From The Heart Of Kosovo: Interview with Jamie Donoughue, Oscar nominated Director.

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Jamie Donoughue
Jamie Donoughue is an Oscar-nominated British film director, producer and writer. He is best known for directing short-film Shok that earned him critical appraisal and multiple international awards including Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film nomination at the 88th Academy Awards. In 2016, he directed two episodes of the critically acclaimed BBC / Netflix drama The Last Kingdom. Here is an interview with Jamie, focusing on his moving short film, Shok.

[This interview was originally published by the Red Elephant Foundation and can be read here]

Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? Your growing years, education and professional trajectory, perhaps? 

Ever since I was young my true passion was actually Judo and for many years this is what I wanted to do professionally. The first bit of filming I ever did was to film a local Judo contest and I guess this is where I got the bug. After finishing school I worked for a production company in my year out and then went to University to study TV & Film. During this time I worked at a local TV station, camera operating and directing. After leaving Uni I set up a production company making music videos. We were fortunate to grow quickly and had a lot of success working with some incredible artists around the world. However, my true passion was always in drama. So after a (very early) midlife crisis, I decided to move in that direction, starting with my first short film ‘Shok’. Shok has since provided me many incredible opportunities. I have just finished directing on season 2 of the BBC/Netflix Drama ‘The Last Kingdom’ and am currently in development of my own TV show with NBC Universal. 

What inspired Shok? 

Back in 2010 I randomly visited Kosovo to shoot a commercial as a favor for a friend. It was planned as a three-day trip. Then the Icelandic Volcano erupted and I found myself stranded there for five weeks. I say ‘stranded’ but the truth was it was the most incredible time of my life; I didn’t want to go home. I met some amazing friends and was overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the Kosovar people. Over time they began to tell me their stories and I could not believe what had happened less than ten years ago on my doorstep. It’s only when a person looks you in the eye and tells you their story that you fully understand the true meaning of the word ‘war’. What inspired me most, however, was that there was no anger, rather just a desperation for their stories to be heard. I wanted to give something back to them and tell as many people as possible about what I had learnt. 

A Still from the Film “Shok”


What kind of preparation went into dealing with something so nuanced and painful? 

I knew very early on that I wanted to tell a true story based around people not events and most importantly relate to an audience by exploring the lives of the children during this time. One of the biggest challenges however was choosing what story to tell. Literally ever person in Kosovo had been affected by the war and each of their stories are as painful and inspiring as the next. One key story I landed on was of my good friend Eshref Durmishi. He survived the war and became an actor and actually ended up playing the part of his aggressor in film. My main concern however was to create a film that was true to the people of Kosovo, but yet appeal to an international audience. I did not ever want to be seen as a foreigner coming over and ‘using’ the country for its stories. The only way to overcome this was to truly understand the culture and the people. I therefore spent the next four years learning and researching everything possible about the country. I stayed with many families, meeting and interviewing hundreds of people. I ate, drank and lived Kosovo, even learning the language (granted very badly). Only after all this did I feel the time was right and I could represent them in the most honest and respectful way. 

A Still from the Film “Shok”

What was your experience filming like? Do you have any particular anecdotes to share? 

It was an extremely difficult and logistically problematic to get us to the production stage. No one in the UK wanted to fund us and producing a coproduction between the two countries was not easy. I have to thank my amazing producers Harvey Ascott and Howard Dawson for making it possible. However, once we actually got to the stage of filming it was an incredible experience. I had a mixture of UK and Kosovo crew and everyone involved had either been directly affected by the war or had spent time in Kosovo to truly understand what we were trying to achieve. The film had many difficult scenes but the truth is we kept the shoot light hearted and most importantly for me was that we all had fun. We were attempting something that had not really been done before and most people were working for very little money. It was a passion project for everyone. However, one particular scene will stay with me for the rest of my life. When filming the raid on the house I first ran a rehearsal with just the actors in order to work out the camera movement I wanted. The entire crew plus the hundred or so onlookers were outside waiting. We rehearsed the raid of the house and removal of the family. I was in the midst of it and it was so real I was physically shaking. I walked outside to find everyone else in tears, traumatized from hearing the sounds alone. It was at that point I questioned everything I was doing and whether I was wrong to be playing with people’s emotions in this way. Then the neighbor from upstairs came over. She too was in tears. She said to me that the exact raid had happened here in that property. She then told me as and hard as it was to believe she wanted to thank us all for taking on this story and enabling others to know the truth of what had happened. 

What have your biggest challenges been? How have you dealt with them? 

Trying to make it in the Film & TV industry is incredibly hard. People always tell you this but you have no idea. Probably my biggest challenge was after leaving my company. I had spent years building it up and now had to start again from scratch. I risked everything on making Shok and put every last penny I had into the project. I had to take a job with a friend laboring on building sites. In fact I found out I have been long-listed for an Oscar whilst constructing a garden shed. All this was great training though. It allowed me to stay humble and realise patience, persistence and hard work is key. Also that once in a while it’s good to take a risk. 

As a filmmaker, you are a storyteller who takes fact out into the world through an observer’s lens. When you deal with difficult subjects, how do you retain your objectivity? 

Normally with Film or TV there is an understanding of using ‘creative licence’ i.e. manipulating facts and reality in order to benefit and enhance the story. However with Shok this was not something I ever wanted to do. These were people’s lives, and indeed deaths. The film dealt with war and atrocities and by its nature could appear extremely one sided. I was therefore very conscious of keeping my objectivity. I spent time in all other areas of the Balkans including Serbia, speaking to locals and hearing their experiences. I learnt that the truth is war is complicated and dirty and there is rarely a simple answer to who is right and wrong. However this film was never about the ‘events’; it was about the people and the true victims of war, whoever they are and wherever they are from. 

You’ve been the voice of those that are otherwise not heard, considering how information on the situation in Kosovo is relegated only to a statistic. How does that feel?

When I set out to make this film I gave myself an objective; if just one person watches this film and decides to find out more about Kosovo then it will have been worthwhile. We have been incredibly fortunate that due to the success of this film Kosovo has been put on the world map. As well as its nomination for an Oscar®, over a million people have see the film along with vast international press exposure. We have done Q&A’s across the world, presentations in schools, been discussed at the United Nations, met the Royal Family and even our two child actors were invited by the Pope to perform at the Vatican for the consecration of Mother Teressa. This is not only proof of the power of film but also the power of people. How do I feel? Honoured, humbled and extremely grateful. It’s incredible to think that although Shok highlights the negativities in this world, its success has highlighted the positives.

What goes into making your creative process what it is? What inspires you? 

I spend a lot of time researching a subject and finding out as much as possible. It’s about the little details that you put into a film. Grated many of the audience may not pick up on these but overall it creates a richer and more impacting viewing experience. I have a clear idea of what I want but at the same time I realise most of the creativity is done ‘in the moment’. I like to empower the actors and crew and all work together to create something unique. For me inspiration can come from anywhere but I guess I am mostly drawn to true stories. This is especially the case if the subjects of these stories are still alive and I am able to talk with them. I think we have become desensitized to war and violence. Words such as refugees, displacement, famine, etc have become just that… words. I like to try bring meaning back to this by putting a face and personal story to these events. If an audience can relate to it then they can see in fact we are all actually not too dissimilar.

More on the film

Twitter – @shokshortfilm

20 years on, revisiting the Uphaar Tragedy – How the System failed its people

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(Prakash Singh/ Hindustan Times File photo)
The Uphaar cinema tragedy that took place on June 13, 1997, claiming the lives of 59 people and injuring over 100 was one of the worst fire incidents in Indian history. The incident that took place in the midst of the matinee show screening of ‘Border’ has also gone down the annals of legal history in the country as being the cause behind the filing of the landmark civil compensation case by the families of the victims through their organization, AVUT (Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy). 
In this exclusive interview, Sourya speaks to the President of AVUT, Mrs. Neelam Krishnamoorthy, whose 17-year-old daughter Unnati and 13-year-old son, Ujjwal, were also among the victims of the incident. 

Sourya (S): Please paint a word picture for us of the fateful day of 13th June 1997 and how tragedy broke out.

Ms. Neelam Krishnamoorthy (NK): It was the month of June 1997, vacation time for the children. On Friday the 13th June, Unnati and Ujjwal planned to go watch a movie. They were very excited about watching the much-awaited and controversial new movie “Border”. The tragic day started off normally. Unnati asked me to book tickets for the matinee show of Border on the day it hit theaters. The four of us had lunch together. Naturally, none of us knew or imagined that it would be the last meal we would have together as a family. After lunch Unnati planted a loving kiss on my cheek; I forgot to wipe off the mark her lipstick left on my skin. I had no clue that this would the last time Unnati would ever kiss me. Soon we also left for work. After work, we went to look up my brother –in – law who was admitted to the hospital. I gave a call at around 7.30 pm, to check if the kids had reached home, but there was no response.We rushed home, to check if the kids had returned, but they had, not. The house was in darkness and I quickly went to my puja room and lit a lamp and prayed to god asking for the well-being of our children. I tried calling up Uphaar Cinema but could not get through to their number. I also tried AIIMS but the number did not get through. Just then one of Unnati’s friend called us and inquired about her. When I told him about our predicament, he informed us about the fire in the Uphaar cinema. We rushed to Uphaar cinema and on the way informed all our friends about the fire. Throughout the way we were praying for the well-being of Unnati & Ujjwal. We could not enter the Uphaar cinema as the entire area was cordoned off and we were asked to check at AIIMS or Safdarjung hospital. On reaching AIIMS neither we could locate our children nor were their names in the list of injured. We were taken to the OPD where we saw the bodies of Unnati & Ujjwal lying on a stretcher. Our lives came to a dreadful standstill. This nightmarish turn of events destroyed us completely and changed our lives forever. 

