Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SEX AND GENDER – The difference that makes a difference.: Husnaa Baig

The very difference between sex and gender is still not clear to many. Sex is something you are born with , it’s biological ; while gender on the other hand is something that you make, probably also influenced by the society, but something in your mind of how you yourself want to live your life.

After almost 19 centuries gone, we still live in this “male dominant’ society .We the youth, day in day out, happen to see this inequality to a remarkable extent but not quite take a stand. Today with this extra ordinary interactive workshop with Mrs. Preeti Das, every single person in the room took up things they never thought of. Things that will help everyone to make their bit count.

In today’s era, though at the back of their mind, everyone is aware of the situation but the thread to connect to the masses is cut down; by the media, films, society. The leading newsletter shows the real picture of inequality without even considering the importance of change, extremely required. Films on that also make the female protagonist mostly revolving around the male.

There is still this ray of hope, trying to penetrate through people; eager to take a stand. There has been a change with female weight lifters, CEO’s, doctors, engineers, coming up to stand against.


About the author: Husnaa is a first year student of Psychology who has joined Sauhard as a fellow.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gender over chai: Ashini Jagtiani

Sunday mornings are the least demanding of all days. You sleep in, wake up and spend time contemplating on how amazingly tiring your week was. So naturally, when you are expected to wake up at 8 am and attend a seminar at 9, skepticism is bound to arise. I was undoubtedly looking forward to this particular talk since the speaker was one of the founders of The Comedy Factor, which I am a personal fan of. However, SUNDAY mornings.  After ten alarm snoozes and a personal mind battle I got myself out of bed and ready for the seminar. What came next changed my day. Sauhard Fellowship 2014’s first seminar was a session on gender by Preeti Das, a film and gender studies expert.
The session opened with the question- what is gender? And really, come to think of it, what is gender? We hear about gender discrimination and gender equality, about woman empowerment and sexuality, but these are mere topics that fall under the study of gender, they do not define gender. Somehow, we always end up talking about feminism when we open the subject of gender and that is where the very first problem lies. Preeti tells us that gender studies is about understanding both men and women and is not biased towards any one sex. So what is gender? It is not sex, because sex is something biological. Gender is a social and cultural. The session’s opening itself questions some of our basic everyday actions. This lead us to the conclusion that society expects us to behave in a certain manner and each of us play a part and fit into those roles. For instance from the day a child is born his gender role is defined for him or her- blue for the boy, pink for the girl. Stereotyping is the basis of the problem where colors, clothing, food are categorized and associated with either femininity or masculinity.  So the next time you ridicule a boy wearing a V-neck pink t-shirt stop and think why you are teasing him- you have fallen into the trap society has set for you.
Next, the conversation steered into the direction of language and semiotics and how they play a role in developing gender biases. Our languages are also patriarchal along with our society. Why are all Indian abuses directed towards the sister and the mother? Because women are considered a property of the man and directing the abuse towards the woman is equivalent to demeaning the man and tinting his “honor”.
We also talked about the role of the media and advertisements in shaping our thought. Traditionally both men and women are assigned a set of tasks and we are to comply to those roles. There has been an enormous paradox in the issue of woman empowerment. Technologically and professionally women have taken a step ahead, successful women are in every field. However, physically women have taken a step back and fallen into the trap of the beauty myth. From the diet industry to the cosmetic industry, large companies are benefitting from product management. An unattainable beauty standard is set for women where what you are, is just not good enough. You need that face wash to get rid of those pimples- conclusion pimples make you look ugly. You need to drink that soup to lose weight, conclusion- you need to lose weight. That make up will make you look flawless, conclusion- I am not pretty without that make up.  To add to the horror, we have music videos where a hundred men drool  over one woman and objectify her. There you have it- that is what the society expects you to be- perfect and pretty.
Through the session we went on several tangents talking about different kinds of situations we find ourselves in, in our daily lives. For instance, why does the male ego hurt when a woman pays? Is the man expected to pay? Why are girls expected to learn how to cook? How do women become “impure” when they menstruate? The session was concluded on a note that gender is important, however not every situation should be looked at through the lens of gender. Gender sensitization is necessary not the centralization of everything around gender.  A lethargic Sunday morning was suddenly transformed into a productive morning of ideas, theories and experiences.

