“Wounds have a way of settling, even if only enough to let you function and move on with life. Nothing changed in the world around me. Life was spiralling on, like a feather caught in the wind, being blown about this way and that.”
These are the lines from Kirthi Jayakumar’s debut novel, The Doodler of Dimashq’. In the novel, protagonist Ameenah, a young girl in war-torn Syria is thinking about missing out on the chances of living a wholesome childhood. One could draw a few parallels from Kirthi’s own life here.
As a survivor of bullying for most of her childhood, Kirthi is familiar with the feeling and the challenges we are facing as a society today.
Walking the Extra Mile!
Kirthi created ‘The Red Elephant’ in 2013 to be a bridge of peace to facilitate a gender equal society. The initiative is built on the foundations of story-telling, training, tech-for-good and advocacy for gender equity and civilian peacebuilding. Through this initiative, Kirthi and her team are working with various schools and organisations aiming at creating awareness and opening up channels of communication towards creating societies of tolerance, peacebuilding and equality.
Kirthi feels it’s necessary to start early and address the issues of gender violence, bullying, abuse and discrimination right when children begin learning and understanding various aspects of the society and co-existing.
“What if when we teach our children geography, we could walk the extra mile and teach them that the world’s many ethnicities are equal and none is inferior or superior to the other? What if when teaching the rule of grammar, syntax, communication, we also slipped in a little lesson on non-violent communication and taught them the art of empathetic communication?” Kirthi strongly believes that effective ‘peace education’ can certainly go a long way in inculcating a feeling of empathy towards different genders, cultures and people in our children rather than just focussing on make them ‘economy-worthy individuals’.
Creating Societies of Tolerance, Peace-building and Equality
Kirthi has often spoken about her school days when she used to wonder why there is lack of participation from women in notable world movements and events. She used to discuss the same with her teachers and during these discussions she realised early on that there is a massive need for deliberation on gender-based atrocities. Her thoughts reaffirmed while working on raising awareness on education, health care, infrastructure, among others as a volunteer with NGOs in Chennai. Another incident that jolted her from within was the Nirbhaya case.
Two years into her work as a research analyst and writer on women’s rights at the US-based Delta Women, her contributions were being recognised with an award at the US Consulate General in Chennai. The Nirbhaya gang rape had occurred just a day before and receiving an award for women’s rights didn’t feel right.
“I was receiving an award when there was so much more left to be done especially when a girl was battling for her life because we as a community sacrificed her at the altar of patriarchy, misogyny, toxic and hegemonic masculinity, and inaction on the part of a civilian populace that should have been vigilant,” said the two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award.
This and everything else she was witnessing during her time learning and creating awareness made her realise that most things in society boiled down to gender.
Being the Solution
Through The Red Elephant, Kirthi and her team are working with the hope of catalysing the creation of non-violent, peaceful, and equality-oriented futures for every human being, built on the foundations of healing, compassion, empathy, and inclusion.
Kirthi has coded a women safety and guidelines app called Sahaas for survivors of sexual violence. It provides information regarding medical and legal help, and education and employment opportunities that can be availed in 197 countries. The app, she believes, is her way to digitally empower women and not have them suffer in silence.
A trained lawyer and freelance writer, her own foundation has penned 300 stories online, held 112 workshops, and worked with 3,514 children so far. Now six core member and over 50 volunteers strong, the Red Elephant also organises online 50-day challenge programmes.
Kirthi and her foundation continue to draws strength from the powerful words of Anne Frank: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are good at heart."