Pleasure, Politics and SRHR: An Interview with Jafrin Akhtar
Jafrin is a feminist grassroot community organizer from Assam. Their work encompasses youth leadership development, Menstrual Health Management and Sexual and Reproductive Health via her founded venture Spread Love And Peace. They are currently working with organizations like Leading Change Network, Haiyya and has been a Youth Ki Awaaz Network Fellow. On other times, you will find her engrossed in understanding how “personal is political” with a cup of chai. In this interview, they give us a glimpse of their collective as well as talk about their homegrown podcast, Joystick which is based on pleasure narratives from Assam and across Northeast India
What is the story behind Spread Love And Peace? How and when did it start?
Spread Love And Peace (SLAP) as a venture was founded in 2018 to cater to the curiosities and interests of young people and then gradually honed health as its core focus, then our work eventually evolved into the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, health, wellness, and youth leadership in Assam.
We saw that young people in Assam needed a space to be vulnerable, to tell their stories unapologetically, and their narratives needed to be heard and amplified. As a youth-led team, Spread Love And Peace has been inspired to build that courageous space for young people to come together, share their lived experiences, create a sort of archive of stories in terms of health, intimacy, and leadership, and collectively challenge the status quo. We also pursue fun, togetherness, and bonding within the team outside of work to build stronger and deep relationships. We call our team members, Dosts at SLAP.
The podcast, Joystick, is one of a kind and a very unique venture. It brings in important questions and conversations around pleasure, specifically from North East. How was it ideated and when did you start this podcast?
Based on my personal experience of living with trauma, abuse, disability, and power dynamics, I decided to bring more voices that resonated with the things that I wanted to speak about, as well as nuanced experiences which were different from mine. What better than reclaiming the podcast space which is dominated by sexist men perpetuating cis heteropatriarchy?
In 2021, we had Samarth, a valuable Dost at SLAP who encouraged us to have a homegrown podcast and he/they produce the same now, and Dost Gulal Salil aka Lal Poster whose political wisdom has influenced our work to a great extent and so the podcast; with our first series conceptualized as “Pleasure, Power and Politics”. Till now, we have discussed the narratives of the male-female gaze, media, trauma, fatness-fatphobia-fetishization, social media and space, intimacy and online dating, neurodivergence, queerness, and play under this theme of “Pleasure, Power and Politics” with our impeccable guests from Assam.
This podcast team also got through the Gender Bender Grant 2022 and presented a brand-new series of Joy Stick there which is yet to be public.
We curated this podcast with a lot of love, curiosity, and intent to build a young people’s archive of stories and lived experiences from across Northeast India with our focus on Assam. Over time, we will be discursively talking about different stigmas, themes, and narratives on pleasure, desire, intimacy, menstruation, sex, love, relationships, emotions, power, politics, religion, rituals, gender roles, and other allied aspects of platforming NE India in the spotlight. We are found on Spotify!
How important do you think it is to bring pleasure in conversations and dialogues around SRHR?
I think if we are talking about liberation, freedom, and consent, pleasure is at the root of it. It addresses the capacity of people to be able to feel joy and intimacy despite their everyday struggles. The oppressive systems have us convinced that rest, joy, and pleasure are privileges and not our rights. I strongly believe that our lives are not just meant to survive and work on ourselves and externally but to be enjoyed. We can make space for that enjoyment in our culture whether it be the radical work that we do or our personal lives. It is through pleasure that we experience our bodies and our aliveness.
Hence, embracing our pleasure-affirmative narratives become important in challenging these violent, numbing, and life-risking structures which are, by the way, responsible for producing and feeding onto our shame and repression. Having access and knowledge to define our pathways to pleasure is a radical act of healing and liberation, especially for communities that are historically oppressed- queer and trans folks, women and young people, religion and caste-marginalized people, sex workers and assault survivors, and, disabled and neurodivergent people. I often wonder, what would these crowdsourced pathways of pleasure look like to us. With this thought, recently we have structured and started our very own Pleasure Circle for young people based out of Assam and we can’t wait to learn from people’s experiences of deriving pleasure.
How can we build a pleasure-centric view in the field of SRHR?
Recognizing systemic factors is not enough. It’s important to address the cause and at the same time, we have to create alternative models to tell and show people greater and attainable possibilities of justice. Pleasure is often isolated when talking about health and well-being, even in conversations about sex education that revolve mostly around contraceptives and reproduction. To me, the discourse around health, specifically sexual and reproductive health will not be complete without bringing our attention to pleasure,boundaries and intimacy. To achieve justice, we have to claim what we deserve and get to the roots of the issues, so that people across the spectrum have the resources and power to make those choices. Our communities will thrive in the presence of connection and pleasure. That’s the antidote to injustice. We can build this perspective by asking ourselves as leaders what is stopping us from accessing pleasure and normalizing it. Is that connected to our inhibitions and reservations in the kind of health rights and justice work that we do? I don’t have a “5 ways to do this” kind of an answer here but I encourage people who are relevant to this field to have a deeper look at what will our communities benefit from if we consciously make space for pleasure. Then from there navigate their ways to incorporate pleasure in the SRHR discourse and in our lives. It might not be easy but it will feel pleasurable on the other side.
Follow @spreadlove_andpeace to know more about their new initiatives. Also, listen to their homegrown podcast on Spotify to learn more about Pleasure, Power and Politics!