SamaBhav: engaging student youths of Delhi – Aishwarya Unnikrishnan

Like and Share

The 2-day film festival, Samabhav, organised by MAVA (Men Against Violence and Abuse), and supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, started on 30-10-2017, at the Miranda House seminar-hall. The event was inaugurated by MAVA founder and director, Harish Sadani and Pearl Wieranga, Manager, Canada Fund for Local Initiatives; senior women’s rights activist, Kamla Bhasin, Dr. Bijaylaxmi Nanda from Miranda House and Dr. Seema Parihar from Kirori Mal College. This was followed by the release of the Film Festival Catalogue.

The event aimed at creating awareness among the youth through screening of documentaries based on gender-equality, sexuality, masculinity and relationships.

Screening of Khule Aasman ke Niche

The movie portrayed the strong determination and will of a group of girls in Mumbra, a far flung suburb in the Mumbai Metropolitan region, who were organised into a football-team. Against the patriarchal norms of the society, these girls stood out strongly to demand a place for themselves. The film follows the Parcham women’s football team as they play and coach a younger generation of girls, as they boost up their self-confidence, inspiring several millions of girls to shatter the water-tight compartment they’re compelled to live in.

The post-screening discussion brought a lot of appreciation for such initiatives, recognising the fact that sports is one of the primary means to help girls cross the threshold that the patriarchal society has set for them. Sports is one of those few arenas which does not make gender-distinctions. This brought to light the fact that a thing as primary as sports could be so liberating for women.

Kamla di raised the point that while we may often talk about patriarchy in the context of the “underprivileged”, we ourselves are a big part of this long  grown ideology. The participants then came out with stories about how the patriarchy functions in their own middle class so-called “privileged” lives.

Screening of Broken Image

This film highlights one of the major and most pathetic practices followed  by media and society at large which is to film a tragedy unfolding in front of one’s eyes, instead of attempting to prevent it. A photographer, when faced with a dilemma to film an act of violence against a woman or stop the incident from taking place, chooses to do the former. The film urges the audience to prevent violence and abuse whenever they have the opportunity rather than being mere by-standers.

Screening of Khel Badal #Change the Game

This collection consisted of 6 short narrative videos. This was launched as a campaign to dismantle patriarchy. It raises questions at gender stereotypes and encourages women to junk the restrictions they’re bound to observe. They must learn to question the age-old norms and not accept them blindly. The community correspondents also conduct Gender Discussion Clubs as part of the campaign and as of now, they have 216 clubs with 1968 members. The audience appreciated the fact that a single movie addressed so many grave issues of gender-stereotype, menstruation, priesthood, oppression of the veil, fasting, domestic chores, marital conflict and many more.

The discussions were followed by a song sung by Kamla di in the lead and the gathering taking the chorus. The song celebrated breaking of gender roles, especially those concerning domestic and professional work in married life. Following this, the forum broke for lunch.

Post lunch we were joined by Gender and Sexuality Rights activist Mr Aapurv Jain, who gave a talk on how the patriarchy had unrealistic dehumanizing expectations from men and the problems of gender conformity.

Screening of Majma

This film centred around the lives of two men – Aslam selling medicines for sexual problems and Khalifa Barkat presiding over an aakhadaa. The word ‘Majma’ translates to performance. The film deals with the burden of masculinity and the constant need to perform: it be in the physical sphere, the professional sphere, or even the sexual sphere. This toxic idea of masculinity is what the film aims to destroy.

The discussion that followed centred on the insecurity that men constantly feel regarding their masculinity. Mr Jain, himself a man who does not conform to gender norms, led the debate on patriarchy’s adverse effects on men and masculine standards that just go to dehumanise men. The film and the ensuing discourse changed a lot of perspectives about patriarchy and masculinity.

Day 2

Mr Harish Sadani introduced the next film, Daaravtha, about a 12-year-old boy who wants to explore his identity. Mr Sadani informed the gathering of the blog for Youth For Gender Equailty (youthforgenderequality.org) – a initiative by MAVA. He introduced our guest Mr Yashwinder Singh from the Humsafar Trust.

