The Big M
What men from Delhi's Mandaveli have to say about women's safety
The idea is not to reinvent power equations, but to think of power in a new way altogether.
- Total Shares
Of the many sojourns away from filmmaking, one led me to the bylanes of Mandaveli in east Delhi. Mandaveli is typical of a lower middle class neighbourhood in India with its cluster of various religions, castes and socioeconomic strata.
Also typical are the issues that plague Mandaveli - alcohol abuse, confined spaces, violence against women and children and issues of livelihood.
However, not typical is the fact that Mandaveli has the highest number of girls/women in Asia who elope with men. Trying to escape the extreme insecurity and abuse they face at home, they leave hoping for a better life. Instead, many of them return single and with children and the cycle begins again.
In an effort to dent the trend and encourage men's involvement in making areas safer for women I met Archana and Neelam from an NGO called SMS. Their exceptional and loving work with children of the area is inspiring as is their relationship with the people of Mandaveli.
They set up a meeting with the men of Mandaveli as a way to starting the process of what we hope will be a lasting process of change.
On the day with bright sunshine pouring in from the windows and streaking the walls covered with paintings made by children, we waited for the men to arrive. When they did - we put forward the idea that women and children are unsafe in the area and that this had to change. They agreed wholeheartedly.
When asked what they could do to improve this situation - most of these men saw themselves as protectors. The only hitch was that to them protection equals minding, disciplining and controlling of... yes you guessed right: women!
The very central tenet of patriarchy and our current definition of masculinity rests firmly on the bedrock that women need to be controlled by men - in the minds of many, the decorum of the world rests on this idea.
And herein lies the conundrum of the gender equation, the current model cannot be improved or adapted to become something that is good for women - it is in fact so flawed that it needs to be discarded altogether. An altogether new paradigm and thought process needs to be introduced.
Here's what some of them said:
"We go to the park and often times there are couples getting cosy - we want to stop them but the girls don't listen."
"Most women are harassed by people they know."
"The women come out wearing short clothes and revealing attire - so what should one do then?"
Sitting near me was a woman in her 40s, the veil of her burqa lifted back and weaving lovely crochet jewellery out of flaming red threads, while her hands worked the intricate patterns, she didn't even raise her head as she said, "A few days a ago a man came and grabbed me when I was walking down the street in a burqa. It was terrible because he mauled me."
The men ignored her because the schooling is deep and their minds are made up way back when they were socialised as children by a society where women are at fault no matter what.
Sitting there I was reminded of an ill-named documentary India's Daughter, which was actually about a woman who was raped. The name focused the crime on an age group, an ethnicity and finally isolated the crime and concerns about rape to one sex only.
That aside - the film gave a voice to the rapists and therefore a window into their mindset. Not surprisingly the rapists and their representatives were categorical in championing the "she asked for it" theory.
Not very different from what we were hearing from the men of Mandaveli.
As we emerged post meeting we knew we needed the help of men who have worked in the area of helping men redefine notions of masculinity. These men from different organisations have worked with men across the country.
Asking us to slow down, they suggested that perhaps the process would be a slower one, more internal and most of all coming from the men themselves.
This sounded much like the beginning of the women's empowerment movement. Were we then talking about "masculinism"? A way towards gender equality from a different prism but aimed at the same larger picture as feminism?
Many men have been made brittle by wrong notions of masculinity, cut off from beautiful transformative feminine experiences, they're grappling to catch up and cope with a world that makes so many contrary demands on them.
Women, on the other hand, have been sometimes forced and sometimes chosen to break into traditionally masculine spaces. The cost of it is evident and massive - women are forced to carry on in a world where they live with the constant threat of violence of all kinds. But miraculously, they still seem to be thriving.
It is for this reason, that very subtly and quietly the world around us is beginning to tilt. A process has begun that could take generations to complete.
For many, this amounts to betrayal and snatching away of entitlements, a sort of changing of the rules of the game. The reaction is aggression, frustration, depression and anger.
The answer then is to create more bridges for people to walk over and create many meeting grounds. And most of all to overcome the pain and to think of a world where there is a level playing field and where all are equally entitled.
In Mandaveli, we are trying to start in a small way with one community in New Delhi - with are fingers crossed and the recognition that there is lots of work to do - we're hoping that we can spark a flame.