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Fascinating chats with kids and a confrontation with misogyny 

I’ve always been fascinated about the trajectories of everyday conversations. This morning, Aadyaa complained about the days getting shorter and we started talking about the forces and mechanisms of nature. That you can’t pick what you want, it’s a package deal!

That reminded me of Ingapirca (watch out for that post, coming soon!), an Inka ruin I visited in Ecuador where the intimate knowledge developed about solar and lunar cycles was evident. I commented on how amazing it was that man had learnt so much through observation and analysis even very far back in time. Udai, whose grade 7 history syllabus includes the European Middle Ages, reminded me that medieval Europe, to the contrary, went through a ‘dark’ period in which science was ignored and reviled. He went on to educate me about how he saw rationalism and empiricism as the two main approaches to scientific thinking.

The jump to present day politics in our conversation was inevitable. Is the rejection of rational thought as seen in majoritarian political behaviour the world over (especially in the use of unsubstantiated information as part of a communication strategy) part of a cyclical process? Could poor basic education that does not grant people the ability to engage with content, leavealone have an independent opinion, be part of the problem? Has credibility in post colonial India been (wrongly) built on status, class and the ability to speak English instead of facts? And is a backlash against liberal intellectuals about a re-evaluation of whether these attributes constitute credibility or is it built on something entirely different like effective communication that feeds into people’s fears?

By this time, the kids were in a contemplative mode, realising just how privileged they were to be in a good school, where standards of education are high and teachers competent. The bus arrived and they left.

When I got back home and checked my social media feed, an abusive comment from an acquaintance on a post that critiques India’s recent demonetisation policy brought home to me that we are fighting a very real war, one which is fuelled by resentment against those who are capable of providing the empirical evidence. Combined with an odious level of misogyny and low self-confidence, rendering those with an opinion legitimate targets of abuse. Especially if they are women.

Thick skin and a load of arguments: A two-pronged feminist strategy

I started thinking about whether I am a feminist, or whether I am so inclined, only a few years ago. I was brought up to be independent and outspoken by rather liberal parents. Growing up, I had many strong women to look up to- my grandmothers, my mother, all with strong opinions and minds of their own. But to see feminism in the light of global awareness on violence against women, to see it as a response to misogyny, that has been a recent change.

I met Mona Eltahawy in November 2012 and she transported me into a different world: a world where feminism was not an unwanted movement propelled by shrill, stubborn women but an inclusive movement that the world really needed to set the balance right. I wrote about this soon after I met her. And today, as I read this interview of Mona’s I am struck anew by the importance of speaking out about how we perceive the world, about discussing and debating ideas that might bring about change.

I’m also thinking that we cannot challenge the status quo without some discomfort, but just how much discomfort are we willing to bear? We need to talk about things that bother society, parts of our lives we accept too easily, the stuff that ruffles feathers, but where, when, how and how much? Do we go “shopping for a thicker skin” as an obscure and unlikable female character says in Mad Men, or do we respond to every discomfort with a conversation, a response, a challenge?

These are questions every feminist, or any kind of social reformer- male or female, asks everyday. We’re human, we’re scared and yet we want to change things. I’ll say this much for myself, though. It’s going to be a long wait for an equal world, I know, but I’m ready with both the thicker skin and the battery of arguments!

Dum Laga ke Haisha: Caricatures of life in small town India

The streets of Haridwar and Rishikesh, though a tad cleaner than they are in reality, came alive in Dum Laga ke Haisha, a recently released Hindi film I watched a couple of nights ago. I’d heard good things, but it was better than I expected.

dum-laga-ke-haisha

In a nutshell, it is a love story in which the man (Ayushmann Khurana ) slowly falls in love with his overweight wife (Bhumi Pednekar), who he was initially repulsed by. But what brought the film alive was the pulsating reality of small town life. The frustration of ill-educated misdirected young men who are consigned to a life of boredom working in petty family businesses. Of girls, who despite being educated and self-confident, are expected to fit the stereotype of the well brought up, docile girl in order to work the marriage market. Of lower middle class families, struggling to eke out an existence, steeped deep into identities of class and caste that shape their lives and interactions. Of young people in conservative small town India, whose perform their little dramas of life in front of the extended parivaar (family), gali (street) and mohalla (neighbourhood). Others have written about its unique treatment of the theme of sexual love.

