50 Shades Of Feminism: A Panel Discussion On Feminism And Pornography

I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion by the Debating Society of Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology, University of Delhi as part of their Debating and Literary Festival of NSIT – Colloquium.

This year’s Panel Discussion was centred on the theme:

“50 Shades of Feminism”

A discourse on the coexistence of feminism and pornography

Pornography, both in the Indian and global context, is viewed as a taboo, and has been at the centre of a raging debate for a while now. An interesting contributor to this fulmination is the dichotomy that exists between the sects of who are considered to be women’s greatest proponents – feminists. With feminists dividing themselves as sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists, insight into their opposing and myriad views highlights a panorama of the moralistic considerations pornography engenders, and raises the question of whether pornography can coexist with feminism.

Apart from me, other panelists included Bishakha Datta, a feminist, filmmaker and the founder of pointofview.org, Vaishna Roy, the Senior Dy. Editor of The Hindu and Rajni Palriwala, a Professor of Sociology at Delhi University, specializing in Gender Studies. The discussion explored the following sub-topics:

    • The belief that pornographic objectification isn’t limited to females, but extends to men as well?
    • The thought that there’s a very fine line between the expression of a woman’s sexuality and objectifying her
    • Human trafficking ties to pornography.
    • Influence of pornography on sexual crimes such as rape, violence, eave teasing?
    • Women who watch porn.
    • Pornography empowering women?
    • Idea of feminist or women-centric pornography or erotica and the lack of it.

Here are some of the pictures from the discussion.

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Nominated For Femina Women Awards 2015 Under Online Influencer Category

Hello everyone, I’m happy to announce that I was nominated for Femina Women Awards 2015 under the Online Influencer category for initiating the feminist platform Feminism In India.com

Though I did not win the award, Shradha Sharma of YourStory did (many congratulations to her), a nomination next to such established and successful people was also a good thing. Feminism In India.com is just eight months old and has already received such recognition and appreciation, I’m overwhelmed.

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I Was Part Of A Report By France 2, French National Channel

Hello everyone, I was part of this super report by the national French channel, France 2, on gender and activism in India. I talk about my experience of molestation in the Delhi metro, the status of women’s safety in India and the feminist platform Feminism in India that I have initiated also features right at the end with me signing off. Do check it out, although it’s in French. I appear at 0:56

Deux portraits de femmes, deux visages de l’Inde d’aujourd’hui au féminin : Ishrat Praveen est mère au foyer et ne se voit pas sortir de son rôle traditionnel, Japleen Pasricha est une jeune féministe engagée dans le combat pour l’égalité. (Two portraits of women, two faces of India today for women: Ishrat Praveen is a housewife and is not seen out of its traditional role. Japleen Pasricha is a young feminist engaged in the fight for equality.)

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.

India’s first ever “I Need Feminism” campaign at IGIT and AUD

Feminism in India Project is an initiative started by me last year to learn, educate and develop a feminist consciousness among the youth. It is a social media movement required to unravel the F-word and demystify all the negativity surrounding it. I have been working on this project since a year now and plan to take it forward by holding campaigns and events and providing sex education workshops in schools and universities.

One such campaign was held on 15th April 2014, i.e. last Tuesday when I with a group of close friends and volunteers organised a ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign at Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology and Ambedkar University Delhi.

Poster for INF campaign

‘I need Feminism’ campaign is a public awareness campaign aimed at asking people why and how feminism is important to them. The campaign is directly inspired from a similar campaign organised at the Oxford University and at the Cambridge University, which later became a rage at many campuses across the globe. The INF campaign is a collection of photographs of people using words to voice their opinions about feminism. Both young men and women hold placards, which through the written word raises their voice against gender discrimination and baseless societal and cultural stereotypes. A similar campaign was also organised by the Feminist society at LUMS, a university in Lahore, Pakistan and it was a remarkable success.

