I had been meaning to write on the M.A.R.D. (literal: Man, acronym for: Men Against Rape and Discrimination) campaign (launched and promoted by Farhan Akthar) after the Delhi incident took place. And it was about time, although such a horrible incident had to take place to shake our nation, while sexual violence against women were mostly brushed aside as a small column in newspapers before and not to mention that the root issue, misogyny and rape culture was not addressed by most people even in light of these events.
Before I begin, I have to say that I appreciate Farhan Akhtar’s good intentions and I do believe that he genuinely is interested in the cause of promoting women’s rights. Much before, I was happy to see him tweet against victim blaming multiple times most big ‘Bollywood stars’ just distance themselves from making any political statements and recently, his support of One Billion Rising campaign. Although to promote violence against putting the ‘true man’ rhetoric on pedestal is non constructive. What irritates me more is that he gets it partly, and agrees that patriarchal mindset is the problem, and still thinks making posters like the one below is a good idea for an anti-rape campaign:
This gender norm of mardangi (masculinity) is exactly what should be done away with, instead of stroking it further to promote women’s rights. This does nothing in addressing patriarchal gender norms. Although to their credit, they share some very good posts (along with some not so good ones, which still promotes the patriarchal mindset) on their FB page, which I haven’t seen many such celebrity-endorsed campaigns (in India) do. Only if they had taken those seriously and done a serious re-evaluation on what they are promoting, this could have had some real good impact, but sadly fell short by a long way. You can read a detail critique of the campaign here, also addressed well by the video I had shared here. Oh and meanwhile could we please end the “maa behen” nonsense, once and for all? Because women deserve respect because they are people, not because they are some man’s mother or sister. This has been so since Bollywood films of 60’s (or earlier) and people won’t just let it go.
Moving past M.A.R.D., this is not just the case of one misdirected campaign. But people who care (or pretend to care) about women’s rights repeat the same mistakes again. Another example the Bhartiya Mahila Bank initiative, which is a project worth millions, for an exclusive women’s bank (read detailed critique here), which is one of the worst forms of tokenism. Apparently our government thinks gender segregation is a good idea, instead of promoting diversity, making these male dominated areas more accessible to women and taking measures to counter workplace harassment. One would have thought these people would have put more thought behind these projects before implementing them. To quote from this well written piece, “Segregating women into separate spaces is easy; giving them real equality is far more difficult.”
And then there is hilariously bad pretenders, Raj Thackeray recently asked Women to ‘Send bangles to Patil‘, because ladies, as you would have guessed, the worst insult to a man is to be called a woman. Questioning his ‘manhood‘ is the worst thing you can do. And far be it for me to care about what Raj or his cronies has to say, but this is not at all uncommon. This is exactly why I have such a big problem with the M.A.R.D. campaign and how they confirm this again, which really undo a lot of effort they put into this campaign.
What is the solution? I think Rahul Bose nailed it, gender equality should be compulsory part of curriculum. None of this ‘aurat maa hoti hai‘ nonsense, but a robust inclusive course which isn’t gender essentialist. And when you go ahead with some activism or ‘progressive‘ projects, put some thought behind as for what you are trying to achieve. Or else this could go all wrong – not only as just a wast of effort, but even reinforce the patriarchal norms that many activists are trying to counter.