Shy Prem, bold Sandhya! Shedding stereotypes

Shy Prem, bold Sandhya! Shedding stereotypes

Watching porn, with family consent? Quite a hilarious situation!

Watching porn, with family consent? Quite a hilarious situation!

The film brought forth two very direct messages. One, respect is an essential starting point in a relationship, even if love is a tough ultimate target. Two, breaking the rules is important; you get things only if you ask for them.

While Prem, the male protagonist, is a pathetic character, full of complexes and self-loathing, Sandhya, the newly married overweight and B.Ed pass bride is a fascinating character. She is shown as willing to mold herself to her new family but unwilling to suffer consistent blows to her pride. She stands up to her husband’s aunt and walks out of her marital home when her husband ill-mouths her. Further, she refuses to let her parents walk all over her, bringing in legal help and starting divorce proceedings immediately. Sandhya is not the caricature of the modern over-aggressive educated women. Instead, she is a woman who is unwilling to allow what she perceives as a mismatched marriage to continue to harm herself (as well as Prem). Of course, her deeply ingrained insecurities about her weight and her belief that once divorced, she would live the life of a spinster while Prem would find a second (beautiful) bride drove in the message the film intended to convey. That it is inner beauty we should be seeking, within ourselves and in others around; baaki sab maya hai (the rest is an illusion)!

One Billion Rising Gurgaon: Burying Misogyny and celebrating equality

It’s not always necessary to be morose, upset and angry to make a point. And we most certainly were not! Far from it, we danced and sang, chanted and laughed as we walked down Gurgaon’s mall stretch as part of the One Billion Rising campaign for gender equality and recognition of women’s rights.

Gurgaon’s citizens groups have, over the last couple pf years, matured into a curious amalgamation of interest groups, those who work for a cause and RWAs, ably aided by Facebook. Last evening’s event was called by Let’s Walk Gurgaon and joined by other groups, notably Gurgaon Moms. Unlike OBR in New Delhi, we did not see huge crowds and college students were conspicuous by their absence. Yes, the innovative format of the protest made a mark for those who attended.

Fashioned somewhat like a Mardi Gras parade, we carried a coffin with the intent to bury Misogyny, all dressed up in a celebratory mood replete with bandwalas, slogan shouting, drums and all the rest of it. We walked from Sahara Mall to DT City Centre on MG Road, crossed over to MGF Metropolitan and walked back to Sahara Mall. At DT City Centre, some volunteers staged a street play and back at Sahara, others did a really fun flash mob thing. Then we proceeded to bury Misogygy and give birth to a world of equal rights and respect.

We had tagging along with us the police constables, men and women, who were assigned to be with us on duty. They hadn’t a clue why we were doing this! Many onlookers watched curiously and seemed to be having fun as well. Nupur and me kept wondering what was passing through their minds. We almost decided to do an impromptu survey, but stopped short!

What I really loved about the entire event is the way it gathered momentum as it was planned. People, both men and women, volunteered their time and creativity and worked together to make it happen. It takes a lot to move out of the comfort of your routine and be out there, doing things, saying things, starting a chain of change. And having fun while doing it! To sum up, the message of the street play underlined the need to start the change with ourselves. That’s a great thought to take forward as we continue to advocate for a real change in social attitudes towards gender. Join us, the more the merrier!

Here are some pics that capture the event, all photo credits to Swatantra Chhabra Kalra who is a friend and fellow blogger. She blogs at http://swatantra-independence.blogspot.com/

For the videos of the event, please go to- http://www.youtube.com/user/f20films

my body my rules

A variety of captions and many committed women…and men

Me! After I painted many cheeks and foreheads....what fun!

