By Shiraz Shaikh
For the first time in life, I lived with the people from different communities. They were people whose cultures were different from mine, their thinking different from mine.
I had never before lived outside my community, my home, where everyone thought just like me. This difference in cultures was a significant challenge for me because things that were right for them were wrong for me, things that were wrong for me were right for them. The question I often faced was, “what was right?” Because, I, since childhood, had believed that things were either right or wrong. Therefore, when for the first time, people said things against what I thought or believed in, that confused me.
I thought a lot about the difference in thinking and cultures and arrived at a conclusion such that, my own thinking, and most importantly, my way of thinking changed. The biggest answers to my question of what was right and wrong were that there are things beyond the realm of right and wrong, and that is how they should be.
My views on homosexuality and development have changed.
I believe that every human being has some qualities but sometimes we are not able to see them, because we do not find a space that encourages us to see them, to explore them, showcase them. Pravah ICS became that space for me where I was able to find them and live them.
This is what I think about what the programme gives to you, you have to take responsibility for your own learning. It is like a flowing river Ganga, where you need to wash your own hands. It is your need to learn and you must make effort to fulfil it.
This was my first encounter with people from diverse cultures. I had built a lot of stereotypes about people and their cultures and had made judgements against them. And it had stopped me from building relationships and friendships with people. But being on the journey I was able to throw those stereotypes away. The aim of this journey is to end the borders we have built in our hearts.
One important takeaway for me has been an ability to take conscious decisions.
If I look at my batch of 27 people, each individual came from a different culture, each volunteer thought differently, but by the end of the programme, there was an element of coming together. We stood together on some issues. I do not know if I am right or wrong but, depending on what I saw happening, I think the aim of Pravah ICS was to bring people who are so different to each other and think differently, together. And I believe this is important because when this happens, people are able to remove hatred in hearts.
(Shiraz volunteered from October-December with Synergy Sansthan, Madhya Pradesh India)