“English Literature” or Literatures in English

Devyani Sharma

 Discussing the movement to decolonise the field of “English Literature”

Postcolonial studies in English Literature bring forward the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism by focusing on the consequences of control and exploitation of the colonised.

One such cultural consequence of colonisation can be seen in the Eurocentric approach towards Literature as a whole. The English Literature syllabus of most Universities and Educational Institutions around the world majorly consists of Literature from England while unabashedly ignoring the indigenous writers who use English as a medium of expression.

“The fact that in a country like India, the English Literature syllabus in schools include writers like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge but hardly any Asian or African writers in English, speaks a lot about the hegemony that exists in English Literature.”

The fact that in a country like India, the English Literature syllabus in schools include writers like William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth or Samuel Taylor Coleridge but hardly any Asian or African writers in English, speaks a lot about the hegemony that exists in English Literature.

According to Varud Gupta, author of ‘Chhotu: A tale of Partition and Love’ and the award winning ‘Bhagwaan ke Pakwaan,’ “Institutions should be rapidly renovating their curriculum to include indigenous, minority, and marginalized communities.”  Being a writer of the ‘rising generation’, Varud believes that “This change isn’t not warranted only for the idea of inclusivity, but also for us to broaden our perspectives.” He thinks that “The longer we continue to classify ‘The Greats’ as those historically revered in the colonial world, we will continue to silence countless voices and lived experiences.”

Apart from the syllabus imposed, it is heart-breaking to witness the illogical imposition of English language in schools and colleges. Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’s recollection of his school days is a perfect example of such an imposition. Ngugi’s school rules mentioned that those who were caught speaking the native language, Gikuyu, would be caned or humiliatingly made to wear a metal plate with the words ‘I AM STUPID’ inscribed on it.

“The situation still remains the same as even today most schools in non-English-speaking countries prohibit and even penalise the use of native language and use only English as the medium of instruction.”

Though Ngugi graduated from school around half a century ago, the situation still remains the same as even today most schools in non-English-speaking countries prohibit and even penalise the use of native language and use only English as the medium of instruction.

“Most people argue that English is a global language and being fluent in it only brings about positive impacts and access to universal knowledge. Unfortunately, the Eurocentric approach towards the language has created a greater global divide as racism is forged in the transmission of this knowledge.” 

Most people argue that English is a global language and being fluent in it only brings about positive impacts and access to universal knowledge. Unfortunately, the Eurocentric approach towards the language has created a greater global divide as racism is forged in the transmission of this knowledge. Carol Boyce Davies, professor of English and African Studies at Cornell University believes that English departments are often like “colonial relics stuck in time”, retaining a formidable streak of eurocentrism, a legacy of the discipline’s central role in Britain’s so-called “civilising mission”.

This comes after Cornell University’s first step in decolonising English Literature as the University’s English Department staff voted to change the department name from ‘English Literature’ to ‘Literatures in English.’ The University became the first in the United States to change the department name to reflect the global diversity of writers using English as their medium of expression.

This decision has been welcomed by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who told Al Jazeera that this renaming “opens up to more literary streams in their own right, not just under the umbrella of English literature.”

However, this decolonisation of English is still in its embryonic stage, an onset of a paradigm shift in how we perceive Literature and the world around us. Dr Prantik Banerjee, Associate Professor of English in Literary Studies, Cultural Studies and Indian writing in English at Hislop College, Nagpur believes that along with the writings in English from around the globe, English Departments must also incorporate Translation Study Centres “to restore parity among different languages.” 

“Dr Banerjee further explains that the “trade-off between English and Bhasha literature will go a long way in removing “the colonial hangover and the tag of ‘Black Skins White Masks’ for non-native learners of English. To achieve this, it is imperative to encourage the study of classical regional texts in English as “the former Colonial Master’s tools cannot dismantle his house.””

Dr Banerjee further explains that the “trade-off between English and Bhasha literature will go a long way in removing “the colonial hangover and the tag of ‘Black Skins White Masks’ for non-native learners of English. To achieve this, it is imperative to encourage the study of classical regional texts in English as “the former Colonial Master’s tools cannot dismantle his house.”

Devyani is an aspiring writer who strongly believes that words have the power to revolutionise the world. She is a Commerce and Literature Major student who loves watching movies, listening to music, reading books, talking to people and doing everything which helps her gather new stories and perspectives.

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Gendered Spaces in India

Pranita Choudhry

Examining the spatial exclusion of Women in India

According to the latest census, in India, there are currently 37 million men in excess of women. A country that experiences the giant gender gap in population, also has an equally large gender gap in employment where only 20% women currently participate in the labour market (according to world bank data). India’s performance is among the lowest globally with stark comparisons to its neighbours: 36% in Bangladesh, 59% in China, and 35% in Sri Lanka and 80% women in Nepal are currently in formal employment. This is in the vicinity of 80% for men according to an ILO report. The reasons for India’s low global ranking are all too well-known and obvious – patriarchal society, preference of sons over daughters, fertility, domestic and care activities. While economic growth and rising overall education levels for women are reasons to celebrate, absorption of women in the labour force through creation of suitable job opportunities has been all too slow. Invisibilisation of women due to economic growth was further achieved through increased household incomes that no longer deemed it necessary for housewives to seek work outside, also known as the “income effect”.

“the majority of the women who do work are mostly concentrated in the informal sector. The jobs they perform are part of the highly labour-intensive informal workspaces including menial work within agriculture, construction, handicrafts, or within home businesses.”

On the other hand, the majority of the women who do work are mostly concentrated in the informal sector. The jobs they perform are part of the highly labour-intensive informal workspaces including menial work within agriculture, construction, handicrafts, or within home businesses. Among the minority who make it to the formal sector, most are performing tasks that are an extension of home duties such as nursing, teaching beauty, healthcare, fashion, textiles, teaching etc. Take the textiles industry, for example, where 71% of the workforce according to a World Bank report are women, but where they are subjected to low pay, extensive hours, exploitation and bad working conditions. Women’s primary role in society is seen as that of a ‘caregiver’, therefore even professionally they are engaging in activities that are an extension of the home. Professionals or homemakers, they are never excused from taking on the burden of household chores and responsibility as caregivers to children and the elderly. 

“On average, women do one hour less of productive work as compared to men, and yet are responsible for three times more home-bound care work.”

On average, women do one hour less of productive work as compared to men, and yet are responsible for three times more home-bound care work. Take a look at the graph below that showcases the Female to Male ratio in terms of the time devoted to unpaid care work i.e. domestic and household chores as well as care activities for children and elderly. Amongst the highest in the world are Pakistan and India where women devote 10.25 and 9.83 hours for every hour devoted by men (respectively).

Deshpande, A. and Kabeer, N. (2019) (In)Visibility, Care and Cultural Barriers. The size and shape of women’s work in India (with Ashwini Deshpande) Discussion Paper Series in Economics DP 04/19. Department of Economics, Ashoka University.

While this has shifted slightly in urban spaces, the status quo remains in rural areas. Even in urban areas, policies and compliance is meagre especially in the informal sector and thinking about alternative careers such as those in manufacturing or technology is a distant reality.

The spaces that women claim are largely private. At the end of the day, it’s all a tussle between the public and private spaces and how power is experienced and negotiated within them that creates the silent rules we adhere to in our jobs, relationships, and interactions as a society. Take a look at the picture below of a small village in Bihar, India.

If you visit the interiors of India, you will see this as a common sight. While girls are tasked with commuting from home, holding containers of material or water, often several times a day, boys are found out playing, being with friends, or just running on the streets, just being who they’re supposed to be – children. In other words, you would see boys claiming the public spaces early on, while girls are restricted to private “for their own safety”. The only times they must only be out is to study or related to housework. Here’s another image that’s not specific to rural areas, but all around us.

As I ventured into the rural spaces, I was struck by how hard women worked all day long, engaged in agriculture work day after day as well as performing household duties, ready to forego any payments or rights. While their husbands often roamed about in the evenings to visit their friends or drink at the local pub, women often spent their evenings ensuring the rest of the family members, including the livestock, are well-fed and taken care of. This is an accepted form of behaviour instilled early on in life. Most women I spoke to expressed their discontent at the unfairness of it all, but simply didn’t want to voice their unhappiness from the fear of bringing shame to the family. I noticed they continued to treat their sons differently, maybe unintentionally, contributing to this vicious cycle. It demonstrates the deep-rooted acceptance of norms that dictate our behaviour and accepted both by the oppressed and the oppressor, that leads to the inter-generational repetition and continuation of the status quo, in rural and urban spaces.

“it’s not about the immediate monetary benefits but the consequential and intergenerational impacts on the lives of women and children. Empowerment is a holistic concept that cuts across the economic, social and political realms. It’s not just about getting job opportunities, but to be in an environment that’s productive, safe, and where women have the freedom to make their own choices.”

But isn’t it a woman’s duty to take care of her children and elders? why should they be paid for the tasks that they do for their family? Well, it’s not about the immediate monetary benefits but the consequential and intergenerational impacts on the lives of women and children. Empowerment is a holistic concept that cuts across the economic, social and political realms. It’s not just about getting job opportunities, but to be in an environment that’s productive, safe, and where women have the freedom to make their own choices. Gender norms dictate that claiming public spaces is considered desirable, attractive, challenging and ambitious, and are largely “masculine”, while being in the private sphere, no matter how much work you do, is considered feminine, a duty that’s taken for granted, in some instances leading to ill-treatment and exploitation. It’s about control. Take a look at the positioning and space distribution below which was completely unplanned and in fact but took place organically, reflective of the power dynamics.