The fire had originated from the Delhi Vidyut Board transformer at 4.55 pm, which was located in the parking area of the cinema complex on the ground floor. The “B” phase cable detached from the bus bar and fell on the fin of the transformer as result the oil from the fins leaked and caught fire. The fire came in contact with a car parked illegally right in front of the transformer room. The fire spread to the other cars parked in the area. The smoke entered the hall due to chimney effect through the staircase and air-conditioning ducts. Soon the cinema hall turned into a gas chamber.

The 750 patrons sitting on the first floor of the auditorium escaped immediately thanks to the properly spaced exits. The staff in the basement and the tenants on the ground floor, those closest to the fire, along with those in the third and fourth floor, all escaped.

As smoke and carbon monoxide engulfed the balcony, the patrons began to suffocate and there was complete pandemonium. Despite the fact that a fire had broken out, the projector operator was not instructed to stop the film; neither were the patrons informed of the accident nor were they given instructions on how to leave the auditorium and the balcony. When the electricity failed completely it became even more difficult for those in the balcony to make their way out. 302 patrons in the balcony were trapped due to non-availability of gangway and exit. 

The gangway was blocked to accommodate additional 52 seats in violation of the statutes to make extra profit. The exit gate on the right side was blocked by erecting an eight seater private viewing box for the comfort of Ansal’s family. The basic fire safety provisions such as exit light, foot lights, emergency lights and public address system were non-functional. The cinema management abandoned the patrons and ran out of the cinema hall. 59 people were asphyxiated to death due to carbon monoxide poisoning and, over 103 were grievously injured.

(S): When did you decide to, gather all other victims and their relatives and form the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy (AVUT)

(NK): After performing the thirteenth day rituals for our children, Shekhar and I went through each and every paper that came out on 14 June, and then every single day after that, to try and figure out what exactly happened. As per the newspaper reports the deaths occurred only in the balcony due to violations and deviations of the statutes. Additional seats in the balcony were accommodated by the management by blocking the gangway and exits. We decided to take legal recourse. We were advised by a good friend to seek a legal opinion from senior advocate K.T.S. Tulsi. Mr Tulsi had strong views on those who seemed responsible for the tragedy. He told us that since the Ansals were part of the powerful builder lobby, we should fight this legal battle collectively. He suggested that we contact other affected families and form an association.

We did not know any of them personally. We took the initiative and contacted members of the victims’ families. Some were downright dismissive of our efforts, but a few of them listened to us very patiently. Ultimately, nine families responded positively to us and we proposed a meeting. The Association was formed on 30th June 1997 . AVUT was born out of terrible rage and endless grief.

(S): There were charges against the family of the accused, of trying to cover up the matter during the initial investigation. How reliable had you found the initial investigation conducted by the Crime Branch of Delhi Police? Was the Association of Victims of Uphaar Fire Tragedy’ (AVUT) relieved when the investigation was handed over to the CBI instead? 

(NK): The initial investigation into the Uphaar Cinema fire was handled by the Hauz Khas Police Station. The First Information Report (FIR) was lodged on the basis of a complaint made by the security guard of the hall. The Delhi Police lodged the FIR under section 304 (II), i.e. culpable homicide not amounting to murder with a punishment of up to ten years in prison. Considering the gravity of the incident, the investigation was then transferred to the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police. Initially, the investigation conducted by the Crime Branch seemed to be reliable. After almost over a month Sushil Ansal and his son Pranav Ansal were arrested from Mumbai on 22nd July 1997, but however, Gopal Ansal was absconding. We were assured by the Crime Branch that they would file the charge Sheet by August 1997. The Association was satisfied with the progress of the investigation that was being conducted by the Crime Branch, Delhi Police. But, to our utter shock and disbelief, the Government of India took a suo moto decision to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 23 July. AVUT never made any representation to the Government to transfer the investigation to the CBI. 
It was our belief that this was done with the motive of delaying the filing of the charge sheet and, in the process, making it possible for the accused to seek and obtain bail. Our apprehensions were proved right when CBI filed the charge sheet on 15th November 1997, charging Sushil & Gopal under a lesser offense i.e 304 (A) death caused due to rash and negligent Act, contrary to what Delhi Police had charged them.

(S): The Prosecution, the Judiciary or the CBI – who among these would you blame for the unreasonable delay caused in this case despite, in your instance, the Delhi High Court rapping the lower court for the slow proceedings in the case.

(NK): I would blame the defense counsels who sought frequent adjournments and moved frivolous application which delayed the proceedings considerably. The courts too accommodated the defense counsels by giving frequent adjournments sought by the defense counsels. Since I was present in the court for each and every hearing, I ensured that the Prosecuting agency does not delay the proceedings by seeking adjournments.
AVUT had to approach the High Court thrice during the trial to expedite the proceedings. But for the intervention of the higher court the case would have been still in the session court.

(S): What was your reaction when you heard that the initially Delhi High Court had granted compensation of 18 crores? At that moment did you have hope that the Justice would ultimately be served and the accused sent to jail for a long time?

(NK): After going through the judgment pronounced by the Delhi High Court on 24 April 2003 wherein the court held that the fire had originated at the DVB transformer due to negligence in its maintenance. The fire would not have been so tragic had the cars not been parked right outside the transformer room and the exits not blocked to create a private box for the owners. The court also observed that had exits been located on both sides of the balcony, precious lives might have been saved as the patrons could have made their way outside the theater quickly. The licensee (the owners) had committed statutory violations in order to obtain illegal profits. The licensing departments of the Delhi Police, Delhi Vidyut Board and Municipal Corporation of Delhi were all found guilty of contributory negligence due to their apathy and indifference to the critical matter of public safety. After such detailed and comprehensive judgment, we were hopeful that in the criminal case Ansals would be convicted and would be incarcerated for a long time.

(S): What was your reaction when on 19th August 2015 the Supreme Court let off the Ansals directing them to pay Rs 60 crore for a trauma center and the subsequent order in the review filed by AVUT & CBI?

(NK): The Ansals were convicted on the 5th March 2014, the bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court differed on the quantum of sentence after concurring on their guilt under Section 304A of Indian Penal Code for negligent acts.The bench referred determination of sentence to a three-judge bench.

The matter was listed after seventeen months that too after AVUT & CBI had moved applications for early hearing. The matter was finally listed on 19th August 2015.

The SC verdict of 19th August 2015 left me distraught and disappointed. The Judgement was pronounced without giving the Petitioner or the Special Public Prosecutor any chance of meaningful and effective hearing. We were appalled when the judges pronounced the operative portion of the verdict, sentencing the Ansals to the period undergone and directed them to pay Rs 60 Crore to the Delhi Government for a Trauma Centre in lieu of a sentence.

Aggrieved by the judgment a review petition was filed by both CBI &AVUT since it suffered from serious errors which were apparent on the face of the record. The review petition was heard in an open court on 14th December 2016 and the judgment was pronounced on 9th February 2017. The court sentenced Gopal Ansal to one-year imprisonment; however, Sushil Ansal was allowed to walk free. His sentence of imprisonment was reduced to the period undergone.The court also held that there is no provision under the IPC for substitution of the sentence by fine. Hence Sushil & Gopal Ansal were sentenced to a fine of Rs 30 Crore each for a Trauma Centre.
With this judgment, the message was loud and clear that the law of the land is not the same for the rich and powerful. I realized that I had made a mistake of going to the courts to seek justice for my children. I should have rather shot those responsible for the death of my children. By now I would have finished serving the sentence as well. Such a judgment will only embolden the owners of public spaces to violate safety rules and compromise on safety, with no thought of endangering human lives.

(S): What according to you, would be been Justice?

(NK): Looking at the gravity of the offense the Ansals should have been convicted u/s 304 (II) IPC (Culpable homicide not amounting to murder). But since they were convicted u/s 304 (A) (Rash and Negligent Act) the Supreme Court should have given maximum sentence of 2 years to send a strong message to the society.

(S): Despite the system failing you, do you have hope that the evidence tampering case pending against the accused might bring about some redemption?

(NK): The conviction in the evidence tampering case will bring some redemption unless the same magnanimity is shown to Ansals as in the main Uphaar Case taking their age into consideration. After all, they are growing older and not younger anymore.

