Published on October 12th, 20121
College boys preach gender equality
Students from six Mumbai colleges are doing their bit to stop the war between sexes and bring about gender equality.
by Vrushali Lad | firstname.lastname@example.org
It normally isn’t easy for a bunch of boys, or even one boy, for that matter, to talk to a girl they’ve just met, about menstrual cycles and breasts. But when this group of boys talks about this and more, none of us flinch or avoid eye contact. There’s no nervous giggling among the group and I don’t think they’re ganging up on me and deliberately talking dirty. They’re not over 22 years old – some of them are still in college – and though they’re interested in girls, their thoughts are more focussed, more centred on gender equality.
What’s more, they’re empowering women by empowering men.
“I used to watch my father getting drunk and beating up my mother. As a child, it was a normal sight for me. Growing up, I decided that I would beat my wife, too, if she didn’t do what I said,” says Sagar Gamre (21) from DG Ruparel College. “But now I realise that women also have the same rights that men do. Who are men to ‘give’ women anything? Who are men to grant them ‘permission’ to live a certain way, to study further, return home late?”
This realisation didn’t come all at once – in fact, it wouldn’t have come at all if Sagar would not have associated with Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA) and its honorary secretary Harish Sadani, who has been running gender-sensitisation camps among the youth for several years now. Sadani’s annual camps that address gender, sexuality, men-women roles and other such issues have resulted in several participants, like Sagar, becoming dedicated volunteers to the cause of gender sensitisation. Hearteningly, this year’s camp at Mangaon (Raigad district) has resulted in 30 young men coming back to spread the word in their respective colleges through an initiative titled Yuva Samvad. That’s five or six ‘leaders’ to a college. Not bad at all.
But the bunch wasn’t sure about the camp and what it would turn out to be. “Frankly, I wasn’t too interested in going, but I went because my friend Ashish went,” laughs Viplav Niwas, a student of Ruia College. “But the sessions held there put a lot of things in perspective for me. For instance, I remembered how my neighbour would beat up his wife regularly and everybody felt that it was okay for him to do so. Or how my own mother, an independent social worker, would come home every day and do the housework, and let my father take all the decisions at home.” His friend Ashish Date chimes in, “Growing up, I had not felt that there was anything wrong with our patriarchal systems, and if some men chose to dominate their wives or tell women in their families what to do, nobody could do anything about it.”
He adds that the camp and his association with MAVA changed his thinking so much, that he began questioning his family members as well. “In our family, if a woman is menstruating, she has to sit in a separate room and not touch anything. I said that this was wrong, that if they believed that God was pure, then touching God would make the ‘impure’ woman pure,” he grins. “Indian society trains men to look down on women in a hundred little ways. I hadn’t thought of these things before.”
Says Ajinkya Nimbare from Kirti College, “The problem is a lack of communication. What is a man trying to say when he is violent towards a woman? What is a woman trying to say when she refuses to have sex with her boyfriend or husband? Society makes men believe that women must do what they say, and if women refuse, they must be punished.”
Vivek Kumbhar, who graduated from D G Ruparel College last year, has been associated with Yuva Samvad for three years now. “I began to look at girls differently. In the camps, we were told that all the swear words we use address mothers, sisters and their body parts. We were told that every time we used a swear word, we were swearing at our mothers and sisters. That put an end to all swearing,” he laughs.
He has an interesting story to relate. “My mother had finished her schooling, but then she got married. My father didn’t let her study further. I didn’t think she needed to study as well – after all, women are safest in the house, right? But after working with MAVA, I began to wonder if we all hadn’t done her an injustice.” He proudly relates how, a few years ago, his mother did a balewadi course and is now a social worker.
Suraj Pawar, student social worker currently studying at TISS and associated with MAVA for a year, has already started taking sessions for college kids. “Sadly, people think that women’s studies (his subject at TISS) is not for men. I am the only man in the class,” he says. “I was in Class 12 when my sister got married. I was so heartbroken at her going away, that I cried for three days. I kept asking, ‘Why must women be the ones to leave their homes? Why do we burden our women with all of life’s tough decisions?’” A move to social work with an NGO was a natural transition for him.
Through a series of interactive talks with college students, the selected youth leaders discuss gender, sex, sexuality, roles, expectations, sexual health, and other related topics. “The objective is to change men’s mindsets. We depend on women to empower themselves, but women would not need empowerment if men’s attitudes change,” explains Harish Sadani. “We target this age group because these boys will soon become men that constitute a decision-making society. The initiative involves using different, innovative media like street-plays, essay and poster-competitions, radio plays, poetry reading sessions, and talks and discussions by veterans in the field.”
All of the selected boys are NSS students. “They have to choose four to five projects in a year as part of their curriculum, and we thought that Yuva Samvad was a great project that would also make them socially aware,” says professor Pradeep Waghmare, coordinator-NSS Unit, Ruia College. “It is under the University of Mumbai and is aided by the state government and the UGC.”
Yuva Samvad currently takes place in these colleges: Ruia, D G Ruparel, Siddharth, Guru Nanak, GTB Nagar and Dr T K Tope (night college in Parel).