Debate, Discuss, and Decide: Aparna Chandra on the INSAAF Posters (Part III)

This post completes the series on the thread of emails between Professor Aparna Chandra and the third year batch in an engaging discussion about the INSAAF posters and the different responses and take-back points from the campaign. After the discussion on Privilege and Stereotypes and the Purpose and Dialogue of the posters, in this third piece, we see a lot more responses and participation from the students. Here are the final edited excerpts from the thread –

Sending a message or just showing off?

Sending a message or showing off?

Akshat Srivastava – Facilitating Discussion

“I think that while it may be argued that some individual posters might not be drafted in the best possible way to make their point (e.g. – The poster on the pink laptop and GPA. A lot of people did not get it and it could also be said that it was equating a high GPA with a level of intelligence which isn’t always so the case). However, most opposition to these posters hasn’t been in the form of critiquing or analysing what each individual poster purports to say, but rather against the very concept of the posters themselves.

As Raunaq said, it might be so that people feel it is not serving any purpose (while there are others who feel that the issues are non-issues at best and people raising them should just “chill out”). However, the basic fact that we’re discussing these posters every evening as a new batch is put up should show that they’re serving their purpose. Posters in themselves cannot be expected to change the mindset. Their aim has been to facilitate discussion, which they are. …”

Harshit Kohli – I, Too, Am Sensitive

“… We do NOT, take comfort in our doggedness. I do not say that our sympathy is enough, it is not, but voicing our anger is neither. And you need to realise where we come from. We are perpetually enjoined with instability, anxiety and uncertainty and we do have a tough time coming to peace with ourselves. We have sleepless nights where we are haunted by the bleakness of prospects as we increasingly try to enter the kind of lives we have reason to value. For may of us, there is no going back, you have to make it. All of this is coupled with a resolute admission of the fact that our powers are limited to the power in our prayers. In the pursuit of justice, all we can do is to change our mind sets and implement it in the courses of our conduct. As far as dissemination of these ideals and values is concerned, we do not have the opportunity to do so right now. There’s no one in our control.  When time comes, we will go as far as one can to make humanity more humane. We will amend laws, frame policies and move mountains. For now, when we are faced with posters portraying the ugly truths of mankind, it increases the poignancy and repugnancy in our lives. It insults our sensibilities by making us feel that we don’t value such things. We know that Hitler wronged the Jews, the British abused the Indians, Hindus butchered Muslims, men raped women but we may not want to see those images on our desktop wallpapers, right. You do not simply guarantee my commitment towards such issues, by colouring the walls with the sort of comment people have already commented on. You will have it, irrespective. If I had a magic wand, I would make justice happen, at least gender justice happen because the happiness of men is also contingent upon the happiness of women. …”

Pawani Mathur – You Cannot Escape It

Why not have feminism on campus?

Why not have feminism on campus?

“… The best part about the posters is that they are everywhere and just impossible to ignore. You are compelled to have a conversation about the posters whether the reaction is positive or negative. I think that’s a huge victory in itself. I also think that the feeling of deterrence is spreading around campus in the sense that you know you have to be very careful when you say something bigoted because clearly there are many who refuse to stay silent about these things any longer and the posters make this amply clear. One hears people saying that there is too much feminism on campus these days and it’s getting to them and it’s too radical and they can’t take it anymore (which is one of the most negative reactions to the posters right now, besides taking them down in some parts of course) but I’d still like to think it’s better than them just being comfortable in their ignorance and indifference. Also many of these posters contain actual things said to different people on this very campus, so it is far from the truth that these stereotypes/homophobia/moral policing does not exist on this campus. All of us are also aware of recent unfortunate incidents occurring on this very campus and what really finally triggered off these posters and these discussions and everything else. It is beyond me to understand the argument that these stereotypes do not exist on this campus and that the posters are backfiring. …”

Aparna Chandra – Discourse on Campus: Everybody Wins

I would tend to agree with Akshat and Bhargavi: it is unfair to damn the posters for not changing the world all on their own. That is not their purpose. The purpose, to my understanding at least, is to get a debate going, and to that extent, they have been supremely successful. Some of you sent in comments to the effect that this or that poster does not make sense, that you do not understand the context of this or that statement, or that you don’t agree with this or that position as stated in some poster. And that’s fine I think. The point is not to agree but to understand and debate. So if you don’t understand a poster, or why a statement is a problem, you may want to ask the person quoted or someone from INSAAF? And then debate and decide whether you agree with the poster or not?

And many of you raised the concern that you are already sensitive to these issues and the posters are only preaching to the choir. Those who aren’t sensitive to these issues won’t get the point and those who are, get the point already. I don’t think the world is divided into such watertight categories. We have moved along enough in our public discourse that everyone (at least most on this campus) would think of themselves as being “for” equality and non-discrimination, just as they would think of themselves as being for world peace and ending of world hunger. Does this mean that our own actions do not contribute to inequality and discrimination, as much as to sustaining world hunger? If good intentions were enough, the world would be an immeasurably better place for it! Unfortunately, they are not. We often don’t even realise how our learned patterns of behaviour replicate and reinforce stereotypes in our surroundings. So if one is really for equality and non-discrimination, I think being aware of our own (often unintentional) complicity has to be the beginning point of doing something about it. And even if some of us have that level of awareness (I must admit I don’t: I learn everyday how things I take for granted or consider normal or natural, are only my “normal”), that does not mean everyone else has. So to say that the posters don’t serve a purpose because “I” or other “like-minded people” already know all this, would be inaccurate. And even if it weren’t, what harm do the posters do, apart from making some of us think about things we don’t like to think about? 

