First of all Manjima, congratulations on your book ‘Indian Feminine Fury’, that is soon to come out in the market. The whole team of Kalaage wishes you the best on this journey that you are to embark upon. My first question is what inspired you to write this book?
I get to hear sexist remarks from people now and then. I come across cases of violence or prejudice against women everyday in the news. These experiences trigger my feminist spirit, get me to think on various aspects of feminism and propel me to write down my thoughts on the issue of gender inequality. I decided to situate my book in the Indian context as I felt, that my contribution to the cause of gender equality should begin at home and by home, I mean India.
There are multiple lenses one can use to analyse realities of the world Marxism, communism, why did you choose feminism?
I chose feminism as my analytical lens in this book as the issue of gender inequality has been close to my heart since my childhood years. For instance, I questioned the norm of sexual division of labour since I was a little kid and was always uncomfortable, to say the least, to see that most grown up women around me were limited to taking care of household chores and children. Another example is that I first identified myself as a ‘feminist full of fury’ when I read a newspaper report about the Delhi gang rape case that had occurred on 16 December 2012.I was in 10th std at that time and by that time, I had already encountered many casual instances of sexism-primarily in the form of sexist remarks which were told to me. The cause of establishing gender equality appeals to me more than most other causes, partly, as a result of such personal experiences and the way I perceived these experiences.
Do you think the situation Indian women face is different from what is experienced by women in the rest of the world? How is it different?
India’s rank is 130 out of 189 countries in the 2018 gender inequality index published by the Human Development Report of United Nations Development Programme. Clearly, many countries are doing better when it comes to furthering the goal of gender equality. I feel that India has a much longer way to go in terms of increasing female participation in the workforce, enhancing female representation in the top positions of various professional sectors, reducing violence against women etc as compared to nations of Western Europe and North America. We need to learn from the different parenting and educational style practised in the Scandinavian countries and the better support system that they provide to families, such as paid paternity and maternity leave. To improve the situation of women in India, we need a stronger and more united feminist movement in the country. The goal of gender equality should be higher up on the agenda of the government when it comes to framing policies and laws.
You talk about gender sensitivity in your book; can you shed some light on the topic? Do you think gender sensitivity is related to sensitivity about your reality, surroundings and humanity per se? What are a few methods to achieve it?
Gender sensitivity means awareness and empathy about various aspects of gender. Gender sensitivity is related to sensitivity towards the reality that surrounds us and reality about the humanity, in general. The awareness and empathy regarding the different genders needs to be inculcated in children by parents and teachers during their formative and adolescent years. Gender sensitization should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum, designed to achieve the healthiest ends of developing mutual understanding and mutual respect between the different genders. Various training workshops and programs for gender sensitization should be held both at school level and in formal employment circles.
Indian cinema has seen a rise in both, movies with strong female leads like ‘Manikarnika’ and ‘Queen’ and the objectification of women and their bodies and sexual innuendoes like in movies ‘ masti’ and ‘grand masti’. Why do you think this is happening?
The objectification of women and their bodies and sexual innuendoes in movies has existed since a long time and this has been popularly manifested through item songs. This phenomenon is simply a reflection of the deep rooted sexist mindset that has prevailed in the Indian society since centuries.
The rise of movies with strong female leads (which do well at the box office) is however, a more recent phenomenon. Increase in the number of commercially successful films with strong female protagonists, is probably a positive reflection of the reformed mindset of the Indian audience which is more open minded and is ready to accept and welcome female centric movies as much as male centric movies. It shows that the Indian audience has a more refined taste now and is concerned mainly about the story, acting and direction of the films and not so much about who is playing the lead role. The higher number of feminist films is also a result of the conscious, bold and progressive choice made by actors, directors and producers to take up these films.
Do you think Art and Media are responsible for construction of the social thought process of the young generation?
Yes, art and media surely play an important role in influencing the social thought process of the young generation.
What kind of change will the book create in the psyche of a young reader?
I hope that young people, after reading the book, will end up more conscious and aware about feminism and gender inequality than before. I hope that the book motivates them to contribute more to the goal of achieving gender equality.
For some religion is a beacon of hope and strength for others its shackles and limitations. What’s your take on religion? Do you think it’s better to be an atheist?
I think that religion is a purely personal choice and it should be restricted to the individual. According to me, no kind of religious belief or disbelief should be imposed on another human being and it is better, not to influence others with one’s personal take on religion.
How was your experience in writing these analytical essays? Can you share with us some instances?
I felt driven and charged while writing the analytical essays. I had completed writing three essays on that very day when someone hinted to me that my achievements in life might be limited because of the very fact that I am a girl. Since I am interested to make my career in the field of academics, the sexist remark reminded me of something that Amartya Sen had pointed out in his book ‘The Argumentative Indian’(2005).Sen had said “In terms of employment as well as promotion in work and occupation, women often face much greater handicap than men.This remains a problem even in the West.Indeed,if I may indulge in a bit of a personal reminiscence, as I worked sequentially at Delhi University, Oxford University and Harvard University, the proportion of women among my tenured colleagues steadily declined.”
What message would you want to give to the present Indian youth?
My message to the present Indian youth would be: Educate yourself. Empathise with others. Raise awareness.
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