“Power is exerted in many ways, one of them being “dismissal”. The collective acceptance of a narrative by those in positions of power, mostly men in senior leadership positions, political leaders, and at a micro-level considered heads of households, are often quick to dismiss or are inconsiderate to any other voices or viewpoints and assume the role of a decision-maker. It’s a system that seeks conformity rather than rewards creativity.”

Power is exerted in many ways, one of them being “dismissal”. The collective acceptance of a narrative by those in positions of power, mostly men in senior leadership positions, political leaders, and at a micro-level considered heads of households, are often quick to dismiss or are inconsiderate to any other voices or viewpoints and assume the role of a decision-maker. It’s a system that seeks conformity rather than rewards creativity. Their dominant presence in the public spaces is what leads to an insecure and unsafe space for women, who face eve-teasing and harassment, and thus have to constantly sacrifice their share of freedom & mobility to participate in the workforce. When taking a non-binary gender view, the experiences of those from the LGBTQIA communities who face violence and discrimination are nerve-racking and are immensely invisible. On other hand, the well-meaning male allies try they find it hard to make changes given the deep-rooted structural shifts that are needed.

The only solution to breaking this imbalance is for more and more women and girls to step into the public sphere and are well-supported to do so. However, with expectations around marriage, fertility, and care responsibilities, the challenge for us today is to facilitate this process and ensure they enter and then remain in the workforce. As the Economist, Amartya Sen explained, women can become agents of change only if certain conditions are fulfilled – they acquire more than basic education; they have an independent income; they have land rights; and that they have the freedom to work outside the house. However, when it is achieved, it brings about development not just for women themselves but others too. On average, countries with greater female labor force participation generally see later marriages, fewer children, better nutrition and school enrolment, and higher gross domestic product, according to the World Bank. There is also research that suggests that choices made by women’s groups not only led to empowerment for women themselves but greater development for children’s education and health, and the community at large.  

“The female labour force participation rate was the highest at 33% in 1972-73, and has been declining ever since.”

The female labour force participation rate was the highest at 33% in 1972-73, and has been declining ever since. Therefore, the challenge is real, to drive women from the “Private” to the “Public”. Unfortunately, there isn’t any quick fix to a problem this deep-rooted and ingrained. A change to this lopsided social structure will manifest only if we put in place certain provisions and solutions that are unconventional and multi-dimensional. At a policy and systemic level, change takes time and various initiatives are underway to influence policy change by organisations such as Sewa Mandir that unionised workers.. At an organisational level, some evidence-based initiatives seem to have worked in the west in the formal sector that may help lead the way towards increasing and sustenance of the labour force participation rate for women. Provisions such as having work-life balance policies in the workplace, effective protections against dismissal for pregnant women, shared parental leave, flexible working arrangements, company provided care services, a robust workplace harassment policy are some of the ways to help women continue being in the workforce. Having mentors and role models is crucial to help access the next stage, and to chart a path less travelled before and keep confidence and self-esteem high. 

While the gaps are structural with empty policies, profit-seeking corporations, poor implementation of laws, or political will, it is as much about changing individual behaviours, mindsets, attitudes, that rests upon us. We as citizens must keep our eyes open and intentions intact by ensuring we put in place a safe and dignified working environment, policies and contracts for staff members, domestic workers, part-time employees, ensure protection in the workplace, and have borders that are defined for our “employees” and not “servants”. Within the household, it is to encourage boys and adult men to teach their children that it is valuable to do “house” work, and a necessary aspect of being truly “independent” and “empowered”. It isn’t enough for men to think and say they “let” their partners work and that they are empowered because they have a job, it will take an equal division of labour both at work and at home. For women to claim public spaces, they need their partners and allies to pick up the slack in the private spaces, only then will the balance be restored.

“The labour force participation of women is lower by 0.3% as a result of the pandemic and girls are dropping out of schools where 37% from poor households in India are at risk of leaving behind their education, and more and more women are at risk of experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Others are pushed into early marriage or teenage pregnancies. 2.5 million girls globally are at risk of child marriage, India being one of the worst.”

To top it all off, the imbalance recently has further been exacerbated by the pandemic. The labour force participation of women is lower by 0.3% as a result of the pandemic and girls are dropping out of schools where 37% from poor households in India are at risk of leaving behind their education, and more and more women are at risk of experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Others are pushed into early marriage or teenage pregnancies. 2.5 million girls globally are at risk of child marriage, India being one of the worst. These are areas of work being taken up by various charities, NGOs and multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and other civil society actors. While many of us may not be able to shift these outcomes by ourselves, being part of the larger interventions and contributing is the need of the hour. In addition, there are things we can do and changes we can make within our own lives to contribute to a fight that needs our contribution. The pandemic has indeed offered us a unique opportunity, as we stay at home, to truly re-imagine our roles and contribute equally to all household chores to ensure we aren’t just advocates but practitioners of equality. 

Pranita is an international development professional, writer and activist, working with charities and not-for-profits, specialising in research and evaluation in youth development, gender and inclusion.

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Why Asexual Representation in Media Matters

Raavya Bhattacharyya

Discussing the need for greater inclusion of the asexual experience in film And television

The conversation around understanding sexuality as a spectrum has gained significant mileage in the world we live in today. The LGBTQIA+ community has spearheaded several movements to raise awareness on what it means to be queer, what it means to have a fluid sexual identity and what it means to live in a world that makes painstaking efforts to uphold heteronormativity as an ideology. Heteronormativity is a cultural belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation. Examining the nuances of sexuality, especially in modern mass media, has been fruitful for many, helping people come to terms with who they are and what they identify as. Asexuality, however, is far from the spotlight when conversations revolve around sex and sexuality. 

“Asexual individuals may experience many forms of attraction, that can often be romantic, but they do not always have an intrinsic need to act on that attraction.”

How do we understand asexuality? What makes it so distinct from other sexual orientations? The Asexual Visibility and Education Network offers a comprehensive definition of asexuality – “An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations.” Asexual individuals may experience many forms of attraction, that can often be romantic, but they do not always have an intrinsic need to act on that attraction. Just because asexual people do not desire sex, it does not limit their emotional needs. Asexual individuals also seek partners for an emotional connection, a relationship that doesn’t always have to be romantic. Craving intimacy, closeness and communication are crucial in all kinds of relationships and are not limited to strictly sexual ones. Offering this distinction is key to understanding asexuality and what it means for a person to identify as asexual. 

“People believe that asexuality is not a sexuality, when in fact it is just as significant as being heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual.”

There are several myths surrounding asexuality that seek to diminish the asexual experience. People believe that asexuality is not a sexuality, when in fact it is just as significant as being heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. Other myths include terming asexual people as “anti-sex” or believing that asexuality is an illness. Asexuality visibility is incredibly important for more asexual individuals to make sense of their experience and their sexual identity.


There’s no denying the fact that the media we consume has an indelible impact on how we see ourselves. From the time we’re children, what we watch unfold on screen contributes to our self-image and helps us make sense of who we are in relation to the world around us. This is especially why representation on-screen matters so much – it offers every kind of individual a mirror, a way of understanding themselves through another person’s experience that resembles their own. For decades, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have protested the lack of representation in film and television and how this reflects society’s belief that heteronormativity is a value that must be espoused by everyone. 

“The lack of representation of the asexual community in film and television renders them invisible and unseen.” 

Film and television are not merely forms of entertainment to be consumed and forgotten, their cascading effects have the potential to change lives and inspire a revolution. The lack of representation of the asexual community in film and television renders them invisible and unseen. An article by Psychology Today elucidates the importance of representation and its long-lasting effects on one’s identity. “When people see representations of themselves in the media, this can foster a great sense of affirmation of their identity. Feeling affirmed with one’s sense of self can boost positive feelings of self-worth, which is quite different than feeling as if you are wrong or bad for being who you are. The message that can come from a society in which LGBTQ people are invisible, especially through the lens of the media, is that “you don’t exist and you don’t matter.”

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Shruti, a 25-year-old female, who identifies as asexual, discusses her struggles because of insufficient representation: ‘I didn’t even know there was a possibility of a person being ‘asexual’. It’s only when I started doing research based on my personal feelings and emotions that I even chanced upon the word asexuality…’.” 

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Shruti, a 25-year-old female, who identifies as asexual, discusses her struggles because of insufficient representation: “I didn’t even know there was a possibility of a person being ‘asexual’. It’s only when I started doing research based on my personal feelings and emotions that I even chanced upon the word asexuality. Previously I assumed only amoebas could be asexual and that sex was a crucial part of the human experience. In fact even in school, we learn that it is one of the most important physiological needs, according to Maslow. So yes representation would save us the trouble of having to go through the feeling of being weird, abnormal and not “human” enough.”


The erasure of the asexual experience continues to pose a problem for everyone coming to terms with their sexual identities. The tendency of mass media to project a hyper-sexualised society can make people who don’t desire sex believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with them. In film and television, sex is often seen as the ultimate form of romantic expression. When it’s not associated with romance, it’s coded as a “release” and one of the only means of “letting go” and “having a good time”. Romantic and sexual fulfilment is often the ultimate goal in mainstream visual narratives, a way to finally find your place in the world. Years of this kind of messaging has left individuals feeling inadequate when they don’t have a romantic or sexual partner in their lives. 

“For asexual people, especially, this constant bombardment of narratives that favour ‘finding a partner’ can leave them with a sense of dissonance.” 

