CONSTRUCTING HOMELANDS explores artistic interpretations to a participatory and empathetic policymaking. It is the search for a process that creates room for people and the expressions of their beings.
In the last recorded study in 2011, the degree of urbanisation in Sikkim had seen a 114% increase per decade from 1951 onwards. The proliferation of concrete in the ecologically fragile Himalayan state is hard to miss. Smart cities, hydropower dams, pharmaceuticals and recently, large educational institutes have been transforming the material landscape of Sikkim.
But the bodies who labour behind these concrete constructions have remained largely invisible. Migrant women from Nepal being one of them. And our project attempts to foreground their stories. Working under private contractors, almost all these women remain ‘undocumented’, which means they are beyond the ambit of any policy leaving them vulnerable to violence of all nature. Our initial idea was to provide a multi-perspective insight into their lives using ethnography and visual storytelling. And through this, initiate conversations between them and relevant stakeholders to create a more empathetic and inclusive approach to policy formation. After our year long research and practice, we have arrived at an imaginative methodology that we are calling the Act of Listening.
Through this we demonstrate how an empathetic approach to policymaking is not only focused on the binary of problem and solution, but requires slowing down to explore and expand the space in-between. Our methodology allowed us to imagine and create a shared space that embedded us in our participants’ lived experiences. We were able to understand how larger structural and institutional processes are distanced from ground realities, especially in the case of marginalised groups such as our participants. Telling and retelling of stories, recalling memories, building relations, reflecting, creating and collaborating, feeling, expressing and reciprocating emotions–all of these aspects existed in the liminal space, in the in-between of problems and solutions. Attending to these nuances of a person’s being, has allowed us identify and name symbolic violences that often remain unquestioned.
We’ve represented our methodology via different creative forms, hoping to generate affective responses and effective actions.
आज ढलाई छ!
आज ढलाई छ! Building आज देखिन् चुहिने छैन,
तरैपनि मेरो घरको छाना;सिरु र चित्राको हो,
पानी जहिले बगी रहन्छ
ढलाई पछि हामी cement र इँटाले
Building बनाउने छौं, घर निर्माण गर्नेछौं।
मेरो घरचाहिँ माटो र चित्राले
बारेको छ, हामी त यसलाई नै घर भन्छौं।
चार by चार को घर हाम्रो, बस्छौं ६ जान,
हामीले बनाएको १०० र कुन्नि कति को building,
संसारनै अटाउँने जत्रो।
तर हक त्यसमा कसको?
एउटै कोठे घर हाम्रो,
त्यसमा नै सुत्ने, खाने, खेल्ने, पढ्ने, दशै मनाउने।
हामीले भनाएको त्यस building मा एउटामा पढ्ने,
अर्कोमा सुत्ने, अर्कैमा खाने,दसैं मनाउने अर्कैमा।
यहाँ काम सकेर जानुपर्छ,
यो चार by चार को डेरा, हाम्रो घर छाडेर,
एउटा ठूलो building फेरी बनाउन,
फेरी एउटा डेरालाई घर बनाउन।
Today is dhalai
Today is dhalai*! The building will stop leaking now
Oh! But what about my roof made of bamboo and hay
Water seeping through forever
After dhalai, we expand the building
With brick and mortar, further and further
Over there a hut with mud walls and hay
This is the place I call home
A four cornered home for the six of us
But here we build a concrete for the countless
To fit the whole world, it seems
Within our single room
We sleep, eat, read and celebrate dasain+
But in this building we’re constructing
A different room for everything!
Once the construction is done
We leave our small home
Go and build another building
Call another hut a home
+ the Nepali festival of Dusherra
I want to become a primary school teacher when I am in mid-twenties. I love teaching, and I love to nurture and guide children. You can call it destiny or circumstances, but my father insisted that I pick up a spade instead of a pen. Picking up a spade is not an issue for me; the issue lies in the choice that I was never given--whether to choose a spade or a pen. But teaching is my passion, so I make sure I tutor my younger siblings after work. It feels like I’m at least living my dream partially.
I usually come back home feeling tired after carrying the concrete and stones on my back all day. Yet, my husband who sits at home all day does not even offer me a glass of water. He’s weak and old, I understand. But I’m growing old too. I pour myself a glass of warm water, tend to the field for some time and start preparing dinner for the two of us. You see, I don’t have a choice to take proper rest. Both of us will remain hungry otherwise.
