I founded the Red Elephant Foundation almost a year ago. I am not sure how it came about: but I do know that it was an idea that remained in my head since the time I first spoke out about my own story of surviving abuse, violence, bullying and racism. I realised that there was a tremendous power in speaking out: it made you stronger by helping you let go, and it made those around you stronger by giving them awareness. The combination is brilliant: it is the anthropomorphism of vigilantism.
The Red Elephant Foundation, or REF as it is also known, is a storytelling and civilian peacebuilding initiative pivoted towards creating equality through friendship, empathy and tolerance. With the help of real narratives rendered on their website, REF creates a cross-current of awareness in the hope of telling people that every name and face has a story behind it, and that these stories make us who we are. To know one’s stories is to know a person that well, and that paves the way to empathy and friendship. The idea is to tell people to walk a mile in another’s shoes without judging them, and that empathy will cultivate peaceful relations. “Red” signifies a colour that draws your attention, and “Elephant” is an allusion to its phenomenal memory: culminating in an attempt to show you something you don’t forget.
In our efforts at REF, we want the world to know that sexual assault is not okay. It is not acceptable. It is not permitted. It is a crime, and it should be fought. We recognise and believe in the fact that silence is abetment, for as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” One of our biggest draws in our fight against sexual violence and sexual assault is that we look at men and boys as allies, and not as perpetrators merely because some of them are. As part of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women spanning from November 25 to December 10 in 2013, we got 16 Men from all over the world to denounce violence against women. These men wrote articles and poetry from the heart, speaking about their own personal crusade against violence against women. A rather unique idea, this campaign sent out a very powerful message that men and boys are allies and must be made part of the process of fighting violence against women.
In the coming days, we have plans of establishing REFSpeak, a program to bring people together to talk and share. One part of this is to get women together to just talk to one another and share about their tryst with sexual assault, and to empower them to denounce the crime once and for all. We want to shake up the status quo and fight: a culture of silence creates a culture of abetment.
*Kirthi Jayakumar is the founder of Red Elephant Foundation and is a lawyer, specialized in Public International Law and Human Rights. A graduate of the School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, she has diversified into Research and Writing in Public International Law, Arbitration and Human Rights, besides Freelance Journalism. She works as a UN Volunteer, specializing in Human Rights research in pertinence to issues in Africa, India and Central Asia and the Middle East. She has worked extensively with grassroots organizations that focus on women’s rights, and also runs a journal and consultancy that focuses on International Law.