Can men be the champions of women’s rights? Meet 5 exceptional men who have boldly taken a stand against gender violence.
By Makepeace Sitlhou
This article was originally published at The Alternative – an online publication on social change and sustainable living.
For centuries, gender violence has been passed off as a manifestation of the incomprehensible and uncontrollable natural instincts of men. If we take a look at how the contribution of men to the movement for equal democratic and human rights for women has evolved, it has been somewhat equivocal over the decades. A question on the same on Facebook threw up answers that had names like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar, Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati and debatably, Mahatma Gandhi. I spoke with five exceptional men who, willingly or unwillingly, are changing the rules for men and for good.
Neil Shah, an Assistant Director in Mumbai, is a close friend of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez – the brave young men who lost their lives tragically for protesting against street sexual harassment of their female friends. Since that fateful day, the fight for justice has been on with the police, judiciary, government and the patronizingly sympathetic public, to be more pro-active than the 40 witnesses who saw the night unfold dramatically. “Men like Jitendra Rana (the prime accused in the Keenan-Reuben case) feed on the fear of others. People say that it was foolish for three guys to fight fifteen. But if those forty bystanders would have thought differently, it could have been forty three against fifteen”, argues Neil.
The loss of Keenan & Reuben has personally changed Neil’s attitude towards life. He confesses that he used to be the one who usually reminded his friends to be ‘practical’ in these matters and that one alone can’t change the world. He shares, “Keenan and Reuben were not looking for a fight. Nor were they the kind to just walk away. Had they been one of the spectators, they would have done the same. This incident has made me question this whole idea of being “practical”. What is so practical about being practical when you’re shying away from going to so many places and living in fear of something that is just waiting to happen to you?”
What is so practical about being practical when you’re shying away from going to so many places and living in fear of something that is just waiting to happen to you?
Kuber Sharma is a Filmmaker by profession, who conducts filmmaking, gender and sexuality workshops where students and volunteers take up projects to make films that challenge the normative values of gender roles, violence in relationships, beauty, body esteem and sexual harassment. These workshops are a part of Must Bol, a campaign initiated by “Commutiny” the Youth Collective that seeks to explore and redefine masculinity among the youth.
Tired of witnessing women helpless against gender violence they face on the streets, Mohnish Moorjani, a Property Consultant, started a Facebook group called ‘Shoot At Sight’. He shares, “I have been a spectator to street sexual harassment for as long as I can remember. In my teenage years, I was urged by male friends to ‘check out’ every girl but something felt very wrong. The girls being gawked at from top to bottom obviously didn’t enjoy the unwanted attention. I guess that’s what most charged teens feel, shamelessly staring is in fact the transition from boy to man.”
Members are asked to shoot the perpetrator in the act with their phone camera and upload the picture for the World Wide Web to see and shame. He argues, “By clicking pictures, I personally believe you’re taking the power away from the gaze and bringing shame to the whole act. I see so many of them hiding their faces when I whip my phone out, stand motionless in front of them as if to say ‘let’s see how much of a man you are now’.” The group also shares incidents, movements, articles and blogs related to various forms of gender violence, which Mohnish considers his effort to remove the apathy from the public towards street sexual harassment. Also a part of the Blank Noise project, Mohnish began the campaign last year urging members to take the issue on the streets beyond sharing experiences online and liking or commenting on them.
Shemeer P. was in disbelief when Trust Law reported in June 2011 that India is the 4th most dangerous place for women. “Initially, I was shocked. I started googling stuff to prove them wrong. After a bit of searching and going through various documents, I learnt how painfully true the report was. The same week, I started thinking about better ways to solve this problem. At least, to begin something that might have an impact over a period of time. I am tired of signing petition after petition to bring about change”, he says.
Shemeer connects the geographical dots for all cases of violence against women in India on a Google map with a slow bandwidth speed from a small town called Palakkad in Kerala. A Civil Engineer by education, Shemeer settled down in his native village with a consultancy job and as a small time farmer after spending two years in the IT hub of Bangalore and two years in Dubai.
I try to make an impact using reports that come in the media on a daily basis, where no action is taken. The gap between actual and reported incident is really huge.
For the past few months, Shemeer has been tracking media reports on gender violence on a site he built using Google maps called Maps4Aid. He brings out daily reports that include mapped data, posters and locates and documents campaigns. He says, “Basically, I try to make an impact using reports that come in the media on a daily basis, where no action is taken. The gap between actual and reported incident is really huge.”
Less than 6 months on the platform, Shemeer has already created a support blogger community (Blogs4Aid) for his initiative. He plans to move away from aggregating media reports to building a team comprising regular citizens who can report via sms, mobile apps or online. These reports will then be published, shared on social media and forwarded to an online volunteer group where interested volunteers can pick up a case and decide on active measures like taking the issue up to the national commission for women, NGOs, etc.
Amitabh Kumar made a major career move three years back, from Technics Microsystem in Europe to working for women’s empowerment in the Centre for Social Research. “No one, not the university/school/society/family taught us men/women to proactively or productively handle the situation. It’s not that complicated when you know it, but for some reason we never discuss social situations close to us. We do not talk about it openly. It’s a very ‘ hush hush’ matter only to be shoved away under the carpet”, he says.
While conducting gender sensitization workshops for senior corporate and government officials, he comes across arguments like ‘”Why is she out alone at dark? Naturally something is not right’ , ‘What does she expect when she is wearing those sorts of clothes?’ , ‘Of course, she has a bad character because she was walking out of a pub, club / drinking with boys / only girl with 3 boys / 3 girls with one boy’; basically, each and every permutation and combination to blame the victim.”
Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez are not victims but unfortunate heroes. Yes, they could have run on their heels and left the girls to their fates and no one would have held them responsible or accountable for it would have been in self defence.
Our soldiers willingly enlist themselves to go to war and risk their lives to fight for the country and all the people who live in it. But men who fight for the rights of their women friends are those who’ve lost all common sense?
It’s not about being a hero. It’s just about being a man.
So, what would you do against gender violence?
This article has also been dedicated to the Men Say No Blogathon, encouraging men to take up action against the violence faced by women. Join further conversation on the FB Delhi Youth Page and MustBol’s twitter stream.
*Photo credit: UN Women Gallery (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
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