Meet Kirthi, A Peace Activist, Who Founded A Storytelling Platform- The Red Elephant Foundation

11 May 2017

Kirthi Jayakumar Image

Our Woman of Courage Kirthi Jayakumar is an Indian women’s rights activist, a social entrepreneur, a peace activist, artist, lawyer and writer. She runs The Red Elephant Foundation, an initiative built on storytelling, civilian peace-building and activism for gender equality.

Read Kirthi’s inspiring journey and get inspired.


“I had begun an ambitious project in December 2012. Through many different platforms, I had the opportunity to interact and learn from some of the world’s most amazing women. Everything I imbibed made a huge difference to me and my life. What if I could bring all these women onto one platform, and take them to the world’s women and girls, so they could be inspired as I was? I started writing my second book – interviewing these amazing women and documenting their stories.

That December, something horrible happened. On the 16th, a young woman was brutally gang-raped in New Delhi and was battling for her life. The incident, it’s reporting in the media, the solidarity it sparked led to two things for me. One, I felt a sense of hypocrisy – because I was only just felicitated with an award for my work on women’s rights but here was a girl, sacrificed at the altar of patriarchy, inaction and flagrant disregard of women as humans. Two, I arrived at a point in my personal journey where the dam of silence broke on the abuse I had faced as a child. 

I remember thinking to myself one night that cold December, that I wanted to use my voice in a way that it would be heard, in a way that people would know that my voice would count, too.

I was already doing that – screaming through my own blog and whining occasionally on the kind and bountiful space that another would offer me every now and then. I had friends who shared similar truths and stories, similar passions, and a desire to end the horrible status quo that normalised violence against women and girls. 

Six months later, The Red Elephant Foundation was born.

When I started the Red Elephant Foundation, I found myself wondering why I chose the name that I did. I’m not sure how it came to be – it just happened.

I remember my memory was once likened to that of an elephant. So I decided I’d use an elephant as a reference point for the initiative since we were going to be engaged in telling stories that the world should do well to remember. I chose red – because, well, who doesn’t remember something red waving in their faces?

But that was only the initial thought. With time, I realised that there was a deeper significance to the elephantine connotation – one that life’s amazing ways found a way to make happen. And that made me realise that we have a place in the universe. This amazing web-resource put it in neat words that I quote below:

“Elephants form deep family bonds and live in tight matriarchal family groups of related females called a herd. The herd is led by the oldest and often largest female in the herd, called a matriarch. Herds consist of 8-100 individuals depending on terrain and family size. When a calf is born, it is raised and protected by the whole matriarchal herd.”

“Elephants are extremely intelligent animals and have memories that span many years. It is this memory that serves matriarchs well during dry seasons when they need to guide their herds, sometimes for tens of miles, to watering holes that they remember from the past. They also display signs of grief, joy, anger and play.”

Unwittingly, I’d named my initiative after a symbol of matriarchy – a symbol of a world quite the opposite of ours, where the females are given the respect they deserve.

So there you go. That’s why it is the Red Elephant.

 I realised that in the same world where a woman had the freedom to work as an equal with a man, a woman was also subservient to a man and could not work whatsoever. I realised that in the same world where a woman had the right to be educated, a woman was also forced to give up school because her society ordained otherwise. I realised that in the same world where a woman was free to choose who she would marry and when she would marry, a woman was forced to marry a man many years older than her while she would be a mere child. I realised that in the same world where women would be respected and their honour safeguarded with dignity, a woman would also be used as a miserable sex-slave. I realised that in the same world where women would be in charge of making peace, the bodies of women would be battlegrounds where war would be waged ceaselessly, devoid of all compunction.

I learned, quite simply, that there is something intricately linking the backbone of society and women. I realised that when one of those woven threads constituting the weft in the fabric is unravelled, society is crippled.

I may not be an expert. I may be far more ordinary than I know I am. I may lack expertise in totality, and “intellectually stimulating” might hardly be a justifiable title for the kind of stuff I write.

But I do know one thing. I am a drop in the ocean, but a drop, nevertheless. I am one among the scores of other women who serve as a conduit between the oppressed and the outside world.”

 

-Submitted by Kirthi Jayakumar

 

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