We need feminism because we need to bring so many issues to light. There are too many of us getting groped in public, stared at, catcalled, insulted, teased and abused. There are too many headlines about girls getting raped. Too many people are trying to fit both the male and female genders in a box. Too much of “girls can’t do this” and “boys should do this”.  We initiated the ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign to set a platform for both women and men to voice out their opinions and beliefs.

Our team reached IGIT at 10 AM and started preparing for the long eventful day. We began by asking people what they understand by the term ‘feminism’ to break the ice. Once the discussion got into gear people started warming up to the idea. After that it was one slogan after another, we were running from one group of excited students to another. We made it clear right at the beginning that these photographs will be published on our Facebook page and those who were shy held the posters right in front of their faces. We did not convince anyone forcefully to participate as quite a number of students turned down the offer. After collecting a good amount of 45-50 posters from IGIT, we then rushed to AUD where we got an even better response and quality conversations on related topics like gender, patriarchy and women’s rights. Some of the students were skeptic and some didn’t want to include the term ‘feminism’ in their slogans but almost everyone wanted to participate. We even crashed a Gender Studies class and after due permission from the professor requested all the students to participate. The friendly professor also wrote a slogan and got herself clicked. The campaign ended around 4 PM when we started counting our posters and realised that we have crossed our target of interviewing 100 people. The overwhelmed team then as a closing shot wrote our slogans.

It was our first ever offline campaign which is also India’s first ever ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign successfully organized and executed. We received an overwhelming response both at IGIT and AUD. We talked to 100+ people, got posters and photographs of their personal slogans clicked and documented. We plan to do more such events in future and hold INF campaigns at University of Delhi and JNU during the upcoming semester.

Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” -Joss Whedon

All the posters along with the photographs can be accessed on our Facebook page here. Below is a collection of some of my top favorites, although it was a little difficult to choose, as everyone who participated in the campaign wrote what they felt and experienced. Some of them even narrated true incidents of street/sexual harassment. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and I wish to see you in the next round. Cheers!

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Update: Since its initiation, the campaign has been a huge success, a lot of people who could not directly take part in the this particular campaign due to time and space constraints, requested for an online one. And therefore, we have organised an online campaign on our Facebook page where one can send in their photos with their slogans and posters.  Another great news is that we have been featured on various online magazines who loved what we did and wanted to write about us. The voice of our campaign can be found at Life Beyond Numbers, Women’s Web and The Alternative. Hoping for more love and support. Peace.

In Photos: Feminist Artwork in JNU

Walls that speak: India’s campus graffiti

Graffiti or the art of writing/painting on walls is not yet a big concept in India, though one can many new young artists picking up from their counterparts from the West and gearing up for Street Art festivals. Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the most politically active universities based in New Delhi follows the tradition of graffiti or more accurately said wall art since ages. JNU has an old culture of open debates and intellectual discourse.

One can find wall art literally everywhere, ranging from hostel canteens to university library to various departments. Every inch of JNU walls scream art and social issues which can vary from mundane price rise to gender rights, from Naxal politics to international issues such as occupation of Palestine and rise of the global left. The wall art also serves as a running commentary on current affairs in the country and the world. To see and know more about artwork in JNU, check out this page on Facebook here.

1. Speak up/ Awaaz uthao! 

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2. WHO reports that worldwide 35% of women have experienced violence. In 21st century. Shame!

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3. Around 30 middle-aged women walked naked through Imphal to the Assam Rifles headquarters, shouting: “Indian Army, rape us too… We are all Manorama’s mothers.”

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4. A woman’s struggle in India starts right from the moment she is conceived in the womb till she dies. Female infanticide is still rampant in India.

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5. On 2 November 2000, Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike which is still ongoing. Ironically, she is also currently on trial for attempted suicide.

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6. The revolution will be feminist or it won’t be. Occupy patriarchy.

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7. We produce, we eat, we earn, we live.
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8. Sinful women will rise.
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9. We will fight till the very end.
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10. “Irrespective of how much you break me, I will rise from my own ashes.”
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Disclaimer: I do not lay claim to the artwork and neither do I support nor promote any political party.