Me! After I painted many cheeks and foreheads….what fun!

All the 'bakwaas' misogynistic patriarchal to be buried in this coffin!

All the ‘bakwaas’ misogynistic patriarchal to be buried in this coffin!

The procession that walked down the MG Road stretch, being gawked at by many, with music and fanfare. Was too much fun!

The procession that walked down the MG Road stretch, being gawked at by many, with music and fanfare. Was too much fun!

I love this shot! Bandwala in the foreground looks so zapped. Similar expressions we saw on the faces of police staff, onlookers...so hard to understand?

I love this shot! Bandwala in the foreground is so pleased with himself! Hero!

Provocative posters galore!

Provocative posters galore!

misoginy maut

mahila hinsa

Street play outside DT City Centre

Street play outside DT City Centre

A still from the play that asked us to change ourselves and change the world!

A still from the play that asked us to change ourselves and change the world!

The flash mob that ensured the entire event ended on a fun, participatory note!

The flash mob that ensured the entire event ended on a fun, participatory note!

Does Modi’s popularity mean giving free reign to communalists, misogynists? Shocking reports from a protestor at SRCC

There was much noise about Narendra Modi’s talk at SRCC yesterday. He spoke about development and used this powerful term to capture the imagination of students. Which is all very well.

However, there were protestors outside from what the media termed the “communist” section of DU. And they were treated shabbily, very very shabbily indeed. I may not have a huge case against Mr Modi per se, but if his leading this nation means we give free reign to all communal, misogynist elements in our society, we should all think really hard before we vote this man to power.

Here is an account from a girl who attended the protests, shared by a DU student and a friend of mine on her FB wall today. Prepare to be outraged, shocked, saddened….it’s not just the Kashmiri girl band Pragaash, it’s each one of us in danger!

“Ragini Jha (a student present at the protest): “On 6th of February, there was a large protest against the invitation of and talk by Narendra Modi by SRCC Students Union, organised by various students groups and individuals. The road in front of SRCC had 3 rows of barricades on each side, some of which were subsequently broken. The Delhi police was extremely vicious in their handling of the situation, and were both highly sexist and communal. They passed lewd comments about women standing near the barricade, made kissing gestures and noises, asked women to come closer and talk to them. They also very openly stared and laughed at women in a way that was clearly sexual. When a woman student demanded that women police officers be present at the barricade as well to confront women students, she was told ‘aap aurat kahaan se hain’. Women were also told repeatedly to give up as they’re too weak to break barricades. Some women were told that they should stop protesting or they would be meted the same treatment as women in Gujarat in 2002. At the police station, women students were groped and felt up by the police when they tried to enter.

In addition to this the police also detained 8 protestors. ABVP students were allowed on the other side of the barricade, one even climbed the water cannon, but none of them were detained. This was despite them threatening students, particularly women, by saying things like “jo gujrat ke aurton ka haal kiya wohi tera hoga”. The police, after lathi charging students, laughing and joking as they did so, went on to drag students and throw them in the middle of ABVP and RSS activists, where they were further beaten up.

They were attacked by both ABVP goons and the police, who were supporting each other. The police were particularly obnoxious, whistling and winking at the female students (who were also groped at the Thana) and beating them (and the boys) up sadistically with lathis in addition to water cannons. The ABVP threatened them with Gujarat-like consequences – “Jo Gujarat mein huya vaise tujh me ghusa doonga” while brandishing a stick and similar things. Meanwhile the police were watching and laughing at the girls and other protestors and saying things like “kar le jo karna hai, kya kar payegi” and openly supporting the ABVP students, who were even dancing on the water cannons as they aimed at the protestors. The worst is that they would pick up some of the protestors (including young women) and push them into a crowd of ABVP goons who would then beat them. Some protestors were picked up and taken to the police station, and beaten up on the way (including on the head and groin with lathis). NONE of this shocking stuff is coming out in any of the news reports.”

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