(S): Throughout the last 20 years you have faced some of the worst’s sides of litigation and judiciary in the capital. You have also faced a lot of trauma, harassment, and hardships from the Counsels of the accused. In the opinion of a citizen and a victim, do you belief that lawyers have any moral right to consider themselves to be a part of a “noble profession”.
(NK): The behavior and the attitude of the defence lawyers representing the Ansals has been a cause of great pain and agony for us. While we hold no malice towards them for representing the Ansals, and we also understand their professional commitment towards their clients, we cannot forgive them for the personal attacks they made against us repeatedly. 

Lawyers are expected to be the guardians of rule and law. They are the officers of the court and hence, cannot play its spoilers. It does not behoove members of the bar to glorify themselves over hapless victims and litigants who are constrained to visit the court on the dates of hearing, hoping for justice.

The entire legal fraternity cannot be painted with the same brush though. We have also come across some deeply committed lawyers who have shown immense conviction in the case and have stood by our side in this epic battle for justice.

(S): You, along with your husband, wrote a book “Trial By Fire” detailing your experiences during the trial. Did somewhere, the process of writing the book, lessen the pain and the burden?

(NK): The process of writing “ Trial By Fire” was challenging. We had to come out of our comfort zone to narrate the personal tragedy we had undergone. It neither lessened the pain nor the burden. 

(S): Beyond this case has AVUT gone beyond into policy making sphere to make sure such a horrible incident never happens again. Could you please tell us about that.

(NK): We at AVUT could not comprehend how man-made disasters could be treated merely as a rash and negligent act. Hence we made a representation to the government to bring about a new law to deal with man-made disasters. AVUT presented the petition for a proposed legislation to prevent man-made tragedies in public places to the then President, Pratibha Patil, the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi, and the then law minister, Veerappa Moily. In 2009, the law ministry forwarded our petition to the Law Commission, directing it to come out with a law to deal with such disasters on a priority basis. We had several meetings with the chairman of the Law Commission and gave him many inputs, illustrating how such cases were dealt with in other countries. In 2012, the Law Commission published a consultation paper dealing with man-made disasters, which we are sure is collecting dust in an obscure corner of the ministry.Maybe the Government will bring in a law when a VVIP’s kith & kin are victims of such a man-made disaster.
(S): Does AVUT have plans to file a curative petition against the discharge of one of the accused? And what action is AVUT planning to take to counter the mercy petition filed before the President for the other accused? 
(NK): Yes, AVUT would be filing the curative petition at the appropriate time. As regards mercy petition filed by Gopal Ansal, the same was forwarded by the MHA to Lt. Governor and the Delhi Government for their opinion. AVUT gave representation to both Lt Governor and the Chief Minister not to consider the mercy plea filed by Gopal Ansal since using discretionary powers to provide mercy for the rich and powerful is sure to send a wrong signal to other wrongdoers who will doubtless be emboldened by any mercy shown. Hence, we requested to reject the blatantly undeserving mercy plea filed by a convicted mass murderer.

The Lieutenant Governor and the Delhi Government have given their recommendation to reject the mercy petition.

[From Arguendo: We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Advocate Kinnori Ghosh for coordinating this interview and making the same possible.]

Interview with Team Periferry-Providers Of Equal Employment Opportunities To Transgenders

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PeriFerry is an equal opportunity job consultants for Trans person; that is PeriFerry provide alternative job solutions for them. Accessing the untapped talent pool, and bridging the gap between an inclusive employer and a deserving candidate is their forte. 

Sourya (S): How do you generally introduce yourself? Social activists? Entrepreneurs? Crusaders?
Neelam (N): “Social Entrepreneurs”
(S): What is the story behind the name PeriFerry?
(N): The name actually comes from the word “Periphery” which means the edge. We thought that was a word we could relate to the people who are living their lives on the edge – and how we could, as facilitators, probably act as a ferry and help them get to their desired destinations.
(S): How did this idea germinate?
(N): Doing something for the Trans* community has been on my mind for a long time, ever since college days. Mainly because I’d never really hesitated talking to them whether it was in Trains or beach or anywhere else and I really understood their stories. So during my stint at Goldman Sachs, I had to come up with an idea for an initiative which would have a social impact as part of an internal competition. I came up with the idea of an inclusive workplace focusing on the transgender community. My team in Bangalore and I happened to develop this project along with Solidarity Foundation. Eventually, I realized I was passionate about this cause and so quit my job to start working on this idea.

(S): Neelam, was your family open to the idea of your quitting your job at Goldman Sachs for this? 
(N): I am where I am only because of my family. My parents have taught me from a very young age to take my own decisions and also have, in the process, made me strong enough to face the brunt of bad decision making. That’s the only reason I could take such a big step and never regret it. I also have two older siblings, sister, and brother who are also particularly supportive of the things I do. 
(S): Do you think most workplaces can be considered safe and/or equipped for transgenders?
Nanditha (Na): It differs from one workplace to another, to be honest. Fortunately, quite a lot of companies seem to focus on diversity and inclusion these days, which means they are more welcoming towards the third gender. However, not a lot of them are equipped to have them in their offices, when it comes to having inclusive facilities. We are trying to meet these needs through our sensitization workshops.

(S): Have you ever faced trouble convincing potential employers to give transgender/transsexual citizens a fair chance of employment?  

(Na): Yes, most of them think of hiring Trans* community only as a societal initiative so dismiss us thinking we are trying to sell something out of sympathy. What they don’t realize is that they’re equally or more skilled and sometimes possess great education qualifications as well. They can help a team become much more diverse and also bring new perspective and viewpoints in a team. We have to make them look at the business objectives when they hire them.

(S): How does PeriFerry sensitize a workspace to make sure it is easier for the employee to fit in?

(Na): We take on a two-fold approach for this. One is to ensure the employee is given personalized training for him/her to fit in a corporate environment through skills development and training. The other is to sensitize the existing employees in a workplace to ensure they know how to be inclusive through their communication, the facilities they offer and the benefits they extend to the third gender.

(S): Does PeriFerry periodically follow up with both employees and employers? 

(Na): Yes, we have the policy to follow up consistently until the first six months of placement to make sure things are going smooth. Also, take feedback through the lifetime of the placement. 

(S): What would you consider to be the proudest/defining moment of PeriFerry yet?

(Na): Well, naturally when we made our first placement. Our candidate had struggled for a really long time in getting a job despite having good education qualification. She had gone door-to-door at different companies all rejecting her only because she was a trans-woman. And seeing someone as deserving as her get an opportunity through PeriFerry made it worth the effort. 

(S): Where do you see PeriFerry in a year? 

Team: We ourselves covering all the major cities in India, in terms of employment opportunities. Also, our objective is to see a less transphobic and homophobic society through our awareness programs. 

(S): Have companies been generally receptive to transgender/transsexual employees?

(Na): Definitely! In fact, the team was overwhelmed by the response we received from them after we launched. We had so many employers reaching out to us expressing interest in collaborating with us or even to just appreciate us for our initiative. It was indeed heartening.

(S): In case there is a potential employer reading this, could you briefly describe the process via which someone could employ a transgender through PeriFerry?

(Na): We would request them to fill out a form on our website We would then reach out to them, understand their requirements or profile they are hiring for and put them in touch with a client who would be suitable for the role. In the meantime, the team would conduct sensitization workshops in their company. If our client gets placed in that company, we would ensure we follow up with the employee and the employer as well till the client settles down in the workplace.

Through the Lens of a Lawyer – Interview with Rajdip Ray, Filmmaker & IPR Attorney

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Sourya: How do you generally introduce yourself to people who don’t know you? A lawyer, a filmmaker, or both?
Rajdip Ray: A factotum. I was working as an IPR lawyer till earlier this month. Currently, I’m assisting the director of a feature-length independent film. Next month, I’ll probably be doing something else.

Sourya: Was Kolkata, with its rich heritage of art and theater, where you first discovered your passion for filmmaking? Or did your love for movies come at a later stage of your life?
Rajdip Ray: My love for films developed considerably late. Maybe when I was in Class 11 or 12. I went to the cinemas and watched films on weekends, but that’s what pretty much every regular kid does. Sometime in high school, I watched The Pianist by Roman Polanski. For the first time I appreciated cinema for the beautiful medium that it is to tell a story; and not merely as a means of entertainment. DVDs were in fashion then. Especially, pirated ones which were cheap and came in 5-1 or 6-1 combos. That’s how I ended up watching Satyajit Ray, Hitchcock, Woody Allen. By then, I was hooked on to how a film could be used as a medium to tell a story.

Calcutta, of course, had a part to play. It’s a city with a soul. But it was more towards developing an intellectual and scientific temperament, and sense of culture overall, rather than film in particular.

Sourya: What influenced your decision to join a Law school?
Rajdip Ray: I studied humanities in school. Chemistry I believe is one of the worst things to have happened to mankind. Nuclear weapons and atom bombs would not have existed if no one pursued chemistry. I was a decently good at studies; but horrible at chemistry. So science was never an option.
And I did not want to be a commerce student.  So arts. And law was one of the more prominent career options. That was also the time I had started reading John Grisham and had read each and every single book he had published till then. And no one writes courtroom dramas like Grisham. Since I was a debater and liked talking, one thing culminated into another, and before I knew it, I was writing law school entrance exams.
I did try studying media immediately after college, but that turned out to be an utter waste of time and money.

