Tuesday, 31 January 2017

#IWillgoout: Ye betiyan bigadti kyu nahi?

Kaash yeh betiyan bigad jayen
Itni bigden ke yeh biphar jayen
Unpe biphren jo tir o teshaliye
Rah mein bun rahe hain dar-o-rasan
Aur har azmaish-e-dar-o-rasan 
Inko raste ki dhool Lange lage”

I felt extremely overwhelmed hearing these beautiful and powerful words by Gauhar Raza ji, tears that always get tough fight from my inner self won and were flowing with utmost ease as if no one has that power to stop them! I was wondering why he wrote this poem because no one of us would want to do that- mein kyu bigadoo? I have always been a good girl, good student, good daughter- not even for once did I thought of breaking the rules, not that I was admirer of rules and regulations but I didn’t even know whether me being a girl can do that too or was it even allowed for girls?

Because right from the childhood we are told how to sit, how to talk, in what pitch to utter words, what to say or what not to say, what are my responsibilities, what are my capabilities and limitations ! And we are taught that these rules are for our benefit and safety because if you go out in night and god forbid for enjoyment or pleasure you will be doomed just as what happened at the eve of this New Year. But what happened at 31st night, 16 December 2012 or for that matter everyday with the women from across the various sections of society on the streets, in the public transport, in the closed rooms of office or even home- is that justified?

To stand in solidarity with the survivors of sexual assault in Bengaluru on New Year’s eve, to challenge the rudimentary mindsets that restricts and confines women to the home and to fight Gender based violence, 16 organizations including our ‘Sahas’ from Dwarka (New Delhi) came forward to host campaign #IWillgoout.
For Sahas, it was a humongous opportunity – we were one of the co-hosts of the campaign and this happened just after 8 months of our Gender work! We were all geared up, various meet ups, video- messages, poster-pamphlets preparations and inviting people from all across the city in every possible way.
The event was to be held in Sec-6 market but on the last day, Dwarka Police denied the permission for the venue which was a huge setback. At the same time, disgustingly communal and defamatory leaflets were inserted in the local newspapers asking people not to attend #IWillgoout as it was organized by anti-nationals!  I was surprised by the audacity and deepened patriarchal roots that couldn’t stand women wanting to go out in the night and stand in solidarity against something wrong that happened in our own country. More than being angry I wanted #IWillgoout to happen at any cost so that we can reclaim our rights in public spaces and make our voices clear that we won’t bow down to injustice.

So with all might, we marched ahead and shifted the venue to Maxfort School. It was amazing to see huge outpour of audience despite change in venue and time. The event began at 7 pm. Women’s rights activist Jagmati Sangwan, in very strong words condemned Bengaluru incident, she also lashed out at Dwarka Police for unsupportive and callous attitude and at the same time she invited the collective to grow stronger to fight violence against women. There were power pact dance performances by Khushi Rainbow Home Girls, Nawa and Ghazal and father-daughter duo Manoli and Pathik Arora, the rock music presentation by Ruchi and Tushar Negi, the soul stirring poetry Alka Sinha, Namita Choudhary, Rajni Sharma. The performance by Relaa group, who enthralled the audience with the songs of protest like “hamare geet wo kyu rokhna chahte hai”, the qawwali and skit by Dwarka women and Poetry by Gauhar Raza ji were inspiring, moving and ignited the fire needed to fight against Gender based violence. 

Shabnam Hashmi ji and I was on Facebook Live throughout the event, which also mobilized lot of people and it was like a live telecast for all those people who couldn’t make it to the event. I was filled with happiness on seeing Shalini ji coming to the event and saying, “Meet Purvi, despite so many troubles and hurdles they managed to pulled the event so well. Your social media campaign was so good, that we actually managed to come otherwise the change in venue and time was so confusing”. These kind words filled me with so much gratitude and strength :-)

The event went on till 11 pm, then we moved to the Sector-6 market (our previous venue for which we didn’t get permission) and put up candle light vigil to protest against the irresponsible attitude of authorities who could have extended the support for the cause but failed to do so. Because of which we actually felt that according to system women can go out but only till 9 pm! 

The success of campaign send the message loud and clear that #Wewillgoout, come what may :-)

At the end of the day, I was feeling happy and grateful to each and every person because of whom we could pull of #IWillgoout successfully. The campaign was not only important for the cause that we were fighting for or for the collective that was coming together in Dwarka to fight for the rights of women but also as an organization Sahas and more because I am a women too! If not me who else would stand for making the world like a place I would want to live in – a place where there is no room for gender based violence, a place where girl is not asked to stay at home to feel safe, a place where every gender and sexual identity co-exist without judgments and with due respect.

Friday, 27 January 2017

UnGender stall, 200+ students and many stirring conversations

The problem with Gender is that it prescribes How we should be? Rather than recognizing How we are?”
This constant struggle of being compelled to adhere to Gender norms is not just problematic in terms of limiting one’s caliber and capabilities by boxing them into a particular identity but also it brings ignorance which forbids anyone to explore the limitless sky!

