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Kirthi Jayakumar

Date of Interview: 
2014-10-15
Title: 
Lawyer, specialized in Public International Law and Human Rights and founder of the Red Elephant Foundation for women's rights

    Kirthi Jayakumar- a lawyer, a researcher, a journalist, an activist, UN Volunteer and a writer. We definitely want to know something more about you. Can you tell us some more details about you?

Well... you make me sound a whole lot better than I actually am! To tell you about me as I see myself – I’d say that I am a nomad at heart – I enjoy doing different things, learning a lot of new things, experiencing new cultures and travelling the world, and reading like there is no tomorrow. I have adopted Joan of Arc’s iconic line as my motto in life – “I am not afraid, I was born to do this.” And try to abide by it by getting over my own fears, ignorance and challenges.

After studying law, how did you become involved in the work for a social change? What inspired you to continue doing the same?

To be honest, law was always a means to an end – I liked the idea of a career in the UN, and of a lifelong involvement in the humanitarian field in any capacity, and law seemed like a means to do that. However, much to my chagrin, my idealistic ways met with a bit of aggressive rigidity from the legal world when I saw how there were one too many people waiting for justice, some dying without seeing it too. I realised that justice is giving one his due – and that advocacy can help bring that about. This got me into the social change side – I suppose being a lawyer in a way is all about being a “social engineer” (I don’t know the origin of this phrase, but I do remember reading about it at Law school!), and I think that part of it still continues in me.

 Can you name the key social activism issue for you over these years, the one claiming much of your energy?

Ah, none of them claim my energy ! I actually get energised by my involvement in them J Be that as it may, I’d say that much of my interest and inclinations lie in gender issues – and their manifestations in the form of gender-based violence, child marriage, advocacy against patriarchy, the impact of conflict on gender and the developmental angle of gender.

 How did you begin your activity on this issue? What are some of the challenges you face?

It began when I was involved with my assignments as a UN volunteer. I did a lot of research on gender issues and got a glimpse into the kind of challenges that subsist in handling such issues. I don’t believe that challenges are constant in a field like this – of course, the main deal that one works against in such contexts is the big challenge that we aim to overcome, but there are different dynamics that come and go, which you invariably find ways to overcome. One example of this is resistance. A lot of people are quick to judge such work as being antagonistic to attitudes and viewpoints they have held onto for long. Resistance is a bit of a spoke in the wheel when you are trying to effect social change, but that’s what we’re trying to thaw at through constant dialogue.

What does Red Elephant Foundation wish to establish through its vision of peace?

The fact that peace begins, stays and manifests itself with each of us. At the macro level, people are quick to think that wars happen because of prevailing undercurrents across borders and between governments. But they don’t realise that the solution lies in the hands of the civilians themselves: open dialogue, tolerance, respect, trust and empathy can work wonders in bringing people together. At the end of the day, all of us want to be safe, fill our stomachs, have a roof above our heads and be able to sleep peacefully without the threat of violence or war. No matter who you are, this is mostly your main goal in life – to keep afloat. Ambitions, dreams and goals come in later, of course. So when that’s true of everyone, what does it matter what ethnicity, religion, race, gender, caste, creed or faith a person may profess.

  Would you mind tell us about some high points and low points during your activity?

High points come and go everyday: when you see a father say with confidence that he is proud of his daughter in a community fraught with patriarchy, when you see a child choose to stay in school despite all odds, when you see a government make the choice to provide its people with the right healthcare solutions, when you see a person stand up for another against injustice, when you feel that warmth of brotherhood across the border between conflicting countries – and when you see, hear, and are inspired by survivors. Low points are equally as many – to hear that the girls in Nigeria were kidnapped, to know that innocent blood in Gaza is mercilessly spilled, to know that millions of people suffer human rights violations every day.... it breaks your heart.

What is your opinion on political involvement of women in India through different channels?

I believe that India is a participative democracy on paper, and has to yet arrive at a stage where it is that in action. We need to be more vigilant and keep wrongdoing in check – whether it is a crime like corruption or a burst of violence. At the end of the day, man or woman, we are human first and we need to be able to embrace that value always, and not let discrimination in the way. Be that as it may, the political involvement of women through different channels certainly could do with more improvement. I don’t see gender as an enabler or a disabler – it is just an attribute and does not predetermine what a person can or cannot do. A woman is as capable as a man in handling politics and being involved in shaping the future of her country – and it’s high time men and women themselves realise that and act on it.

  How would you like to be remembered?

I’d like to be remembered as someone who cared to, dared to and shared (dreams of) make (making) a difference.

Anything you would like to say before we end an interview?

Just that peace is not an option, but the only option, at every level in life.

 Would you like to give any message for iKNOW Politics?

 Thank you for inspiring me, and for doing the amazing work that you’re doing!

Interviewed by Bhumi Shah