Sourya: Were you involved in theater/filmmaking etc even during your Law school days?

Rajdip Ray: I started filming at the end of my first year in law school. I had bought a DSLR and wanted to put it to use. I had been writing stories for a while, so I attempted to write my next story as a script. And then I shot it, with a handful of people as part of the cast and crew. My first film, ‘What She Said’ was made on a budget of 600 bucks, which included a drink we had to buy at CCD since it was required for a shot.
It got selected by Shamiana- Asia’s biggest short film club and was screened in Mumbai, Pune, and Kolkata, along with some Oscar nominated shorts. The Mumbai screening was at Eros Cinema in Churchgate. And it was really thrilling. The Bombay people really loved it. Especially when they found out about the budget in a post-screening QnA. In Bombay, 600 bucks will buy you one drink at a bar. Two, if they have happy hours.
That was the first time I watched a film I had made on the big screen. It was the most exciting thing to happen to a nineteen-year-old. Growing up, making your film and watching it in a cinema hall always seemed like a dream which seemed a bit too far-fetched. Like driving a Formula 1 car. Or playing cricket for India with Dada and Sachin. Every kid dreamt of it. But very few thought they might actually they get to live it.
That prompted me to go ahead and make my second film – Keu Eshe Bolechilo / Images – which was my first film to compete at national film festivals, and won a couple of awards while it was doing the rounds.
And once the film bug bites, it keeps itching forever. So I kept filming till the end of law school whenever I got the time. I had to give up on some prestigious internships which would have made my legal resume shinier, in order to keep filming. And given the opportunity, I’d do it again.

Sourya: At any point during your law school years, did you ever consider dropping out of law and making movies?
Rajdip Ray: Every single day.

Sourya: Tell us about your experience as the Associate Director of The Other Way.
Rajdip Ray: In 2012, two of my close friends, both twenty-year-olds, decided to make a feature-length documentary film, an absolutely ludicrous idea at the time. And they chose “independent films and their making in India” as the subject for the doc. The three of us were also actively writing for, a counter-culture e-zine, where I handled the films beat. When I figured there was a chance for me to get involved, I jumped in. Because of budget constraints, the directors themselves couldn’t travel all over the country. So I helped out with some of the Calcutta and Bombay shoots. And it was a brilliant, brilliant experience for a young film enthusiast. Here I had filmmakers like Onir, Q, and Sandeep Mohan in front of the camera, people who I admired and idolized, with me behind the camera.
One particular incident stands out in my head. After shooting with Q till 3 am in the morning when we were wrapping up the shoot, Q pointed out that the sound recorder hadn’t been turned on. I was the one handling it. I had pressed the “Record” button, but it needed to be pressed twice in order to start recording. It was a rookie mistake, and I kept cursing myself thinking I had messed up the entire shoot. Thankfully, we had shot indoors at night with minimum ambient sound, so the camera sound was ultimately used. Since then, I keep checking multiple times whether both camera and sound are rolling before calling a shot.

Sourya: You also have your own production house known as Alt Ray Films, what would you say is it that you want to capture and show the world through the lens of your camera?
“Crash” which won at the Bangalore International Short
Film Festival

Rajdip Ray: Alt Ray Films is for my own directorial ventures, produced independently. So that’s four short films so far, and I want to venture into feature filmmaking soon. I think while telling a story, you need to touch a chord with your viewer. All the films I have loved have touched that chord within me- whether that’s Offside by Jafar Panahi, or Masaan by Neeraj Ghaywan. I’ve also tried making films on topics that bother me- lack of governmental attention to street children, increasing number of fatalities due to road rage. I hate being preachy. But if I can make people aware of realities through fiction, and make them think for 30 seconds after my film ends, I’d like to believe I’ve done decently.

Sourya: The success of which project/short film would you consider having been your proudest moment till date?
Rajdip Ray: As pretentious as it sounds, I have enjoyed being on shoots and the filming process, more than the end product being successful. All my shoots have been managed on a minuscule budget with a 2 member or 3 member crew at best, and it’s a huge task to get it right and realizing the original vision that you had in your head. So while it’s been tremendously challenging, it’s been a hell of a lot of fun, and extremely satisfying, every time I have ended up with a complete film!

Sourya: Has being from a Law school influenced the way you view the world through your lens and/or the way you tell your stories?
Rajdip Ray: Of course. One of my professors had once said “In every profession, you learn everything of something. In law, you learn something of everything.” And as a storyteller, you need to observe everything around you. The more you observe, and the more you know, the better your chances of presenting something truthfully and earnestly to the viewer.
Also, law school, and subsequently working at an IPR firm has given me a fair knowledge of copyrights, which is essential for any individual creating original content.

Sourya: How difficult is it, balancing a full-time job as a Trademark Attorney and chasing your passion of telling stories for people to see?  
Rajdip Ray: Very difficult. Both are full-time commitments and require your undivided attention. And it’s pointless to do either of them half-heartedly.

Sourya: There would be numerous people around us, who may be stuck in Law school despite having the passion for something else. Writers, actors, singers etc, stuck in classroom chasing good grades and a high paying job instead of chasing their dreams. Would you have any word of advice for such souls?

Rajdip Ray: I am terrible at any kind of advice. So instead I’ll leave you with a quote from a letter written by one of my favorite writers, Charles Bukowski.

“My dear,
Find what you love and let it kill you.
Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness.
Let it kill you and let it devour your remains.
For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.
~ Falsely yours”

For a Safer Future: Interview with Elsa Marie D’Silva, Founder & CEO of

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  ElsaMarie D’Silva is currently the Founder & CEO of Red Dot Foundation (Safecity) which is a platform that crowdsources personal experiences of sexual violence and abuse in public spaces. Since Safecity started in Dec 2012, it has become the largest crowd map on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal. Elsa is also currently a mentee of the US State Department’s Fortune Program and a fellow with Rotary Peace, Aspen New Voices and Vital Voices. She is listed as one of BBC Hindi’s 100 Women and has won Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Dusan Stojanovic (European Angel Investor of the Year 2013) and The Digital Woman Award in Social Impact by She The People.  She has penned articles that have appeared in CNN, Huffington Post, WIP amongst others. She has spoken about her work at the Aspen Ideas Festival and at TEDx MidAtlantic. Prior to Safecity, Elsa was in the aviation industry for 20 years where she worked with Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. Her last portfolio was Vice President Network Planning & Charters where she oversaw the planning and implementation of 500 daily flights.

     Arguendo is honored to be featuring her interview.

Sourya (S): Could you give us a glace as to how your college days were like?

Elsa (E): My college days were quite boring. I was the model student who attended all her lectures, therefore nothing extraordinary stands out because I was quite studious. I chose to graduate in English Literature because I loved reading and understanding cultures, contexts and perspectives.

S: Was the aviation sector always something which had fascinated you as a child?

E: Aviation allowed and facilitated travel which always fascinated me as a child. I wanted to visit different countries, meet different people, and experience different things including food, history, architecture, museums, and nature. I wanted to travel the world and my conduit was the aviation industry.

S: You were the Vice President Network Planning & Charters, for Kingfisher airlines. What were the different challenges you faced breaking so many glass ceilings and how did you overcome them?

E: As you are aware, I started my career as a flight attendant and thereafter was selected to become a Flight Safety Instructor teaching pilots and cabin crew safety and emergency procedures. I was then selected for a fast track program that resulted in a job at strategy. I worked in Revenue Management, Pricing and finally Network Planning. At the time, I didn’t think I was breaking any ceilings but just wanted to explore my own potential. I have always been open to opportunities believing that change is constant in life and one must meet it head on, taking on challenges with positivity. I upskilled myself along the way, constantly equipping myself with knowledge and skills needed to do my job effectively and efficiently. I am a quick learner, a team player and a great communicator which has helped me achieve my goals.

S: As the VP, did you ever face instances of mansplaining or instances where you were not taken seriously because of your gender, despite your obvious expertise in the matter?

E: Yes, of course, but at that time I didn’t know the meaning of mansplaining. I had to work harder than my male colleagues to prove myself, along with getting my work recognized. But I persevered and persisted and the rest is history. I like to collaborate and am willing to work with people to find common ground.

S: What led you to start the Red Dot Foundation?

E: In December 2012, a young woman named Jyoti Singh was gang raped on a bus in Delhi. That incident was horrific and brutal and opened up the conversations on sexual violence in India. At the time, I was looking to make a switch to the social sector and looking to find a cause that I believed in. Many things lined up including meeting my co-founders, finding collaborators and having the time to take Safecity forward, as Kingfisher had just shut down and I had time to experiment with the idea. I believe that the safety of women and girls is paramount and safe public spaces are essential to one finding one’s potential. 

