Purpose and Dialogue on the Posters: Aparna Chandra on the INSAAF Posters (Part II)

Professor Aparna Chandra continued a discussion on the INSAAF posters with the students of the third year batch via email, and the wonderful insight provided by the dialogue on campus led us to the conclusion that it must be published. The first piece in the series was on Privileges and Stereotypes. Here are edited excerpts from the responses she got and her second email in response to them –

Response by Raunaq Chandrashekhar – Purpose of the Posters

I think the metric to evaluate these posters is largely dependent on the purpose with which they were put up and whether that’s being achieved: whether they’re a means to achieve a change in mentalities and attitudes, or symbolic and meant to achieve a sense of justice to the people being quoted.

Don't think about the rhyme scheme. What are you thinking about?

Don’t think about the rhyme scheme. … What are you thinking about?

… However, if the purpose is to change attitudes, it doesn’t seem to be working. This isn’t so much an argument as it is a fact: more people seem to be making fun of this, perpetuating and intensifying regressive mentalities. Is it justified? Of course not, but it’s happening, so that’s a reality we have got to grapple with. I think that largely has to do with how these posters are being made. Several posters have red herrings that overshadow the message that’s being conveyed. “I won because of my case, not my pretty face” loses its relevance when a lot of people react by saying “haha, who said you’re pretty, lol, sexism FTW” and such. “Rape jokes aren’t cool, don’t be a fool” loses relevance cause people make fun of the elementary rhyme scheme, which makes it sound more ludicrous than serious. … Lastly, some of the posters are disingenuous insofar as representing them as confessions. For example, Divisha has never said what her “confession” purports; she was called up and asked if she would consent to her name being there. While it’s not happened to her, she consented because such things happen to other people. To quote it as a confession is an outright lie, which is very disingenuous for an otherwise noble cause.

… More importantly, we’re an educated audience who need to be engaged with more: this isn’t enough. It has to be held in conjunction to talks, lectures and discussions to have any effect. 

Ultimately, it falls down to the purpose this wants to serve. If the purpose is to provide a voice, to do right by people who have fallen to victim to chauvinism, ignorance and intolerance, it does good. However, if the point is to change minds, it seems to be doing more harm than good. …

Response by Sanya Sud – The Focus of Dialogue 

Flower Girls: Tall, fair and delivering flowers with a fake smile since 2010

Flower Girls: Tall, fair and delivering flowers with a fake smile since 2010

… And why is it that more people seem to be making fun of the red herrings rather than appreciating the initiative (a much needed one in a college like ours) is what I was trying to grapple with. My guess, as i mentioned before, is that it is uncomfortable, and it is easier to escape the issue by joking about it and pointing out these flaws (if there are any) rather than confronting the issue being highlighted. 

My simple point is, why so much focus on the problems with the posters than on what is good about them. If I’m not wrong, there have been more than 20 posters. Why do I keep hearing about the same few over and over again? Why aren’t people coming out more and appreciating the courage it takes to put your name to a statement? Why am I not hearing more about Maria’s “where are the flower girls” or Anweshna’s “no shorts inside college” quotes? 

Response by Aparna – Alternative Communication and Jokes

Thanks for taking the conversation forward. Raunaq, I was wondering what you (or anyone else) might suggest as a better way to get a generally apathetic college to discuss these issues? Would lectures, discussions, etc. be equally effective? My (admittedly limited) experience of this campus makes me believe not. So what might be workable alternatives that might get people who would otherwise not engage on these issues to engage without trivialising the issues?

And I would tend to agree with Sanya to this extent: the joking is coming either from a sense of discomfort where it is easier to laugh it off. Or from absolute disconnect with the issue in which case no effort will be enough. For the first group, as long as one is jolted from their comfort zone, the hope is that though they are joking about it now, they will begin to internalise the issues. …

The last conversations of this thread shall be published tomorrow. Please feel free to express your opinion on the subject by leaving a comment or a separate response piece. As mentioned in the previous piece, Aparna has agreed to respond to them on Monday, so let’s carry this discussion forward. Until tomorrow!

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3 thoughts on “Purpose and Dialogue on the Posters: Aparna Chandra on the INSAAF Posters (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Debate, Discuss, and Decide: Aparna Chandra on the INSAAF Posters (Part III) | Glasnost

  2. I’ll respond to Aparna ma’am’s and Sanya’s emails here:

    Sayna, there seemed to have been a bit of angerin your mail directed towards me, so let me first clarify that I wans’t trying to attack you or anything. I’m sure you didn’t mean to generalise, however the phrasing suggested otherwise, so my only response would be that you maybe should have phrased it a bit better. With regards to people making jokes, I say again, it isn’t justified, but it exists and we can’t ignore it, especially if we want to change mentalities in the first place. I don’t believe that we should focus on the good aspects and ignore the bad, quite the contrary in fact, I think we should look more carefully at what wasn’t done correctly, but in a constructive manner so we can improve it. Which is why I didn’t attack it, but I tried to point out shortcomings that I saw. As for Maria’s and Answeshna’s posters, YES, they’re excellent examples of really good posters. Read my email again: I’m not attacking all posters or the concept. My only issue is that some posters were not made as carefully and have ended up being counterproductive, and secondly, that the posters should not be seen as an end, but that we should try and initiate even more formalised dialogue after putting those posters up (which I was told was the initial purpose, but it doesn’t seem to have materialised).

    Aparna Ma’am, I think we need to account for the fact that all of us have been exposed to different samples of people, who have had differing motivations behind their criticism (or mockery) of the posters. I’m sure you’re correct in assessing that a lot of people react badly because they’re uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing because we need to push people with regressive mentalities out of their comfort zone to try and foster rational engagement. However, a lot of bad responses I have seen, were made because of irrelevant reasons: They don’t like the person who is confessing, they don’t like people who are in Insaaf, they don’t like the professor in-charge of Insaaf, and such. Now, naturally, one can’t factor in everything whilst making a poster and account for very individual responses, however, in some cases, like the ones I’ve illustrated in my mail, can be avoided. That was my original point: Red herrings that detract from what the poster is really about. More importantly, now that it is evident that such red herrings take away from the message, future posters should try and account for it as far as possible. As far as alternatives go, well, if you read my mail again, I never said that something should be done instead of this, but that discussions and lectures and such should be held in conjunction to these posters. What I was told initially was that there would be daily posters for a week or so, all culminating in a public discussion. That I thought was a good thing. My point is that, while engagement may begin with posters, it’s a limited medium to take said engagment anywhere forward, and therefore shouldn’t be seen as the end of the matter, but the beginning.

    It’s strange, but both these responses and that of Aditya Raj (on the facebook link) seem to assume that I look down upon the idea of the posters itself: I ABSOLUTELY do not. I think they serve a purpose. I think the most important purpose it serves, which no one’s talking about, is that it empowers the confessor and gives a voice to them, when they feel stifled. However, I have just two simple issues: 1) It shouldn’t end at just putting up a poster, but there should be some more consequential engagement. I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that this is enough. 2) While some posters are great, some of the posters are not very good. The ones that aren’t should be evaluated for what they are and those shortcomings must be avoided. To shrug off the negative response detracts from the original purpose which is to engage with people who hold regressive notions and to try and change them. If that is the case, then we shouldn’t ignore the negative response, but acknowledge it so we can change it, because it’s unlikely that they’ll change organically.

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