I believe it’s important to shed the clouds of ignorance so that the limitless sky is at least visible and with this thought we set up “UnGender” stall at PGDAV College during their annual fest. Interestingly ours was the only social enterprise that was setting up a stall, rest were either food stall or gaming stall, I was wondering how are we going to engage these students into discussion who were in festive mood! Nevertheless we were all set with our stall, we had designed our stall in a way that the participants would engage in quiz and then would enter inside the stall for the Gender model followed by discussion on important issues which are very alive in today’s scenario ranging with Gender based violence to Section- 377.

The first 2 charts that had quiz was very interesting and at the same time very intimidating. The first chart has two pictures (one where two men were kissing and second where two men were sitting together), the facilitator invites the participants to see the chart carefully and share who appear to be gay couple according to them? Not surprisingly most of the participants ticked on the picture that had two men kissing. This was followed by the chart which had 3 pictures- two men sitting, two women sitting and in third a man and women sitting on the beach – the facilitator invites the participant to see the pictures and share “who according to them is a heterosexual couple?” 

After the Quiz, the participant is invited inside the stall where another facilitator initiates the discussion on Traditional Gender Model which is based on how society sees or dictates Gender, Gender roles, identity and sexual orientation based on the binaries, which is followed by Authentic Gender Model. The later gender model is more complex; less talked about and explores permutation and combinations of gender and sexual identities. The last part of the stall is more about conversations, discussions and exploring the deep rooted stereotypes. Here, we place five cards which has a statement for example- Rape is not just about sex etc, so the facilitator invites the participant to choose a card and share what they feel or believe about it. 

I was facilitating the part “What is Authentic Gender Model?” which starts critiquing the Traditional Gender Model right from the beginning – It says that there are three kinds of sex- Male, Female and Intersex, because we never talk about intersex. Interestingly most of the participants were using the term Gender instead of sex, I could clearly make out – one the discomfort with the term ‘sex’ and secondly they assumed that ‘sex’ and “Gender” are synonymous to each other and thirdly most of them believed that LGBT community has come into existence only in recent times. All these points reflected on the dire need of what we are doing at “UnGender”.   

I was kind of sandwiched between two very powerful aspects of the stall, on one hand there was Pratibha who was facilitating “Traditional Gender Model” where in she was not only discussing about how Gender roles, identity and sexual orientation are seen and followed but through her personal sharing she was bringing in a discourse on masculinity and femininity- the things that are hardly talked about but is actually lived without understanding or questioning. Few of her sharing was particularly so intimidating that I had to actually pause and think about it. Importantly she was dealing with the each group by sensing in their backdrop, the things that could particularly hit their consciousness for example- She said that her brothers used to take her and other sisters to have date with other guys. The group of the guys looked at her in utter disbelief, the boys respond that they can do that too but their family won’t agree and above that how can we know the character of the boys? To this, pat comes the answer, “Who would guarantee your gal’s character? And the change begins from you! I am able to do many things because my brothers realized that they have a upper hand in power, so they used their power to help me step out of the home, so all of you also has to use your power to make your family, your society progressive rather than waiting for miracle to happen”.

“You can say this because you come from an elite family”
“Yes, you can say so, because yes I come from the elite family where girls are killed in the womb, where if the father comes to know that second child could be girl, wife is threatened. But this didn’t let me stop because I knew I was more than that”, says Pratibha.
And on another hand I had Mona facilitating the conversations around various sensitive issues which included Gender based violence, power dynamics, Homosexuality and Section-377. Her powerful dialogue on “rape is not just about sex” with a middle age man instigated me to jump into the conversation but I had to hold on to it. It was appalling to hear that a single man can’t do rape, woman is equally involved in a way to justify rape as consensual sex!! Also a lot of boys did agree that rape is way more than sex it is an epitome of power exerted on the women to take revenge, to humiliate, to oppress them.

Equally important was to explain Authentic Gender Model which talks about Gender and Sexuality beyond the borders of binaries. There was lot of words in the chart that brought curiosities ‘Intersex’ ‘Androgynous’ ‘Unique’; the wide range covering the sexual orientation raised many eyebrows- Questions like “A man is attracted to both man and woman then he is bisexual, than what is Pansexual?” “How can someone be Asexual?” “Transgender is same as eunuch?”  “What is the sexual organ of Transgender?” “If someone knows that their child is intersex, then why don’t they abort it?”

This last question just pained me- “What do you mean by saying that intersex child should be aborted?” The child is perfectly fine and healthy, just because at some point of time, his/her sexual identity would be questioned by social norms, they won’t be allowed to see this beautiful world! Anyways who has given the society this authority to question someone’s sexual or for that matter any identity. I was taken aback by her ignorance but at the same time I realized that it’s not only her but god knows how many people think on the same lines and that’s how marginalization happens. 