About the author: Ashini is a student of Economics with a passion in theatre and politics 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Maryada Purushottam? I like that! : Heenakshi Malhotra

I believe its necessary for me to begin with the definition of gender and sex before I give an insight into the whole two and a half hour session we had with Mrs Preeti Das. So in essence sex refers to the biological differences; chromosomes , hormonal profiles, internal and external sex organs and gender describes the characteristics that a society or culture delineates as masculine or feminine.
If you are a woman (or a man) your identity is immediately drawn up on the basis of a few things. There has been a ridiculous pattern in this patriarchal society where waiters bring bills to the man accompanying the woman. And no, they WILL not acknowledge your presence , simply because you are a woman, you know?
Thinking on a philosophical wavelength I have come to realize and thus question a few things that made me churn up this thought. Why do we have swear words that attack our mothers or sisters? Is a woman wearing high heels or a skirt obliged to hear that she is some “Maal” or “Item” ; merely equating her to a commodity? I say NO!
Ever notice the crucial message today’s advertisements and movies provide? (Pun intended). One ad of diapers shows a woman caretaking the baby and another showing the father planning for the child’s education and future. Isn't it plausible enough to agree that these little stereotypes do have a role in shaping our frame of mind?

Top actresses bringing out hideous versions of Sita today, center piece in Shiela ki Jawaani or Munni , with hungry men drooling around them. Believe me ladies, you cannot become Katrina Kaif in this life at least. It will only make you despair of something you cannot attain so forget about them Barbie dolls with chiseled bodies that your parents gave you in childhood.

Also I urge you to please notice the fact that women protagonists are merely given any screen space unless they remove their clothes. For instance taking the example of Kareena Kapoor’s parallel roles  in movies like Chameli and Talaash. The only difference is that in Talassh it has been portrayed from the lens of a female director that actually makes the audience admire her screen presence in a less obscene way.
Let us all acknowledge the fact that women CAN have it all ,that a menstruating woman isn’t disgusting and that the ultimate goal of a woman after marriage is not to produce babies. Also that its not necessary to brush your teeth every morning. Jokes apart . Lets take pride in being a woman  because you have a  body that belongs to no lover, no father, belongs to no one but you.

About the author: Heenakshi is a first year student of English Literature. A fresh fellow at  Sauhard this year, looking forward to gain new experiences and making new bonds.

A Dive into Self: Aaqib Sameja

As the orientation started at Sauhard, I found myself shifting to a very new and unusual state of mind where all of us unconsiously have been a lot of times but today I was at that height in my conscious state. The words of the mentor created a scene in my mind. I found myself standing on this high cliff and all I could see was the surface of the ocean below me. It questioned my mind, should I dive? I know how to swim but what if the surface is too shallow? And as the mentor opened the horizon I found that the surface was deep enough to dive. My mind asked me again, are you sure you want to dive? I began to think- what if it is too deep and I never come up? But the noise echoed, 'boy you forget you know to swim'. Now I was certain about the fact  that yes I want to dive. As soon as I stepped to dive I saw a movement in the water. My mind questioned me again- are you aware of the dangers in it? Will the water be a friend of yours? Or will it reject you in a harsh way? The mentor's words were still audible and clear to my physical presence in the room and the scene cleared that till I don't test myself, I will not be able to know what is good and what is bad for me. As the orientation was to end I was on this cliff waiting for things to be certain. A deep ocean waiting for me to jump. It makes no difference to the ocean if I jump or not but it would make a great difference to me as it will be a totally new experience and adventure to my ordinary life which will now have the word 'extra' before it. And by the time the mentor said thank you, I was between the cliff and ocean waiting to explore a whole new me out of myself.

About the author: Aaqib is a final year student of Psychology. He has been associated with Sauhard since a few months and is part of the Student Fellowship Batch 2014-15.

Gender- It is you, not your sex: Anshu Verma

It is us who mark male or female as our sexual identity on application forms. We are aware of it. But do we know who creates the distinction between a MAN and a WOMAN? Our session with Preeti Das made me think on gender from a different side today. Masculine and feminine factors do not pertain absolutely to your sexual identity. As a whole society, we label masculinity to a man and feminine or precisely a soft and elegant character with women. In Hindu mythology, god Vishnu is defined with feminine characteristic and Shiva is masculine. It clearly indicates that gender identity has nothing to do with your body type.
A woman can be a bread earner or a bread maker, its her choice, but the shackles of society bind a person to remain in a predefined gender boundary, which is nothing but a limitation of an undeveloped society.
Hinduism is not a religion, its a culture which follows "SANATAN DHARMA" which says "VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM"- all are equal as a family in this earth, irrespective of gender, caste or religion. Every religion gives you equality.  
But we have adopted these philosophies only in a wrong sense, thus the dominance of men increased in society.
A man is not meant to be caretaker of his child, but he can rape. He is devaluated if he holds kitchen appliances, A woman isnt encouraged or respected enough to take a stand in society.
People say "behind every successful man, there is a woman" but I ask them how a man can be successful if his woman is still behind him. 
People worship "Kali" to be blessed with powers, she is also a goddess, precisely a woman, but they hesitate for their own girl to be a powerful leader, a soldier, a sportswoman, the FUTURE.
Is she only meant to produce future generations, irrespective of her ability to conquer the world like Queen of Jhansi? Parents want their child to be a Sachin, Ambani, Ronaldo or Salmaan but not a Sania Mirza, Indra Nooyi, Mary Kom or Pratibha Patil. They are happy if her husband earns lacs of rupees monthly. 
That is like choking of immortal powers of feminism that can lead to true development. "Yatra naryastu pujyante, ramante tatra devta" - where women are worshiped, that becomes heaven. But heaven cannot be attained by us until this veil of misconception about our "predefined gender" exists. 

