In her videos, Sneha explains terms like ‘victim blaming’, ‘body shaming’ and so on in Tamil.

Sneha Belcin of YouTube channel Neelam
Features Interview Wednesday, July 08, 2020 - 15:05

“Dupatta podunga, thozhi”, meaning “Please wear a dupatta, sister”, is an order framed as a request that many girls growing up in Tamil Nadu would have heard. And this common example of moral policing is the title of one of Sneha Belcin’s videos on the Neelam YouTube channel.

Terms like ‘victim blaming’, ‘body shaming’, 'mansplaining' and so on have become part of mainstream discussions on gender and feminism in English. However, if you are new to such conversations and are a Tamil speaker, Sneha’s videos in the Munnarai show will help you understand the concepts.

The 23-year-old, who lives in Coimbatore and is originally from Nagercoil, has done her Bachelor's in Mass Media and worked as a reporter for nearly two years before she quit. She currently does freelance translations and also writes for various publications.

Sneha says that as a child, people would always call her an “adanga pidari” or “thimir pidichava” (arrogant girl). However, there is one episode from her childhood which she says was her first fight against patriarchy. One morning, when Sneha’s mother was draping her saree, her father, who read something in the newspaper, made a snide comment at her mother.

“Amma would usually fight back, but this time she kept quiet. I saw tears rolling down her face. He saw Amma crying — yet he didn’t apologise. He said something even worse and started laughing at Amma. I got angry,” recalls Sneha.

At the time, Sneha was only 11 but she asked her father why he was laughing. He ignored her at first but when Sneha persisted with the same question, he slapped her several times.

“I’d been slapped by him before, but that was the first time I got slapped because I stood up to him. Standing up to him, for my Amma, was my first real fight against patriarchy. I’m sure most girls have similar experiences. I didn’t know the word feminism or its meaning when I was 11 — but I discovered feminism then. I got to know the term ‘feminism’ when I was 16, through social media,” says Sneha.

Watch: Sneha Belcin explaining patriarchy and sexism

The idea to make the videos came from Prashant Ramasamy, the Web Content Head of Neelam. The channel regularly puts up content to generate discussions on caste, gender and sexuality. They are looking at making videos on cinema, lifestyle and economics too in the future.

The first video in the Munnurai series came out in March this year. While Sneha makes the videos on gender, Moulee, co-founder of Queer Chennai Chronicles, creates the videos on the queer community.

Initially, Prashant and Sneha came up with a list of terms that she could explain in the videos.

“It included words like ‘appropriation’, ‘red flags’, ‘gaslighting’ and so on. Words that we see some people use — but have no idea what it means. I think I kind of steered it to gender politics. Now I see people asking in the comments section to make videos about one particular issue — like ‘talk about how the glorification of motherhood is oppression’ — so I’m hoping that people will tell me what to talk about in the future,” says Sneha.

​Watch: Sneha Belcin explaining male gaze

Sneha adds that most of what she writes for the videos is based on lived experiences, like a column.

“Research — if it is a specific academic term — I start with reading about who coined the term. I try to find papers or articles on it, to understand the history or cultural differences. I try to find memes or film scenes to quote — I think they really help the viewer understand the topic. The video begins with an anecdote and then how the word was coined, then goes on to analogies on how it is relevant to us now,” she says.

From telling her that sexism doesn’t exist to calling her a ‘feminazi’ and ‘manhater’, Sneha has received plenty of aggressive responses. The 23-year-old, however, is unfazed.

“Once a guy commented ‘Aiyoo aiyoo aiyoo… enna pesittu irukka nee… stop this nonsense’ in the chat box when the video was premiering — the topic was toxic masculinity! That was kind of fun to watch,” she says.

However, Sneha says that there’s a marked difference in how men and women respond to her videos.

“Most women tell me that this has happened to them too. My friend Shilpa — she is an amazing thinker/writer herself — points out what should have been added; how I shouldn’t have used too much English. Or how I’m wrong about something. I’m glad to receive such criticism. A few men just tell me that I’m dumb, that I should read more and realise that there’s no such thing as sexism. I really wish they’d send me all this enlightening reading material,” she chuckles.

​Watch: Sneha Belcin explaining victim blaming

Tamil is an ancient language but one that is constantly evolving. Sneha says that some of these English terms do have an equivalent in Tamil.

“Body shaming is ‘Uruva Keli’ in Tamil. I often see poet Magudeswaran coming up with Tamil terms for English words or phrases. I’m sure Tamil poets and scholars can come up with equivalent Tamil terms for ‘victim blaming’, etc. Maybe someone already has but it hasn’t become visible yet. It could be because gender politics is not something Tamil thinkers/writers discuss often,” says Sneha.

The young woman points out that language politics needs to have cultural relevance too.

“When Azeefa (her collaborator for two videos) and I were writing the ‘slut shaming’ episode, we got stuck at a point. We were going to talk about reclaiming cuss words because it seemed important. Words like ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’ have a history of being reclaimed. But we could not imagine reclaiming the equivalent cuss word for ‘slut’ in Tamil anytime soon because of its cultural history. So, I think, feminism has different meanings in different societies and communities. What we can do is learn and unlearn. Feminism is the only weapon we have to fight against patriarchy now. We can take it and alter its dynamics,” she says.