as a human… longing for love…

(the sacred well)