Men Can’t Talk About Sexual Assault; Siddhant Talwar Is Trying To Change That

Posted: August 22, 2019

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Mardaangi = masculinity. But what if mardaangi also meant speaking of your pain? That is exactly what Siddhant Talwar and his team are doing with their campaign!

A man being raped or even sexually assaulted has always been some kind of taboo or joke in our society. After all, men are supposed to like sex; they don’t get raped, in fact, they enjoy it. These are the most common claims made when a man says that he was sexually assaulted.

Due to this taboo, men don’t talk about their sexual assault, men internalise it. That’s why it’s so encouraging when you come across someone who gives these men a shoulder to lean on and a sympathetic ear to listen to. He is 18-year-old Siddhant Talwar, a student of Arts and Interdisciplinary studies at Tufts University in Massachusetts, and I got the chance to talk to this young man recently, on what got him working in this space.

The birth of Mardaangi

Siddhant started a campaign called Mardaangi late in 2017 to create a safe space for men who suffered from body image issues. At that point of time, Siddhant was doing a fellowship with CounterSpeech with Instagram. It is a fellowship aimed at teens to use visual storytelling to start meaningful conversations.

Introducing the project Siddhant says, “It all began with a summer photo project while I was doing the fellowship. As a part of it, we had to do a project on ‘Countering hate speech online.’ That’s when I decided that I wanted to cover stories of body positivity in men. However, the scope of the fellowship didn’t cover that. So, after my boards in 2018, I put out a lot of surveys about body positivity and masculinity. And we ended up doing this sort of cool photo project.

The project documented teenagers talking about masculinity. That’s how Mardaangi basically began. Soon after that, it got picked up by a lot of people.”

As it picked up steam, Mardaangi started getting stories from men at the receiving end of stereotypes, such the one from a former Mister India 2017 about how men are not given permission to express their emotions or be in touch with their real selves.

“A number of people approached me and told me how they were prey to the male stereotypes that our society propagates. Especially the stereotypes related to the masculinity of males in South East Asia,” he continues.

Beginning the conversation on sexual assault

Once that campaign took shape, Siddhant says, he was approached by a couple of survivors who wanted to know what they could do as survivors of sexual assault and other such crimes.

“When I heard those stories, I realised that I would have to deal with this carefully and sensitively. So, for the next year, I did my research, I actually studied it up in depth. Because, you think you know about sexual assault but the more you study, the more you realise there is to it.

Despite studying it for a year, every day you find something new and it just makes sense,” he adds.

After studying as much as he could about sexual assault and reading numerous books, talking to specialists, Siddhant and his team put out calls all over Instagram for people to share their stories.

The Mardaangi team consists of three people, including Siddhant, the Founder, Paavani Ojha, a twelfth grade student from Delhi who works on researching for the team and Jaskirat Panjrath, a freshman at Parsons, New York who works as a designer and researcher for the team.

How toxic masculinity impacts men

They started documenting the stories that came in on their Instagram page, Mardaangi, talking to people around them. For the anonymous submissions, the team started talking to illustrators to draw these submissions. At the same time, they were also talking to lawyers for legal support and to NGOs for the social aspect.

Masculinity in India is regarded as the ability to be strong and to not be afraid of anything and other such markers of strength.

However, once the Mardaangi campaign began, people came out and spoke of how this toxic masculinity affected them. There were stories of how men were forced to play a certain sport simply because of their gender.

In our society, the sexual assault of a man is often not taken seriously or is taken as a joke. There are several instances where a man being raped or assaulted is made into a joke by popular culture and such.

Men are supposed to ONLY enjoy sex is the basic mentality that people have. However, no one talk about the trauma that they go through when they are being assaulted and afterwards.

Neither does our law have anything to say on the same. The law states that it is rape only when a man has non-consensual sex with a woman. What it doesn’t state is that men are raped too and not just by men, but by women too. The common belief is that men cannot be raped by women since they are physically stronger.

If a man, while being assaulted, gets an erection or ejaculates, they consider it to be that he has enjoyed it. According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), even though a man might have had an erection or an ejaculation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he enjoyed being sexually abused. The question here is that of consensual or non-consensual sex. Globally, at least one man in six has been a victim of sexual assault at some point of time in his life. Yet, there still is no safe space for men to come out and talk about their assault.

The resource list and the laws

India may be a fast developing country, but we still have the same patriarchal rules in place, in many cases.

This is where Siddhant and his team come into the picture. They are on a constant lookout for people who are willing to help them and are in the process of developing a resource list of not just counsellors and therapists but also lawyers and law firms that are willing to help the victims out.

Under the revised section 377, if a man forces intercourse with another man, it is classified as sodomy and the rapist can be jailed for the same. However, if a man is raped by a woman or multiple women, it does not fall under section 377 or any other statute. Combined with the taboo on talking about male sexual assault, a number of such rapes go unreported.

Usually the “what about the men” argument is only deployed when we bring up crime against women. But, the best part about Siddhant’s campaign is that it doesn’t go on to say, “Men get raped too” as a counter statement to the rape of women. Rather than pitting men against women, it creates a positive space for male victims to talk on their own.

What Siddhant and the Mardaangi are doing is just the beginning of this revolution that we all need to be a part of. Women and men are being sexually assaulted every day.

While women have resources to go to and people to talk to, men are just coming out with their stories and opening up. With Mardaangi, Siddhant is trying to de-stigmatise talking about male sexual abuse and have open conversations about it. We still are a society that will judge men if they came out and said that they had been sexually assaulted.

This generally leads to men internalising their trauma instead of speaking about it and it might manifest itself into abuse of some sort. Men are told that their trauma is not something to be talked about and bearing that in mind, they keep their stories of abuse to themselves.

The #MeToo India movement

Men need a safe space to talk about it too. And that’s where the #MeToo India movement comes in. Journalist and Curator of the #MeTooIndia handle, Rituparna Chatterjee calls Mardaangi highly commendable.

She says, “Generally speaking, the whole #MeToo movement is survivor centric. Their gender doesn’t matter if they were assaulted sexually. It is a movement that covers everyone, right from men and women to the people of the LGBTQIA+ community.

We are trying to create a safe space for people to come and talk about their stories, seek help and know that there are people willing to listen to them.”

Both Siddhant and Rituparna believe that at the end of the day, these are things we need to have conversations about. And not conversations where we mock the survivors or talk through jokes. But conversations with meaning and an understanding that this really happens.

As a country, we need to understand that men are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape too. We need to understand that it is the young boys who are being sexually assaulted and that it is something that needs to stop.

Because, at the end of the day, aren’t we all looking to fight patriarchy?

The resource list can be found here.

Picture credits: Illustration by illustrator Chaitanya

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