Screening of Daaravtha

The film follows the story of Pankaj, an adolescent who seems to identify more with traditionally feminine activities, such as dressing up in his mother’s garments, decorating his hands with henna, and participating in plays based on classical music. He wishes to be cast as Mohini in a play against an elder boy whom he is attracted to. He is bullied for this by his peers and scoffed at by others in the community but his mother comes forward for him, accepts him, and helps him accept himself. Eventually they both cross the threshold (‘daaravtha’) to become who they really are.

Discussion

Mr Yashwinder Singh initiated the discussion on the film. He graduated 20 years ago when gender and sexuality were still taboo topics. He talked about how it felt like leading a double life where he had to pretend to be straight, and how far society and mind-sets have changed since then. He added that students are the change makers, and that he envisages a world free of stigma.

Participant: The film ties up symbols like the posters of the film Fire and the song I Want To Break Free on the radio to the larger theme of the plot.

Participant: In the last scene, the mother cycles her son to the play showing the liberation of not just the son but also the mother from gender roles

Participant: The image of the character looking at himself in the mirror and being discomforted in his skin is a powerful image, as also seen in Danish Girl.

Participant: Sex Reassignment Surgery is costly. A trans girl I know was supported only by her father, but it made it easier for her to talk about it. Eventually, even her relatives started to understand.

Yashwinder: Till mid 90’s most Bollywood films had a stereotypical comical representation of queer folk but a lot of films now give proper representation. The golden fish kept under captivity wanting to transit her place, becomes an important symbol here as that is exactly how the boy feels. The film discusses this issue without using any threatening words. What brings transgenders to the traffic signals is what didn’t bring them here in colleges. It gets hard with these stigmas to go on with one’s education. Often they are thrown out of the house and reduced only to sex workers.

Participant: The role of men in this social construction is important, be it his father, the elder boy, or the man who informs the father. Though the father never explicitly says ‘No’, he too feels the societal pressure to keep his son ‘masculine’.

Mr Sadani talk about how the issues have been discussed without jargon and that being able to watch these regional films with subtitles is a privilege. He then introduces the next film, Walking the Talk.

Screening of Walking the Talk

The film covers the first Working Class Pride March organised in Hyderabad following the brutal murder of a trans girl, Pravallika. The walk aimed at visibility for the community, and demanded the implementation of the NALSA judgement (2014). As the Pride Marches so far had an element of elitism in them, it gave out the message to people that this was something done by rich people who were bored. However, this March broke those stereotypes. This happened in the backdrop of the demand for the formation of Telangana, which was started because of people being denied power.

Discussion

Yahwinder: The harsh reality is that 50 km away from Delhi, the situation is still the same as it was in 1940’s. This is all driven by patriarchy and societal pressure. Entire societies drive on fear shame which they hold higher than happiness and freedom. There’s a worm in our brains that men are somehow superior to women.

Participant: Even the phrase ‘My daughter is no less than sons’ is problematic because men shouldn’t be the benchmark to measure your worth. Women should learn to just be themselves instead of placing masculine traits at the top of this hierarchy.

Yashwinder: 377 is a Victorian law that has continued so far. It was repealed by Delhi HC in 2009 but re-established by the SC in 2011. Deliberations have started on it again. We invite you to the Queer Pride Parade that would take place in Delhi on 12th November, this will mark 10 years of Queer Pride.

Participant: The realities are different in the West and the East. The film discusses queer issues in relation to caste and class and the conflicts thereof. The Queer Community has been restricted in terms of caste and class.

Participant: We must question why the act of sex should be restricted only to reproduction. There are also stereotypes attached to words, like certain ideas attached to the word ‘lesbian’ even though everyone’s experience of being a lesbian would be different.

Participant: I was the Head Girl at my school and I had the duty of approving the ideas for the boards that contained charts about some issue. Once, some middle schoolers wanted to make the board on LGBT issues. The afternoon of the day the board was put up, I was called to the principal’s office and yelled at and ordered to remove all charts. The education on these issues is something that must start in school itself.

Participant: Have there been any changes with a change in the Ruling Party?

