Last Thursday, Professor Akhil Katyal, a member of Nigah (a Delhi based queer collective) conducted a thought provoking workshop on the imposition of heteronormativity in our daily lives. It was organized by INSAAF as a follow up to their poster campaign on increasing dialogue on the social realities of our campus. The workshop attracted a large number of attendees.
The poster campaign by INSAAF has created more than ripples in the student body these past few weeks. There were varied voices: some in support and some in opposition; it sparked off heated debates in the hostels and classrooms. The third years debated the need and impact of the posters with Professor Aparna on email, the edited excerpts of which were published here. One of the more astounding responses to the poster campaign was that it was unnecessary, because we are a discrimination free campus – an exemplar of homogeneity and best practices! To be in such severe denial of our surroundings is surely a mental ailment brought upon by privilege.
Professor Akhil dispelled these myths using nothing but a whiteboard and marker. He conducted the very interactive exercise of gauging what is normal through audience responses. He drew concentric circles on the whiteboard, with the innermost circle representing the most acceptable social relationship. The exercise was simple: he would propose a relationship between two individuals, and the audience was to tell him how acceptable it is to society. The less acceptable the relationship was, the further away from the center the mark representing the relationship would be plotted. He was specific that the audience were not to answer from their personal beliefs, but from what they believed the society would find acceptable. The audience were all hooked. Is it more acceptable for a Hindu man to marry a Muslim woman, than for a Muslim man to marry a Hindu woman? Is it more acceptable for two men to marry each other than for two women to marry each other? What about a girl who falls in love with her driver? While most of these relationships found their place in the outer circles, the more taboo like incest and bestiality were thrown pretty much out of the room. Students actively engaged in discussion, disagreeing frequently on what was more acceptable. And when after one entire hour, Professor Akhil pointed out that we had not found anybody to occupy the innermost most acceptable circle, he had put his point across to everybody. At one point, he discussed how our very resourceful (WE SO RICH!) campus had neglected to provide ramp access to the dais in the Moot Court Hall; was it because the architect never thought somebody in a wheelchair would ever be empowered enough to be on the dais? Better still, many who thought themselves to be reasonable and open-minded (sic) had their beliefs challenged.
Professor Akhil ended the workshop with a very inspiring parting quote:
“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.
While you are here, go ahead and check out Harvard’s Implicit project. They have short ten minute online exercises that will point out our own prejudices. Exams be damned. You are learning here.