Shailendra Rai [MA 2015-17]
I was born and brought up in a deeply patriarchal Hindu Brahmin family, in a small village in Mirzapur district, Uttar Pradesh.
I have a very strong inclination towards issues around feminism, gender equality, gender-based violence, masculinity, etc. I became interested in these issues in 2016 when I was pursuing my MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.
Since then, I have been deeply concerned about these issues. I took ‘Gender and Development’ as an elective course in my third semester. I decided to take this course because I was frustrated with the patriarchal, misogynist and sexist atmosphere around me. Many of my male friends started saying that I was being badly influenced by this course and that it was forcing me to develop certain understandings and ideas. This didn’t really matter to me.
There were only two men among 16 women in this course. Among the two, I was the one who actively participated in classroom discussions. I was badly shaken after listening to all the women narrate their personal stories and experiences of stalking, bullying, gender discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse. This made me realise my privilege as a man. I felt that the reality of women was far different from that of men. I went through a lot of literature, theory, documentaries and videos which helped me develop my understanding and deepened my interest.
I started internalising these issues through classroom projects, independent field projects and my own experiences and observations of gender-based violence. I started relating these experiences to what I had experienced with my own family and community. I pushed myself deeper to know how patriarchy functions at different places in different ways. Thus, I got to know about intersectionality.
After completing my MA, I worked on a gender project in Noida. Currently, I am associated with the Manas Foundation in Delhi where I have been conducting gender sensitisation training for commercial drivers.
Coming from a village in Uttar Pradesh and growing up in a patriarchal Hindu Brahmin family, I have experienced and witnessed plenty of gender discrimination and gender-based violence. Today, when I try to figure out who I am and who I was two years ago, these are the answers that I find.
Two years ago, issues like gender discrimination, gender-based violence, objectification of women, male domination, oppression, hegemonic and toxic masculinity and above all, patriarchy were not that important to me. I used to justify such norms, stereotypes and stigmas by referring to culture, tradition, custom and religion. Now, when I look back at myself, I find someone quite inhumane who hadn’t been taught about equality and respect for others.
Today, I hate most of the things I used to believe in and practice at the time. Now, I speak up against every form of discrimination and gender-based violence. I constantly question people and institutions and their complicity in perpetuating patriarchal norms. My upbringing was such that as a man, some of the highest values I was taught were to be dominant, violent, tough and successful at any cost. Today, I find that almost all men have grown up in the same way and the ultimate consequences of this are horrible.
These ‘masculine’ notions lead to every form of violence including sexual, physical, psychological violence. And by believing in such ‘masculine’ norms, we also damage ourselves in many ways – such as by not expressing our emotions, not being able to cry. That’s one of the major reasons that the number of suicides committed by men is higher than that of women. Everyday sexism or rape culture doesn’t happen in isolation – these are the results of our upbringing and socialisation.
I wrote something related to this on my Facebook page when the Kathua and Unnao incidents took place and I would like to cite that post over here.
“Stopping rape (hanging the rapists) is not the only remedy to stop rape. We need to stop the process that creates rape because it has become a culture and culture involves processes. We all might not be therapists but in some or the other way, we have been part of creating an environment. This environment can be seen in every walk and aspect of life that has been normalised in the name of culture, religion, tradition, and custom. We need to deconstruct the whole idea around several institutions like the family, marriage practice, education, the state, public administrations, TV, film and media.”
Earlier, I had a very negative view of my own body because I don’t look my age. I have been body-shamed many times because I don’t carry myself in a conventionally masculine manner. Due to the Gender and Development course and my inclination towards working in the area of gender equality, I understood gender inequality and developed the ability to overcome and move through some of the stereotypes built around masculinity. This course also helped me develop critical and rational thinking. Now, I raise questions when some people beat up a couple just because they hugged each other. I speak out against such moral policing and tell them that instead of creating an issue against consensual hugging, kissing or even sex, create an issue against non-consensual sex like marital rape. You won’t dare to do that because it’s against our Indian culture, right?
In this way, I am trying to convey to everyone – particularly my male friends – that gender studies is not just for women in the same way as gender equality is not only a women’s issue- it’s an issue for men as well.