Yuva Active Advocacy Forum & Madras School of Social Work organize State-level Conference on ‘Understanding Disadvantage’


Chennai: Yuva Active Advocacy Forum and Madras School of Social Work’s Postgraduate Department of Development Management organized a State-level conference on ‘Understanding Disadvantage’ today (26th February 2020) to foster a dialogue about disadvantaged communities that do not find sufficient space in public discourse.

The conference was aimed at critically unpacking India’s policy approach towards these disadvantaged communities by not only discussing their problems, but also by appreciating what has been done so far, and the possibilities that lie ahead.

The multidimensional, cyclic nature of disadvantage renders it a complexity that cannot be solved through a ‘one size fits all’ policy approach, which ignores the nuances of intersectionality and the historicity of such disadvantage. Unfortunately, the very conception of disadvantage, and the communities characterized by it therein, is constituted by rigid archetypes how “visible” such disadvantage is, vis a vis poverty and (ill) health.

Yuva Active Advocacy Forum is a not-for-profit organization which aims to streamline the interaction between the government and the governed to foster transparency and accountability. It promotes political advocacy through constructive dialogue between the government and the citizens

Four speakers, each representing a disadvantaged section of the society, addressed the Conference. These included representatives from the LGBTQIA+ community, differently abled, Scheduled Tribes and Dalit communities. Around 200 students from various city colleges attended the event, and enthusiastically interacted in Question and Answer sessions with all the speakers.

Yuva’s first publication ‘Understanding Disadvantage,’ comprising of a set of essays written by students from various colleges, was also launched during the event.

Speaking about the need for such conferences, Ms. Aishwarya Kalpathi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Yuva Active Advocacy Forum, said, “In a country like India, it is often difficult to understand anyone’s needs completely. There are a few stakeholders who are at higher risk of poverty, discrimination, violence, and unequal opportunities. In many cases, the lack of legislation has also been a factor in their marginalization. This largely is due to insufficient understanding about these groups and what they really require to thrive.”

Further, Ms. Aishwarya Kalpathi said, “This understanding can only come if we give them the platform to speak about their communities and issues. In order to understand, we must first listen. This is why we have chosen ‘Understanding Disadvantage’ as the theme of this conference, which is the second in a series of conferences that Yuva has ideated as a part of our endeavour to establish a leadership institute for youngsters who aspire to enter politics and make a difference.”

Dr. Sarah Karunakaran, Head, Postgraduate Department of Development Management, Madras School of Social Work, spoke talked about understanding disadvantage in the context of social inclusion. She said, “To be understood in the right perspective, social inclusion makes us think, ‘who needs to be included?’, ‘who needs to be excluded?’. We cannot think of it as a social issue. It is a rights based issue. Let us move forward together.”

The Key Objectives of the Conference included:

Ø To critically discuss the characteristics of “disadvantage”

Ø To understand the intersectionality and dynamic nature of disadvantage

Ø To look into the visible and invisible components that characterize disadvantage

Ø To understand policy approaches by discussing laws pertaining to these communities

Addressing a session on ‘LGBTQIA + Inclusion – from Society to Policy,’ speaker Mx. Gopi Shankar, Founder, Srishti Madurai, an LGBTQIA+ student volunteer movement which has been running a helpline, said, “Intersex people are not Transgender people, so Gender identity and sex characteristics cannot be mixed”.

Mx. Gopi Shankar added, “In India alone, more than 13,000 infants and children born/living with Intersex traits are operated but in August 2019 the State of Tamil Nadu became 2nd place globally to ban sex ‘normalizing’ surgeries on Intersex infants and children. The Honorable Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court passed the ban and upheld the bodily integrity of the Intersex citizens of India.”

Mx. Gopi Shankar also said, “Intersex people are like refugees. While refugees have no right over land, intersex people have no right over their body as surgeries are done when they are infants and others take the decisions. Lack of awareness about intersex issues from medical professionals leads to unnecessary and inhumane medical procedures, which include ‘normalizing’ surgeries and treatments on intersex infants, adolescents and adults. Because intersex people are born with sex characteristics (including genitals, gonads, hormones and chromosome patterns) that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies, intersex children and adults are often stigmatized and subjected to multiple human rights violations, including violations of their rights to health and physical integrity, to be free from torture and ill-treatment, and to equality and non-discrimination and Intersex is a sex characteristics so they are not Transgender people.”

Speaking later on ‘Person with Disabilities – Reimagining Equal Opportunities and access for a barrier-free environment,’ Dr. P. Simmachandran, President, Federation of Tamil Nadu Differently Abled Association, said, “The differently-abled, old people, patients and pregnant women are those who largely require access to a barrier-free environment. They comprise almost 60 per cent of the total population. These diverse communities depend on the Central and State governments to create accessible spaces and equal opportunities in terms of Education, Healthcare and Employment. If the government and policies succeed in facilitating their access to a barrier free environment, people from these communities can achieve great heights.”

The Key Outcomes from this Conference include:

Ø The participants gaining a clear understanding of the finer nuances of disadvantage,

Ø Exposure to communities whose disadvantage is not sufficiently spoken about,

Ø Holistic information and perspectives from those who have lived experiences of disadvantage, and

Ø A robust community of responsible future policymakers

Speaking on the ‘Welfare of Dalits – Understanding nuances of discrimination and inclusion,’ Mr. R. Elango, Founder, Trust for Village Self Governance, said, “The caste system is peculiar in practice. It’s not racial, it is not clause-based or economical but it is religious-based practice. Among inequalities, this is called ‘graded inequality’ and it is peculiar to India only. To addressing this, decentralized actions are needed along with decentralized development initiatives. Kuthambakam experience talks mostly on this.”

Addressing a session on ‘Scheduled Tribes – Questioning mainstreaming and integration of Scheduled Tribes – A critical perspective,’ Ms. M. Sornalatha, Managing Trustee, Adhivasi Social Service Educational Trust, said, “The Urban life cannot be acceptable to all communities of Scheduled Tribes as their livelihood is intricately linked to a life lived close to nature and the forests. Their way of life must be protected.”