Safecity Gender sanitization workshops.

S: What was your initial vision and objective behind Safecity?

E: The initial vision and objective were to provide an online platform to document sexual violence in public spaces. But this was further refined to help people understand what amounts to sexual violence, how it impacts our lives and the use of crowdsourced data to find individual and local solutions and drive institutional accountability.

S: Please explain for our readers as to how does Safecity work? Is the identity of the victims’ safe when they report?

E: Safecity is a platform that crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. This data which maybe anonymous gets aggregated as hot spots on a map indicating trends at a local level. The idea is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and local administration to identify factors that cause behaviour that lead to violence and work on strategies for solutions.
Safecity consists of several ways that women/girls can connect with each other on the issue.
We are creating a new data set which does not exist currently. Perception of the police’s insensitivity, as well as cultural backlash, deters people from reporting. They feel more comfortable using our platform and this is seen by reports from over 20 years ago.

By representing the information thus collected on a map as hotspots, we are moving the focus away from the “victim” to the location and people can view the issue through a different lens.Today we make choices for pretty much everything based on reviews – books, movies, restaurants, hotels, but we have nothing for personal safety. We are creating this database which can be used in several ways.

1.      Crowdmap – Sharing of stories anonymously, aggregation of trends, notifications and alerts and offering solidarity through the comments section allows people to understand the “safety” landscape of an area and make the most informed decision for themselves. e.g. They can decide on the time of visit, a method of transport to use, if they need to be accompanied by someone or even what clothes to wear.
2.      Social media – We have a robust social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. Discussions and advocacy through tweet chats are held regularly by our volunteers. We also have a Writers Movement where bloggers contribute their posts.
3.      Data from our site – We send regular dashboards and monthly trends to partner NGOs in India and abroad and the police in Delhi, Mumbai and Goa.
4.      Missed call for those with no internet access. They can give a missed call on +91 9015 510 510 and our team calls them back for their story.
S: What kind of support/help does Safecity provide to victims who come forward?

E: We work on general trends and patterns which we help communities/NGOs understand to drive solutions. For individual assistance, we direct them to other organizations who provide legal and/or counseling help.

S: When you started it in 2012, would you have believed that in less than three years Safecity would become the largest crowd map on the issue in India, Kenya, Cameroon and Nepal?

E: No, we didn’t, but it is not surprising given that sexual violence is a global pandemic. UN Women states that 1 in 3 women face some kind of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. But in our experience, the statistic in India seems to be extremely high. A rape occurs every 20 minutes in India.
Yet most women and girls do not talk about this abuse for a multiple of reasons – fear of society, culture, victim blaming, fear of police, tedious formal procedures etc. As a result, women keep silent and this data is not captured anywhere but the perpetrator gets bolder over time and we accept it as part of our daily routine. This leads to under communication and under-reporting of the issue. If there are poor official statistics, the problem is not visible and is not a true representation of the actual problem. Therefore we need to break our silence and document every instance of harassment and abuse in public spaces so that we can find the most effective solutions at the neighborhood level.
S: What has been your proudest moment with respect to Safecity?
Elsa with Secretary Clintor

E: We have several proud moments. Especially when we do workshops and campaigns, women and girls share how our work has helped them return to school, confidently access public spaces, confidently interact with male members in society and confidently stand up for themselves. We have several stories that can be found in the Safecity blog section. 
My personal moment of glory was when I recently received the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award in the presence of my hero, Secretary Hillary Clinton.

S: At times, do you still miss the skies and your old job in the Aviation Sector?

E: No, I don’t miss my previous job. I am on a plane often enough even in my current role. I do believe there is a time and place for everything and I had a great time in my previous career but my current one drives me at the moment. It is meaningful and satisfying.

S: What word of advice would you give to all those young women (and men) who are forced to curb their entrepreneurial spirit due to family pressure, society etc and are told that there are things that they cannot do because of their gender roles? 

E: My mantra is – Difficult is easy, Impossible just takes longer.

If you want to do something, work on it, plan for it, ask for help, be willing to learn and open to change and go for it. Sometimes, the journey is easy and often, it is not. Sometimes you take off very easily and often there are many barriers. But if your personal vision is clear, keep at it. 

Interview with Vandita Morarka: Policy & Legal Officer, Safecity & Founder PenPal Inc.

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Q) The most obvious question first, did you choose law or did it choose you?

I can truly say Law chose me. I have single-mindedly wanted to pursue Law in one of its varied forms as a career option from as far back as I can remember.

Q) You have been involved with numerous initiatives and organizations throughout your law school life. How do you balance the already hectic law school life with your other activities?

I find that being involved with other organizations and initiatives helps me streamline and focus better when it comes to Law school. In terms of balancing, on most days it’s touch and go. But I think its manageable if it’s truly what you want to be doing

Vandita (Center) with participants of a Gender Workshop in Ryan,

 since if you’re dragging yourself without enjoying the learning process – you often find ways to create imbalance yourself. I am also pursuing an MA (Hons.) in Public policy, so the additional work here stimulates my interest and keeps Law school from being monotonous. Since a lot of my work is related to law or policy work, work itself becomes a constant learning process for me. In fact, other activities have helped my understanding of Law more deeply than the LL.B. course or Law school itself may have.

Q) Tell us about your experience with EXAP.

The EXcellence in Arts Program (EXAP) at Sophia College for Women has been an unforgettable experience. It’s an immersive, selective program that one undertakes alongside their regular BA course. For me, it opened up a world of knowledge that I had had no idea about. EXAP is brilliant also for the mentoring it provides you, in close contact with senior professors and academicians while giving you the freedom to develop your own thinking process. Beyond research, we were taught diligence, integrity and a social consciousness oft missing from our regular formal education structures.  I’m sure I speak for my EXAP cohort when I say that we take ahead all that we learnt in EXAP each day and it continues to reflect strongly in our work and personal life.

Q) You were part of a team which conducted a research study of the Third Gender community in Mumbai. How was your experience and what motivated you to take up that specific cause?

We had to decide on selecting a research topic soon after the NALSA judgment. What worked as the deciding factor for us was how much silence these issues were shrouded in. We wanted to bring them to the forefront and engage people and communities while at it. This motivated us to understand on-ground perceptions, histories and gaps in awareness and acceptance of Third gender persons to help better implementation of the law in India.
My experience was interesting, as it exposed several in built prejudices and biases within me and taught me to re-examine my approach towards development work completely. My favorite part of our research was the case studies of Third gender persons. I think that brought forth the human factor behind the need to address issues that Third gender persons face and that is often lost behind fancy research terminology. This has also stayed with me and has motivated me to create awareness on Third gender issues and continue research on similar issues: most recently having completed a research paper on “Inclusive Education for Third gender persons in higher secondary and college education”. The research study has been an unmatched learning experience.

Q) What awareness and changes do you think  are necessary in India to properly integrate the Third Gender as an integral part of the society?

I am still learning the struggles and challenges that everyday life brings to Third gender persons.I do realize that while societal perceptions must change and evolve to accept gender as a spectrum and not a binary, we must work alongside to develop institutional structures that protect and promote the interests of those that lie outside the gender binary. Key focus areas, in my opinion, must be addressing educational gaps, creating employment opportunities, providing healthcare access and devising strategies to address gaps in societal status. I am of the belief that the best answer to this question can be given by Indian Third gender persons themselves. It would aid policy immensely if more emphasis was given on giving voice to a larger number of third gender persons when creating solutions designed to benefit them.

Q) Please tell us something about PenPal Inc. How did you come about with that idea?

PenPal Inc. was an idea born out of a 2 am conversation between myself and a friend from Pakistan. Our friendship had shown to each of us a different side of the other’s country (India & Pakistan). This is when I thought it would be fun to give other people a chance to explore something similar. We aimed to use conversation and civilian dialogue between people to bridge gaps between nations and that’s how this idea came about!
Q) You have been associated with Safecity as a Youth Outreach Coordinator and a Policy and Legal Officer. What is Safecity about and what drew you towards them?
Safecity aims to make cities safer by encouraging equal access to public spaces for everyone especially women, through the use of crowdsourced data, community engagement and institutional accountability.
I had worked with Safecity when I was heading Students for Social Reform Initiative at Sophia College. I loved how they were seamlessly integrating technology and new age ideas to tackle the everyday issue of sexual harassment in public spaces. Apart from that, it seemed like and has been a great place to learn, for self growth and some brilliant mentoring.

Q) Please share some of your experience of working with Safecity?

In the year that I worked as the Youth Outreach Coordinator, I had a large number of volunteers and interns reach out to me post our workshops, activities or even on a personal level to tell me how much Safecity’s work had touched their lives. I have had young individuals share stories of battling their own issues of sexual harassment and finding in Safecity a safe place to talk about the same. These stories have given me hope of building a better and safer future. It was through that work, that my current work profile has emerged, as a Policy & Legal Officer. I have worked on projects that aim at more institutional and policy level corrections in our systems that aid this harassment. My experiences of working with Safecity have shown me how the work of a few people can touch so many lives. Professionally it has helped me learn immensely and apply skills I have gained through my education through practical real life experiences. In all, it’s been fabulous!
Vandita (3rd from the right) during SafeCity’s 16 Days of Activism

Q) If you had to remember one moment, which can be categorized as a defining moment of your life, which one experience would you remember?