Yashwinder: We do not live in isolation; we do interact with our law-makers. The Ministry of Health eventually brought up the fact that 377 has to go. Change in legislation does affect us. In Telangana, people are able to benefit from the fact that the government of the newly formed State wants to come off as progressive.

Screening of Breaking Free

Breaking Free is a documentary following the personal account of filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan. He talked about the struggles of being gay in a nation where a draconian law prevails and the society condemns homosexuality. The legislation of 377 is something given to us by McCauley, derived from the Bible. It is a non-bailable offense and arrests can be made under 377 on the basis of suspicion. Breaking free from this is what becomes important for us as a society as a whole.

Discussion

Participant: Our school took efforts to spread awareness about these issues. Anyone who was feeling conflicted could talk to the Psychology department.

Yashwinder: We used to have a progressive society where we could talk about sex loud. The vocabulary had words for all sexualities. If we are to be traditional, we should follow the tradition that has been around for over 3000 years.

Participant: The actual violators are not the queer folk but the rapists who try to ‘correct’ them by raping, but nothing can be done about it under law.

Yashwinder: I was a part of the cases in the High Court, I worked with Anjali. People are just not ready to talk about these issues. Corrective rapes shatter a person from inside. There exists a double stigma for lesbians.

Participant: These are certain problems that exist in our society, and the law of the land is based on social acceptance.

Yashwinder: Nothing can be achieved without laws. Changing societal mindsets is a whole different ball game. With the High Court judgement of 2009, many people were able to come out, but then it was reversed in 2013. Then four months later, the NALSA judgement was passed, which was a progressive step. Transgender people are given even marriage rights but Section 377 might be applicable on them which is why this needs to be removed to get rid of contradicting laws. The Queer Community is said to be a ‘minuscule minority’ but it is the duty of the law to protect minorities.

Participant: How does the Right to Privacy judgement affect the queer community?

Participant: The Freedom of Sexual Orientation is also a part of the judgement.

Yashwinder: Privacy is a basic thing. No one else can decide what you will wear, eat, etc. We hope that since 377 is being heard again, consensual sex between adults could be considered legal.

Harish: Gradually, sanity will prevail. We will also be affected by what is happening in other nations.

Screening of Boys Cannot Be Boys

The film follows the case of sexual harassment of work where it is not directed at the person who complains but creates an insecure and offensive work environment. Often women too let inappropriate talk slip by as ‘man talk’. A complaint of such a case is being discussed by the Internal Committee, where the jury is divided on the matter. Through the course of the film, the case is resolved, and duly explained to the accused that boys cannot be allowed to ‘be boys’.

Discussion

Participant: The excuse to keep them around is that they are ‘good at their work’ which is also the excuse being given for artists like Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen which should not be acceptable.

Participant: The defense for Hrithik Roshan is that he is a more senior actor than Kangana and that Kangana has dated a lot of men.

Participant: The film talks about sexual harassment in the formal sector, but what are the laws and proceedings for the same in the informal sector like vendors, farmers, etc?

Harish: Other than the Internal Committee, there is also a Local Committee in every area that takes up these issues. Is such normalisation of ‘man talk’ only among men? Women are often forced to accept it because they wouldn’t be accepted in their social group if they don’t. The use of such language has become a national habit and creates a hostile work environment which is unsuitable for work.

Nanda Ma’am: As far as the structure and the functioning of the Internal Committee goes, we should read up and educate ourselves about the laws and the formal deliberations of the committee.

Harish: Whenever the question of Impact vs Intent comes up, it is clear that the Impact of one’s words or actions matter more. Sexual harassment redressals are working for harassment of men too now. Domestically, men have largely been dominant, but it is not so in the corporate world. While the civil law on sexual harassment protects confidentiality, the criminal law does not and has separate jurisdiction. Certainty of punishment in rape cases must be called for.

Screening of A Pinch of Skin

The film covered the tradition in the Bohra community to circumcise girls by cutting parts of their genitalia to curb their sexuality. The ‘Khatna’ must be done by women approved by the priest. Women eventually start coming out against this practice that had no health benefits and only left psychological scars that women carry forever coupled with their reduced sexual pleasure. However, the practice still continues without much notice given to it as it is ‘only a pinch of skin’.