For asexual people, especially, this constant bombardment of narratives that favour ‘finding a partner’ can leave them with a sense of dissonance. Shruti adds, “Although the Ace experience is not as difficult as other members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we do have our struggles. And just in the case of any minority group, having good representation helps instil a sense of belonging and relief that you are not the only one feeling a particular way. Sex isn’t the end of the world. Just like it’s okay for people to be gay or bi, it’s okay for some to not want sex. It’s as simple as that.” 

It’s important to note that not all asexual people are averse to sex, they simply do not have an intrinsic need for it. Some asexual people partake in sex, masturbate and are aroused but don’t actively seek a partner for sex. Other asexual people may not feel any arousal at all, both these categories exist and are equally valid experiences. Shruti continues, “I wish there were shows or movies that showed asexual acceptance and that it was possible to have a relationship and that being asexual does not mean you are “broken”. Heteronormativity is detrimental to everyone who doesn’t fall under its umbrella.”

“In recent years, one of the most memorable asexual characters has been Todd Chavez from the animated television show ‘BoJack Horseman.’ Todd’s character arc offers him the means to explore his sexuality and eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s asexual. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is sensitive in its portrayal of Todd’s asexuality and offers him the space to understand it and seek a community within which he feels welcome and represented.” 

Queer characters have a much larger representation on-screen than asexual individuals. Some of the most critically acclaimed films and television shows over the last few decades have had empathetic, authentic portrayals of gay, lesbian and transgender characters. This is not to say that the representation of the LGBTQIA+ is as widespread as it should be, but it is still significantly larger than the representation offered exclusively to asexual characters. In recent years, one of the most memorable asexual characters has been Todd Chavez from the animated television show ‘BoJack Horseman.’ Todd’s character arc offers him the means to explore his sexuality and eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s asexual. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is sensitive in its portrayal of Todd’s asexuality and offers him the space to understand it and seek a community within which he feels welcome and represented. Todd is perhaps one of the only characters in recent memory who has openly come out as ace. Characters like Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock) and Dr. Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds) have sometimes displayed characteristics of being asexual but have never openly discussed sexuality. Often characters that are open about their disinterest in sex are seen as abnormal or strange, this kind of misrepresentation is what continues to be so damaging to asexual people.

“Social media has created an important space for asexual people to form a community and authentically discuss their experiences.”

Social media has created an important space for asexual people to form a community and authentically discuss their experiences. These discussions are paving the way for the normalisation of asexuality and starting conversations on the existence of asexuality and what it means for a person to be asexual. Such normalisation is key to encouraging film, television and other forms of mass media to have a greater representation of asexual characters and craft narratives that value their experiences. Nuanced portrayals of the asexual experience are crucial for audiences to be aware of asexuality and foster empathy towards the asexual experience. Most importantly, wider representation on the screen will greatly help asexual people learn how to be comfortable in their skin and disengage with the false notion that sexual desire is intrinsic to the human experience. 

Raavya is a pop-culture nerd who lives and breathes books and cinema. An unrelenting feminist, she hopes to change regressive mindsets through the written word. This is her second article for Bol Magazine, read her article on contemporary feminism here.

Graphic by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Clownselors

Spandana Datta

Talking to the founder of Clownselors, Sheetal Agarwal, on the impact of medical clowning and challenges of working during the Covid-19 pandemic.

May is recognised as Mental Health Awareness month. The concept of a Mental Health Awareness month came into being in 1949 in the US. It was initiated by an organisation called the Mental Health America, previously known as National Association for Mental Health. The idea is to raise awareness and educate the masses about mental illnesses and to reduce the social stigma around mental health every year in May. It aims to initiate an active dialogue about suicide and its prevention, an issue that is seldom discussed. As Glenn Close says, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation about illnesses that affect not only individuals, but their families as well.” The theme for Mental Health Awareness Month, this May is “Tools 2 Thrive”. “Tools 2 Thrive” lays out practical tools so one may effectively manage one’s mental health and increase their adaptability, irrespective of the circumstances. 

“Clownselors are a volunteer-based group that practice medical clowning. To get an insight into their work of medical clowning, what it entails and the inspiration behind it, we reached out to Sheetal Agarwal, a sociologist, a social anthropologist by training, lecturer by profession and the Founder of Clownselors.”

In India, organisations are endeavouring to not only create awareness around mental health but also actively improve people’s mental health conditions. Clownselors is one such organisation. They are a volunteer-based group that practice medical clowning. While medical clowning is a common practice in the west, it is steadily gaining popularity in India. To get an insight into their work of medical clowning, what it entails and the inspiration behind it, we reached out to Sheetal Agarwal, a sociologist, a social anthropologist by training, lecturer by profession and the Founder of Clownselors.

“Medical clowning is a therapy to aid in the healing process of patients at hospitals using dance, music, magic, drama, etc to reduce pain and anxiety.”

“Medical clowning is a therapy to aid in the healing process of patients at hospitals using dance, music, magic, drama, etc to reduce pain and anxiety”, says Agarwal. Speaking about the importance of mental health in hospitals, she explains: “The focus of hospital care is usually on improving the physical condition of the patients while overall well being is normally neglected. Mental health goes hand-in-hand with physical health, but is rarely considered. Medical clowning focuses on the overall well being of a patient. It is a distraction therapy that demystifies and humanizes the whole hospital environment for children & adults. The concept of medical clowning is that no hospital bed should deny a person his/her right to be happy. Clown doctors create an enabling and supportive environment through interactive play and humour that facilitates a patient’s adaptation to the hospital setting and improves their acceptance of medical procedures and staff. Medical clowning also helps reduce stress and fear in guardians and hospital staff.”

“It involves hospital ward visits from ‘clown doctors’ who are specially trained clowns.” 

Medical clowning aka clown care is a healthcare facility. It involves hospital ward visits from “clown doctors” who are specially trained clowns. Medical clowning is the brainchild of Patch Adams, a doctor and a clown! As a social activist, Adams believed that creativity, laughter and joy served as a catalyst in one’s healing process. He devoted forty years of his life to ameliorate the American healthcare system as he brought medical clowning into being.

Referring to its establishment as a “beautiful accident”, Agarwal talks about the inspiration behind Clownselors: “Clownselors came into being by itself, a beautiful accident. I was at a Moved By Love retreat in Ahmedabad in January 2016, where a woman named Dhara introduced herself as a medical clown. I grew up fascinated by circus clowns but heard the term ‘medical clown’ for the first time. I was intrigued so I looked it up on the Internet. I loved the concept of medical clowning and loved the idea of sharing smiles and reducing the pain of those who are suffering at hospitals. I wanted to try it myself. I contacted Dhara enquiring about medical clowning groups in Delhi but unfortunately, there were none. I was keenly interested and so, I would enquire constantly until one day, she suggested that I start medical clowning in Delhi. I said no way… I have no background in theatre and I have always been an introvert. How could I possibly start something like this?”, initially hesitant, Agarwal decided to go ahead with it.  

On how it started, Agarwal says: “Days passed but the thought of clowning stayed. One night I posted a random status update on Facebook, asking how many people would like to share smiles and give a purpose to a simple smile? I got 33 responses. I needed 15 volunteers and hospital permission to start clowning. I wrote to the Health Ministry of Delhi seeking permission to clown at a government hospital. They liked the idea and a meeting was fixed with the director, Dr Anup Mohta of Chacha Nehru Baal Chikitsalaya. He loved the idea and gave us permission. We were supposed to have a workshop that could not happen. On 9th July 2016, 5 volunteers dressed as clowns entered the hospital singing and dancing, the whole atmosphere changed. We started with OPD and covered the entire hospital spread over five floors. When we came out I could not stop smiling. I was smile hungover and so were the volunteers. Clownselors was born!”.

“Clownselors comprised merely five volunteers in the beginning. But today, the scenario looks different with Clownselors spreading smiles almost everywhere: ‘We have had 200 plus people volunteer at different clowning sessions and there are about 16-18 regular volunteers. We not only clown at hospitals but all kinds of vulnerable spaces like old age homes, orphanages, slums, refugee camps and the like. We also organize awareness campaigns using clowning as a medium. We conduct Free Hugs Campaigns, clowning workshops and sessions on stress management and team building’.”

Clownselors comprised merely five volunteers in the beginning. But today, the scenario looks different with Clownselors spreading smiles almost everywhere: “We have had 200 plus people volunteer at different clowning sessions and there are about 16-18 regular volunteers. We not only clown at hospitals but all kinds of vulnerable spaces like old age homes, orphanages, slums, refugee camps and the like. We also organize awareness campaigns using clowning as a medium. We conduct Free Hugs Campaigns, clowning workshops and sessions on stress management and team building.” 

“Although an effective practice, medical clowning can be intimidating for some, especially for those with coulrophobia. Furthermore, a ghastly portrayal of clowns in movies and books has led to a negative perception of them. Agarwal explains: ‘We respect each individual and their experiences and engage with them according to their needs.’”

Although an effective practice, medical clowning can be intimidating for some, especially for those with coulrophobia. Furthermore, a ghastly portrayal of clowns in movies and books has led to a negative perception of them. Agarwal explains: “We respect each individual and their experiences and engage with them according to their needs. If a person is scared of clowns, we try not to bother him/her but engage with people around them, which makes them comfortable, eventually.” A challenge like this can be tough to handle but the volunteers at Clownselors have managed to navigate their way around it. “When parents see their child engaged and happy after days, it immediately changes the perception of a clown in their head. We have had so many experiences where parents were initially suspicious and slightly uncomfortable too. But when their child smiled, they thanked us with tears rolling down their cheeks.” 