Which gets me to the point Harshit made: … Why do we think Hitler wronged Jews or that the British abused Indians? Generations of people, who thought of themselves as reasonable, didn’t think so. It is only because our world view has changed, that we think of our current views as natural. And world views do not change through (or only through) cataclysmic events. They change when everyday discussions and everyday practices change. So, doing something does not necessarily involve waiting for a time when we can do something big. It’s comfortable to think that I don’t have to do anything because I can’t do anything that will make a difference. But as Margaret Mead reminded us ” Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

So what can we do, when we don’t have a magic wand to change the world? We can refuse to let the status quo continue around us. If someone makes a sexist/homophobic remark, and we call them out on it, at least that will disrupt their complacency, and introduce a counter narrative. If enough people do it, it will start breaking down a culture that normalizes gender hierarchy and patriarchal gender norms [which impact and limit men often as much as they do women]. If that is all that we can do at this time, then it is the least that we (who claim to be sensitive) can do, I would suggest. 

Debate, Discuss, and Take a Stand

Debate, Discuss, and Take a Stand

… You may not agree with some of the posters, and may be you have a valid point about some of them. Debate, Discuss and Decide for yourself. But what is the harm that the posters are causing us beyond making us confront realities that many of us are not comfortable seeing? 

As for those who think there is too much feminism on campus these days, this is how the Oxford Dictionary defines Feminism: “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” So those who say that there is too much feminism on campus are basically saying that there is too much equality on campus. And too much equality can only be a bad thing for those who benefit from the inequality of the status quo, right? [And they can be both men and women!]

That concluded a engaging discourse sparked off by the INSAAF posters – not simply because of its content, but more importantly because it was a public discourse on important issues that are not discussed openly often enough. As always, please feel free to respond with comments or a separate response piece. We hope to continue further engagement with these issues, for that seems to be the most important message to take away from this thread – that a campus like ours requires greater debate, discussion and discourse on the issues that surround us. If not, maybe the incident which triggered these posters would have been brushed under the rug as everything always is on this campus. We hope that these posters and the discussion it has sparked brings with it a wind of change.

            

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3 thoughts on “Debate, Discuss, and Decide: Aparna Chandra on the INSAAF Posters (Part III)

  1. If I may say one thing, I don’t think this discussion counts as substantive engagement on the issues. We’ve been embroiled in a meta-discussion about the posters and their efficacy, NOT the issues that they highlight. We haven’t substantively discussed whether it’s fair to ask women to dress up a certain way on campus, the workings of the patriarchy we live in, how to counter them, why they exist, etc. This entire thread of emails have been about whether posters and specifically these posters are a good medium for discussion. While that discussion is relevant in itself, let’s not confuse it with a discussion about the actual issues in the poster. I say this, not as a criticism of the posters (major emphasis, on that), but to remind ourselves that this isn’t the discussion envisaged, but a meta one. Let’s not delude ourselves to that extent for it would do disservice to the cause.

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  2. Raunaq: I completely agree. This is not a discussion about the contents of the posters, nor is it meant to be. This is a discussion about the concept of the posters and a critique of the idea that we don’t need an engagement on these issues or that this is not the right method. Of course we do touch on substantive issues as well (at least that was my intention with the email about privilege) but the central point was to engage with the need for engagement.

    Though *this* email thread did not deal with the substantive issues, my understanding is that the posters have generated a lot of discussion on the content itself- “why/not is X comment problematic”; I don’t think people mean Y when they say such and such, etc.” I know at least that I got a few emails from people disagreeing with one or another poster. So that’s the substantive engagement that I am talking about. But we do need to clear the decks first and recognize the need for substantive engagement before any such substantive engagement can take place….

    On the method: I must admit I read you incorrectly the first time round. I read you as questioning the method per se as opposed to the exact execution of the method. Thanks for the clarification and apologies for the misunderstanding! On the execution itself, I do think personalizing the discussion by attaching names to the posters makes this more than an academic debate, and brings in a dose of realism. And really, I don’t know if you’d agree, but my own experience has always been that one can never dissociate the message from the messenger, so that even if the posters had been put up by someone else, another group of students might have been unappreciative of the efforts. I would only reiterate to those who refuse to look beyond the messenger, that we shouldn’t dismiss the posters only because of who it is about or who it is from…

    Having said that, I totally agree that there is need for collective discussion on the contents of the posters and general issues about sexism that the posters throw up. I don’t know if the people behind the posters have anything in mind- and I must admit I have not spoken to them about the posters, so I don’t know where they are coming from on any of these issues and/or whether they agree with me on any of the points in my emails- but I’ll ask them if they want to put something together. If not, maybe we can? Also, a one-off discussion will never be enough. The hope is that the visibility provided to the issue can now be translated into ongoing discussions both in formal and informal settings….

    -Aparna

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