The Mars versus Venus has been a topic of perennial discussions, for decades, if not centuries. The men versus women, or feminist versus humanist, or all of it together has been part of several debates, talks, conferences and even drawing room conversations for years. But wait, does that mean the debate has reached its expiry date or a suitable conclusion has been reached? Not even close!
No amount of discussion surrounding the discussion can suffice, especially when a developing country like India still sees rapes, sexual harassment, dowry deaths, honour killings and innumerable such crimes being committed against its women day in and day out. A session called the ‘Mars Venus Continuum’ was thus part of the Symbiosis International (Deemed) University’s Shabdotsav 2018 — a literary festival held over the last weekend.
Hosted at the university’s Viman Nagar campus, the session saw Urvashee Butalia, Sreemoyee Piyu Kundu, and Deepika Bhardwaj on the panel while Smriti Nevatia moderated the discussion. Indian feminist and publisher Butalia opened the talk by giving a brief background to her work. “I still see sexual violence being hushed up. I wanted to tell their stories,” said the founder of an exclusively feminist publishing house — Kali for women, which she initiated in 1984.
Butalia, however, expressed a certain amount of concern when she has to choose between being responsible to the woman in question and to the issue at large. “There are so many occasions when I am faced with a situation where the victim herself doesn’t want to stand up against the perpetrators of crime, for several reasons, and then it becomes tricky to pick between respecting her choice and taking a stand against such crimes,” said the proud feminist.
On the contrary, Bhardwaj, who fights for men’s rights and absolutely hates any labels given to her, said she doesn’t feel the need to call herself a feminist. “Everyone knows who to call when someone is being victimised — be it a girl or boy. People know I am available every time there is a human right violation or injustice against anyone. I don’t need any label for it,” said the author of Martyrs of Marriage, who began fighting for the cause after witnessing an incident of injustice towards a closed one. “I realised we barely ever hear the man’s side of a story. There are so many instances when laws are misused by women for monetary gains and other reasons, but they are rarely brought to book,” said Bharadwaj who is often referred to as a men’s right activist, and all sorts of things.
Strongly opposing Bhardwaj was Kundu who said that women are punished when they are wrong, and that at any given point, the crimes against women are way higher than those against men. “Being a feminist is like being a human rights activist itself,” said Kundu, adding, “People call feminists, lesbian-looking and so many other names without understanding that the need for feminism arose in the first place because gross violation of human rights has been happening against women.”
Speaking of the men-women debate, Butalia said that she doesn’t believe in the concept of gender equality. “That doesn’t exist. What we must speak of is gender inclusiveness,” she insisted, while pointing to the fact that it’s women — rather feminists — who have upheld most minority issues including transgender rights, issues of the people in Kashmir and Northeast and others.
Agreeing with her, Bharadwaj went on to say that she too is heard only because she is a woman. “Had this been a man talking about men’s issues, he would probably not have been heard like I am heard,” said she. From rape law amendments and gender-neutral identity for the victim, to fighting for men, feminists have been at the forefront, she elaborated, giving an example of the rape law amendment of 2013 and others.
Giving a perspective on the ‘laws being skewed towards women’ debate, Kundu, author of gender-centric novels, said that women have had to fight a long and difficult battle to ensure protection through law, and hence it’s wrong to say that the law is skewed. When it comes to gender inclusiveness and a gender-just society, it’s miles to go before we sleep, the moderator rounded off at the end of the rather intense and never-ending discussion.