Satyamev Jayate - Jinhe Desh Ki Fikr Hai

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Exclusive videos and articles from Team Satyamev Jayate which travelled across the country to bring you these stories.


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Good girls don't talk to boys

Good girls don't talk to boys

At social functions, weddings and pilgrimage sites, in buses and other public transport, men and women are kept physically separate almost all the time. They are not just kept separate, but even the act of speaking to the opposite sex is fraught with danger. The tradition of the purdah or ghoongat (veil) is another way to segregate men and women. Sometimes the fear of being rebuked for merely speaking with a boy, has driven girls to go to the extent of committing suicide. In other cultures, speaking with a boy could lead to a 16-year-old girl being buried alive by her own family. Such is the shame and stigma that exists in traditional societies about mingling of the sexes.

No wonder then, that many men don't understand women at all. How do you understand someone you have never met? How do you build an equal relationship with women when your exposure to them has been through the prism of films and pornography? So when they meet women, these men are at a loss. They begin to see women as ‘objects'—to be stared at, gawked at, mocked, stalked and to fulfil sexual desires with. Being rejected by women leads to violence—the misconception that a girl's ‘no’ or even blatant refusal is actually a ‘yes’ is prevalent in our society. This idea comes from a misplaced sense of superiority or ‘otherness’.

Salman and Mateen, 22-year-olds from Mumbai had this idea of masculinity before Jason Temasfieldt of We The People Foundation met them. They would stand outside railway stations and harass girls who passed by. This started when they were just 15-year-olds and continued for years until the activist Jason (who started his NGO after his cousin Keenan Santos was brutally murdered for standing up against ‘eve-teasing’) met them. “Their day used to start with teasing girls and end with teasing girls. This would not have changed just by telling them not to do it, but by interacting with girls,” says Jason. “They now stand up for the rights of their sisters to go out of the house and they have also stopped teasing girls.”

After Jason made Salman and Mateen interact with girls in a healthy manner, they have not teased any girl or engaged in any form of street sexual harassment and their misconceptions about women are gone as well. In fact, they have even taken action against ‘eve-teasers’. Salman reflects on his own behaviour. “Whatever we thought about these girls was completely wrong and we wouldn't have known this if we had not interacted with them,” he says. “We are no longer going to look at girls and judge them according to the clothes they wear either.”

The writer of a blog called conducted a study on masculinity where he analyzed data on crimes against women in cultures where gender segregation is strictly enforced (Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) with cultures where gender segregation is somewhat lax (West Bengal) to more lax (Meghalaya). The author found that his hypothesis was proven right: the prevalence of ‘eve-teasing’ and gender-related crimes are directly proportional to how much gender segregation is practised and prevalent in society.

According to Javed Akhtar, renowned script writer and lyricist, the segregation of the sexes is responsible for the violence that exists towards women today. “Perversion will be created in a society in which you will keep women segregated like zoo animals on one side, and men on the other side. And often the solution provided to this, is further segregation.” says Mr Akhtar. “That different genders will be attracted to each other is a given. If you let them mingle, talk to each other, watch films together, etc., they will be less restless. If you don’t, the chances of perverse behaviours increase.”

This natural flow of interaction is a definite no-no in many of our educational institutions. A Hindu article quotes an alumnus of Anna University, Sai Pradhyuman, who says how a professor was shocked to see that girls and boys were sitting together. “He stormed outside the class and later insisted that we follow ‘decency’,” says Pradhyuman. The segregation in educational institutes also contributes to the sense of otherness that boys have towards girls.

Lenin Raghuvanshi, an activist from Varanasi, talks about his own school days and asserts why it is important to have co-education schools. “All my life, I've studied in a boys' school and when I came to high school too, I did not have much of an interaction with the girls.” he says. “I used to be very awkward in speaking to girls. It was only when I got married at the age of 21 that I realized that being friends with a woman is even better than having a male friend!” An observer of his own local culture, Mr Raghuvanshi explains how masculinity can become distorted if the two sexes are kept separate. “Those who see women as sex objects might rape them just to prove that they are a man and to assert their power over the woman,” he says. “To get rid of this mindset, it is very important to have co-education schools.”

An initiative in Bihar is trying to do something to bridge the gap. The coordinators of Jagriti Youth hold workshops with girls as well as boys in rural areas of Bihar. Boys are sensitized on various aspects of patriarchy and encouraged to reflect on how women are discriminated against. Girls too are empowered to speak up when ‘eve-teased’ or harassed and stand up for their rights. The girls share their experiences of dealing with men very openly with the boys. This liberal exchange helps the boys in demolishing long held ideas of masculinity.

In one of the trainings, the boys were asked to think about a scenario where they are ‘eve-teased’. How would they feel then? Such tools are used to create greater understanding between the sexes. A male member of the Jagriti Youth campaign says, “Earlier we used to think that women are supposed to stay in purdah (cover their head with a veil) and stay inside the house, but after coming to Jagriti, we realized that men and women have equal rights.” After the gender training sessions, the boys and girls work together to spread awareness about issues prevalent in their communities like child marriage and female foeticide.



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