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Speaking Up For Change

MS

Mihika Shankar

Sep 29, 2020

For the longest time, we have been traditionally taught to refrain from venturing into topics that challenge societal norms. “Don’t create a scene”. “Don’t go poking your nose in other’s business”, “Don’t get into unnecessary trouble” are all pieces of advice that we have been given while growing up. It is perhaps this fear of dissent that has led to the notorious rise of patriarchy and authoritarianism in the world. Having difficult conversations, especially those that put the spotlight on the dark underbelly of our society, has often been restricted to adults. There has been little or no emphasis given to the perspectives of young people with sharp opinions on matters that directly influence the very fabric of the world they will inherit.

Meet Nethra Nagarajan, a 15-year-old animal lover from Chennai who believes it is time to sit up and listen to young people. I was delighted to hear her personal story: the birth of her pet project, Octopus. Excerpts from Nethra’s refreshing take on traditionally taboo conversations

nethra nagarajan image 1

Hi Nethra, it is lovely to speak to you. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

I am Nethra, an 11th grader at HLC International. I was born in Chennai and have lived here all my life. Animal rights have been a great love of mine for years. I enjoy taking photos of animals - that is actually how my Instagram account was born. I am also a volunteer at Blue Cross Of India and tutor IGCSE students in math and chemistry. When I am not with my cats or doing school work, like most normal teenagers I enjoy watching films and TV.

How did the idea of Octopus Conversation come about?

Last year, I was toying with the idea of a forum for young people like to talk about current issues and raise awareness. At that time, I did not have a name or any specific structure for it, but we started with a few sessions on the ethical and environmental aspects of the meat industry. We had to put this venture on hold temporarily because our board exams were approaching and we had to focus on preparing for them. After my board exams ended, the idea persisted in my mind and I utilized my holidays to work on a structure and a model for the forum we had built. I am grateful for the constructive advice I received from my teachers at school. Our collective efforts led to Octopus taking shape or shall I say, spreading its tentacles!

nethra nagarajan image 2

That is an interesting name for a forum! My curiosity is piqued - what are the topics you generally discuss on this forum?

We like to have bold and thought-provoking conversations on Octopus. For example, a few weeks ago, we had an interactive session on sustainable menstruation. It was rather trend-setting because we had a male biology teacher speaking about an issue that even women shy away from discussing. We have also organized passionate debates on causes such as feminism, ethical treatment of animals, and more recently, COVD-19. We tap into the vast knowledge of experts in these respective areas to bring in the authenticity of the information shared. We recently collaborated with Mr Ramanath Chandrasekhar, known for his brilliant filmmaking skills on the #savevedanthangal movement .

Who are your audience typically and what has their response been to this initiative? Have you been able to make a significant impact or change in your circles through Octopus?

Generally, most of our participants are from grades 8 and above. That being said, we have received an overwhelming response from learners as young as from grades 6 - 8. Our followers are very enthusiastic about the forum and are curious to learn more. I would like to think we have been able to address some of the misconceptions that people have on certain topics. To give you an example, in our feminism session, we learnt about what feminism ACTUALLY is, contrary to what mainstream media has portrayed it as. We have also highlighted ways in which we can help in solving current issues - we spoke about the current state of Vedanthangal, the Sun pharma issue, and quite a lot of children made drawings and posters leading to the movement to snowball into mainstream news and awareness.

Why do you think addressing difficult topics are important to make a change?

I find this to be a really good question. I think we can drive change ONLY when we have conversations with our parents and friend circles. People tend to do better and create a change in their lifestyles when they know better. When people began realizing that the climate crisis is real, and a big threat to all of our futures, they started making small changes in their lifestyles. Be it reducing plastic, or stopping the consumption of meat, or switching to electric cars - I believe that it is only when we are made aware of topics, will we be able to create a long-lasting impact.

Show Octopus your support on their budding Instagram handle: @octopusinitiative_

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