• Tuesday, August 12, 2014 - 05:30
Prachi Sibal | The News Minute | August 6, 2014 | 04:27 pm IST What do you think of when you remember the film Kuch Kuch Hota Hai? What is that makes Shah Rukh Khan fall in love with Kajol when she loses a game of basketball clad in a saree and not when she is winning and dressed up ‘like him’ as he says in the film? Two 19-year-olds who came to town for a summer project will tell you what is wrong with that. According to them, this is a typical example of gender policing, where a woman is expected to obey societal gender stereotypes, punished when she doesn't and rewarded when she decides to give in.  Other examples include Farhan Akhtar’s MARD campaign which they say may be doing more harm than good in preventing sexual assault as it reinforces societal norms of gender roles. This and several other everyday examples are what their talks are peppered with. “People don’t think non-rape in India because the rape culture is so big,” says Shreena. “After an incident, there is talk of immediate measures like women’s safety and harsher punishments for rapists. Deeper societal causes are not addressed,” she adds.  Ria Vaidya and Shreena Thakore, both undergraduate students at the Brown University, USA began No Country For Women as a summer project funded by Davis Projects for Peace (www.davisprojectsforpeace.org). “We began thinking after the Delhi gang-rape case. The idea was to bridge the gap between academic analysis and actual knowledge of gender policing,” explains Shreena. This they intend to do through workshops in schools and colleges and a day-long open-to-all conference. There is also a long-term plan to provide support through funding and resources to students with ideas willing to work towards gender equality. “Long term plans also include creating a workshop module and training students and teachers to continue the creating awareness and a ripple effect that will create more consciousness about gender policing issues,” says Ria.  Ria Vaidya Ambitious as it might seem, the two have their feet on the ground. They are currently holding workshops in up market city schools like the National Public School, in Indiranagar and Koramangala, Deen’s Academy, Samved, The International School Bangalore and a few more. “We realize our choice is that of up market schools. We would like to penetrate deeper, but not without more knowledge and research. For instance, we do not want to go to Government schools as yet where we can’t predict reactions. We may end up doing more harm than good,” says Ria. “In the schools we have addressed, we are aware of the general reaction. After all, we have been students at similar schools not more than two years ago,” she adds. What sets No Country for Women apart in the area of the gender discrimination discourse is their easy-to-understand and interactive approach. Questions are thrown at an eager audience of children and the answers often come from them. Nearly every section of the workshop begins with laughter and chuckles from the audience followed by stunned silence when they begin to understand the gravity of societal norms that propagate gender policing. Their handouts at the workshop too are designed to connect with the audience with images of popular cartoon characters like Popeye and Olive Oil to establish gender stereotypes.  With the recent cases of sexual assault reported in the city, how do they manage to keep the focus on grassroots awareness without drifting towards immediate measures we wonder? “There is outrage after every case of sexual assault that gains media attention. Everybody is talking about safety and punishment. But, the cases continue to happen. There has to be something more than lack of safety that needs to be addressed. There is a larger mindset to tackle,” explains Shreena.  Shreena Thakore Their plans also include expanding to Delhi and Mumbai through friends in each of these places. “Our project was supposed to end in September. But, it has become bigger and more involving than we imagined. Shreena might skip a semester and stay back in the country to run it,” says Ria. The public conference is scheduled on August 23.  Here is a video of one of the workshops conducted by Vaidya and Thakore For more details log onto www.nocountryforwomen.org and 3minutestories.com