Discussion

Harish: Though no men are seen in the film, the underlying patriarchy cannot be ignored. In the end, it is the priest who sanctions these khatnas. The kind of genital mutilation practised in India is Type 1. It still leaves scars even if it’s just a pinch of skin.

Participant: Are men circumcised for the same reasons?

Roshan: Male circumcision is for better sexual health of men, it leaves less risk of passing STDs. Women get no benefits but it makes their sexual experiences more difficult.

Harish: Even though the Bohra community is one of the most reformed communities, even the educated people carry on this practice to control women’s libidos.

Participant: They will continue to control through faith with various tools. Education should move towards religious reforms.

Participant: Reforms must come from within a community. What we read and write is being affected and monitored. We must break free from these notions. Digital communication matters. Be an ally to any aggrieved community or section, and use your privilege to reach out, go out and do something for the community.

Roshan: It is illegal to mutilate children’s genitals in some countries. People of Bohra origin fly to India to carry it out and then return. When men came out with a video against this practice, Bohra women spammed the accounts and reported the posts that spoke against khatna. They won’t let people raise a voice against it.

Participant: An educated person can’t be entitled to dictate things to uneducated people. The idea is to question the prevalent practices and give an alternative.

Screening of Mina Walking

The film follows the story of a twelve-year-old girl in Afghanistan post-Taliban. She managed the household as her father was an unemployed drug addict and her mother dies when she was young. She also provides for her ailing grandfather’s medicines and balances her education and work. The story progresses with her getting in a twist with her employer which ends in a false police report that gets him killed. The incident awakens the father her struggles are far from over. Towards the end, Mina is just walking on, dealing with the turbulences of life that is her reality.

Screening of Yuva Maitri

This is a documentary about MAVA’s work with young men on gender sensitisation and the power of the youth. An initiative that started in rural Pune and spread to the rest of Maharashtra, this helped a lot of young men gain a perspective on issues faced by women as well as men that arise out of patriarchy. After the camp which included two girls, the men were taught to respect and treat all girls with dignity the way they had the two girls present. Mr Harish Sadani emphasises the fact that India has the largest youth population and we must invest in them for a better tomorrow. Men’s attitude towards women must undergo a reconstruction which can only follow deconstruction that they themselves undertake.

Follow-up note by Mr Harish Sadani

There exists a suffocation among men and we must ask them to come forward and indulge in these discussions. It makes a healthier safer environment for everyone, as even men don’t want to lose up on relationships. Men have tiny privileges that they must use to empower women. We conducted 15 street play shows in 2 days in rescue homes for juvenile delinquents. After a mere 20 minutes play, a boy responded that he learned that real men are those who respect women. Women activists who didn’t know how to engage with men have been using MAVA’s methodologies.

Ending Note

The event was winded up by Aishwarya thanking MAVA for bringing this film festival all the way from Mumbai. She also expressed her gratitude to Parivartan, the Gender Forum of KMC, and to Canada In India, and a special thanks to Elisa Paloschi.

Seema Ma’am then delivered her address, stating that now we will all understand masculinity in a different direction. We as students must initiate discussions with men and boys. We must take back what we learned not just to our peers, but also our families back home.

Pearl , the manager of the Canada Trust for Local Initiatives, then had an interactive session with the gathering. Taking two boxes, one pink and one blue, she labelled them the female stereotype and male stereotype box respectively. Then she started writing on chits of paper some gendered stereotypes that the gathering provided and placed them in the respective box. Once this was done, the contents of the two boxes were mixed up and thrown into the air, symbolically freeing the two genders of the stereotypes that they have long carried. She advised everyone present to shake things up, to interact with others so as to free them and help them become the best they can potentially be.

To conclude, Nanda Ma’am suggested that the remaining of the gathering hold hands in solidarity and take up the slogan of ‘Rise. Awaken. Love’ which was followed by chanting of the slogan ‘It’s Okay’ to accept all identities.

So come forward with your own stigmatised identity and accept yourself first. Help someone else come to terms with their identity. Tell the world that this existence must be accepted – that it’s okay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)