About the author: Anshu Verma is from Udaipur, Rajasthan currently a final year student of Economics. He has been associated with Sauhard since last one year and was part of the fellowship batch last year. He has extended the fellowship this year.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A New Perspective: Anisha Mehta

We all seek to find something new, everyday of our lives. That one thing which makes all the difference in your personality and the way you carry yourself. That one person you meet who makes a big impact on your mind. Something of that sort happened to me today.

I first heard of Sauhard’s Student Social Fellowship from a friend at college. Keen to learn more about it, I reached their office right away. Their volunteers talked to me about the experiences they had over the past couple of years, and I was impressed. But not till I had attended the orientation, did I truly understand the spirit of the NGO.

To start off, one of their mentors talked to us about passion, hard work and discipline. I know what you’re thinking. Same old same old, right? However, there was one part which caught my attention. Something which neither my parents, nor my teachers have ever talked about. He talked of a ‘spark’ which must be present in us. That spark which empowers you to bring about change and make a difference, however small or big, in this world. I do not know whether I have it in me, but after today I believe Sauhard will give me the platform to try.

Afterwards, we were given a small exercise. We were split into four groups and asked to discuss and pen down some of the expectations we had from the Fellowship. Very proudly, we came up with things like awareness, personal growth, team work etc. But the most important of all, according to me was that Sauhard will give me the opportunity to be heard. I have a lot of things to say, but what’s the point if no one is listening? So I volunteered to write about the orientation as a first step in that direction.

Lastly, we were very dramatically made aware of the do’s and dont’s at Sauhard, but mostly just dont’s. Interrupting a meeting to take a call, group-ism, coming late, or worse, not turning up at all are a few of them. The hour and a half spent at that gathering was full of fun, unlike most orientations. It gave me a taste of what’s in store in the near future. I left the room with a new perspective, which was enough to make my day.

About the author: Anisha is a third year student of Economics. She is a first timer at Sauhard who wishes to see change in society's way of thinking.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Voices That Cannot Be Silenced: Farheen Raaj

There are these times when you realise that something that you are trying to do is utterly pointless. And then you come to a realisation above that- which is that that is precisely why they need to be done more, to reinforce the sense of it. I know, not making a lot of sense, am I? Let me explain.

 The NGO I work with organised a theatre workshop recently. As a part of the workshop and another campaign, we came up with a production- a street play on youth and contemporary politics; meant to raise awareness, and not at all affiliated with any political party. Armed with loud voices and vivacious spirits and a brilliant dhol, we dressed ourselves in black kurtas and mostly red duppattas. This already made us feel a little bit like an army. In effect, we went to a lot of places, performed without fear and garnered great feedback. Not only that, but we generated a lot of pretty interesting post performance discussions with the audience. The best part about the play, proudly titled 'Bharat Bhagya Vidhata' is that it contains just the right mix of humour and punches to the gut. We sing songs and we provoke just as much laughter as we do serious thought. All in all, we were pretty proud of what we were doing, since we don't expect any one of our viewers to stand up after the play and say "I shall change the country and I shall become next PM." But the fact that people have come up to us saying we encourage/inspire them is good enough for the moment. Moreover, at every one of our performances, and there have been quite a few, there has been at least one invitation from another institute or organization that wants us to perform there.

However, something happened today that shook our spirit a little. We usually alternate performances between institutes and public places. Today, we went to one of the bigger parks of the city, hoping to catch a regular audience. Let me state here that this is the second time we were going to this place. As usual, before we began, we walked around the park, telling people about the play, inviting them and creating a general atmosphere. It worked well, and we began on a high note. Just about the point when the play hit the halfway mark- at about 7 minutes, this gentleman walks in, all enraged, demanding us to pack up. He said that we were disturbing the walkers and were a nuisance, and I quote, "I called the commissioner and I am very happy I shut this down." Not wanting to create trouble for ourselves as well as those present there, we stopped as we were, apologized to our audience and silenced the dhol. Not that our ego as performers wasn't hurt, but more than that, our shoulders slumped because we realised that our voices, no matter how loud and how necessary, were still silenced. 

