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Mansi Khandelwal

IWB Blogger

Feminist Nandita Shah Dares Honey Singh To Sing About Consent & Equality

  • IWB Post
  •  May 16, 2018

Their team is small, but their dreams are not.

This is Akshara center, who have been building a society where all women can live a violence-free, dignified life with no discrimination, since 1982. Based out of Mumbai, Akshara Center’s vision is to change hearts and minds of young women and men towards accomplishing an all-inclusive world, to positively impact public attitudes, and to reform systems that deny gender justice.

In their urge to empower all genders equally, Akshara center provides scholarships for educating economically disadvantaged young women between the ages of 14 and 20, trains men to support gender equality, and lobbies with the administration to make the state safe and sound.

In conversation with Indian Women Blog, Nandita Shah, Co-Director and Managing Trustee at Akshara, explains to us why they rewrite Bollywood gaanas, talks about challenges they face while empowering women and more.

Empowering women

Where did the idea of rewriting Bollywood songs for your campaign ‘Gaana rewrite’ come from?

We at Akshara have been bothered by the Bollywood songs and their lyrics for a long time. We have noticed a common pattern in most of the harassment incidents that women come to us with. That is the impact of Bollywood songs! Also, when we conducted several pilot tests and surveys across the slums in Mumbai, we learned that men often eve-teased women by singing aloud these songs. We realized that we had to deal with this sexism and misogyny and that’s how the idea came.

Who writes the lyrics?

A month back we launched a campaign wherein we invited everybody to rewrite sexist songs in a manner that celebrates consent and equality. It was a crowdsourced invitation to people to come forward and voice their thoughts on the lyrics of Bollywood songs.

The video songs shared on your Facebook page spoke about safer workplace, safer streets, safer buses, safer parks, but what about safer homes? Do you guys have a song for that?

Oh yes, of course! There was a song Naa Jaayo Saiyaan that never was and still isn’t seen as a sexist song. However, if one notices it portrays the woman who is left alone, is helpless and thus has surrendered. The person who rewrote this song won the first prize. He turned the song into a brother-sister relationship where they are talking about the family property which is one of the biggest reasons that results into discord in Indian families.

Empowering women

What does banning ‘Lipstick under my burkha,’ whereas allowing misogynistic songs, speak about our society?

Talking about Bollywood, on one hand, we have movies like Pink which raised the point that consent of women is valid, whereas, on the other hand, we have sexist and highly demeaning lyrics like ‘Chedenge hum tujhko ladki tu hai badi bombard.’ It is the audience who is making films like Pink popular. Thus, the onus should be given in the hands of the public and not the censor board. Over the course of time, there has been a lot of willingness amongst the audience to watch women in different roles and different content. Though people don’t admit the fact that whatever Bollywood is teaching we are not imbibing in our lives, it is not true.

What singers would you like to collaborate with to spread the word?

Honey Singh for sure! He needs to relook the way his songs picture and portray women.

Empowering women

Akshara volunteers at a protest

Talking about your work for girls, what is the main challenge you face to bring girls back to school?

The major challenge is the people’s mindset. No matter how much we grow, people still think that investing in girls is a waste of resources. The major section of our society still thinks that a girl’s primary job is to manage a house. Through our research, we have found out that boys are sent to English medium schools whereas girls are made to study in municipal schools generally.

I don’t understand what makes them think so. In today’s times, girls take better care of their parents than the boys. Also, if a girl is educated, she will end up benefitting two families.

So we strive to not only bring girls back to school but to give them access to the higher education.

Empowering women

Though women expect men to be equally helpful at home, we refrain from taking their help, fearing what people would say. Why do you think that is so?

We had a campaign called ‘Share the load.’ During that campaign, we spoke to several men about what they do at home, what their sisters, and what their mothers do. It was then they realized how little they actually help about the house.

The division of labor that we have created is absolutely wrong. Though we still see girls surpassing the gender jobs, boys find it difficult.

You are right that sometimes it is us women who expect equality but do nothing to bring it to the reality of our lives. As women, we feel that if we make our men work, the society will point fingers at us. Also, there are times when they want to help, but because we think they’ll just spoil things and create a mess in the kitchen, we do not allow them. I mean why don’t we tell them to clean their own mess?

To actually practice the feminism we preach, we should create spaces for our partners. Thus, shaming boys, who contribute to household chores, needs to be challenged.

Empowering women

Cities don’t belong to women. If you were to redesign a city, what would you do to reclaim public spaces for women?

Firstly it is important to have a concept of gender inclusivity in every city to make it not only more belonging to women but all genders. Our streets need to be safer. Another aspect is childbearing. Though we believe that it is not only a woman’s responsibility, there isn’t much that our cities offer. Thus a crèche is one thing that we have demanded from the administration. Because if there aren’t enough spaces that help in the mobility of women, how will they step out and work?

Due to our constant efforts, we are glad that for the 1st time in India, a chapter on gender has been included in the Maharashtra state development plan.

Three main steps every activist should undertake to make feminism all-inclusive in our country?

As activists, it is important that we consider the fact that not all women are affected by patriarchy in the same way. It is also necessary that we do not bridge the gap between the personal and the political. The fact that we need to take a stand on something makes a situation political. What’s happening in our bedroom is political. There’s a whole issue of power being practiced in the wrong manner in our society.

Empowering women

The Akshara Center team

Next would be how do we link up our mind to the larger advocacy. The younger generation who is a lot more open to changing themselves, need to get connected to what’s happening in the world.

How does parenting attitude towards bringing up our boys contribute to rape culture?

I feel the parenting culture does not only come from parents but schools, peers, television, movies, etc. There’s so much more beyond the education that parents impart that contributes to the growth of a child. I would say parents should mature their child with criticality. They need to be taught to question rigorously.

Notions like boys don’t cry, should be changed. It is high time we allow the freedom to boys to express themselves without the fear of being judged.

Empowering women

Comment on the feminization of poverty in India.

According to recent studies, the workforce participation of women is declining in India. High-skilled jobs are not being given to women. The two major categories occupied by women workers are agriculture and domestic. Talking about the feminization of poverty, the least rights are exercised by women workers belonging to these jobs.

If you would like to volunteer with Akshara Center, contact here.

This article was first published on April 8, 2017.

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