With the onset of a global pandemic, medical clowning groups, worldwide, were affected deeply. Like everyone else, Clownselors was hit hard. “Coronavirus disrupted all our clowning sessions”, Agarwal expresses with grief. “Since March 2020, we have hardly been able to visit hospitals as hospitals are allowing doctors and staff and not medical clowns. We have lost our projects at hospitals like Apollo.” 

“COVID-19 also gave us opportunities to spread our wings and reach every part of India through virtual sessions. We conducted sessions on mental health at universities, stress management sessions for corporate sectors, clowning workshops for children and adults and clowning sessions for children at different shelter homes.”

Though the impact was rough, her team has managed to make the most out of the situation with their virtual sessions. “COVID-19 also gave us opportunities to spread our wings and reach every part of India through virtual sessions. We conducted sessions on mental health at universities, stress management sessions for corporate sectors, clowning workshops for children and adults and clowning sessions for children at different shelter homes. We made videos and sent them to COVID-19 patients to cheer them up and their families. We also made videos on the importance of self-love and self hugs and making mundane tasks fun during the lockdown. We also conducted clowning sessions at migrant shelters during the last lockdown. This April, we were invited by the government of Meghalaya to conduct clowning at various hospitals in Shillong. We even clowned at a Covid ward at NEIGRIHMS Hospital, Shillong.” 

“People are quite receptive to mental health awareness especially once they experience a shift. When a simple act of smiling or laughing reduces the anxiety levels or when a child is not eating and starts eating after engaging with a clown, it changes the perception of the guardians.” 

Globally, it is the youth who have taken an initiative to create and engage in a dialogue about mental health awareness. But are most people receptive to their ideas? “People are quite receptive to mental health awareness especially once they experience a shift. When a simple act of smiling or laughing reduces the anxiety levels or when a child is not eating and starts eating after engaging with a clown, it changes the perception of the guardians.” But are the elderly equally receptive? Agarwal confirms, “At old age homes, the receptivity is higher as they crave human interaction and feel so much better after playing with the clowns. After a clowning session at an old age home, an old lady told us that it was the first time in her life that she had laughed so much and felt absolutely elated!”. 

“Even in 2021, the stigma around mental health is massive. It is this social stigma that prevents people with mental health issues from getting help, which in turn, makes their issues even worse. As individuals, we can grasp and discuss the gravity of good mental health. But as a society, do we practice what we preach? ‘Unfortunately, people are not aware of mental health. The stigma attached with mental health is real’, says Agarwal.”

Even in 2021, the stigma around mental health is massive. It is this social stigma that prevents people with mental health issues from getting help, which in turn, makes their issues even worse. As individuals, we can grasp and discuss the gravity of good mental health. But as a society, do we practice what we preach? “Unfortunately, people are not aware of mental health. The stigma attached with mental health is real”, says Agarwal. However, there is a shift in perception when patients respond positively to medical clowning. “We have heard doctors, patients, guardians say there is no point of this therapy, and medicines will do the work. But when they see the impact they believe in the power of such therapies and also how physical and mental health are interrelated.”

No endeavour comes without its challenges and for Sheetal Agarwal, a couple of challenges are inevitable, even today: “Since Clownselors is a volunteer-based group, one of the challenges we face is the availability of volunteers. Secondly, hospitals like the idea but are not willing to pay so sustainability is always a challenge.” 

Although Clownselors is a fairly recent initiative, they believe they possess the “zeal to heal” people. With their mission to improve the overall well-being of people, Agarwal says anyone can volunteer with them. “People can volunteer with us by registering on our website. People can help spread awareness about our work through social media and help us get connected with hospital authorities. People may also contribute and donate to our organisation.”

Although Clownselors is a fairly recent initiative, they believe they possess the “zeal to heal” people. With their mission to improve the overall well-being of people, Agarwal says anyone can volunteer with them. “People can volunteer with us by registering on our website. People can help spread awareness about our work through social media and help us get connected with hospital authorities. People may also contribute and donate to our organisation.”

With medical clowning causing ripples of positive change worldwide, more and more countries globally are considering it as a complementary approach, along with medical treatment. Clown doctors have infused hospital corridors with laughter and positivity, leading to an improvement in the health of most terminally – ill patients. Maybe laughter, truly, is the best medicine. 

Spandana is an English Literature graduate who loves writing and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time. She is a Staff writer at Bol Magazine.

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In Conversation with Anjali Dalmia: A Young Climate Warrior

Vinay Agrawal

Discussing all things environment with Anjali DalmiA, Yugma Network, PLANT project, issues with EIA 2020 and how she views sustainability.

Climate change is one of the most pressing concerns today. It is a concern we cannot and should not ignore. It is a concern that deserves a priority on the list of agendas, not just at an institutional level, but on an individual level too. If you’re still scouting for a fitting new-year resolution, climate activism is one to consider. Make it a life-long commitment, and be an environmental crusader. 

“Anjali Dalmia is an inspirational climate warrior. She has resolved to fight for climate justice throughout her earth years. She is the co-founder of Yugma Network – a pan Indian initiative that works towards achieving ground-level environmental justice by broadening and contextualizing the discourse through local languages.”

Anjali Dalmia is an inspirational climate warrior. She has resolved to fight for climate justice throughout her earth years. She is the co-founder of Yugma Network – a pan Indian initiative that works towards achieving ground-level environmental justice by broadening and contextualizing the discourse through local languages. Committed to the cause, she eats, breathes and speaks environment. She was one of the force du jour in leading a national-level student movement in response to the problematic Draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) 2020 through the Yugma network. 

Yugma Network now runs a language society with more than 70 students, an environmental justice clinic working on legal avenues, and a narratives and education program to build a space for youth from non-English backgrounds to further the discourse. 

Besides that, Dalmia also works closely with SAPACC Maharashtra (South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crises) where she is involved in reviewing the water section of Maharashtra State Adaptation Action Plan on Climate Change. She is also an Indian delegate at the international Mock COP26. 

Where do you see yourself in 2021? Any climate-specific goals?

In 2021, I would like to spend time understanding and experiencing realities at a ground level. I would say that the pandemic has ironically, helped me connect a lot more to the world and the political and environmental situation in India. However, I often feel I am speaking from an extremely sheltered point of view. Hence, I want to travel and understand what environmental justice truly means to different people in India. 

Additionally, I would like to start some research on urban centres and environmental solutions, delve deeper into environmental education in schools, spend some time to understand environmental laws in India, and further the PLANT project. I would also like to collaborate with people working in the alternate space and explore different forms of local governance and policy-making.

Since you mentioned PLANT: People’s Living Archive of Native Trees, how did it come to life? Are you following any checklist for documentation?

“The goal is to create a repository of cultural and social narratives around Indian indigenous plants through a living archive method while also detailing their uses and distribution.”

PLANT started as a project for the Millennium Fellowship of 2020, in which Sowmya Vaidyanathan and I were fellows. The goal is to create a repository of cultural and social narratives around Indian indigenous plants through a living archive method while also detailing their uses and distribution. 

The research for the project will be aided by eminent conservationists, activists, and academics. As of now, the project is in its early stages and hence we are looking at our communities to begin collecting stories. We don’t have criteria as such, however, we are focusing on exploring religious, social, caste and class angles to stories of plants. Our first few stories are mostly based in Mysuru. 

Can you share a few interesting knowledge paradigms you might have had come across during documenting PLANT?

An interesting plant story we came across was the way we, as environmentalists and urban dwellers, see the Lantana plant as an invasive species. However, for the locals, the Lantana was an essential medicinal plant they had deeply incorporated into their tradition. 

How can the inclusion of local languages & dialects broaden the discourse of environmental activism? 

“In India, any movement based solely through English automatically becomes an elitist movement as it is only accessible to those who have learnt English in school.”

Language is a very powerful tool that not only helps in communication but also has a sense of identity and belonging attached to it. Many of us feel very proud to speak and hear our mother tongue, even when we can’t understand it. In India, any movement based solely through English automatically becomes an elitist movement as it is only accessible to those who have learnt English in school. 

But even then, many people who do speak English don’t connect to it at a deeper level like they would in their native language. Therefore, if an environmental movement aiming for social justice is only in English, it prevents the flow of information from environmentalists and authorities to a grassroots level, and also prevents those who are most affected from speaking for themselves. This often leads to a very homogenous and top-down movement. 

“Broadening the movement to include official state languages is a one-step better approach”

Broadening the movement to include official state languages is a one-step better approach, and it would be very important not to only have Hindi in a country as diverse as India, to help the movement spread across many more people who can then make decisions for themselves and make the movement their own by connecting it to their daily struggles. 

On that note, I’d like to ask you what dissent means to you?

I believe ‘dissent’ is an extremely essential tool today considering the way our society is structured. In an ideal situation wherein people are in power at the local level and large scale, dissent could be seen as a difference in opinions. 

Unfortunately in India, there are very few avenues for citizens to comment on and influence policy-making constructively. Most of our laws have been heavily top-down and there has been very little room for citizens especially youth to raise concerns and suggest alternatives. 

“dissent has played a key role whether it is physical protests (farmer protests or CAA/NRC) or online (EIA 2020). Dissent, therefore to me, represents the voices of the marginalized and most affected, who are rarely involved in the decision-making process.”

