Game-Changers in South Kolkata: Exploring Innovative Approaches to Social Impact

Farida Kathawalla

After getting lost in the tiny lanes of South Kolkata, we entered the humble office of Talash Society, beautifully done, and the winter sun streamed in through the windows. After sitting and trying “Nolen Gur” or palm jaggery, I had the opportunity to hear about the unique ways of working with young adults to help them behave in a gender equal manner. Most of the community members come from migrant labor community and are prone to sexual, physical and mental abuse.

Ayesha, a very calm and passionate woman, spoke and explained about the unique tools and resources adopted by them for the community. Their aim is to capacitate and empower young girls to re-define their life scripts, bring about a change in the mindset of young boys around gender norms and protect young girls from cyber abuse.

Next, we visited the community center. While driving, we spotted a young girl (in her early 20s) who had been waiting for us to guide us to the centre as she knew the way. She was probably one of the trainers—I felt sorry that she had to wait! Upon entering the community center, I was transported to a different world.

The community centre where the games were played

I had the opportunity to witness the above game which is called the ’11 Steps for Safer Decision Making.’ The placards are called ‘Dance-Floor Cards’ because they believe that reaching a balance can be achieved only through dance. These tools are used to support young girls in understanding their own dilemmas and confusion, enabling them to reach a point of safer decision-making by themselves, without external intervention. This tool is designed to enhance the agency of young people.

Talash employs interesting techniques like the Japanese self-defense system called ‘aikido’, which emphasizes the importance of achieving complete mental calm and control of one’s own body to master an opponent’s attack. The youth enjoyed playing such games, and it was a moral/social learning experience for them. It prepared them for a future where girls would not tolerate abuse, and the boys would view their counterparts as equals, and approach every interaction with the opposite sex with respect and a non-patriarchal mindset.

The passionate field workers explaining the game to us

One thing that struck me during this visit was the passion of the field workers—the energy and depth with which they engaged with the boys and girls. We had limited time for conversation, but the field workers ensured that I understood the games despite the language barrier. Then it was time to head home, and during my car journey, I kept thinking – What makes these young field workers so committed and passionate towards their work?