What to expect if you are dating a feminist woman

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So you thought dating a feminist woman would be a nightmare? It’s actually not and it can be very refreshing for men, especially when it takes quite a load off you. Feminist women are really easy, a lot easier than people think. They support equality between the sexes. Yes, it’s that simple. And no, feminists don’t hate men. They neither think men are evil nor that all men are rapists. Yes, you can fall in love and be a feminist. And most importantly, anyone can be a feminist – male, female or other. A feminist is a gender neutral noun.

When it comes to dating a feminist woman, it is actually quite contrary to the popular belief that feminist women can be a head ache. Some men are intimidated but here are some reasons why you should be glad about it.

  1. Picking up the tab. We all know that you are a gentleman, but she might not want you to pay for her or pay every time whenever you go out on dates. She would like to pay sometimes for herself or for both of you. Respect that and you may earn brownie points 😉
  2. Lightening the load. Let her carry her heavy bags herself. You may want to ask once for sheer chivalry but if she refuses, don’t push it. She is a strong woman who can carry her stuff herself.
  3. Giving out your hand. Many men offer their hand for support if while walking there is a rocky terrain or steps or a bad road or anything even a slightly unkempt. I know you are just being chivalrous. But she might not appreciate this. After all, she is not feather light that she will fall down a couple of steps. She can walk alright.
  4. Chuck those petty gentleman habits. Opening the door of the car for her, pulling the chair for her, offering your help any time or every time. If she likes you, she likes you. You don’t require these courtesies to impress her.
  5. Ordering the meals. You would not want to do this at any cost. This is a big no. This kind of behaviour also comes off as being inconsiderate or rude or worse, she may think you are trying to curb her freedom. After you have decided yours, ask what would she like to have and refrain from giving suggestions, unless asked for.
  6. Don’t fight her battles. She is in a mess, let her clear it up herself. Feminist women have grown out of fantasy myths such as ‘knight in shining armour’ or the ‘damsel in distress’. She is needs no prince charming to save her. She can handle that mess.
  7. Don’t try to own her. Another grave mistake you would not want to do my friend. Questioning constantly about her whereabouts would only land you in trouble. She will think you are typical MCP (male chauvinist pig) who is trying to possess her.
  8. Say no to sexist jokes. No, sexist jokes are not funny and they are certainly not acceptable. And, no she is not being overtly sensitive. And no, it cannot be taken lightly. Sorry, but that’s how it is.
  9. No crying, no drama. See, this one works in your favour. 🙂 You are saved from all the crocodile tears and silly, useless giggling. She is not going to cry at the drop of a hat and neither is she going to use her tears to get her way around you. She is more likely to bail than wail.
  10. You will have a lot to talk about. She is not just a feminist, but also a well-read woman. So you are going to have a lot to talk about. Really a lot. And those topics can range from human rights to capitalism v/s socialism, from environment to sports, etc. She tends to read, write, travel, photograph, play and hold interesting jobs.
  11. Encourage her career. There is nothing else she would like other than this. You support her all the way in her career and she might have something in store for you. Surprise surprise! Never tell her that she doesn’t need to work as you have well-paying job. Grave mistake on your side, which might even cost you your relationship.
  12. Ready in a jiffy. This one again works for you as she won’t put much thought into her outfit or apply a few kilo of make-up or take hours getting out of the shower. She is a pretty confident woman who is not brainwashed by media and the glamorous fashion industry. She is not going to stand hours in front of the mirror deciding what to wear. She might utilise that time in doing totally something else. 😉
  13. No waiting for calls. No, she is not the kind who will wait for you to call her first or ask her out because that’s how it has always been. If she likes you, she will ask you out and if she wants to talk to you, she will call you. You are saved from taking the first initiatives every time. As I said before, she is confident and knows what she is doing.
  14. Saved from V-day. This one made you sigh in relief, didn’t it? Yes, she is above all those illusions of cupid and Valentine’s day. Forget about making it special or buying gifts, you don’t even have to acknowledge it as a special day. It is just another date and just another day in your life. Showing your love need not be on V-day, it can be today, tomorrow, any day or every day.
  15. No wrong ideas of romance. Did I tell that she is not brainwashed? Yes, she has no perfect filmi ideas of romance. Desi movies and Hollywood Rom-coms did not mess with her brain. I’m sure you are glad about this.
  16. Acknowledge the awkward. Don’t try to be smooth if you’re not smooth.  It’s okay to say “I feel shy about asking you out, but I like you.
  17. Listen to the other person. Listen more than you talk. Pay attention to the actual interaction that is taking place and not the one in your head.
  18. Don’t be the tough guy always. We know you care for her, but you don’t have to be the tough guy or the mummy always. You can also sometimes let go of your guard and tell her that you are feeling low and want to be pampered. Trust me, she will love it that you are sharing not just your happiness but also your low points and weakness with her. You can also cry in front of her. She is not going to make fun of you or think what a loser you are.