In such a situation, dissent has played a key role whether it is physical protests (farmer protests or CAA/NRC) or online (EIA 2020). Dissent, therefore to me, represents the voices of the marginalized and most affected, who are rarely involved in the decision-making process.

Speaking of draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) 2020, what are its key shortcomings and potential solutions to those? 

The EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) is a tool used by authorities to assess the impact of any developmental project on the environment, people, economy and infrastructure of an area before the project commences. It is also a public tool that allows people to voice their concerns and opinions. In India, a new draft of the EIA was released in March 2020. It severely diluted many requirements. Many projects classified as B2 projects (but still extremely destructive despite their small size) along with all defence and strategic projects as defined by the central government have been exempted from public consultation. 

Post-Facto clearance (which means that the project can begin by clearing and levelling land) has also been allowed for many projects, which has even been declared as environmentally destructive by the Supreme Court. Time for public consultation has been reduced to just 20 days, which means the public will only have 20 days to review the EIA report and give feedback amidst the pandemic, poor internet, and non-native languages; this is highly unconstitutional.

“EIA 2020 has also reduced the frequency with which industries need to submit environmental reports from twice to once a year. Many environmental clearance durations have been increased e.g. for river valley projects, a clearance that earlier had to be reviewed every 10 years now can be reviewed every 15 years. They are designed to help business and industries rather than to act as a tool for environmental conservation and justice.”

EIA 2020 has also reduced the frequency with which industries need to submit environmental reports from twice to once a year. Many environmental clearance durations have been increased e.g. for river valley projects, a clearance that earlier had to be reviewed every 10 years now can be reviewed every 15 years. They are designed to help business and industries rather than to act as a tool for environmental conservation and justice. It will lead to the exploitation of many marginalized communities and result in the mass approval of severely destructive projects.

In terms of solutions, I would say that the framework of the EIA itself is largely flawed. It has been criticized by many experts for creating a dualism between development and the environment. Additionally, since it is not a proper Act in the constitution, it is very easy to manipulate as it happened with the EIA 2020. Hence, we need a new framework based on public consent. If possible, the public should be given more decision making power. I would say that the entire EIA 2020 needs to be withdrawn and a new draft should be prepared. 

As someone who has designed and been a part of many tweetstorms, what is the right way to “tweet-storm” and what is a big “no-no”?

Usually sharing hashtags before the scheduled time is a big no. A successful tweetstorm from my experience should have a well-written tweetbank with tweets that include all the decided hashtags (usually 2-3 hashtags are perfect) along with tags of the relevant authorities. If the tweetbank has clickable links and images also, even better. This is usually circulated an hour or so before the tweetstorm. Having one WhatsApp group with all the dedicated tweeters helps. Retweeting is also extremely important.

How do you practice sustainability on a personal level?

To me, sustainability is definitely about the choices we make as a consumer. But it is also the mindset with which we approach our surroundings and society. As a consumer, I try as much as possible to live a zero-waste lifestyle. This means using a menstrual cup, natural soap and shampoo bars wrapped in paper, bamboo toothbrush, reuse and buying/borrowing second-hand clothes, using public transport like bus and trains over cars and flights, carrying my cutlery and tiffin while travelling, segregating my waste at home, and using biogas for cooking. 

Additionally, I am part of a wonderful initiative called “Pune Freecycle”, a WhatsApp group where people can give and take items based on goodwill. In terms of the mindset, I feel sustainability means interacting with people around me – talking to the akkas who clean the roads in the morning, having a conversation with the bhaiya running the corner grocery store, noticing individual trees near my house and sending and receiving positive energy, slowly walking around the neighbourhood. All of these are also forms of sustainability to me because they help me slow down and connect to my surroundings. 

Climate change is a reality we cannot afford to ignore. To safeguard the planet from any further degradation, each of us has to become a warrior in our own right. Our collective actions will determine the climate of the future. 

If we want to improve the standard of life, mitigate impending climatic disasters and preserve the planet for posterity, it is time to lead, make changes for the larger good and act accordingly and sustainably so. The time is now before it is too late.  Each one of us can be a climate crusader like Anjali Dalmia and can start young or old. 

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications. Vinay is a staff writer at Bol Magazine.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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Women Social Reformers You Should Know About

Priya Jayakumar

Remembering India’s inspirational social reformers

Annai Meenambal

Annai Meenambal was born into a Dalit family in Tamil Nadu and migrated to Rangoon (Myanmar) to escape the brutalities of caste system. Her grandfather and father were great Dalit leaders who were part of Adi-dravida movements. She was the first Scheduled Caste woman President of Scheduled Caste Federation (SCF) founded by Dr. Ambedkar. She presided over two major SCF conferences in Madras and Bombay in the 1940s. Her major achievements include being the first Scheduled Caste woman to become a member of Madras Corporation representing Madras University senate and Deputy Mayor of Chennai Corporation, honorary magistrate for Madras Province and Director of Scheduled Castes Cooperative Bank. She was the one who gave E.V. Ramasamy the title “Periyar”(the great one) and was one of the radical feminist leaders of Self-Respect movement. She worked for the welfare of Dalit-Bahujans till the age of 80. 

Hemalatha Lavanam

Dr. Hemalatha Lavanam was the daughter of a renown Dalit Telugu poet Gurram Joshua. Since childhood she faced the rigours of caste and untouchability. The Jogini system is a social evil in which the so-called untouchable girls of the villages in Telangana are dedicated to the deities Ellamma and Potamma. The children are regarded as village property and any man from that village has the right to sexually exploit these children. Dr. Hemalatha worked for the eradication of this religious custom and rehabilitation of children. Dr. Hemalatha, along with Vinoba Bhave and Jayprakash Narayan, worked for the rehabilitation of criminal tribes in Chambal Valley. She also was in the forefront of various disaster reliefs and rehabilitations. She led a Unity March on foot for 1400 kilometers in 70 days, raising concern and voice against the caste violence that occurred condemning the murder of a Congress(I) MLA in coastal Andhra Pradesh in 1989.  Dr. Hemalatha’s commitment for the poor and downtrodden made her receive a number of awards. She was a well-known writer and poet and published a number of books. 

Dr. V. Shantha

Dr. Shantha was an oncologist and the chairperson of Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai. In her medical career spanning over 60 years, she dedicated herself on organising care of cancer patients, study of the disease, its prevention and control, creation of specialists and scientists in different aspects of oncologic sciences. She played a key role in the development of the institute from a cottage hospital which initially had 12 beds to a comprehensive one. She started affordable and quality cancer treatment in India treating 60% of the patients free of cost or at heavily subsidised rates. She was the first to initiate a paediatric oncology clinic, first to establish a cancer research and treatment centre in India, first to offer postgraduate in oncology course, oversaw the opening of the first hereditary cancer clinic in India and also conducted one of the first major cancer surveys in India. She  received various prestigious awards including Magsaysay award, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan.

Mandhakini Amte

Dr. Mandhakini Amte dedicated her life to serving the Madia-Gond tribal community in the forest of Gadchiroli district, Maharashtra. She left her job as a lecturer in a medical college and settled with the tribal people in a hut along with her husband, Prakash Amte. She renounced her sophisticated life and committed herself to social work. There were no roads, electricity and water and she had to harvest paddy and vegetables for food. The Madia-Gonds feared civilized people and faced difficulties connecting with them. Slowly she won the trust of the people by providing treatment and medication to their ailments. There were no facilities and there were limitations in terms of instruments, infrastructure and medicine. She along with her husband started a project called the Lok Biradari Prakalp (The People’s Brotherhood) for the integrated development of Madia-Gond which now has a fully-fledged 40 bed hospital that caters to over 40000 patients annually and a residential school from 1st to 12th standard giving free education to nearly 650 tribal children. She is a recipient of the prestigious Magsaysay award.

Fatima Sheikh

Fatima Sheikh was the first woman Muslim teacher in India. When Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule were asked to vacate their ancestral home by Jyotirao’s father due to their reform, it was Fatima Sheikh who opened her doors for them and it was at the same building she joined hands with Savitribai to establish the first school for girls in India called “Indigenous Library” in 1848. She not only faced challenges from the Hindus for educating girls and the untouchables, but also from the orthodox Muslims as both the groups were against the idea of access to equal education. They pelted stones and cow dung at Fatima and Savitribai on the streets. But it did not stop the women from their contribution. Fatima Sheikh went from door to door encouraging families to send their daughters to school. She used to give counselling for hours to the parents who did not agree to send their daughters to school. Today’s women owe Fatima Sheikh for their right to education. 

Mahasweta Devi

Mahasweta Devi was a Bengali writer and an activist who fought for the rights of the downtrodden and tribal communities across India. Her literary works expressed concern on the landless labourers, tribes like the Santhals, Mundas and Lodhas, beggars and Maoist rebels. She lived in the Adivasi villages, befriended and studied their lives. She edited a Bengali quarterly – Borika, which stood as an embodiment of the voiceless. She wrote only on the marginalized communities and they were the protagonists in her novels. Even her fictional works contain socio-political messages. One of her most famous books is Aranyer Adhikar (Right to the forest) based on the life of the young tribal freedom fighter Birsa Munda. She also voiced against the Industrial policy of CPI(M) government of West Bengal. Speaking about her inspirations, “the reason and inspiration for my writings are those people who are exploited and used, yet do not accept defeat. Why should I look for my raw materials elsewhere, once I have started knowing them?”. She was honoured with various literary awards along with Magsaysay award, Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan.