I think this was back in 2013, while I had been inclined towards development work – this incident somehow always comes to my mind when I think of the ‘why’ of my work today. This was when I was with Students for Social Reform Initiative. We used to conduct football training for the young children of the Agripada slum area in a tie up with OSCAR Foundation on weekends. Post one of our events I remember buying a bottle of water to drink and the children all gathered around me excitedly to have some of this water. They were so excited to be drinking water! In all of my life, I have never felt the privilege I was born into more acutely. This moment taught me why we must all in our lives strive to create systems and institutes that foster more equality. I never want for even one child to be excited  at the prospect of bottled drinking water while I know so many who would use that same water carelessly . This experience defines for me the need for a more just and equitable world and pretty much set the course of my life thereafter.

Q) Where do you see yourself in your future after graduation?  

That is by far the most difficult question. Though I do have an idea of what I want to be doing in 10, or maybe 15 years down the line. I want to work in the development sector and I’m using these years before graduation to feel out various sectors that interest me: rural empowerment, gender justice and youth capacity building have emerged as key areas of interest. I hope to be working in empowering these sectors through varied avenues of work, be it law or policy. At some point I hope to teach law, policy and gender to young students (like myself currently!) while working on personal initiatives to take gender equality training and awareness and the need for inclusive policymaking to classrooms across the country. 

Sporting the Law: Conversation with Tejaswini Ranjan, Founder of Plawyered

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Plawyered March Edition Cover

Sourya Banerjee catches up with the immensely talented Tejaswini Ranjan.

Tejaswini, a fourth year CNLU student, is the Founder and CEO of Plawyered, India’s only student run Sports Law magazine.

Tejaswini is also the Vice President (Events) at The Network for International Law Students, the Co-Founder of Click Internship and Founder of Pragamana (Journal of Rural Development Issues) 

Sourya Banerjee (S): Was Law something you had wanted to do ever since your school days?

Tejaswini Ranjan (T): When I was in school, I wanted to pursue journalism. But hailing from a Bihari household, dwelling in a small town and studying PCM in the intermediate, meant all I could become, was an engineer. I didn’t write engineering entrance exams, and instead luckily passed law and journalism entrances. I could somehow convince my parents for law, but not for journalism. And, that’s how I landed in law. 
(S): How important are co-circular activities according to you? 

(T): I have spent most of the fourteen years of my school life and four years of my college life in taking part in co-curricular activities. I have made contacts, minted money and learnt numerous things which I could have never learnt in the classroom.
(S): When did you first discover the entrepreneurial bug in yourself?
(T): Back in 2013, when I co-founded Click Internship with my classmates and started working with the Knowledge Steez. Then in 2014, I started a journal on rural development issues named Pragamana. We had once conducted a national essay writing competition and had also launched a free course via Pragamana.  And then randomly one day in a hot shower, I came up with the idea of Plawyered. The bug is still bugging.

(S): Was a life changing/defining moment for you, while studying in law school, which made you who you are today?

(T): When I had joined law school, some of my seniors were planning to come up with a magazine and to select writers for the same; they conducted a test in which I was also selected along with a few of my batch mates.  After the selection, I received horrible remarks for all my articles; I left the group and that was one very depressing phase for me. I had almost given up the idea of ever doing anything of that sort, but the journalism bug bugged back and here I am.

(S): Please tell us more about Plawyered. 

(T): Plawyered is a sports law blog. We now have a monthly magazine also which we started on Valentine’s Day this year. In the magazine, we have been publishing articles on topics relating to Sports law, sports industry and sports management. The content of the magazine also includes updates from CAS, WADA, Olympics, Case studies, and special coverage on any international tournament which is taking place, upcoming month’s fixtures, and monthly round up from the blog.
(S): Why Sports Law? 

(T): In 2015, I had resigned from my positions in the legal portals I was working with back then. I
wanted to do something innovative and came up with different ideas. But, starting a sports law blog was never a plan. It was one day when I was writing an article on a sports law issue and thought of starting a sports law blog as I couldn’t find anything of that sort. The other reason being sports is something I can never get bored of. As of now, I am planning to pursue higher education in sports law and management.

(S): What would you consider as your single proudest moment with respect to Plawyered till date?

(T): Coming up with India’s first sports law magazine is the proudest moment for me and this wouldn’t have been possible without Gaurav Misra who is the Publishing Editor of the magazine. I had planned to start the magazine six months back, employed authors but then, the plan failed. For this, I owe a lot to Gaurav. We received a lot of appreciation for the magazine and a lot of credit goes to him.

(S): What are your future plans with Plawyered?

(T): Plawyered started with a blog and now we have a magazine also. We have also started covering sports fests. I intend to convert Plawyered into a sports management company and if possible, also a research portal for sports law.

(S): How important is it to properly balance between studies and your passion? How do you manage to do the same?

(T): To be honest, my studies have suffered a lot because of my engagement in other activities. I consider this bad but I absolutely have no regrets for the same. I have somehow managed to pass all my law schools till date and now since I am no more working at other portals, I am able to devote comparatively more time to studies. But, most importantly, I make sure not missing cricket matches, and when in season Pro Kabbadi, ISL , Tennis matches and yes, Arsenal’s matches, in any case. Other things can wait, you know!
(S): Some words for those law students who want to chase their passions but are too scared to task?

(T): Your mates will make fun of you, your relatives will mock at you, parents will tell you how you are wasting your time and their money, buy you a book for judicial exam preparations and depict all the luxuries of a 9 to 5 job; but don’t stop! Chase your dreams, because ‘ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA’.

In The Service Of All: Interview of Keshav Datta, Co-Founder of Sarvahitey

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Volunteers celebrating with local children from the slums of Delhi. 

Sourya Banerjee catches up with the Co-Founder of Sarvahitey, Keshav Datta, alumni of Amity Law School, Delhi.

Sarvahitey is a NGO which works in the NCR region, which not only educates, trains and helps children living in the slums of New Delhi but has also organized numerous cloth donation drives and relief donation drives, specifically during Nepal Earthquakes.

Sourya (S): How did the idea of Sarvahitey come to you? 

Keshav (K): I think it can be safely said that it is not an outcome of a sudden proverbial epiphany. When we look back, the conception of Sarvahitey seems like the most obvious and natural thing for us. Sarvahitey was formed initially by 6 members: Smriti Mehrotra, Sanskriti Srivastava, Prem Prakash, Bharat Datta, Ankit Malhotra, and me i.e. Keshav Datta. All of us had been associated, and still were, with various socially inclined organizations. All of us were involved with other NGO’s, non organized social initiatives, social action groups, and so forth. But Social Service had not yet become a regular part of our daily lives, and that essentiality was missing. But a constant yearn to do more, disappointment with the state of affairs vis a vis the existing organisations, and a lack of opportunities to contribute towards the society prompted us to create such an organization ourselves, which can allow everyone and anyone to contribute to the society, each in his/her own way.

(S): What were the initial hurdles that you faced?

(K): As per us, we have been rather fortunate in our endeavors. No initiative of ours has ever failed, and we’ve never under achieved our targets. In fact, the hard work of volunteers, generosity of donors, and our pure sincerity has brought us an  unexpected and overwhelming growth. For example, we never expected to be able to send relief material for about 5000 people hit by Nepal Earthquakes; we had never expected to be able to teach about 180 underprivileged kids regularly, and that too without an overflow of funds. Perhaps the only hurdle is to attract someone towards Sarvahitey such that he/she comes to one of our drives for the first time. Because once a person joins us in any of our drives, he/she is bound to return and enjoy the nectar of social service, which is actually a great service to Self.

(S): How many volunteers does Sarvahitey had till now?

(K): There are more than 100 volunteers, out of which about 40 remain regular and active.

(S): How do you manage your law school/legal profession, and your social service work?

(K): I think it’s all about passion and interest. Sarvahitey is our passion; in fact, it is a necessary part of our lives now. We can’t imagine our life without it. Now, once a person has so much enthusiasm for a project or initiative, excuses such as lack of time or energy fade away.
However, the modus operandi of Sarvahitey is such, that even the busiest of persons can take part in the initiatives. Keeping in mind the engaging student and work life, we have customized the model of Sarvahitey, such that we plan the projects and drives during the weekdays, and execute them on weekends, which are off-days. The members communicate on WhatsApp, Facebook, etc., during weekdays, and execute the field projects during weekends. It’s simple and effective.
(S): Do you feel that the civil society as a whole has failed in its duties to help the economically marginalized? 
(K): It will not only be arrogant, but may also be incorrect on our part to state such. The civil society is so vast, so diverse, and so much bigger than our circle of knowledge, that it is not upon us to state that they have failed. 

