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Arjun and Rishi are two young digital creators from structurally excluded communities living in the stigmatised regions of north Chennai. Even though both owned a smartphone each, their devices had only basic features. The duo knew their limitations, but they wanted to question the caste hierarchy in society. A couple of years ago, they launched ‘Therukootam’, a YouTube channel using their smartphone as a tool through which they started expressing their anti-caste politics.
With day-to-day realities of suffering and exploitation, their videos have got them more than 26K subscribers in a short span of time. The vision of Yuvan Aves, a naturalist-activist, is to create diverse nature-education resources, curricula and interfaces and work with children and the public across ages and social backgrounds through his organisation called Palluyir Trust for Nature Education and Research.
Sumaiya, a chronicler of the intangible heritage of Kayalpatnam (a historic Islamic town in Thoothukudi), maintains a blog where she exposes the diversity of the coastal town through its food and culture. The YPP seeks to help all such youth.
The Young People for Politics (YPP), a group of freethinking diverse Tamil youth, selected seven youngsters for its champions awards recently. The idea is to expose, educate and encourage the youth to engage with politics, not as mere spectators, but as real representatives and crusaders of democracy. The YPP has worked to educate and engage Indian youth in democratic thought and processes since its inception in 2019.
A large part of YPP’s work, according to its convenor Radhika Ganesh, is to ‘identify and support an intersection of young people to emerge as leaders pursuing cultural, social and political justice in innovative ways.’ Sumaiya (cultural reconciliation), Yuvan Aves, (naturalist-activist), Arjun and Rishi (anti-caste politics), Alagu Jegan (gender justice), Thilagavathi (women’s rights) and Shajan Kavitha (artist-activist) are the seven youth who won the UPP Champions Award 2022.
The idea of YPP is to expose, educate and encourage the youth to engage with politics, not as mere spectators, but as real representatives and crusaders of democracy.
Yuvan says he feels happy and recognised. “But the larger happiness stems from the fact that such works are being recognised in Tamil Nadu. If you look at different categories, you will understand it. It requires a certain progressiveness and sense of cultural inclusion to even frame such awards,” he says. For young environmental activists like Yuvan, awards don’t make much sense but the recognition from YPP, according to him, is an extraordinary sign of a cultural change. “The present is my future. We have been fighting many environmental issues through campaigns and battles. This recognition gives a lot of encouragement for people like me,” he said. Yuvan is a writer, naturalist, educator and activist based in Chennai.
Artist-associate-director Shajan Kavitha uses digital media to express his politics of social justice. Shajan had illustrated the images of Dalit leaders and the movements they represented during the recently held Dalit History Month, an annual event to remember important people and events in the history of the Dalits and other marginalised communities. “I don’t consider the recognition personally. I am a representative of the neglected and suppressed communities who have been chosen for this award. It gives a lot of encouragement and I will continue my fight against caste inequalities in society using digital media,” said Shajan.
Arjun and Rishi don’t have any permanent jobs but they understand each one’s role in maintaining a secular society. “We are trying to question the existing caste hierarchies in society through our videos. Even though we got many followers, we never expected a recognition like this because the issues of the marginalised are often neglected. We will continue our fight,” said Rishi.
YPP is committed to providing a safe space for young people from structurally excluded and marginalised communities, said Radhika.
YPP is committed to providing a safe space for young people from structurally excluded and marginalised communities, said Radhika. However, the initiative didn’t end with the distribution of awards. The winners, after receiving the award at a function held at the Anna Centenary Library on May 19, had an interaction with T Mano Thangaraj, Minister for Information Technology, Government of Tamil Nadu. “The interaction with the minister was very productive and it evoked tremendous response. The winners asked the minister questions, and the minister politely answered all their queries with patience,” she said.
For the winners, there is a long road ahead. “The award was a great recognition, but the interactive session with the minister went one step ahead. It increased our level of confidence. I never spoke to a minister so close before. We will continue our fight,” said Shajan. “The Link” by YPP, a YouTube news channel by and for those in the margins was also launched as part of the event
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