“A space where people from all backgrounds can inform and educate themselves on current issues without any fear of judgement.”
This is how Megha Garg describes the panel discussions that she and Samridhi Roy have been holding in the city. The duo are hoping to make these discussions, that inform people on the current political issues such as the debate around the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a regular feature in Chandigarh.
“The decision to initiate these sessions was made quite spontaneously by us. We began chatting on social media and saw that Chandigarh especially seemed too quite as compared to the rest of the nation. So much was happening just 250 kms away in Delhi, and here, most people seemed to be so unfazed,” says Garg. The women felt there was a vacuum in the city in terms of a platform for critical discussion on relevant socio-political issues.
Garg and Roy, who are former schoolmates, have no political affiliations, nor do they belong to any political or student organisation in the city. Garg is pursuing Gandhi Fellowship in Udaipur and frequently visits her family in Chandigarh, and Roy is a graduate from the Punjab University School of Communication Studies, who has taken a hiatus from her marketing job.
The last session that the women hosted, was attended by former IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan, who has been an active part of anti-CAA protests across the country, and who left the administrative services over the abrogation of the Article 370 in August last year. Now, Garg and Roy hopes to extend this project to a year long affair, where regular question and answer sessions will be held, and a panel of experts will be brought in to address the questions.
Both of them say that the idea of organising these sessions came to them because they felt that narratives on the either side of any ideological debate in India were being hijacked by loud and uninformed voices. “It is not only about CAA, I think since a long time people have been expressing their opinions aggressively on social media or otherwise, and others often get convinced of opinions because of these loud voices, without actually educating themselves on facts,” Roy says.
“We had decided that the first question and answer session that we conducted on the CAA would explain the legality of it. Setting aside the political opinions, the session would concentrate on the constitutional tools we have to argue for or against the CAA. That is what we wanted to bring to the forefront,” says Roy.
“We began contacting some of our lawyer friends, who got us in touch with others. Through this informal network we were able to set up our first panel which constituted of a legal correspondent and a human rights lawyer. This session was held in a small living room in our friend’s house. We did not expect more than ten people, but at least 25 turned up!” adds Garg.
After the first session, the women organised another session on January 5, where a panel consisting of two young lawyers outlined the legal arguments in favor of CAA, and another lawyer and a political activist against the Act, answered questions brought out by the audience. This time, the audience was much larger and diverse in terms of age group, gender and socio-economic backgrounds. The women were able to book the space using money they had gathered from a crowdfunding campaign. This panel discussion was the one attended by Gopinathan, who had just come back from Uttar Pradesh, where he was detained while he was on his way to address an anti-CAA protest at Aligarh Muslim University.
Garg and Roy hope to open up the platform for discussion on a varied set of issues, and are open to providing support to schools and colleges in the city that wish to replicate their model and hold open and fruitful discussions. “We want to make this a part of the fabric of the city. We want Chandigarh to consist of informed citizens who care about what is happening around them, and not privileged and apathetic people residing in their big houses without interacting with the world,” says Garg.
The organisers have not decided on the name of the platform yet, but they are flirting with the idea of calling their platform “howtocitizen”. Anyone who wishes to contact them, give recommendations on topics they wish to educate themselves on, or seek help in terms of facilitating similar discussions, can reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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