Youth In Haryana Discuss Women’s Rights and Child Sex Ratio

Recently, I have been on multiple visits to Haryana for Breakthrough India‘s campaign against gender-biased sex selection called #‎MissionHazaar‬ (love the name). I wrote a short post on its blog on one of the training where we showed some videos to the students and then opened the room for debate. The blogpost is cross-posted here for archival purposes. Read how the youth talked about women’s rights and the skewed child sex ratio.

As a kick-start to Breakthrough’s campaign Mission Hazaar on gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, film screenings were organized in various colleges across districts in Haryana. Although being a part of the digital media team at BT, I was fortunate enough to attend one of these film screenings.

It was a cold January day and three of us from BT huddled in a car set off to Rohtak. We arrived at Neki Ram College around 10 AM and I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the classroom where the screening was scheduled. It was a huge classroom, but apparently not big enough for the swarm of students inside. There were more girls than boys and the students were searching for any available tiny spot in every nook and corner of the classroom. The very enthusiastic teacher, Ms. Uma Avasthi, professor of history and in-charge of the women’s cell, was trying to make sense of space shortage and eager students. I had an opportunity to talk to her before we dwelled into the session and asked, how come there are more girls in the classroom given the general ratio of the college is somewhat skewed. To which Prof. Avasthi replied, she had purposefully put a notice only for the girls so that they are more visible and that the boys do not outnumber them given the number in the college is 1200-5000. But the boys eventually came due to curiosity (which we learned later was for the better) and hence it was balanced.

Prof. Uma Avasthi with some students outside the classroom.

Prof. Uma Avasthi with some students outside the classroom.

The classroom was jam-packed and some students were peeping in from outside. We started with Satyamev Jayate’s episode on gender-biased sex selection. The students were very receptive and watched in rapt attention. They clapped at the impact stories, had tears in their eyes listening to the sorry state of affairs and laughed at another clip. Simply put, they were touched. After the episode ended, they watched a video presentation on Mission Hazaar and were introduced to the IVRS game. I noticed a lot of students taking down the IVRS no. After this they watched three short films from Jagori on gender-based discrimination and violence.

BT Trainer Roki taking the session.

BT Trainer Roki taking the session.

Once the screenings were over, the room was opened for debate. At first, the boys came in the front and spoke how one must end gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, but still putting the onus on women how they need to become stronger. However, after a few hesitations some girls stood up and started to speak. They were still not very comfortable to come forward and preferred to talk from their allocated seats. Although less in number, the boys were somewhat aggressive and clearly steering the conversation. The debate was becoming heftier in nature and there were some confrontations among the sexes. Sensing trouble the BT trainers took over the debate and brought forward a nuanced discussion to the larger issue.

Students actively taking part in the discussion.

Students actively taking part in the discussion.

Although receiving an overtly positive response from the students and the general atmosphere during the training, it is quite evident that our journey is very long even with the youth. Young adolescents are our future and will take the way forward, but even they need to be further sensitized on gender issues and any biases stemming from age-old patriarchal mindsets need to be nipped in the bud.

An open letter to the Founder of IITIIMshaadi.com

Dear Dr. Ajay Gupta, Founder of IITIIMshaadi.com

Dr., eh? That too from Delhi School of Economics? Pretty impressive! Just a quick question, did they also teach you something called mutual respect and equality? Oh wait..

I just stumbled upon a Facebook post which said now men from IIT and IIM have a place to find their “soul mates”. I clicked on it and whoa, was I fumbled? Your extremely fresh idea to build a matrimonial website based on educational qualifications than evils like caste, class, race etc is damn progressive, I must say. Even trivialities like common interests and hobbies and compatibility didn’t find a meager mention because as the tagline of your website goes Alma Mater Matters. Well, I must congratulate you, Sir. You have solved that mystery which even Chetan Bhagat with 6 books down couldn’t.

You see, Sir, I have recently turned 25 and your website has come like a blessing in disguise to me. Like every dutiful, middle-class, educated Indian girl, it’s time for me to stop and smell the rose in my journey called marriage. After all, what good is my education when I can’t garner a good husband? You see, Sir, just like you, even I’m a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. And after three degrees down and on the way to the fourth one, I think I have realized the true meaning of my education, all thanks to you! However, Sir, when I with utter joy tried to log in to your site to search for that true soul mate, I found out to my dismay that I do not “qualify” to register on your prestigious site iitiimshaadi.com. Why, Sir if I may ask, why? Am I not good enough? Is it my qualifications, double major in German Studies that didn’t find any parent group it could attach to?  Is it because Humanities is as it is a disrespected field? Or is it because my university is largely a leftist one? Even the poor university couldn’t get enlisted in your élite group of institutions.

Or is it so because your pretty boys from the IITs and the IIMs might get intimidated by a highly educated woman like me? Is it why the eligibility criteria for women on your website and I quote is “Country-wide reputed graduation institutions on wards“. If I may ask, why Sir, would you need women from even “country-wide reputed graduation institutions“? If I’m not mistaken didn’t you mention the site has lower entry requirements for women to give “a larger pool of choice to the men“. I mean, as you rightly mentioned “some highly educated men, in terms of practicality, like women who also consider taking care of the home a task as good as a job.” Weren’t you the one who said, “They were looking for intellectual compatibility, but at the same time wanted women who would understand their hectic lives and dedicate more time to the house—while doing some part-time work, someone with a half-day job would have also worked.” After all, that is the true meaning of a woman’s life to serve as a maid and a fuck-buddy for her man, isn’t it, Sir? To be highly educated and intellectually compatible but dissolve herself in-house and part-time work. My parents would be so proud of me today, after all, this is why they brought me up and provided me the best education. They owe you, Sir, they owe you.

