Arguendo is the Core Project in the Lex Coterie Group of Organizations.

Monday, 13 February 2017


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

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. 


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