Acting Out Gender Violence To Fight It

Students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi recently took to the streets of their campus to spread the word on gender sensitization. Members of the university's Gender Sensitization Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) collaborated with students and presented a satirical street play, 'Chod Naa Yaar' ('Forget It'). The play, which incorporated issues such as domestic violence and sexual harassment, was performed over five days in October at popular hang-outs in JNU. The interaction sessions that followed urged the audiences to address the problem of gender exploitation on campus and not look the other way.

JNU is known to be one of the safest campuses for women. Yet, the GSCASH feels that the rising insensitivity towards the issue of gender violence needs to be addressed creatively so that there is a lasting impact. 'Chod Naa Yaar' is based on true incidents that have occurred on campus. Commenting on why there have been instances of harassment, members of GSCASH explained that people from all walks of life are part of JNU and while most take to the university environment, there are some who need time to acclimatize themselves to it. In fact, according to one media report, the GSCASH chairperson, Mondira Dutta, has said, "When people from different backgrounds meet on campus, problems arise from the lack of awareness of the norms of egalitarian gender relations. The support groups are far and few. It is part of the mandate of the Gender Sensitization Committee to not only redress sexual harassment but also try and create conditions so that it does not occur."

Therefore, GSCASH is actively trying to deal with the tremendous gender stereotyping that exists in JNU by its innovative advocacy efforts. "We felt a need to break away from the passivity and confront the issue of gender sensitization. These are real incidents that students in JNU are aware of but have chosen to ignore. The primary idea was to mock the silent audience, which has internalized the idea of 'chod naa yaar', especially when it does not concern them directly. I was thrashed in broad daylight in JNU because I resisted an eve teaser. Nobody came forward to help or raise their voice. Maybe after they see the play, they will say something the next time an incident like this occurs," said Sunayana Wadhawan, a student of M.A. Pol.Sc. and also a member of the cast.

The inaugural performance was held on the lawns of the School of Languages and witnessed a turnout of over a 100 people. In fact, during the subsequent performances - there were two in a day over five days - the turnout was high. One of the reasons for the good response was the satirical narrative that generated a lot of laughs. But while the first half incorporated theatrical gimmicks like the role reversal of men and women, the play ended on a grave note: the serious message was conveyed with a sense of responsibility.

The evening performances of 'Chod Naa Yaar' were largely held at the on-campus eating joints that are frequented by students. To reach out to the non-teaching staff, a special performance was given at Paschimabad, their residential area, highlighting the same issues to an eager audience. Here, many women came to watch the performance though few stayed back to interact and share their experiences. Interestingly, 80 per cent of the onlookers were men, which "worked out well, as men are largely the target audience," said Animesh Dasgupta, an M.Phil student.

Several enthusiastic students turned up for repeat performances. "People from different backgrounds and realities were present at the performances but they could still relate to the play. However, there were some people, especially men, who laughed, sometimes in contempt and at times to hide their discomfort," said Neha Wadhawan, an M.Phil student, who was part of the organizing team.

In the discussions that ensued, the student-audience spoke openly about violence, sexual harassment and exploitation. But there were a few who mocked the initiative. "A man kept winking at me and making lewd gestures during the performance. When he showed no signs of stopping I informed a member of GSCASH. The culprit was pulled up then and there," said Rashi Anand, a student of M.A. Pol.Sc. Nevertheless, the discussions yielded interesting results. Some talked about having been sexual harassed, others confronted their own realities, while some felt that the play was anti-men. Many men in the audience were heard commenting, "Don't tell me about this. I never behave like this. Maybe other men who are like this."

"This is a typical response - not claiming responsibility. It is always about negating responsibility and turning a blind eye. People refuse to acknowledge the existing reality of gender harassment. We firmly believe that nothing will change until positive, proactive action is taken and each member of the society feels responsible," concluded Sunayana.


More by :  Ila Mehrotra

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