As a community organizer, one of my biggest worries when planning an event or activity is whether or not the event will be impactful, relevant, exciting, and needed within the sangat being served at the time. As such, going into the week of screening KayRay's film "Ananke" at various SoCal universities was a daunting task - I was not sure what to expect, how to start the conversation, nor what the outcome was going to be.
"Ananke" is a short film directed by Kiran Rai, also known as KayRay, that explores the complicated topic of dating violence. The lead character revisits the same abusive situation in the hopes that she might be able to change it only to discover that she can not change another person. Dating violence is a taboo topic in any community, especially immigrant ones. The immense shame a victim feels becomes heightened when you mix in honor and culture. Although there have been numerous studies, films, and media coverage exploring violence against women in marriages, dating violence has unfortunately been left out of the conversation due to the fact that dating before marriage is discouraged and prohibited. Hiding dating activities results in a complicated situation for South Asian girls. They are forced to lie to their parents, and when exposed to harmful situations they are unable to seek support or help. These relationships add an additional layer of complication when blackmailing of the victim occurs by threatening to reveal the truth about these relationships to her parents and the larger community.
It's been about a month since the tour and now as I have the space to reflect back on it, I realize it was so much more than anyone expected.
Our first screening was at UC Irvine. Because it was our first stop, we really didn't know what types of conversations were going to arise and what stories were going to be shared. It was at UC Irvine during our more intimate and initial dialogue that we learned what our foundation should be for the rest of the week's discussions. We were able to fine-tune this foundation as we continued on with the tour, visiting UC San Diego, UC Los Angeles, and UC Riverside. Shout out: We were fortunate enough to be able to rely on local Jakara Movement volunteers who helped put on these screenings at each of these campuses, thanks for being such gracious hosts.
By the end of the SoCal leg of the tour, this is what our agenda looked like: 1. Screen the movie, 2. Facilitate a discussion with Kiran about the filmmaking process, 3. Create a discussion with the students about how to approach difficult conversations relating to dating violence within our friend circles, 4. Open Q&A about topics brought up from the movie or from previous conversations. A few of the common themes or ideas brought up in the discussions included: victim blaming, nuances of leaving an abusive relationship, how to confront an abuser, and the tell-tale signs of a victim being abused.
Throughout this journey, I realized that I learned so much - not only from Kiran, but also from my Sikh peers who shared their experiences and insight on dating violence; a topic that was hardly discussed in my community before this. More of these type of events need to be offered within the Sikh community, and with all age groups. Healthy discussion (sometimes with opposing opinions) should be welcomed instead of being pushed off to one corner. It's unfortunate that such important conversations end up being labeled as taboo topics merely because of our inability to begin.
I feel so proud and thankful that Jakara Movement has provided the space and opportunity for such pivotal exchanges to occur. I am interested in following the evolution of this conversation (and many others!) during our writing workshops, Piram Pyala spoken word events, and Lalkaar 2016.
I can only imagine that 20 years ago, things like this were kept "hush hush" and people had to experience this trauma alone. Having experienced this tour gives me hope that the next 20 years of trauma won't be silenced.