Creative fondant workshop held at an Orphanage

However, it can be at least said that there is a juggernaut scope for the members of civil society to rise up, and do something for the society. With the rise of social media, we have also seen the rise of mass scale opinions of various sectors of civic society; it will be great to see a similar rise of a class of people, who actually take up actions and do something for the society.

(S): What is your biggest source of inspiration which keeps you going through all difficult times?
Christmas celebrations with children living in slums
(K): The biggest sources of inspiration for us are the smiles, the love, and the warmth, which we receive from the people. Whether it be celebrating Christmas in a Slum, whether it be dancing with underprivileged kids, or whether it be singing with kids from an Orphanage, each such moment of reception of a smile or a hug, is a great booster.
Apart from that, Lord often arranges for us to meet such people who keeping their heads low, contribute infinite more times to the society. Each person, who has something to teach us, is an inspiration.

(S): Where do you see Sarvahitey in 5 years?
(K): Sarvahitey, as the name suggests, is for the ‘Hittah‘ of All, i.e. for the welfare of All. 5 years down the line, we would deem ourselves successful if Sarvahitey acts as an agency of change in the society. Sarvahitey would aim at benefiting maximum number of people. 

Winter Blanket Donations Drive

From the point of view of our educational drives, we would want to be able to render regular tuition classes to about 500 students, and provide them with good quality education. In near future, we will also take up Organ Donations Drives, where we would be spreading awareness about Organ Donations in India, and encouraging people to pledge their organs. 5 years down the line, we would aim at reducing the gap between supply and demand of organs to be donated, in India, which would ultimately save many lives.

(S): What has been your proudest moment regarding Sarvahitey? 
(K): Within one year, Sarvahitey has been published twice in newspapers circulated pan-India. However, we do not measure our success by such accomplishments. We measure our success by the outcome of our projects, i.e. our impact on Society. To that effect, it is very difficult to pin point one moment. 

Volunteers teaching slum kids

However, one particular incident comes to mind: We teach at a Arya Samaj Gurukul. When we began our project there, we had observed that the kids there did not have enough confidence in themselves, and their future. We took it upon our self to enhance their exposure, teach them modern sciences, and resolve their queries. It was a proud moment for us, when after a year of teaching, we could gauge the changing mindsets of students there, their ambitions widening, and yearning learn expanding. It was an ecstatic moment for us, when one particular student of ours, who had squared in his future as being a ‘Pandit‘, now wanted to become the Prime Minister of India. To allow him to expand his horizons was our achievement and proud moment.

(S): How can others like you help you, or collaborate with you? 
(K): It’s very simple: Call/WhatsApp/Message me. Simply contact me, and I shall resolve all the queries, explain our method of operation, and answer any question. We have various ad hoc and regular projects, and it is upon the volunteer to pledge any way he/she wishes to contribute.
Contact details:
Number- 09871919591

EDITORS NOTE: Sarvahitey has been doing an amazing job in NCR for the last couple of years. But it is very very difficult for them to continue working without proper financial support. We urge all our readers to share this post extensively so that some kindhearted people may find out about Sarvahitey and come forward to financially help and support them in their endeavors. Thank you. 

Raising Standards: Interview with Keshav Gupta, Co-Founder of The Dais.

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For the Sake of Argument catches up with Keshav Gupta, Alumni of Campus Law Centre, Delhi University, Hans Raj College, Delhi University and Co-Founder of The Dais

Sourya (S): Tell us something about your early college life?

Keshav (K): Well, I’d like to answer this in two parts, since I have attended two colleges. I went to Hans Raj College, University of Delhi to study Economics and later to Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, also at University of Delhi. Before my college had started, I was in touch with a few school seniors who involved me in co-curricular activities and introduced me to Model UN at college level. I spent a lot of time traveling and attending these conferences, in retrospect, that laid a foundation to the amount of work and travel I am not involved in.

At law school, I was quite clear that I had done ample amount of debating and needed a real court room experience and therefore actively stayed away from the more enticing mooting activities. I had started with internships at the court right from the second month at law school, while carrying forward my participation in Model UN in various roles. 

(S): Why choose law?

(K): I always wanted to be a lawyer. Law is the instrument of change in the society. If I were to reiterate the aforementioned statements, they may sound great but they are not true. 

I wanted to be a civil servant when I was in tenth grade and took up humanities, but I was bogged down by the ‘prevalent corruption in the system and the interference by politicians’. It was then I decided to go to law school. I attended a bunch of orientations at LST, one of whom sold the idea of law school, quite well to a sixteen year old school kid (Let’s admit we are quite stupid at that age). During the next few years, I had developed several career interests ranging from a historian, to a scholar in theology, to studying art in Italy. I think I also wanted to preside over the World Bank one day. But at a more realisitic level, I was clear I had to go to law school. I got a really bad five hundred-ish rank at CLAT in 2008 and a decent board result. I decided to join University of Delhi at Hans Raj College to study Economics Hons. SRK went there, what could go wrong. However I was always clear that I had to go to law school one way or the other and was mentally prepared to invest another extra year or however many it took to join law school. It is funny that my law school results just came in yesterday and I am officially done with LL.B., it has been an almost decade long dream which has finally concluded. 

(S): For how long have you been attending Model United Nations?

(K): As mentioned earlier, I had attended my first Model UN Conference in August 2008. I knew about the concept from two year prior as my school, DPS RK Puram used to host the prestigious DPSMUN at IHC in Delhi, but was never took part in the same. I just counted those years on my finger and the same indicates, this as the eighth year of my association with Model UN. Having said that I could be wrong, after all we need a case law to substantiate everything in our fraternity.

(S): What is, “The Dais”?

(K): The Dais is an education management organization which facilitates learning in educational institutions through soft skill building workshops in Public Speaking, Model UN, Youth Parliament, English Theatre, Leadership and Law themed activities. But then you can find all this on google and the mentioning this here would be rather moot. (If you get the joke). 

Education system in our country is fairly complex. The idea of education as I see it is to bridge the knowledge deficit between the haves and the have-nots. Somehow the system does the exact opposite. We create a debating society, which only accepts great debaters. We create a moot society, which only sends stunning speakers. This creates a gap between excellent debaters on one hand and hesitant speakers on the other. The Dais is an endeavor to bridge this gap. We provide workshops, wherein we take in all the people who are willing to improve themselves and then work with them. We also have a social outreach program where we do the same things without charges to help the sections which can’t afford such workshops. I am in Bhagalpur, Bihar writing to you, as my team is conducting the sessions here with kids at a local school here. The kind of services we offer etcetera is just semantics and can evolve in time.

(S): How did this idea come about?

(K): I have been training at schools and colleges for a long time now, maybe five years. In this capitalist era, there are two parallel tendencies at work. If you charge for something you have a greater incentive for accountability and quality and if someone is paying you, they value the learnings a lot more. So, charging a fee is a part of the system. (and additional pocket money never hurts, does it). However over a period in time I realised that the process became a lot more commercialized at a widespread level. The focus on quality and comfort of whether the child is understanding what we are offering them was completely being shifted to what is the paper quality of the placard at an MUN Conference, which is so absurd, if you think of the larger purpose of co-curricular activities. We decided to formally initiate an organization where the learnings are child oriented. Not everyone can quote a UN Charter in an MUN Conference and it would be like the Chinese train their kids from their early age for Olympics, disregarding the comfort level of kids. Our idea is to work with students and understand where co-curricular fits into their life and treat it as a tool of learning rather than the very end, as misunderstood by many people. It is called ‘co’-curricular for a reason. 

(S): Was it difficult during the initial days of starting up?

(K): Not really, it was fairly simple actually. The tougher parts included deciding our name, what we wanted to do and how to go about it. Dikshant Malik is a dear friend and fellow co-founder, one of the most jovial individuals you will come across. We had started discussing the idea in November and met in between my fifth semester exams to finalise that we were doing this full time. That’s when we started brainstorming about the name, logo, scope etc. That seemed like the most difficult thing back then. Setting up our office in May, however turned out to be extremely challenging. I am not the most physically imposing person you will meet. Imagine lifting all the furniture, refrigerator and other heavy items to second floor, that was a lot more taxing than anything else. Here our team including Ravish, Shaurya, Aditya, Devesh, Yashasvini, Ankur, Kartikeya (who came from Ajmer) and Himavat (who came from Indore) did a fantastic job along with immense support extended to us by our parents. It is their confidence in us and relentless support that has kept us idiots going so far. Our team is our biggest strength, each and every person in our team is so vital and loved. Each day, however challenging for us is so much fun just because of the brilliant family of The Dais.

(S): Tell us some of the milestones The Dais has achieved till now?

(K): I can tell you about how we have progressed in the last six months. We have worked with many prestigious institutions across Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana while collaborating on projects in Hyderabad, with teams working in Maharashtra, Gujarat and West Bengal.