What still managed to make us smile was the fact that a lot of people from the audience came and apologised to us because of what happened. Another person who was pretty sorry apologised that we weren't allowed to continue, but in a loud tone stated "these young people are like the roots of a tree. Even if we forcefully uproot them from here, they will find root and grow somewhere else. They cannot be contained." His pride mirrored in our eyes. 

Today, I understood that when your voice is silenced, that's when you need to speak the loudest. After this setback, we walked out a little disheartened, and yet feeling more enthused than ever. Let's just say, stronger, louder voices are waiting just behind the curtains. In the words of one spectator against our agitator, we will find root and grow again.

About the author: Farheen is a senior volunteer at Sauhard, and was a part of the core team as well. She firmly believes that being with Sauhard is one of the biggest things to have shaped her identity. She currently works in Mumbai.

A Moment of Awakening: Farheen Raaj

If you're one of the people reading this blog post, chances are that you lead a privileged life. No, privileged doesn't mean that you can afford to change your phone every six months, or get a new car every second year, nor does it mean taking an international holiday every summer or being able to buy yourself a gift just because you feel like it. It means that you don't have to worry about whether or not you'll have food for your next meal. It means knowing if you're going to get clean drinking water. It means not fearing that one strong gust of wind or one heavy bout of rain could ruin your house. It means not having to calculate every penny you spend, including essential expenses, to see if you can make ends meet. Privileged means that your own governance systems will not, one fine day, just uproot you from your society and throw you elsewhere to fend for yourself. Sounds exaggerated? Its not.

Privileged world, meet Piplaj, Ahmedabad. Piplaj, meet the world, who doesn't know that you exist. What is Piplaj, you ask? This is the little-known, often neglected area of Ahmedabad where the people who previously lived in the riverfront area were 'given' rehabilitation at. If you ever need help finding the place, just ask where the Ahmedabad Sewage Dump is. The colony of the displaced is right there. As a volunteer for an NGO, I have personally been to Piplaj a number of times, and the sight never gets easier. Plastic sheets for roofs, yellow coloured drinking water, no usable washrooms, mud in every corner, mosquitos, snakes and stray dogs- these are just a few of their physical problems. Add to this constant unemployment, medical risks, poverty, crime and prostitution, the condition there is not something that you and I would be able to stomach easily, let alone be able to live in. Yet, the people here don't beg you for money when you go there, they ask if you can help them get justice. People still smile, they are beautiful. But we need to stop making them go through this in order to appreciate their strength. My objective here isn't even to draw your attention to the despicable living conditions at Piplaj- God knows that it isn't the only place in the world where the situation is such. I do however, wish to draw attention to the fact that places like this exist. 
When you peel away the glossy sheen of "Development", you find cracks- where 3000 people become a crack. In the process of making our large cities shiny and tourist friendly, we've pushed away the poor, not poverty.  We marvel at the new attractions in the city, go there for walks and picnics- take pictures there and post them on Facebook. We don't even realise that what we are using at a backdrop for our profile picture used to once be someone's home. Not only that, but in reality, we left someone to survive in inhuman conditions just so that we can take a pretty picture. How does that become development? What is our definition of development, if the lower strata of society is deprived of their needs so that the upper strata can enjoy luxuries? 

I'm not playing the blame game. Everyone, from the top to the bottom, has a part to play- both in paradise and in hell. The question is, do we realise what our part is? And are we willing to follow through with it?

Special Note: This isn't a sponsored post of any sort. Piplaj is very much real, and here is a rough draft of a photodocumentary that a friend, Falak Choksi, and I made about it-Tomorrow?

For anyone who is interested in knowing more about this matter and the lack of an Internal Displacement Policy in India, or if you'd like to help the cause, feel free to write to me or in the comment box. An educational institute also runs a small school at Piplaj, so if you feel that you can help there- through your time, funds or old books and magazines, do not hesitate. Thank you!
Also, my thoughts on this issue are many and can't be included in just one post, so rest assured, there will be more to follow in some time.

About the author: Farheen is a senior volunteer at Sauhard, and was a part of the core team as well. She firmly believes that being with Sauhard is one of the biggest things to have shaped her identity. She currently works in Mumbai.