Can “Collage-n” change communities?


Ruchika Tara Mathur, Program Officer, participated in the community organizing workshop conducted by PRIA last month for program staff. Is the collage-making activity (or “collage-n”, as she likes to call it) which she learnt in the training a much-needed shot in the arm for community workers to energise the communities they work in to adopt changes in attitudes and build confidence?


Being at an absolute and total loss for inspiration on how to begin this blog, I Googled ‘collage making blog’. (This is not reflective of my research skills; it was just too early in the morning for me to be astute.) Google happily regurgitated suggestions for the best tools and layouts for making collages. When I think of collages, I am inadvertently transported back to school, staying back in art class, cutting-and-pasting bits of colourful paper to make a card for a friend or a favourite teacher. The collage-making activity (or “collage-n”, as I like to call it) we undertook on a Tuesday afternoon during the Community Organisation Workshop recently organised by PRIA in Jaipur was more profound. Divided into two groups of 6-8 people each, we were given a bunch of magazines and scissors in the training hall, and an open-to-interpretation task of depicting ‘characteristics of community organisation’ on a paper chart.

Fifteen minutes of scissors and felt-pens in the hands of a group of thinkers and doers can surprise you. What the two collage-making groups came up with was informative and attractive, and served largely as an instructive tool. Following this session on learning, we went to different ward locations to use our recently acquired skills with gusto.

Ward nos 80 and 81 in Jaipur’s Shastri Nagar area are two locations where KBC has been engaging with young since 2014. There are three interloping bastis, with 40 kids-who-are-not-kids-but-young-people, engaged on a participatory journey with us over the past year and a half. They are bright and challenging, and they constantly demand activities to learn and answers to questions. It took a few moments to settle these youth and sort them into groups. PRIA facilitators took charge and explained the task: to prepare four charts, two charts showing work women and men undertake inside their homes and two charts showing work women and men undertake outside their homes; these could be anything and everything, and pictures from the magazines were to be used for this representation. The 40 young people made five collages. While pictures of women cooking, wearing sarees and comforting children were the usual suspects, there were also arresting images of PM Narendra Modi dressed as a dulha (bridegroom) and a working corporate woman. Collage making became a great tool to channel the boundless creative energy of the youth group into a tangible focal point for discussion.

And questions and discussion there was in abundance! From why or why not women and men could be depicted as being yoga enthusiasts outside their homes to the more poignant ‘yeh kyun kar rahe hain’ (why are we doing this?), there was not one dull moment the entire evening. PRIA facilitators were constantly feeding in and fielding comments about gender stereotypes and societal expectations. Not entirely unexpected, there were several points where the girls in the group clashed with the boys over ‘yeh ladkiyon ka kaam nahi hain’ (these things don’t qualify as girls’ work), roles like studying or working in an office. One of the most striking moments from within the groups was when one of the boys, Vishal, stuck a picture of Bollywood film star reclining comfortably on a chair. Yashvi, a PRIA facilitator, was curious.

Yashvi: Yeh photo interesting hai…Yeh actor acha lagta hai? Idher lagane ka kya reason hai? (This is an interesting photo. Do you like this actor? What is your reason for sticking his picture?)

Vishal: Papa log aise hi to karte hain. Kaam kar ke ghar aate hain aur sofa per aaraam se baithte hain, phir mummy chai aur khaana bana kar deti hain. (That’s what fathers do after they return home from work. They sit comfortably on the sofa and then mummy brings them tea and food.)

Conflicts between girls and boys took more verbal forms of dissent when a girl, cutting out a picture of a martyr, was told off by a boy sitting next to her that the shaheed (martyr) was not a woman. Although statistically, the young boy’s argument would probably have weight in our country, the little girl was having none of it. With an expertly delivered ‘Shut up!’ she painstakingly pasted the image on her chart! There was also an excellent explanation for what we thought was an over-sight  an empty space in a collage made on blue paper. The English language adage states that necessity is the mother of invention, often translating for Hindi language users as the term jugaad — the young collage makers had inserted a profound comment in this empty blue space: ‘Sky being the limit for women to do anything they would wish to do’.

It was a fun exercise, and everybody learned something. The facilitators and PRIA colleagues learnt the importance of planning and delegation, and the young participants learnt that persistent chatter could almost let you get away with anything, but not quite. Collage-making as an activity to be really useful requires exhaustive planning and appropriate resources in relation to the target audience/participants. The facilitators’ roles and agency must be thought through before reaching locations, to avoid communication conundrums in the field. The purpose of the activity and method needs to be well communicated to the participants or it can be a struggle to get the process started. One of the big questions we need to ask ourselves at the end of any learning based activity is whether it is only likely to contribute superficially to overall group learning, or whether it can catalyze real and effective change in the oft referred triad of knowledge-attitudes-practices.

The conversations that careened through this collective that evening in Jaipur were of far greater import than what one would expect from a simple art-and-craft exercise, for it brought forth many questions that are yet to be answered. They also pointed to how Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC), PRIA’s program to address Violence Against Women, is shaping and changing perceptions and attitudes among boys and girls, and how a community organizer’s work is never done. Some girls had written little declamations to go along with their collage, and many of these reiterated the opinion that women as mothers, daughters and wives should be afforded equal rights and protection in our society. Young people with mothers who are engaged in formal or informal work in the economy are still reluctant to accept images of women in working pants instead of a decorative saree. Why was it that young boys favoured charts for men, while young girls got relegated into making charts representing women? While young girls who have engaged with KBC over the last year do mark considerable changes in their attitudes and confidence, why, indeed, are most of the boys still averse to challenging even the most basic stereotypes? Can “collage-n” change them?

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