Mangaltai Kamble

Mangaltai Kamble was a landless Dalit woman working as a farm labourer in the farms of upper caste landlords. The Dalit in her village were treated as untouchables and they survived on the leftover food of villagers. She decided to cultivate but she had no lands. So she took control of village grazing land for farming. The villagers laughed at her for deciding to cultivate on a barren land and taunted her that she had gone mad. During that time many farmers killed themselves due to frequent droughts that led to crop failures. But Mangaltai stood strong on her decision and requested her husband to help. Fearing the upper caste villagers, he refused. So she took the help of her neighbour Sunanda Kamble and the women took control of about two acres of grazing land each. There was no money, water or resources for cultivation. They even encouraged other women to take control of the lands and formed Self-Help Groups. During monsoon, they relied on food grin and vegetable seed varieties that grow on less water. As the landless Dalits turned into cultivators, the upper caste villagers and leaders turned furious, destroyed the crops and even used police force to throw the cultivators out of the land. This did not stop her and she continued to struggle cultivating just to make-ends-meet. 

Dakshayani Velayuthan

Dakshayani Velayuthan was the youngest and the only Dalit woman among the 389 members of Indian Constituent Assembly comprising of 15 women. She was from the Pulayar community and she was the first woman to wear an upper cloth and was the first woman in her community to earn a degree. She was also the first Dalit woman graduate in India. She was the only girl student in science subjects in her college. Her upper caste teacher did not show her any experiments in Chemistry. She learnt by looking from a distance and graduated with a high position in class. She taught in an Ezhava-dominated high school and there were various instances where she was discriminated against. She called for proportionate reservation of Dalits in panchayat and municipality. Dakshayani said as long as untouchability remained, the word “Harijan” was meaningless, like calling dogs as “Napoleon”. She spoke against the centralization of power in the Constitution and wanted decentralization. She argued in favour of Article 17 of the Constitution that makes untouchability a crime by law. After serving as a member of the Constituent Assembly, she retired from politics and worked for underprivileged groups. Later, she organized a forum for Ambedkarite women called “Mahila Jagriti Parishad” in Delhi and worked with the slum dwellers.

Priya is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work from University of Delhi. She is an Ambedkarite and an intersectional feminist. 

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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Is Thrifting The Fashion Revolution We Need?

Reayana

Why thrifting through Instagram stores is not the solution for India’s growing fast-fashion industry.

Hassan Minhaj’s “Patriot Act” episode on fast fashion highlighted the evils of fast fashion and the 2015 documentary The True Cost by  Andrew Morgan popularised the idea about the ethics of fast fashion. While Minhaj touches upon the ecological and ethical impacts that fashion has on our planet and us, mainly the brands  Zara and H&M, my critique of the episode is that although Minhaj spoke of the statistics of an American shopper, the episode mostly revolved around two non-American brands – Zara and H&M which are Spanish and Swedish respectively. In fact, the fashion industry has many bigger, richer and more influential conglomerates. Barring H&M, Zara and Uniqlo almost all other brands that contribute to fast fashion-esque problems such as Victoria’s Secret and Nike are American. 

“thrift stores are a tailored solution to a problem of large amounts of consumption and imports and that problem does not persist in India at the same scale it does in the US. Each Indian buys an average of 5 clothes per year, Americans consume 10 times more than Indians do.”

Simply put, Americans shop the most. China and America combined account for more than half of the clothes consumed in a year (39% and 16% respectively). Although China contributes the most numbers in this sector, if you factor in the populations of the two countries, Americans individually consume more. Americans buy 53 items of clothing per year while the Chinese buy 30. One solution to the American problem of hyper-consumption and a commodity-centric culture that is induced by late capitalism is thrifting. Put in context, thrift stores are a tailored solution to a problem of large amounts of consumption and imports and that problem does not persist in India at the same scale it does in the US. Each Indian buys an average of 5 clothes per year, Americans consume 10 times more than Indians do.

The Instagram thrift store phenomenon as of itself is innocuous, it reminds people to be mindful while consuming and also extends the life span of clothing, but if it is to become a cultural phenomenon I see it as an unnecessary imitation and injection of a piece of pop culture divorced from ground realities. In recent times there has been a proliferation of Instagram thrift shops in India. These pages are predominantly run by young women with the intention to promote slow fashion i.e. an eco-conscious way of consuming fashion. The collections usually consist of pre-owned clothes that an individual has owned, or sourced from vendors to set up a selected collection that may follow an aesthetic theme or are vintage. The clients are looking for alternatives to fast fashion and trying their best to consume fashion in a more cyclical way than linear. 

“Joshi is a big advocate for Instagram thrift shops and says that it ‘normalises the idea of not purchasing brand new to survive’. She also spoke about the social stigma attached to second-hand clothes that thrift shops help erase: ‘Many people are grossed out by second-hand clothes, they think it is unhygienic’.” 

Mrudula Joshi is a fashion design graduate from NIFT Mumbai and has worked in the Indian fashion industry for two years. She is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Ullisu, a sustainable lifestyle resources website. Speaking to me about her experience, she explains: “We were encouraged to find the lowest deals with factory vendors”. Joshi is a big advocate for Instagram thrift shops and says that it “normalises the idea of not purchasing brand new to survive”. She also spoke about the social stigma attached to second-hand clothes that thrift shops help erase: “Many people are grossed out by second-hand clothes, they think it is unhygienic”. She believes that there are many people outside the Instagram bubble of woke-ness that do not know why second-hand is trending and who need to be informed. The critique Joshi has of thrift shops is different from mine: “Currently thrift shops are not size-inclusive and more people need to join the movement for it to be”. 

“Jain explains: ‘I think online thrift stores are super because they’re so accessible to everyone…As we don’t have actual thrift stores in India it’s a lovely new experience…thrifting is the opposite of accessibility for me. It’s more about finding hidden thrift stores, going through a whole bunch of clothing and procuring unique pieces no one has seen before. That element is missing in the online experience.”

Surmai Jain is the founder of Polite Society, self-described as “a non-conformist power dressing” brand, Polite Society is one of the new fashion brands on the block. When asked about navigating through the fashion industry and the slow fashion phenomenon, she explains: “Thrifting has been around for years, and brands have managed to exist. Old can’t replace the new and vice versa so it doesn’t affect us that much”. When asked about her employees she says: “All of our workers have worked in export houses or mass production units before. It is a very different experience and a difficult transition for them. We might make only two garments a day but we don’t overlook the errors that are usually ignored in fast fashion garments. It takes them time to understand our values of quality over quantity.” On the thrift store phenomenon Jain explains: “I think online thrift stores are super because they’re so accessible to everyone, people who haven’t thrifted before are now discovering how it adds a unique value to one’s style. As we don’t have actual thrift stores in India it’s a lovely new experience. That being said, thrifting is the opposite of accessibility for me. It’s more about finding hidden thrift stores, going through a whole bunch of clothing and procuring unique pieces no one has seen before. That element is missing in the online experience.”

“India has a pre-existing robust system of informal markets. Formal retail accounts for only 35% of sales.”

India has a pre-existing robust system of informal markets. Formal retail accounts for only 35% of sales. The unorganised or informal markets, where most of the consumption is taking place consists of private commercial enterprises not registered with the government, which typically consists of self-employed individuals. By that definition, thrift shops are in a way gentrified informal markets. 

According to chief procurement officers (CPOs) at leading apparel companies, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India are at the top of the list for sourcing markets in future. India is on the top of that list for mainly two reasons. Firstly, India makes for a great hub for clothing manufacturing because of the easy availability of raw materials such as cotton, wool, silk and jute. Cash crops that are dedicated to serving the global apparel retail market are grown in abundance and 76% of farmers want to quit farming to pursue non-agricultural jobs. Secondly, because of the low labour costs that exist, if you compare the Gini coefficient (a ratio that represents income inequality in a nation or select group) among the top three countries on the CPOs list, India does the worst. Moreover, when it comes to minimum wages it does not look good either, Vietnam’s is higher and albeit Bangladesh has a lower minimum wage, India’s minimum wage systems are way more complex because the wages vary from state to state, based on skill and in many cases also vary based on sex. 

CPOs are always looking for new countries in Eastern Europe and Africa to set up shop in, for its proximity to the global west which will reduce transportation costs, they also are looking to replace offshore sourcing countries like China for countries like Mexico because of the formers rise in factory worker wages. A total of 41% of chief procurement officers expect to increase their sourcing share from India and the reasons for their interest and keenness in India do not seem altruistic.

“As we live in a world where the prowess of imagery is highly rewarding, the malleability of social media is not a factor to ignore. To participate in Instagram thrifting is extremely alluring for the factor of visuality, it looks good and feels good and although thrift shops do no harm, they do no substantial good either.”

As we live in a world where the prowess of imagery is highly rewarding, the malleability of social media is not a factor to ignore. To participate in Instagram thrifting is extremely alluring for the factor of visuality, it looks good and feels good and although thrift shops do no harm, they do no substantial good either. Not to discredit well-meaning endeavours that aim to democratise the fashion experience but if they are alienated from local consumption patterns, they end up just being emblematic and an insertion of the aspirational upper-middle-class into a scenario that could have happened without them. Indian thrift shops on Instagram feature expensive pieces and predominantly serve the middle class/upper-middle class with access to social media, whereas fundamentally, thrift shops are meant to serve the working class. 

The need for conversation around the issue of fashion’s impact on the working class and the environment are dire. India is leading the charts when it comes to population and has a growing middle class and thrift shops cannot serve these potential consumers/clients who want to consume new brands. A fashion revolution that forces big conglomerates to take into consideration their ecological footprint and take care of their factory workers is urgently needed. 

