Tuesday, October 01, 2013

‘Must Bol’ campaign reaches milestone

Happenings, Oct '13
Pawan Dhall reports on a closure event of the first phase of the West Bengal leg of the ‘Must Bol’ youth campaign against gender based violence.

Kolkata, September 19, 2013: “Success is difficult to define, but it is at least being able to do what you want to do, and this is true for women too,” Dr. Shashi Panja, medical practitioner and Trinamul Congress MLA from Kolkata North constituency. “Marriage can protect, but can also destroy. Unthinking parents force their wards into marriage in the name of samaj (society), but this gives nothing in return,” Manika Sarkar, anti-trafficking social activist. “Let’s not stereotype gender, violence or gender based violence,” Pallavi Paul, Kolkata-based entrepreneur.

These were a sample of thought-provoking comments made in a panel discussion on gender based violence organized by Prantakatha, Kolkata at the American Center on September 19, 2013. The discussion itself was part of a closure event of the first phase of the West Bengal chapter of the youth-lead ‘Must Bol’ campaign, which was started in Delhi in December 2010 with support from UN Women and Partners for Prevention (an Asia-Pacific regional UN programme for prevention of gender based violence). The campaign is also associated with Engagingmen.net, a gender justice information network, and Prantakatha is the West Bengal partner of the campaign. About 50 odd youth, social workers and others attended the panel discussion.

Panelist Pallavi Paul hands over certificates of participation.
Photo credit: Prantakatha

‘Must Bol’ encourages young people to examine the contours of violence in their lives, speak out against it, and also to address it through awareness generation and advocacy films. The first phase of the campaign involved a two-month long training on filmmaking focussed on the theme of gender based violence. Fifty youth from Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal participated in the training, which resulted in four short films of three minutes duration each. Four groups of four or five youth each developed the films.

The first of these films, all screened at the closure event, was Women Emancipation. It focused on women who as mothers and housewives let go off their aspirations for studies, a career outside home or pursuit of an interest. But there may yet be hope as new possibilities open up for these women too. I within Me was an interesting take on crossing the gender boundaries of ‘man versus woman’, ‘masculine versus feminine’. Not necessarily in the sense of being transgender, but more in breaking social norms on ‘what a woman can or cannot do’ or ‘how a man can dress or not’.

Unspoken Violence touched on a subject which has seen some discussion in recent times – violence committed by women against men. The film showed interviews with a number of men who recounted the various forms of violence they had faced from their wives or girlfriends. While not denying that the violence talked about in the film exists, Manika Sarkar quite aptly analyzed it as often an outcome of the men being unable to handle women’s self-assertion and come out of a mindset that required them to ‘control their women’. Indeed in a country where so many men and women still don’t perceive men beating up their wives as violence, one would surely want at least some of the men shown in the film to re-examine their relationships and try to understand ‘their women’ a little better.

The 'Must Bol' gang with panelists Manika Sarkar (last row, second from right),
to her right are Dr. Shashi Panja and Pallavi Paul. Photo credit: Prantakatha

The final film, Gender Sensitization (Marriage), highlighted the issue of same-sex marriage and in the backdrop of the Delhi High Court reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code in 2009 and decriminalizing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, explored public opinion on the matter. While the film tried to do justice to a complex subject in three minutes, it could have tried to raise a pertinent question as to how important is same-sex marriage, or say, marriage between a trans woman and a man, for social acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The screenings were interspersed with short question and answer sessions and certificates of participation were handed over to the youth groups by the panellists. Tejas Gandhi, a ‘Must Bol’ supporter, hoped that the campaign would also look at more forms of violence, for instance, corporal punishment in educational institutions. Bappaditya Mukherjee, Director, Prantakatha informed that the films would soon be uploaded on the ‘Must Bol’ Youtube channel and also shown to diverse audiences during this year’s ‘Protesting Violence against Women’ campaign in West Bengal.

With regard to future direction for the ‘Must Bol’ campaign, Dr. Shashi Panja said that a much stronger challenge was needed against human trafficking and so the campaign could focus more on this subject. She also stressed on more self-reflection among youth groups because “they were not just victims of violence but increasingly the perpetrators too”. Pallavi Paul, all words of encouragement for the campaign, wanted it to prioritize its efforts, for instance, on violence on the streets, at home, or at the workplace. At a more personal level she remarked that “parents should start with their sons” to make a real difference in tackling gender based violence.             

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there! 

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