'Shakti' is right now what excites me, scares me, confuses me and possesses me. I am very thankful that I met Padma Govindan three years ago and we got together to found 'Shakti.' But it took me so long to feel sure of my desire to co-run an organization that with my flightiness I made myself exasperating to work with. Being an individual activist and out-queer man was hard enough for me. I repeatedly felt that my officializing it all with an organization and the attendant commitments was going to make me even more visible and vulnerable than I already was. And then there were the concerns about personal finances, and the kind of time that I would need to spend on setting up 'Shakti' with Padma. But at some point I stopped resisting it and started going with the flow.
The Shakti Resource Center is now a registered trust. In the last two and a half years, we have done some exciting work - media outreach, public events, trainings, workshops, film screenings, collaborating with other organizations in organizing Chennai's first Pride, etc. We are in the finishing stages of the LGBT peer counsellor training program. It has been a pleasure collaborating with the Center for Counselling in conducting this training program. So many of us queer folks find ourselves in situations where our peers seek counsel or are in difficult situations that call for active intervention on our part. But often we do not know if we are equipped to engage with certain problems; we do not know if we are helping. In some extreme cases, we get very drained in the process. These are some of the things that made Padma and me go for a training program for peer counsellors. Thanks to Padma's efforts, LLH Norway funded this program with a seed grant. The manual and resource book for peer counsellors, in Tamil and English, should be ready soon. And then the helpline. But all of us trainees are already seeing the benefits of this training program, for we are all engaging with our peers on a daily basis already.
The resource library is shaping up, too. Some years ago, when I started my PhD on queer literature -- a project that was aborted for various reasons -- I had a very hard time finding access to relevant material. Thanks to the fact that I was travelling a lot at that time, I could get my hands on some material. But this experience made me resolve to setting up a resource library. Padma and I pooled in all our collected material in our office space. Friends, members of local support groups, students working on issues related to gender and sexuality, and other activists started borrowing books. Now there are around 250 books on subjects related to gender, sexuality, sexual health, queer studies, etc. And some magazines, journals and pamphlets. There have been some excellent, recent donations of books from the USA. Once the collection is catalogued, we will have it open for people to use. You can donate us books and films themed around gender, sexuality, sexual health and reproductive health. Check with us at email@example.com. We have a list of stuff that we need. You can buy them for us! :)
The last film screening we organized at 'Shakti' went very well! Shohini Ghosh's "Tales of the Night Fairies" is an excellent documentary film on the collectivization of female sex workers at the Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee, famously knows as the Sonagachi project. I never expected the event to be listed in the 'Engagements' section of The Hindu that day (20 February 2010)! It was great to have a mixed audience. It was not a congregation of the "converted," where everyone agrees with everyone else, where everyone's politics aligns itself very nicely with everyone else's. Different views and opinions on sex work, questions around decriminalization of sex work, etc., came up and were discussed. It was fun!
So we march on, I guess. Well, who is this "We"? There is me, then we have Asma volunteering a lot of time, tut-tut-ing me away whenever I feel terrible about not being able to pay her yet. We have Shakthi Nataraj, working hard on the English draft of the manual and resource book for peer counsellors and excited with several brilliant ideas. Ajay Gabriel is a wonder kid, juggling a night-shift job and several other commitments along with the tasks that Shakti requires his help with!
And then we have those wonderful souls who help us keep it all going - friends who give money when it is required -- we have so far needed very little, but still, to have it come when needed is nothing short of magical!
Oh, writing this makes me feel much less anxious now. We are doing good work. We will do better.