Keshav at Mount Assisi School Conducting
MUN Workshop

I can tell you about the policy work we are doing with the Government of Delhi and through statistics at you to show our work but our biggest milestones have been to incorporate from the beginning and after much brainstorming, Youth Parliament, Public Speaking, English Theatre, Legal Affairs, Leadership and Public Policy, Youth Activism Departments in our organization. We are not very far from formally incorporating Quizzing also in our work. I can talk about our potential partnerships in Pakistan, Nepal, Italy among other places. Our milestones include induction of each and every stunning individuals who works with us today. Our milestone include each day when the trust and faith of our team in each other grows. More details regarding our already concluded projects can be seen at our website or social media. 

(S): What plans next? Would Dais hold its own MUN/Conference someday?

(K): There are many projects in the pipeline. I am travelling to Norway in the mid August and further to Nepal from September to November to understand community development, peace advocacy. We may incorporate that in the coming time. We are already working hard on evolving the kind of work we are already doing in the respective fields. The Dais believes in growing organically based on ideas and we move towards whatever excites us within our organization’s vision and scope. Will Dais hold its own MUN/Conferences someday? We do plan to host policy workshops, leadership summits to facilitate learnings but not sure about Model UN. We are open to the idea of it, give the right time and willing individuals to take the responsibility. We however support MUN Conferences, Debates in any way we can as knowledge partners, sometimes sponsors but we remain a skill building organization. 
(S): Do you think the introduction of so many new Model United Nations each year, is actually harming the quality of MUNners in India?
(K): This is fairly interesting and complex question. While nobody can claim a monopoly or qualitative superiority in understanding of the Model UN system, there are certain quality standards one needs to adhere to. Our organisation’s goal is to facilitate the bridging of the knowledge deficit, as I had previously mentioned and we would like to promote institutions to host conferences but with proper guidance. It doesn’t have to come from us only. Many organisations, individuals have emerged today, who are willing to help out. One problem I have noticed is that certain individuals who are driven to organize or start new conferences also suffer from some insecurity when it comes to taking credit for ‘founding’ the conference and ‘autonomy’ of functioning. This needs to be left at home and the greater good of the conference and the host institution in the long run must be kept in mind, and help should be sought from anyone who is known for quality work.

(S): Is Dais planning to branch out to other zones soon?

(K): The Dais has plans to work in each and every part of the country. As you may have realised that we love and value each and everyone who is associated with us, we tread slowly and carefully in uncharted territories and only once we have trusted individuals, do we move forward. We are scouting for talented, passionate individuals who would love to work with us and who are not merely driven by the monetary aspects but the vision of our organization. We emphasize on the importance of pro bono work and put it as an essential requirement for working with us as well. However watch our page, we are making a few announcements which will answer this question. 

(S): Any word of advice to budding MUNners? 

(K): Start believing that change is possible. Look beyond the three days of MUN and look at the real change you can facilitate with the networks you build in MUNs and the skills you acquire in the process. I met Dikshant Malik, fellow co-founder, Ravish Rana, our National Outreach Coordinator, Aditya and Alpna ma’am, our Leadership Coordinators, Krish, Head of Theatre, during Model UN Conferences. I met Shaurya Upadhyay, Head of Public Speaking Team at Model UN Trainings at a school, where he was conducting Debating Sessions. At a personal level, I have met an individual at an MUN who completely changed my life during our association and even today I transform each day with each person I meet. 

We often attend Model UN Conferences, Debates, Moots with our focus on awards, being stuck up on the UN Charter and Point of Order and feel like the most intellectually superior because we have done a hundred MUNs and won a lot of them, but what we forget is that the real world is outside the conference venue and Model UN is only a training ground where you must excel in order to make a real difference in your life and that of others. A best delegate award has never won anyone anything besides an ego boost and some money. The focus needs to shift away from how well versed we are on the UN Charter and International Law and why something is outside the mandate of the committee. The focus must be on how to gather consensus, how to solve the problem and if possible, how to take the solution forward at our own level. Real life begins outside the conference and it is your performance there, that matters not the MUN.

Building A Foundation: Interview with Aditya Singh, Chairman of Alexis Group

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For the Sake of Argument catches up with Mr. Aditya Singh, Founder, Chairman & Managing Director of The Alexis Group. 

Sourya (S): You studied B.Com (Hons.) from University of Delhi. Tell us sometime about life at DU?

Aditya (A): My undergraduate academic experience at University of Delhi was very enriching and I have enjoyed every part of it. Itenabled me to become an independent person, interact with diverse set of people, understand multiple perspectives, think out of box and widen my horizon.
I was primarily exposed to various types of Accounting – financial, corporate and cost & management, Economics – micro & macro, Statistics and Law. I also chose to study electives such as Political Science, Ethics & Values, Information Technology, Business Communication, Auditing and Marketing which have equipped me both personally and professionally to create value for the society.
My most preferred subject was Law. Law is a subject where you can develop a range of skills and explore many aspects of human life. I studied four papers related to law during my undergraduate studies – Business Law, Corporate Law, Income Tax Law & Practice and Auditing. It helped me to understand the basics of contract and also the complexities of company management. Studying Law as an undergraduate student gave me the chance to strengthen my understanding, deepen my experience and develop my critical thinking.
Alongside with studies, I have also been involved with the National Service Scheme throughout the three years in college. During these years, I held several leadership and advisory committee positions. I was instrumental in organizing Blood Donations camps, Cleanliness Campaign, Each One, Teach One Campaign, CWG Games 2010 Volunteer Induction Campaign, Career Counseling and Personality Development programs. The main challenge I faced during this time was investing people in the idea of social service as mostly students wanted focused only on their studies.
However, I overcame this challenge through one on one conversations and motivating fellow students by introducing incentives and recognition system. The system worked and college NSS unit enrolled 60% students of the college thereby creating significant impact on projects we undertook and communities we engaged with. This was an immense fulfilling and great learning experience for me.

(S): You followed that up with MSc in International Management from University of Strathclyde. Was Management something you had always been interested in from childhood, or did it just come along the way?

(A): My postgraduate learning experience was more about reflective learning, learning from peers and putting critical thinking into action in different projects I took up. Studying with peers from 25 nationalities was indeed a great learning experience. International Management also taught me a lot about, people, culture, leadership and diversity apart from different functional areas of management such as Finance, Marketing, Human Resource Management, Entrepreneurship, and Strategy with the International component in all of them.
Both my parents are Professors and I grew up in IIM Lucknow Campus, so Management was something very natural I got attracted to. Though I have vast  and varied interests in Art and Culture, Architecture, Cinema History, Music and Philosophy.

(S): Tell us something about the Alexis Foundation.

(A): Alexis Foundation is currently India’s leading and most diversified youth-led think tank. It conducts research and provides consultancy in areas such as economics, information technology, law, management, public policy and strategy.From March 2015 onwards, we have started accepting foreign interns as well. Our aim is to expand globally in next 2 years and become one of world’s leading youth led think tanks. With the team I have currently, I can say with confidence that we are on the right track.

Q) Did some particular incident motivate you to start the Alexis Foundation?

(A): My team at Alexis Society was very much focused on ground level work and events. Furthermore, I thought that it would be right to separate the do-tank and think-tank so that they can have separate organization level strategy in terms of key decisions. In the hindsight, I think I took the right decision because both the organizations have different focus areas, approach towards work, leadership team and strategic direction now. It has provided growth and expansion opportunities to both organizations and individuals associated with them.

(S): You are a Hesselbein Fellow. Kindly share some of your experiences regarding the same.

(A): Every year, Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement at University of Pittsburgh, USA selects 50 top student leaders from across the world and mentors them to be effective, ethical, and innovative leaders at the Summit. I was selected as a Hesselbein Fellow in 2013. At the annual summit, I met student leaders from more than 25 States from USA and 15 Countries around the world. This experience has helped me understand the concepts of leadership, entrepreneurship and diversity practically.

(S): What was your proudest moment regarding Alexis Group till date?

(A): It has been a long and adventurous journey of 6 years till now, therefore, very difficult to choose one moment. During this journey, I have witnessed transformational changes in lives of some people, few people have achieved remarkable feats academically, and few people have developed themselves as leaders. All these moments fill me with pride and remind me to work harder.

(S): Being a dynamic student leader, mentor and entrepreneur, do you aspire to enter into politics as such to serve the society better?

(A): Yes, I am very much keen to join active politics at the appropriate time. For me, Politics is an instrument to bring about socio-economic change and inclusive development.

(S): What do you think about the current class of politicians and politics in India?

(A): Currently, the situation is not ideal. However, I can see some positive changes emerging in our political system. Having said that, we still have personality driven politics rather than ideology/policy driven and this needs to change. Media, Youth and Civil Society are willing to be part of the Policy formulation process and Government must try to encourage their participation. In this regard, I would like to commend the efforts of honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi ji.

(S): Any word of advice for potential future leaders reading this?

(A): If you wish to be in public life, always uphold a very high moral character, be humble, never sacrifice with your principles, and always be honest with yourself. Different people may perceive you differently based on their life experiences. You may or may not have a good reputation or image at a particular period of time, but these things are temporary. Your character is permanent, once that is lost, everything is lost. You may still become successful, but you will never attain satisfaction and self-respect that way.