I was recently nominated by a young Indian man for an award which is called “Disobedience Award”. I have no idea about the results and I do not even dream of having a chance to play any significant role in the outcome – I just love the text he has written. From my point of view it really captures perfectly what we’ve being doing over the last two years in Janwaar. This is why I decided to publish it here on my own blog.
The reason why he nominated me: “I’d like to nominate Ulrike Reinhard (Janwaar Castle) for this award. She has lived her entire life without complying to the rigid norms of society and has utilised the power of the network to promote growth in a truly emergent manner. Her work with Janwaar Castle in India is a true reflection of the same and I’d like to nominate her for it.”
And what follows is his text … The most important paragraph for me is the last one about identity.
What disobedient work are they doing or have they recently done?
Janwaar Castle is an idea that sparked in the heart of rural India in a small village called Janwaar. A skatepark is built to be the central piece in this open sandbox project that aims to bring exposure to a village in the extremely backward Bundelkhand region. The construction of the skatepark started in December, 2014 and the skatepark was open by April, 2015. In making Janwaar Castle work, Ulrike has had to constantly fight against the norms of this very challenging society. Norms that she has had to work against include:
Breaking the existing caste barriers
India has a well-documented history of being a very discriminatory society, with caste being the forefront of it. Some of the worst affected castes are the tribals in various states. The Janwaar region also has two castes – Yadavs and Adivasis (tribals) – with the tribals being stigmatised against. Ulrike and Janwaar Castle have had to persistently disobey the existing structures to break these barriers and ensure that the tribals and the Yadavs would see eye to eye – something that spread from the skatepark to the entire village.
Being a woman leader in a heavily patriarchal society
In the village, the role of a woman in a family is typically limited to being the caregiver of the family. They do not step outside without covering their faces. The chief of the village who happens to be a woman in many villages (because of a quota laid out by the government) often just tend to be figureheads controlled by the husband. In such a society, a woman being treated as an equal is a rare occurrence, let alone her being listened to as a voice of change.
For someone from outside the country, not just from outside the village, to come in and advocate changes in existing structures is an extremely challenging process. Tie this to an uprising of nationalism and it isn’t uncommon to find people asking her regularly to go back to her own country. In what I can assume to only be a gruelling everyday battle, Ulrike has disobeyed every single voice that has tried to discourage her – via threats of violence or general causticity – to see through the vision that she had for the village.
In other villages, these core challenges are surrounded by many contextual challenges depending on the landscape of that part of the country. Having created a model with Janwaar, Janwaar Castle has begun working on the same concept across villages in different parts of the nation, and continues to disobey norms and unspoken rules laid out by society to act as catalysts for change.
How is their work making the world a better place?
With the skatepark being the catalyst for change, the children of the village are now exposed to possibilities that they would never have dreamt of. Some direct outcomes of the project include:
Increased attendance in schools
The children of the village embraced the skatepark immediately. And with the ‘No school, no skateboarding!’ rule, it meant that the children needed to attend school more regularly in order to be able to take part in their favourite activity. This resulted in huge increases of attendance percentages within months, which is crucial in a country where illiteracy and dropouts are a major hindrance to the growth of the society.
Building a common playground for life
For all children, skateboarding has now become the common religion with the skatepark being the temple. This religion has no untouchables and no hierarchy – the young teach the old; the girls teach the boys; the Adivasis teach the Yadavs. The ‘Girls first!’ rule specifically ensures that if a girl is ever on the skatepark without a skateboard and asks a boy for his, then he has to give it up.
The children of previous generations grew up in rigid mental frameworks that were divisive. Janwaar Castle is ensuring the rise of a more accepting generation.
Exposure & Ambition
With the network model that Janwaar Castle incorporates, everyone who wishes to contribute or carry forward the idea of Janwaar Castle can do so. This directly results in limitless opportunities for children to explore opportunities they would never have dreamt of. Children of Janwaar have made money from their own art exhibits, have attended concept schools in different parts of the country, are familiar with technology, and have even visited countries other than India.
Skateboarding has also become more than just a hobby for some. A few children have found new dreams of becoming professional skateboarders. The children of Janwaar regularly travel to other skating destinations in the country to interact with skateboarders from across the country.
Janwaar Castle therefore is also building an ecosystem by getting in the right schooling, infrastructure, and nutrition to enable children to pursue their dreams – skateboarding and otherwise.
Clean drinking water & clean energy
The village usually runs out of drinking water in May, which forces the women to walk an extra 4.5 KMs to get drinking water, and that too of poor quality. Via the network of supporters for Janwaar castle, self-sustainable water systems were constructed that pump up 5000 liters of water twice a day. These water pumps are powered by solar energy and there are filters in place ensuring clean water supply.
The process has begun to make the village completely internet enabled. Computers and tablets were already present in the village but the lack of internet access was limiting their potential. Within the next 3 months, 20 MBPS lines will have been setup and connectivity dependent ideas such as the ‘school in the cloud’ will begin running via contributors of the Janwaar network. This will truly open up the village to the world.
Most importantly however, it gave the village an identity. The villagers are now proud to be a part of Janwaar. Migration from rural to urban areas has always been a problem. With more than 700,000 villages in the country, it is important for the economy of the country that the villages thrive. This is a step towards ensuring that the villagers are proud of where they’re from, and make an additional effort to build the economy of the village.
All of this made possible with just the vision of one woman, with multiple people across the world believing in it, and having the willingness to execute it.