THE ACT OF LISTENING
I am Pratisha Rai. In 2011, I came to Sikkim from Nepal with my family. After 10 years here, I met with the didis and dada (elder sisters and brother) from CH team. I didn’t know why they had come. Didi called me and asked me if we could talk for a while, I said we could. I thought this would only be for a moment and then they would leave and never return. But they kept coming back. This made me happy. They used to come and speak to us in my own home. We also spent time in the building (construction site), drew on its walls. This made me happy. They also organized a picnic. But I had gone to the bazaar and I had a headache after the car ride, so I didn’t spend much time at the picnic. I came home to lie down. Later Aama and my younger sister called me to have some food and sweets. I came home and slept again. I didn’t enjoy the picnic because of the headache.
Then the didis and dadas didn’t visit for a very long time. I wondered why. A lot of people started talking about the CH team. They used to ask, “Why haven’t they come?”, “It’s better if they don’t come”, “Why should they come?”, “What work do they have here?”. I felt very bad hearing these. We celebrated dashain and tihar and after the festivals, they came to visit again. This made me happy. We had conversations and then they left. At times they came all the way to my place of work. They came and disappeared again and then visited after a long time. This made me happy.
I told didi about what some of the people at work were saying about the CH team. After that only one didi and one dada came to visit me. We had a chat and they left. They asked me if I could travel with them to my old work site. I felt very happy travelling with them. Many of them had come along and we had a lot of fun. This made me happy. Thank you. Thank you all.
They looked at our childhood photographs.
They recorded our conversations.
We ate together. This made me very happy.
I sent them a lot of pictures of flowers.
It was truly wonderful.
Dada and didis visited, we had conversations, we had a picnic, we spent a lot of time together but I still can’t understand this thing (Constructing Homeland). What is it? I find it hard to understand. They asked me what it means but I haven’t understood anything. I am so sorry.
ACT OF LISTENING is an affect-based methodology that attempts to centre a form of community-generated policymaking. Its central tenet is EMPATHETIC STORYTELLING. We propose it not as a panacea to the more distant technocratic forms of policymaking but one out of many alternative frameworks that artistic agency has allowed us to imagine.
For us, EMPATHETIC STORYTELLING is a process of articulating a person’s past, present and future and how this articulation leads to an understanding of their beings shaped by unique experiences that are rooted in their everyday life. It allows for a multi-perspective lens into someone’s life. Whilst emotion undergirds much of this process, we do not see it as separate from rational processes. In contrary, we believe emotion/empathy to be at the core of effective policy making.
Building ethical, long-term relationship through fluid engagements
Slowing down to look around, not ahead so that ‘simple and mundane’ moments inform the nature of the engagement
Creating conditions for the articulation of a person’s lived experiences and emotional responses to them
Reciprocating to such articulations through empathetic reflections
Identifying structures and systems before proposing solutions
Representing findings through creative mediums
मेरो पोते, मेरै चुरा
कसको सिमेन्ट, कसको बेल्चा।
मेरो कथा, मेरै काम
कसको जगह, कसको नाम।
My potey*, my bangles
Unfamiliar cement, unfamiliar spade
My story, my work
Unfamiliar land, Unfamiliar names
*a green coloured beaded necklace worn by married women
काममा पनि काम।
Work on top of work
सिरानीमा सन्चो नभेट्दा,
हत्तु हैरान भाको जस्तो हुँदा,
थकाइ मार्न वेदी, जर रक्सी, गफ गर्दा
इटामा हैन, एक अर्कामा साहरा पाउँदा।
When there’s no respite on the pillow
When exhaustion, frustration take over
When cigarettes, alcohol and conversations
soften the toil
What a relief!
Not in these bricks, but solace lies in companionship
कस्तो जगह बनाएको?
कसको लागि पनि बनाएको?
छन् पाइलाहरु त हाम्रो,
तर हक छन् यसमा कसको।
What kind of land are we constructing?
Who are we even constructing it for?
These footsteps belong to us,
But the right to belong here is not ours.
"Can conversations become policies?"
"Are artists relevant?"
"How can rest be a right?"
"Will emotions erase barriers?"