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Last Updated Friday March 17 2017 12:02 AM IST

Be the change… a new wave of social activism is sweeping Kerala

Shalini Anna Dominic
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Be the change… a new wave of social activism is sweeping Kerala Volunteer from MAD (Make A Difference) takes class for children.

Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, and it appears that being actively involved and investing in efforts to bring about change in our own communities is an idea that is here to stay.

There's something in the air and it's definitely catching. But unlike the monsoon bugs that lay us low, this is an energizing and uplifting contagion. We have always been a well-informed people given to rousing debates and punditry on matters sundry.

The tea shops and watering holes of Kerala have in all probability heard more discussion and argument about political and social issues than most universities and houses of government. But in the past, our engagement with these issues ended with the draining of the last dregs of the beverage in our hand and we retired with our world-weary cynicism intact and the ground realities unchanged.

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But now change is in the air and it's coming from an unlikely quarter... The youth of today are no longer content with debate and discussion. They want to see change on the ground and take very seriously the saying: be the change you want to see. Faced with official apathy they've taken matters into their own hands and become foot-soldiers for the various causes they deem important.

Once social activism was considered the domain of government-sponsored organizations, international foundations and affiliates of political parties, but today the pendulum has swung to the other side and small initiatives spearheaded by people within their local communities are making a big impact. Many of these started as individual efforts and have blossomed into much larger groups, showing clearly the power of one to bring about positive change.

Gender sensitization and rehabilitation of those affected by gender violence, educational initiatives and improvement of infrastructure in cash-strapped schools, mental health awareness, garbage disposal and cleanliness drives, drug-abuse awareness , water conservation and sensitivity to the environment are some of the areas in which work is being done with much enthusiasm and creativity. Bodhini, Bin It, Valuesfirst, The Art Outreach Society TAOS, Raising our Voices, Amaara, MAD are just a few local examples of the many organizations that are active in these spheres.

The use of music, art and theater to bring about change in attitudes and foster healthy communities is a key ingredient in this new world of activism and this approach of integrating culture with activism has been a transforming experience for everyone involved. Street plays, music and art projects in public spaces are being used to mobilize public opinion about issues. They are also being used as tools in smaller workshops to help rehabilitate and build confidence and self esteem in those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Technology, often maligned for isolating us from our immediate surroundings, also plays an important part by helping to raise funds for projects through crowd sourcing as well as to recruit volunteers for larger campaigns.

And while many of these exercises were the brainchild of young people, it no longer remains exclusively their preserve. People of all ages and from all walks of life are now actively engaged in these endeavors, dedicating their time and skill for the greater good, and this coming together of experience and energy is bringing about real change.

Of course, the learning curve has been steep for some of these organizations who are pioneers in their area of operation but in the end nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, and it appears that being actively involved and investing in efforts to bring about change in our own communities is an idea that is here to stay.

As the popular saying goes, "a journey of a million miles starts with a single step," and the small but inspiring steps that many among us have taken to change what cynics say cannot be done, should lead us all to attempt our own journeys to bring about the change we seek in this world.

(The author is a writer based in Kochi. This column will appear every alternate Wednesday)

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