Under Secretary Tara Sonenshine’s Roundtable with Student Leaders

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The round table discussion with US Under Secretary of State Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine got underway at 10.30 am on February 7th at the American Centre. The theme of the discussion was the role of youth in India’s growth taking into account the demographic dividend with special emphasis on role of women. Naturally, the panel consisted of student leaders, youth bloggers, LSR journalism students and representatives of: ABVP, Janki Devi Memorial College Student Union, St Stephens College Student Union and Shiv Nadar University Student Union.

Students on the panel raised a number of pertinent questions related to freedom of speech and expression with reference to the Aaron Schwartz case which Ms Sonenshine responded to by saying that, “Although information is oxygen, and the Internet a tool, any person using the technology brings values to it and must use his own wisdom of judgment”.

There was a lot of concern over oppression of women in India in light of the recent gang rape case. The panel unanimously agreed that oblivion to women’s plight has to be done away with for good. A germane question that arose and struck a chord with everyone was, “Where does someone’s freedom begin and someone else’s begin?” Ms Sonenshine stressed the importance of harnessing the full potential of women which was underscored by her statement that women are “half the sky”.

When asked what women themselves can do to change the situation, change mind sets and conquer strait jacketing by antiquated beliefs, she responded by saying that critical thinking and informal learning is the solution. Polarising the media and using theatre, culture and role models to instil in people the importance of education for people. She said every woman must live by the 3Cs – Community (bonding with other girls and women in the society), Contacts and Confidence.

It was pointed out to her that change isn’t all that easy specially when there’re educated women saying the girl should’ve cooperated with the men who raped her; this could’ve saved her life. In such a scenario how is one to move forward? Ms Sonenshine said it is necessary for discussion to happen. The more views are expressed, the more likely it is that mentalities will change. Moreover, change must begin at home. She wanted the youth to actively participate in society in a leadership role by reaching out to girls and women across the State and informing them that they’re not bereft of rights.

Finally, she was asked, “How do you want us to change?” She said “I’ll leave that to you to figure out and tell me the next time I’m here.” This interaction with Ms Sonenshine proved a fruitful exchange and imbued the youth with encouragement to do more.

[email protected];Fact is, writing about myself has to be the single most harrowing thing I’ve ever done. Considering I’m the Editor that particular fact would elicit a bigger ‘tsk tsk’ than expected, yes, yes, it is ignominious and all that jazz. If I were to venture out and say I’m smart, it would make me arrogant. If I were to say I’m dumb, I’d be a downright liar. So, the only thing I can say without trepidation and the fear of God(or whatever entity it is that’s doing the rounds these days) is probably that I’m a third year Economics student at Sri Venkateswara College.

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