“In the postcolonial world, we live in today, where western cultural hegemony thrivingly prevails, reactions to environmental and socio-economical problems have to mutate with location change. Conversations need to be around lax FDI regulations that allow 100% foreign-owned single-brand retail operations, the impact of cash crops on the water table, the agrarian crisis and labour wages.” 

However, the conversations and actions are almost benign if not contextualised. In the postcolonial world, we live in today, where western cultural hegemony thrivingly prevails, reactions to environmental and socio-economical problems have to mutate with location change. Conversations need to be around lax FDI regulations that allow 100% foreign-owned single-brand retail operations, the impact of cash crops on the water table, the agrarian crisis and labour wages. 

“What India needs are pre-emptive measures, to stop the growth of the fashion market, to understand the growing middle class and their consumption patterns and their needs, to take responsibility for the workers and to understand which cultural movements to adopt from the west and which ones to discard.”

Thrift shops are a reaction to the consumption patterns of the west, it is a way of redemption, a way of curbing the damage done by the fashion industry. What India needs are pre-emptive measures, to stop the growth of the fashion market, to understand the growing middle class and their consumption patterns and their needs, to take responsibility for the workers and to understand which cultural movements to adopt from the west and which ones to discard. 

Reayana is an architecture graduate from Mumbai with a keen interest in cultural imperialism, urbanity and animal anatomy.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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“In Popular Culture, the Hearing-Impaired people Are Always Looked At With Sympathy”

Vinay Agrawal

In her 29 years of experience, Audiologist Devangi Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children.

According to a W.H.O study, unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US$ 750 billion. This includes health sector costs, costs of educational support, loss of productivity, and societal costs. It further mentions, “In children under 15, 60% of such loss is attributable to preventable causes.”

“Over 900 million people are likely to be affected by a disabling hearing loss by 2050; half of which could be easily prevented through public health measures.”

The study also estimates that over 900 million people are likely to be affected by a disabling hearing loss by 2050; half of which could be easily prevented through public health measures. The hearing loss which can be broadly classified into three categories: mild, moderate, severe or profound can affect either one or both ears. The loss of hearing can hence result in a difficulty in grasping words during a normal chat or can hinder one’s ability to hear a sharp sound. 

“In her 29 years of experience, Audiologist Devangi Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children.”

A timely intervention, thus, is the need of the hour. Audiologist Devangi Dalal couldn’t agree more to this. In her 29 years of experience, Dalal has worked extensively with hearing-impaired children. She has seen their struggles up, close and personal and in-turn, learnt a lot about life from them. 

She has also been a witness to their unique struggles caused by the pandemic and the lockdown. On the flip side, Dalal has also seen the remarkable resilience, exemplary perseverance and never-say-die attitude these children possess. In a free-wheeling conversation, she busts out a few myths regarding hearing impairment, doles out relevant data and presents a way forward in terms of individual and institutional responses (society included) towards the hearing impaired section.

In your website, you talk about one particular research work that led you to discover key findings such as, percentage of the population affected by hearing impairment.  What other major findings did you stumble upon as the result of that research?

First of all, hearing impairment is unperceived so there’s limited work done as compared to physical handicap. I have been in practice for the last 29 years and I haven’t seen anybody having no hearing; they have 5-15% residual hearing which can be utilized. Technology has advanced so much that with the help of hearing aids/cochlear implants, these kids can be normal. They can have normal education and life but because of economic poverty and certain myths, it hasn’t been used for the children correctly. 

“In India, around 6.3% of the population are hearing-impaired. Out of that, 34 million are children and yet not much work has been done for them. When you talk about India, only 10% of the pediatric population is receiving correct treatment.”

In India, around 6.3% of the population are hearing-impaired. Out of that, 34 million are children and yet not much work has been done for them. When you talk about India, only 10% of the pediatric population is receiving correct treatment. Around 80 countries have a strict protocol for diagnosing children who leave the hospital. They are screened for hearing but in India, it hasn’t started yet. Auditory screening before the birth of the child has to become mandatory especially from the government so that early detection and rehabilitation can be done.

Can you talk about the gaps in the current pedagogical curriculum of special needs schools for the hearing impaired? 

It is not good enough. There are around 450 special schools all over India. Some of them are run by the government and some by private practitioners. There is a difference in the curriculum in these schools. 

Apart from that, the curriculum is designed to suit children having inferior hearing aids and the teaching is planned accordingly. The curriculum needs to be changed for those who have superior digital hearing aids so that they can be integrated into normal society. Everything has to change from the base: starting with neonatal screening from the government and giving hearing aids to each and every child as per their requirements and providing a curriculum which educates them up to standards so that they can cope with the normal children.

What are the ways to mend this gap?

The gap is quite high. Because of the language difference, the vocational training remains limited. That gap can be bridged. The centres should have a sports education for the overall development of children as these children struggle with employment in different industries. Once they have good hearing aids and education, the 1% quota that is available for them should be implemented aptly.

Has pandemic affected the hearing impaired population in a different way? Are they facing any unique issues as a result of pandemic and lock-down?

“During the pandemic, the major hindrance was that due to wearing a mask, they couldn’t read lips and perform gestures, which is their prime language.”

During the pandemic, the major hindrance was that due to wearing a mask, they couldn’t read lips and perform gestures, which is their prime language. So, communication became an issue. Other than that, the children having improper hearing aids weren’t able to communicate well in online programs. 

“Education has become stagnant. They might lose one year. In the online system, the teachers, too, don’t have efficient technology.”

So their education has become stagnant. They might lose one year. In the online system, the teachers, too, don’t have efficient technology. There are employment issues too. Those who have had education aren’t earning now.  Because of no activity, a few of them have turned to violence (violent behaviour patterns as a consequence of the lockdown). 

How does a hearing impairment affect one’s sense of self, especially among children?

Hearing is very important for communication. We have verbal and non-verbal communication. Both get affected during the loss of hearing. The hearing problem increases the level of difficulty in education, social interaction, and employment. As one is unable to understand the language that people are talking, they get isolated. One’s anxiety and frustration level goes up thereby affecting their physical, physiological, emotional, and even spiritual parts of life. 

You are the first Indian to have won The Humanitarian Award from The American Academy of Audiology. Tell us more about that. 

American Academy of Audiology is one of the biggest international organizations, comprising 13000 professionals. Every year, seven people get awards in different areas of their work and one of them is humanitarian work. In 2012, I was the only Indian to be awarded the Humanitarian Award. 

At an international level, they see how efficiently you do your work. The person concerned with the work was extremely aware of the activities that I did in India. Of course, there is a lot of work done in the humanitarian sector in a lot of countries but when you are representing a country, all the kind of work that you do to be a role model for others is the greatest happiness one can have. 

What is your opinion on popular culture representation (in movies, books) of the hearing impaired? How can it be made better?

“The technology has revolutionized mobile phones, computers, and all electronic media, if the hearing-impaired people can access the right technology, they can overcome the hearing disability and can lead a normal life.”

In popular culture, we have always looked at people with hearing impairment with sympathy. There are movies such as Black, Khamoshi where the children communicate in gestural language and try to overcome the challenges. The technology has revolutionized mobile phones, computers, and all electronic media, if the hearing-impaired people can access the right technology, they can overcome the hearing disability and can lead a normal life. That should be the message we need to promote through movies. 

You recently authored a book, “Spreading Positivity”. Tell us about that.

In this pandemic, we all got panicky and started worrying about our future. I was taking online therapy for hearing-impaired people and paralytic patients, and they were facing a lot of challenges. 

I’ve a habit of sharing inspirational pictures with people, and I narrate stories out of that, so I thought, why don’t I pen down my learning? My book, Spreading Positivity,  is a small thought process that I have radiated into the universe. I hope it multiplies positivity in our lives.

What is your take on Indian sign language? Is it complex when compared to ASL (American Sign Language)?

The sign language that we follow is as good as the ASL so there isn’t much difference. But, what happens with sign language is that communication with people becomes limited. If the children have multiple disabilities, then sign language helps them to communicate. But if the child’s intelligence and all other organs are normal, then one should go with hearing aids and cochlear implants. That will help them to be self-dependent. 

From the last 29 years, Dalal has been actively involved in conceptualizing various rehabilitation programs to hone the performance of children. She has played an indispensable role in almost every stage from raising capital for their betterment to conducting lectures at numerous occasions to make people aware of hearing and listening issues in children and adults.

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Psyche of an Artist

Manashri Pai Dukle

An insight into the relationship of women artists with the work they create and their life

Content warning: rape, violence against women

Art is a powerful instrument for understanding the psyche of an artist, their psychological state, behavioural tendencies, thinking patterns, and personality traits that drive them to create. Art and life of an artist are interdependent. Reading into a work of art is as complex as creating it and it’s an open-ended phenomenon on either side of the process. What makes an artist include their psychological wellbeing/state and experiences that have an impact on how they perceive, analyse, process and deliver their work through different mediums and means? Every work of art can be decoded and studied with respect to its content and its background (referring to the process of its creation). Art is the reflection of the artist’s mind and psyche. 

Since the “soul” or the “mind” are concepts and not physical structures, Psychology considers studying behavior to observe and interpret the mind. It attempts to understand the objective behavior of living beings, scientifically, in relation to their environment and evaluates the reasons and causes of these behavioral patterns. It investigates mental processes through scientific findings. Art, on the contrary, is a catharsis of these mental activities. The major link between art and psychology is creativity, which binds the two disciplines together. 

