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Youth – catalysts for change

Monday, January 12, 2015
By Shwetha Kannan

“Admiring a girl’s beauty and complimenting her is not wrong but staring at her in a way that she becomes uncomfortable is wrong.” If you feel this statement has come from a girl or an activist working for women's issues, then you are mistaken. This is what 18-year-old Aakash Jain and 19-year-old Sarath Warrier say.

At an age where attraction towards the opposite sex gets high and during times when women are being objectified, being subjected to horrible crimes and being held responsible for the crimes committed against them, such a thought from the masculine gender comes as a refreshing change.

The ADC caught up with these young lads who are representative of today's youth, on the eve of National Youth Day which is celebrated on January 12 every year to mark Swami Vivekanand's birthday. And a casual conversation with them reflected a possibility of hope. A hope of men having better attitudes towards women. A hope of men being sensitive towards women. A hope of making women's lives more safe and secure.

“We don’t agree with the common notion that women are to be blamed for the crimes that happen against them. It is men who commit these crimes against women. It is their thinking and mentality that leads them to do such things. If the mindset of men changes, a lot could change for the better of the women,” said Akash who is pursuing a degree in IT from Kirti college and Sarath, who is from Ramnairain Ruia college and is pursuing a degree in Bachelors in Mass Media, in complete agreement to this thought said, “Clothes and other factors, which are generally used as reasons for crimes happening against women, actually don’t matter. Aren’t women in sarees and salwar kameez misbehaved with? Aren’t children molested? The thinking is to be blamed. It is the thinking that has to change.”

Coming to the issue of objectifying women and treating them as sex objects, Sarath said, “Women are as human as men and they need to be respected. Calling them “item”, “maal” is insulting.”

“Women are not only for gratifying our physical needs. My friends often talk about kissing and getting physical with their girlfriends because they feel ‘Hum ladke hai toh aisa hi sochenge (After all, we are boys and so will think this way). They feel that if you haven’t gotten physical with your girlfriend, you haven’t achieved much. I thoroughly dislike this attitude,” said Akash.

Steering towards the issue of consent, what behaviour is acceptable and what is not and the readiness to accept a no, the discussion went off like this.
“Admiring a girl’s beauty and complimenting her is not wrong but staring at her in a way that makes her uncomfortable is wrong,” said Sarath.

Elaborating on this Akash said, “We do look at girls but the way we look at them makes a difference. If a pretty girl passes by we just glance at her and then continue what we were doing. This is acceptable. But then taking this ahead by passing comments, making vulgar gestures or expressions, singing songs, following them or trying to get close is where the lines are crossed.”

So who decides when to stop?

“The men have to know. And this is will come only when their thinking and attitude towards women change. Also, a healthy discussion with girls to know about what they are comfortable with, will surely help. Ask them if they are okay with a hug or not and behave with them accordingly,” said Akash, who sees forcible hugs as an issue on college campuses.

“Also,” continued Akash, “Men need to learn to accept it when a women says no,” stirring up another interesting aspect of the issue of crime against women.

“A girl doesn’t want to be friends, so what? She doesn’t want to go out with you, so what? It is her choice. Why take it personally? Just the way we have our likes and dislikes, women too have their own choices and preferences. It isn’t the end of the world. Don’t force her to do anything that she isn’t comfortable doing or resents,” said Akash.

“As for men, acceptance is the key, for women, learning to say no is a must. Once this balance is achieved the scenario might get better,” said Sarath.
“Once we accept the opposite person as our equal,” continued Sarath, “Then accepting a no becomes easy. There won't be any major hard feelings that will give rise to grudges, that might be dangerous or harmful for the other person. A bit of ego hassles might happen but that will get sorted for sure with no major repercussions.”

While these boys have always had the right attitude towards women, the credit for further strengthening it goes to Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA), an NGO which works towards sensitising men towards issues of women.

“We got to know about MAVA through the NSS in our colleges. When we first heard about what MAVA does, we thought the camp would be full of gyaan and lectures. We thought it might get boring at some point in time. But it turned to be totally the opposite. Our way of looking at women was changed for the better through interesting activities like street plays, screening of movies and then analysing the way women were portrayed in them. Much has changed in us after the MAVA camp,” said Akash.

On a signing off note, this is what these young men had to say.

“If men change their attitude towards women, 80 to 90 per cent of the crimes (against women) would come down,” said Akash while Sarath said, “There is a long way to go before we start seeing the desired changes in the attitudes. So till then, I think it wouldn’t be wrong to say that women too need to be alert and careful. They should live their lives the way they want to but be careful. They should learn to say no. It is unfortunate that we need to tell our women this, but what to do. Times are such you see.”

Takeaway from the conversation:
Catching them young and molding them their attitude and thought process in the right way will definitely help make our efforts to build a women friendly society.

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