Anshul Tewari (24) began India’s leading digital youth-platform Youth Ki Awaaz (Voice of youth) seven years ago, almost by accident. In representing opinions of young India (two thirds of its 1.25 billion population is under 35), Youth Ki Awaaz and Anshul have been fearlessly challenging stereotypes since its inception. They tell us how they’ve done it.
Ignore the doubters
In our early days we were constantly told, ‘what you’re doing is not worth it’ and ‘nobody cares what young people think’ - also blogging was very niche in 2008, so people didn’t understand what we were doing. But we were aware there was a severe lack of platforms for young people to speak about issues we’re passionate about. Now older people, including politicians, decision makers and media who ignored young people and didn’t take us seriously, reach out to Youth Ki Awaaz to understand what young people are thinking. We work with them and bring them into contact with young people and as a result our audience profile has broadened from 18 to 25 year olds to 15 to 40.
Educate and empower
In 2010, we began training modules in how to do issue-based writing because we felt young people don’t speak up because they might not know how to articulate themselves and cover sensitive issues. Our training is delivered online, as doing it face-to-face would have limited us geographically to Delhi - where we’re based - and our contributors are based all over the country.
Since 2010 we’ve delivered training to over 1500 interns – it’s a two-month program and we have a new batch of 15 to 20 interns every eight weeks. Interns work closely with editors on assignments and editors feedback – the training focuses on research, how to form an opinion and articulate that and we challenge interns to write on a range of topics. The training helps career development as well as empowering young people to talk about issues that need to be talked about.
Talk about taboo subjects
YKA talked about menstruation openly for a long time and we began to notice that mainstream media began covering the topic. We started seeing hundreds of blogs and online videos addressing the silence and shame around menstruation and it grew - campaigns sprung up in universities and there were marches about it earlier this year too.
It showed the impact you can have by talking about issues that mainstream, conservative media thinks are taboo. That’s why we cover topics like abuse in relationships and ask people who have experienced this to contact us [anonymously], and sexual abuse - the fact there has been no conversation is the very reason they have become taboo. It’s our responsibility to break that culture of silence and reach as many people as possible to have a conversation.
Challenge the status quo
One of my favourite Youth Ki Awaaz stories is we worked with Spandana Cheruvu a young woman and student at an engineering college in Vellor, in Tamil Nadu, who wanted to make the college’s rules more gender neutral. Spandana surveyed female students who said the college rules – such as having an earlier curfew than male students - were absurd and they didn’t feel safe on campus. When Spandana presented the findings to the Dean she was suspended so we worked with her to build pressure on the university to accept the findings of the survey and to improve safety and introduce gender-neutral rules.
We were successful and it led to a string of campuses contacting YKA with stories about their campuses and improvements that could be made - so we set up a dedicated campaign ‘Campus Watch’.