‘Women and men have to fight patriarchy together’

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 20 October 2018

Talking to men and women has given me the perspective that feminism is about tolerance of other views of feminism, says journalist Shaili Chopra, who has jointly written Feminist Rani — India’s Most Powerful Voices on Gender Equality with Meghna Pant. Chopra shares her views on the subject

Right in the maelstrom that is the #MeToo movement in India, comes along a book that offers a sane discourse on feminism. Shaili Chopra and Meghna Pant’s Feminist Rani includes interviews of women and men, who talk about their social and political circumstances, family members and role models, all of which shaped their views on feminism.

Kalki Koechlin in her piece says, ‘When I meet a guy I tell myself, ‘No! He is not Prince Charming. He’s not going to solve all my problems.’ I don’t put all my hopes on one man and expect him to fulfil them. That’s a conscious thing I am doing. This way you let yourself grow and let the other person grow. That’s when you start loving each other in a different way, and in a much bigger way. It liberates you from the little things, the finicky things we argue about. Love then becomes about the bigger person you’re trying to be and what you’re trying to do in this world’. 

In another piece we learn about journalist Aarefa Johari’s work towards building awareness about the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) prevalent amongst the Dawoodi Bohra community. In 2015, she co-founded Sahiyo, a non-profit collective, with four other women, who felt passionately about ending khatna. The purpose was to advocate the values of consent, bodily integrity and a woman’s right to her own body and sexuality, using storytelling, community engagement and healthy dialogue.

Feminist Rani, published by Penguin, also has interviews of Ankhi Das, who heads Facebook’s public policy in the region, Sapna Bhavnani, philanthropist and Rohini Shirke, a bee-keeper, besides Tanmay Bhat, Deepa Mallik, Malishka Mendonsa and others.

Chopra, who has founded SheThePeople.TV, talks about the book and how it introduced her to views of feminism, different from hers. More from the journalist...
- You have talked to people across the spectrum for this book. How do you see the growth of feminism in rural areas?
I believe our women in rural India have been feminist forever. They lead the rural workforce from the front and do far more work on the farm than men do, in addition to fulfilling their family commitments. 

From my observations, there is a huge push from village women to do something of their own. They are using their phones to get away from their mundane and otherwise challenging life to explore ways to connect and grow and converse outside of their real world. Like the story of Rohini Shirke, there are millions of women who are using Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp to learn and become independent and resist patriarchy that questions their capability. 

- Can you explain the co-relation of economy/financial independence and feminism?
Feminism to me is having the choice to make a choice. Financial dependence is a big reason why women are subjugated. They don’t have spending power in their control and that’s a big issue. So indeed feminism pushes for women to have the power to be empowered with financial independence. That said, it’s not a necessary condition that an empowered or financially independent woman alone can be a feminist.

- After talking to the women and men for the book, how has your perspective of feminism changed?
From my younger days, I was always a feminist. So in that sense, the book has exposed my definition to many new definitions of feminism. Talking to men and women has also given me the perspective that feminism is about tolerance of other views of feminism. Writing this book has been an enriching experience of learning and unlearning. 

- So far, as it’s mentioned in the book, feminism has been defined by our colonial history. What can Indian brand of feminism be like?
There is no Indian brand of feminism and to me the idea isn’t foreign either. It’s a movement to bring equal rights to women. It’s a fight against patriarchy — both by men and women — seeped in our society and minds for centuries. What’s needed is contemporary conversation and new contexts.

- In the light of the #MeToo movement, how do you now see the views of Tanmay Bhat as reflected in the book? Bhat kept quiet despite knowing about Utsav Chakrabarty’s misdemeanour...
When the book was written and when the conversation with Tanmay Bhat happened, we were not aware of Utsav’s misdemeanour. I believe for those who call themselves feminists, and who talk about it and propagate it, there can be no two lenses to view it. Tanmay Bhat must come out and talk about this as should any other person who believes in feminism. I am quite let down by the comics of this country because I was hoping that comedy would become a great tool to break stereotypes and not propel them.

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