Initially while setting up the stall, we were all in dilemma as to how the UnGender stall would function, however the out pour of students in small and big groups, all girl groups to all boys groups and to mixed groups, intriguing questions to churning conversations made our day.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Lootera: A surreal volcano called Love :-)

“Kya kabhi saavera laata hai andhera…” This line is such a contradiction in itself but the beauty of these words entices me, pains me and shakes my emotions like an uncertain turmoil in a visibly silent ocean. There are certain emotions that one hold on to in some dark corner of their heart, not wanting to let them go, not wanting to share them with anyone even with the person whom they belong to, one such emotion is love which sometimes translate as intimacy, care, belongingness and sometime transcends as longing, angst, anger and pain- it’s difficult to define this feeling and confine it to few words or sentence or may be a page. But when these tangents of love are woven in form of cinema it looks nothing less than a heavenly poem away from all the glitz, glamour and kerfuffle. 

Lootera is the movie that I am talking about which was cruelly relatable, set up in after independence era somewhere in West Bengal around the time when Zamindari System was abolished.

Varun (played by Ranveer Singh) is an archeologist who visits Zamindar (played by Barun Chanda) residing in Manikpur with his daughter Pakhi (played by Sonakshi Sinha) to figure out/study the presence of past civilizations in the land owned by later. Pakhi had accidently hit Varun’s motorcycle previously while learning to ride car. The twinkle in her eyes while she sees him secretly reflects the instant attraction towards Varun, though he sees her for the first time during dinner at Zamindar’s home. 

She is epitome of beauty, elegance and intelligence, belonging to a rich class confined to a big home where books and one of her female friend is her companion. With Varun, fresh breeze knocks her life and she instantly falls for him. The beauty of love when it begins from eyes and travels through heart is something that is unmatchable and nothing else could replace it. It’s interesting to see how she figures out a way to know him and be with him through painting; he doesn’t know how to paint then she twists it and starts teaching him painting and the love in the eye blossoms into their personal conversation of knowing each other.

She doesn’t minces her words when she sees Varun ignoring him (his other identity forces him to change his path, he doesn’t tell her the truth instead chooses to ignore her) and asks him, “Don’t you love me? Can’t you say this to keep my heart?” And when Varun is about the leave other day, she chooses to try once more by having a conversation with him and at night she goes to his room. Both are passionately in love and they live the moment!

And just on the day of their proposed wedding he leaves her without any explanation without anything word just leaves her. The person whom you loved, trusted and thought would stay with you like forever leaves you alone, in the mid of questions, chaos and turmoil, subject you to thousands of judgments from people around you, you end up blaming yourself , figuring out what was your fault? When the things went out of your hand? And was that love really was love??

She is heartbroken, her father dies because Varun not only robbed them of the treasure they have but also backstabbed them emotionally! She goes to Dalhousie the place where she wanted to live and pursue her dream of writing books. But she is not able to write, she tries hard, she struggles but the words refuses to come to the paper.
Her thoughts and memories about Varun plays like a villain. There is a conversation that she remembers which happens after their first and only passionate moment where for the first time Varun confesses his love for her indirectly through a conversation between the characters of story written by Pakhi. 

It triggered lot of hidden emotions associated with this feeling which I have buried somewhere in my heart, this love, longing for love and memories leave you heart broken and there is no way it could be mended because with time one learn to avoid it ! 

And then he comes back, again she looks at him secretly, the emotions have changed the gazes have changed, the love then transcends as disgust, anger and pain. The film is a path breaking attempt to put these words visibly on screen when Pakhi tries to physically separate herself from Varun, hits him, bites him while he tries to inject medicine when she suffers from asthma attack. There is so much angst in the love that they once shared. The intensity of their love, hate, pain relationships keeps growing and fluctuating at times which leaves me wondering how to see love as black and white. 

And finally she is able to write her feelings on the paper where she curses herself for not being able to stop him from entering into her life once again and how she wishes to die when the last leaf on the tree which is visible from her window. Then the love takes a twist Varun who had option of leaving her decides to stay back, takes care of her in all possible way. 

I don’t know what really holds both together in the times of this extreme pain and angst? When she sees him painting again the barrier melts away and they get to talk. She asks, “Kya tumhne kabhi bhi mujhse pyaar kiya tha?” and he explains his situation and the reason for walking away and gives her hope that the leaf will never fall and that she has to live! The climax is heartwarming, beautiful and just insane where he draws his masterpiece ‘a leaf’ which he places on the tree that Pakhi has been seeing for so long and wanted to die when that last leaf would fall. 

Pakhi gets up in the morning, sees the tree and the leaf is intact and she smiles knowing the reason while Varun is shot dead by Police. Never have I seen such a heart breaking end to a beautiful story which leaves you with a hope to live. The hidden emotions completes the cycle and what remains is warmth and love :-)

Vikramaditya Motwane has crafted a timeless masterpiece, where the plot, the characters, the relationships among them and the magical music amalgamate to a beautiful emotion which you would love to experience, live and contain in your heart. It’s not necessary that “all love stories have happily ever after endings but sometimes it’s just about the story”