#1 What’s Brewin’?

From the series “Stories Of Leadership” powered by
AIESEC International Congress | India 2015

What I found in my inbox!

Last week, I remember opening my Gmail inbox lazily to respond to my everyday emails. Surprised to find no work mails, I realised that there was still one unread email from a friend with the subject ‘What the Bleep!’

I have known Anirudh Belle and Vineeth Samdaria for quite some time now. It all began when Anirudh started receiving appreciation for his blog posts and prompts from several well-wishers. The two boys co-founded You Speak India, a non-profit, youth-run organisation that aims at promoting civic and political engagement and awareness among the urban youth of India and launched it officially on 15th August 2013. Interestingly, their website youspeakindia.org caters to simplifying public policy, provides comprehensive introduction to India’s electoral democracy, etc. for the youth or those who are not initiated to such topics.

You Speak India is more than its two founders today; it is a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers, great mentors, supportive parents and a lot of fans on Twitter and Facebook. They rolled out the second edition of their event series called “What’s Brewin’?”, a café-based discussion forum for young people to engage with issues regarding politics, public policy and public affairs. A minimalist graphic invitation is what I found seated in my inbox that day. This time around it had a theme- “What the Bleep!” — a session to understand the contours to the freedom of expression.

A screenshot of their homepage.

On Sunday, 15th March 2015, I got off a squeaky auto-rickshaw to worm into L’Amandier Bistro’s basement hosting about 200 young people, in RA Puram, Chennai, just in time for a sweet, guest musical performance. The theme of the panel discussion was pegged against the on-going discourse on censorship and curbs to free expression in India, emanating both from the state and civil society, domestically and internationally, centred on subjects like the tragic killings in the Charlie Hebdo incident in France, the ban on the controversial BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’, bleeping-out of certain words in films, the opposition to the AIB Roast video, resistance to literature by authors like Perumal Murugan in Tamil Nadu, etc.

What’s Brewin’? at L’Amandier Bistro, RA Puram, Chennai.

“The freedom of expression is a fundamental guarantee in India’s Constitution and a central theme of international instruments like the United Nations Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it is often argued that even freedom must have its limits. Drawing from history and contemporary trends, this season’s What’s Brewin’? seeks to explore this argument and make sense of the present public discourse”, says Anirudh Belle.

The panel consisted of Dr V Suresh, Senior Advocate and National General Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Mr Sashi Kumar — Veteran Media Professional and Chairman, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai and Prof Ramu Manivannan — Senior Academician and Head, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras. The event of course was a great success and the credit goes not just to the organisers but the simplicity of their approach.

What is truly remarkable here is the little parable of leadership that resides in the making of You Speak India. Passion did not drive the founders of You Speak India to an aimless social media undertaking. Having known their journey, I can say it has not been an easy climb up the hill either. A zillion phone calls, a hundred meetings and discussions, mentorship from people in the business and sleepless nights of writing, editing and publishing — the secret to the recipe for a perfect blend of what is for the youth, by the youth.

When I asked him what leadership is according to him, Anirudh says, “Leadership is to become a responsible and mindful equal in society. It is to break from the confines of one’s own self and identify with the whole. In true leadership, I don’t see pretensions of hierarchy but a deep sense of expansion, unity and empathy.”

Thank you You Speak India team! It was indeed a well-spent Sunday being a part of those vital discussions over a cup of evening tea and cake.

Author: Priyadarshini Sivakumar