To be updated as and when more points strike my mind and life. Feel free to contribute. 🙂

Disclaimer: These are author’s personal views and by no means is the author suggesting that every person stick to these points or fall under this category.

Walking at night- a fantasy?

Before I start with my own story, I would first like to marvel at this very simple yet powerful and effective comic strip. This comic strip is a part of Sinfest, a web comic written and drawn by American comic strip artist Tatsuya Ishida (a pseudonym, I guess). He’s an invisible web comic artist and one of the interesting things you can see as he matured is that he’s gone from drawing pimp ninjas and geisha sluts to developing a very feminist sensibility. I have posted, liked, circulated his comic strips on social media and on my page on feminism, but this by far has been my favourite. Four pictures and three lines: that’s what it takes to speak a million words, words which are so strong that they pierce you from within. It is like he has hit not one but many bull’s eyes with one single dart. It is a shame for this world in this century that walking at night is a feminist utopia fantasy story.

Now let’s get back to my own fantasy story…

The other day I was coming back home after having dinner with a couple of friends. (A note to those who don’t know: I am an Indian woman who is currently living in Munich, Germany). It was about 11 pm, not very late and I was peacefully walking back home without carrying a pepper spray or any kind of weapon to defend myself. The act was very simple I had dinner with some friends, after biding them farewell, I took the underground and from my station I walked till my home. When home, I changed, brushed my teeth and went to sleep. Now you may ask what is so special about this simple act of going home after an evening engagement that I had to write an entire blog post about it.

While I was still doing this simple act, i.e.,  walking back home (I know I am stressing on it and it looks repetitive, but it is important to mention the act) I realised how this simple act was unimaginable for me a couple of months back while I was still in India, how I always needed the company of a trusted male friend who owned a car and about whom I was very sure that he would drop me home safely. I remembered how for many many women this is still a utopia, a fantasy and they might not be able to do this simple act their entire lives. They will go to their graves without taking a walk at night.

Living in Germany since the past four months this act had become a part of my daily routine, my life where I would walk back everyday in the evening either after university or from other prior engagements. I got so used to it that I didn’t realise that it is something special that I should treasure because it is a privilege that I am receiving right now from this country.

And then the hard reality hit me. I am going back to India in a month’s time. I am going back home after five months. I will meet my family, see my friends and loved ones. But was I happy? Yes and No. I was dreading this moment and now it is slowly coming to me. I would never be able to do this simple act of walking back home at night again. I would again require my trusted male friends who would drop me home safely. I would never again be able to smell the night’s air or watch the moon walking quietly behind me.

All this happened while I was still walking and by the time I reached my home and unlocked the door, I was sad, very sad. Only the thought that this is soon coming to an end, that I will have to bid farewell to this freedom spoiled my joyful happy meeting friends night and made me cry, cry not just for myself. not just for my own freedom, but for every woman who lives shackled and oppressed. I was sad and depressed till sleep took a better hold of me. That night I quietly went into my room, changed, brushed my teeth and went to sleep.