But I haven’t even come to the best part of your excellent website, Sir, if you may allow. The homepage of your site has a slide show of a few images with the header “Preview of things to come“. What a stroke of brilliance, Sir, what a stroke! The image starts from a marriage ceremony being culminated to a fancy car with the tag “IITIIM shaadi“. The message behind the images is loud and clear: Enroll in IIT or IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE! Voila! After all, this is a “gift” and not dowry. You Sir, win hands down.

I’m grateful to you for making me realize the true meaning of my existence. Now, I’m just waiting for some IIT/IIM boy of yours to pity on me with my useless humanities degrees from an even useless university, marry me and end my misery. However, if you or any of your pretty boys somehow didn’t like my earnest appreciation of your venture, they are welcome to shoot questions at me. I do hope your pretty boys will come up with some quality arguments. The whole point is to have a dialogue, right Sir?

Enroll into IIT/IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE!

Enroll into IIT/IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE!

 

Update (as on 29.08.2014): I emailed the above letter to the Founder, Dr. Ajay Gupta on 26.08.2014 and received a response within less than an hour. Like the website, Mr. Gupta’s words were big and hollow. He mentioned he “respects”others’ opinions and expects the same. Very politely and smartly he has tried to explain his “philosophy” behind the site and conveniently ignored all my questions. However, fearing such angry letters, I assume, a few changes has been made to the website. The changes are following:

  • The image with the car has been removed and replaced with an image showing the wedding venue. Mr Gupta surely feared dowry accusations, but how much his mentality has changed, if he or his relatives will demand dowry for future weddings can only be speculated.
  • The introduction of the site has been changed. It no longer says that women must be from “reputed institutions” while men from “élite”. The current introduction is a more general one without any gender bias. However, if this bias is carried out in further steps, one can’t be assured.
  • More options have been added to the “Am I eligible” list including PhD and Masters, however Humanities still didn’t find a mention. According to the site, the list of institutions are also being updated.

The post will be updated if any other changes occur. Although, Mr. Gupta is trying to cover up his sexist remarks and patriarchal attitude towards women, how much will be put into practice cannot be said. Let there be hope!

Update on 12.09.2014: I and the open letter were recently quoted in an article in Deccan Chronicle, Banglore. Check out below:

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Disclaimer: This article has been previously published on Feminism in India here.

The haste of CBI and media: Aarushi-Hemraj muder case

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What do you do when a high-profile case has been stretched for more than five years, has been investigated by the state police, then by a said team of CBI who claimed something different to an another team of CBI who turned the tables, when there are two sets of suspects, five arrests and countless fumbles and when the supposedly ‘accused’ ask for a re-investigation just to get themselves arrested and prosecuted? You wrap it up as quickly as you can, boggle with the common man’s minds and gift it to the nation. The Aarushi-Hemraj murder case has been twisted and turned by the police officials, the CBI, the media that it is impossible to see the forest for the trees. The case remains unsolved.

Firstly, I would want to clarify my position on Aarushi’s parents, I do not believe that they killed their daughter and their domestic servant but I also do not believe that they didn’t kill their daughter and their domestic servant. So if someone would ask me, I would say, I don’t know. I will not dwell further into this, as there are two particular points that struck me while I was following the case and I was appalled to see how we as a society have a complete lack of understanding and sensitivity towards a 14-year old and an underprivileged migrant.

So just because the police officials and the CBI couldn’t provide any substantial evidence or ground basis as to why Aarushi and Hemraj were killed or what was the motivation behind the killing, the best thing they could do was to conjure up a set of filthy patriarchal excuses and stamp the tag of ‘honour-killing’ on the case. The gossip- hungry media was eager to spread this claim like fire without even blinking for a second what injustice is being meted out to the demised. What does it say about us as a society that we are so freely able to say that a 14-year old can and was having an ‘affair’ with an adult man, given that Aarushi was a child at the time of her death. There seems to be a complete lack of understanding that a child cannot “have an affair”, that it is rape even if true – quite apart from the ethics of speculating on something like this.

There is no evidence of this claimed ‘affair’. The CBI and the state police have failed to produce anyone who would support their claims. But still they were adamant to point fingers at Aarushi and Hemraj’s character. Is this how we treat the dead? Does this not show our typical patriarchal mindset? Why is it that a woman is seen as a sexual object? If Aarushi was not the Talwars daughter but their son who was murdered, would the police and the CBI still come to this conclusion? Would they have said that a 14-year old boy was having an ‘affair’ with an adult man? Oh, I don’t think so, because our society is not just patriarchal and misogynistic but also homophobic.

Another point that struck me was how quickly the ‘big daddies’ of the glamour industry pounced on the case to make even bigger bucks. Rumours have been doing rounds that the Talwars were offered a royalty of Rs.5 crore by a London-based writer and filmmaker if they cooperated with him in publishing a book and making a movie on Aarushi. Our Bollywood celebs are not behind and many prominent directors have shown interest in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case. This after the Talwars have already mentioned that they will not allow any book or film on the murder of their daughter and anyone taking up such a venture without their consent will face legal action. How can we be so insensitive? The pain has not even subsided and we are trying to commercialize the case and make money.

This is the state of our judiciary and our law system. We have a long way to go before we can expect any kind of justice from them. Till then, Aarushi and Hemraj will live in our memory as an instance of elephantine failure. As a society we owe Aarushi and Hemraj justice and truth.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web