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A different rating: making Bollywood films more gender sensitive

Published in The Hindu on December 17, 2018 and can be read here.
It’s time to think of unique ways of making Bollywood films more gender sensitive
Soon after the #MeToo revelations began pouring out on social media this year, the organisers of the Jio MAMI Mumbai film festival struck off two features and three shorts after allegations were levelled against key people involved in the making of these films. Festival director Anupama Chopra said that she hoped that the decision would lead to an environment that is “constructive, inclusive and just”. While this is a welcome move, our focus should be not only on those accused of inappropriate behaviour but also on filmmakers who churn out sexist films that influence such behaviour.

Bollywood films influence negative societal attitudes towards women in India. If we are to make progress, we must reverse these narratives through better storytelling, for storytelling influences behaviour. A study by Elizabeth Levy of Harvard University showed ho…

‘Shhhhh… I Need to Speak’: On Breaking Society’s Silence for the Sake of Justice

Published in the LiveWire on October 24, 2018 and can be read here.

From a very young age, I was taught to be silent by everyone around me. To be silent in the face of
conflict, to be silent in the face of disturbances outside and inside the home. I was told silence is a
virtue to be learnt and treasured, especially in moments of conflicts that did not involve me.

A YouTube video circulated in my social media feed a few days ago of two men gang-raping a woman in the holy Ganges river. I watched, transfixed with shock, at their audacity to rape and film their brutal attack.

The rape neither occurred late at night nor in a secluded part of the city. It was a bright day, around 11
am. Several women were washing their clothes by the banks of the river as this atrocity was happening a few feet away.

None of them spoke up.

My mind tried to explain this away. Surely, we cannot be so indifferent to a criminal act!

“The most prevalent form of cowardice in our day hides behind the statement ‘I …

How can I be there for you?

Responding to sexual violence – an appeal in times of distress

Published in The Citizen on September 28, 2019 and can be read here.

“Always assume women around you have undergone sexual abuse in their lives unless stated otherwise,” said my friend, in a heart-wrenching remark. According to UN Women, 35% of women around the world have experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives. India, where I am from, is no different; one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Yet, we assume these women are unknown to us, hidden in some part of the country. Definitely not anyone we know. As the #MeToo and the #WhyIDidntReport campaigns spread across social media, I read several astonished comments from friends and relatives, reacting with surprise to the fact that someone they know has been a survivor as well. There is a reason why people who have been abused are not able to speak up. It is because of us, people like you and me, who have created su…

What can we give up to create change?

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I visibly cringe inside when men come to me and tell me how they want to 'empower women in their life'; in a tone filled with pity and entitlement at the same time.

In a recent NYT article titled 'Beware rich people who say they want to change the world' by Anand Giridharadas on his book 'Winners take all: the elite charade of changing the world', he gives significant examples of 'fake change'. Taking a systems lens, he talks about how fake change has deepened inequality across the world. He talks about the impact of only creating enough change that the powerful can tolerate, changes only within the existing system. Change that does not mean giving up one's own privilege. And why that's dangerous. "Changing the world asks more than giving back. It also takes giving something up"

Bringing that context to gender norms, is the powerful sex willing to give something up?

Empowerment does not mean giving something out of pity, it often means…

What do you feel now?

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"My son constantly plays video games", the middle-aged man from South Asia named G, said.
"And how does that make you feel?", asked our instructor.
"He doesn't study and he needs to score good marks", he continued.
"Yes, and how does that make you feel?", she asked
"I scold him and then he starts yelling at me", he replied.
"Yes, that's true, that's how you respond to it. How do you feel when he plays video games - happy, sad, frustrated, angry,..?"

And this went on. It was evident that the man was either reluctant to talk about his feelings and sit with them, or this was the first time he had ever been asked that question and he was simply confused.

It was astounding, yet so heart-breaking, as I watch G, and the generations of families before me, struggling to talk about their emotions and feelings. And the impact active disengagement from one's inner emotions has on families, institutions and societies all a…

Looking within - Am I biased?

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In the wonderful art collections of the Aborigines in the Caixa Cultural across the Marco Zero square in Recife, was a questionnaire. A simple bias test.
Which of these groups of people are perceived to be capable at handling money (Economist, Aborigine, kleptomaniac..) , who do you think is dishonest (politician, Aborigine, priest..). A laugh ended up my nose as I read the last question: do you think you are racist? (yes, maybe, the questions are stupid, I have a sneaking tendency I might have racist tendencies!). Most of us educated folks would claim we are not sexist or racist, yet we are. And data all around the world shows us the impact of our everyday biases.
Take the case of gender bias: it surprises me every  single time when people consider gender bias to be a thing of the past, 'out there', happening to someone else, when it is 'right here', sitting in  the room with you and me. And yet, we fail to acknowledge it.

In India, where I come from, families consider …

#LikeAGirl - Small actions, big consequences

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Combining work with fun, I visited GBV (Gender-Based-Violence) organizations in the coastal city of Mombasa, while continuing my journey in Nairobi. Set along white sandy beaches, the city takes one's breath away with its  mesmerizing beauty. 
As I was entering one such center, I overheard a colleague's remark that triggered me: 'If people see me entering this center, they will feel I am a survivor too'. It wasn't just the words, but the tone and the emotion in the sentence that jolted me. When have we made survival such a shameful act in the first place?

One question that has always bothered me is: why are men violent? What are the root causes of violence? Violence is after all a symptom of a  much deeper issue; a culmination of several everyday norms, ingrained into our societies, for centuries.

Being male or female is, after all, a physical feature. But by associating emotions, behaviors and attitudes to these genders and then coating them with culture and relig…