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.
… 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
… 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!