“When you look at some of our species greatest creative achievements, you will often find a touch of eccentricity to it.”

The “artist” has been a recurring character in fiction and real life. Artists are perceived in a certain way and defined with a preset definition by society. Countless painters, composers, writers and musicians have suffered from depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and other mental health issues. When you look at some of our species greatest creative achievements, you will often find a touch of eccentricity to it. Perhaps it’s not surprising that neuroscience has discovered that highly creative people’s brains are wired differently. Our culture often portrays artists as eccentric. An artist is considered far more likely to be an aberration than someone working in any other profession. Researchers refer to this as the “eccentricity effect.”  Two such artists are Frida Kahlo and Amrita Shergil, whose work was a result of the conflict in their mind and their traumatic life experiences.

“Art created by women is often more personal and emotionally purging with a sense of ‘feminine catharsis’, where the art conveys much more than what the artist tends to say.”

The creative merit of an artwork is often judged based on how viewers perceive the artist. Art is about accessing the deepest, most raw parts of yourself and challenging the audience. Perhaps more than any other profession, the act of creation brings artists closer to their subconscious. Statistics have shown that women are more likely (than men) to develop mental health conditions. Art created by women is often more personal and emotionally purging with a sense of “feminine catharsis”, where the art conveys much more than what the artist tends to say. Focusing on women artists, we can decode a pattern of relationships they have with the kind of work they create and their life story. 

Here are a few artists and a brief outline of their work: 

“Amrita Shergil’s persona, both as an artist of enduring repute and a woman of colourful escapades, continues to intrigue people several decades after her inexplicable death in 1941 at the age of 29.”

Amrita Shergil’s persona, both as an artist of enduring repute and a woman of colourful escapades, continues to intrigue people several decades after her inexplicable death in 1941 at the age of 29. Her multidimensional and iconic personality is reflected in her self portraits. Her vulnerability also shines through her position of being caught between a cold and conventional father and a deranged mother. She takes refuge in an artistic vision remarkable for its compassionate world view. Outspoken, contemptuous and critical of people she disagreed with, she was not only a prolific painter but also a magician with words. She proclaimed that “Although I studied, I have never been taught painting because I possess in my psychological makeup a peculiarity that resents any outside interference…”. 

Bharti Kher, another brilliant artist, focuses on creating art that reflects her own nomadic life. She was born and brought up in England, but in the early 1990’s she moved to New Delhi. She utilises the readily available “Bindi” which signifies “the third eye” worn on the forehead by the Indian women as a symbol of her identity. The “Bindi” plays the role of a basic building block for her masterpieces. She is also an expert in creating wild and eccentric resin-cast sculptures embroidered with Bindis, where her hunt for identity is prominent.

“Nalini Malani belongs to a group of artists who earned prominent name and fame internationally in the 1980s. Being a social activist, Malani’s work is based on the stories we have generally been ignorant about.”

Hema Upadhyay, took gigantic steps to establish herself among the spectacular women artists of India. She tried to reflect on her phobias, shortcomings and other real or imaginative tales through her paintings. She stated that her work was cathartic in the process. From 2001 till her death in  2015, she captivated the thoughts of art lovers with her magnificent works gaining her both appreciation as well as criticism from her viewers. Nalini Malani belongs to a group of artists who earned prominent name and fame internationally in the 1980s. Being a social activist, Malani’s work is based on the stories we have generally been ignorant about. She brought grave issues of race, class and gender in the limelight through her creations portraying her mind disputes in a visual and concrete form. 

Artist Rina Banerjee, inspired by “prakriti” (nature), constantly kept portraying the cycle of nature and the oscillations between constructing and prostrating movements of birth, death and rebirth. To depict the ephemerality of the objects which we chase, for example, she uses small glass bottles and shells to depict mobility, fluidity and a sense of guarded-home respectively in her work. 

“Arpita Singh with her enlarged visual horizon uses pink and blue that dominate her palette. Her paintings depict a wide range of emotions – from sorrow to joy and from suffering to hope.”

Celebration of humanism and intense curiosity to break the shackle of routine work, constitute the distinct features of Meera Mukherjee’s works. Arpita Singh with her enlarged visual horizon uses pink and blue that dominate her palette. Her paintings depict a wide range of emotions – from sorrow to joy and from suffering to hope. The story of her life is reflected in her works.

Anjolie Ela Menon’s paintings are easily identifiable by their bright colours and sharp outlines. Her work has constantly fluctuated over the years, from erotic to melancholy. Her work can’t be categorised in a  single genre, which inspires her to explore new territories to work with.  Every woman artist’s or for that matter every artist’s work is a reflection of their mind, life and persona. 

“Artemisia Gentileschi, a prominent artist, specialized in depicting strong and suffering women from myths, allegories and the Bible. A rape survivor, her work, shows her rage against men.”

Internationally, Artemisia Gentileschi, a prominent artist, specialized in depicting strong and suffering women from myths, allegories and the Bible. A rape survivor, her work, shows her rage against men. She was raped by her father’s colleague when she was 17 and throughout her career as an artist, she portrayed herself as a rebel.

“Georgia O’Keeffe is famous for her dramatically large, sensual close-up of flowers which essentially made them into abstract works. Her flower images were often accepted as interpretations that she disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who perceived these paintings as a veiled illusion of female genitalia.”

Georgia O’Keeffe is famous for her dramatically large, sensual close-up of flowers which essentially made them into abstract works. Her flower images were often accepted as interpretations that she disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who perceived these paintings as a veiled illusion of female genitalia. O’Keeffe was highly significant in influencing the gender balance in the artistic scene. She had a tragic life and suffered from clinical depression. Her story is characterised by suffering, professional and emotional setbacks, and by good fortune and the wisdom to take advantage of it. Though she was not thrilled with the truth of her own story and took pains to disguise her past through her work. 

“Frida Kahlo began painting during her medical treatment and she ultimately gave up her career in medicine to become an artist. Kahlo is famous for her self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds.”

Frida Kahlo is an artist with the most tragic life story that reflects through her art. Due to the grave injuries she suffered in an accident, Frida had to undergo 35 operations in her life, bear with relapses of extreme pain and could not have children. Kahlo began painting during her medical treatment and she ultimately gave up her career in medicine to become an artist. Kahlo is famous for her self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She said, “I paint myself  because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” She is undoubtedly one of the most famous modern artists and perhaps the most renowned female painter. She also remains a staunch feminist icon for generations of women. 

“Tracey Emin, a British artist, has explored a wide variety of media and her art is known for being autobiographical and confessional. Her best-known works include ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995’,”

Tracey Emin, a British artist, has explored a wide variety of media and her art is known for being autobiographical and confessional. Her best-known works include “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995”, a tent appliquéd with the names of everyone she had ever shared a bed with; and “My Bed”, a  ready-made installation consisting of her own unmade dirty bed while she was going through a period of severe depression. Her works are unconventional and convey a strong, fearless personality and attitude.

There are many other artists who are recognised for their work, the way of working, why they work the way they do and their identity or appearance, to the viewers and critics. Through the analysis of their life, mind and work relation, we can define art as a quest of the creative mind to find answers to one’s own life experiences and the invisible mind, through the visible-visual. Art and Psychology are disciplines that are connected by creativity and creative minds. 

“As an artist, I have always been curious to dwell deeper into the driving forces of what I create. My mind, how the process is wired and the relation between my personality, behavioral tendencies and my work.”

As an artist, I have always been curious to dwell deeper into the driving forces of what I create. My mind, how the process is wired and the relation between my personality, behavioral tendencies and my work. The references or the conflicts that the two entities share. When I tried to read into the relationship or the trichotomy between the mind, art, and creativity I observed a pattern of this relationship in every individual artist’s life and the work. However, the effects and reasons had a slight difference for women artists. I further tried to read deeper into this. Most women artists have been using art as a strong medium of communication to pour out their fear and oppression and their deluge of desires in their art, using it as a medium to vent. The greatest names in the art have at some point in their life gone through psychological discordance and traumatic experiences, creating art that is extraordinary. 

Manashri is an Artist, Interior Stylist, Art educator, Art Historian and writer based in Goa.

Design by Simran Mehta

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What is meant by “woman” entrepreneur?

Vinay Agrawal

Discussing the misnomer of “women” entrepreneurs and why gender inclusivity in businesses is the need of the hour. 

When entrepreneurship is framed through the construct of gender, the harm outweighs the good.

The dictionary definition of an entrepreneur reads: “a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of a profit.” Let’s re-read it carefully with the attention of a seamstress working on a couture gown; the word-of-note and, in this context is, the “person”- a noun supposedly free from the trappings of gender. A person can be male, female, or an occupant on the spectrum lying in between these two dichotomies and beyond. So, when did the gender gain prominence and override the semantics-at-large? 

“While ‘women-entrepreneurs’ are aplenty, I am yet to come across such a prefix for the male counterpart. Entrepreneurship by design then becomes a masculine domain.”

While “women-entrepreneurs” are aplenty, I am yet to come across such a prefix for the male counterpart. Entrepreneurship by design then becomes a masculine domain. The divisions get widened further, and the idea of entrepreneurship being a male bastion gets reinforced and re-iterated birthing a fresh narrative of us and them, in which the women become the “others” who require to form a semantic coterie of their own irrespective of their will. The semantics percolate to the level of perception and the collective consciousness, often doing “good” on the surface, but fail to reach beyond the veneer. 

In an interview, Mamta Nihalani was asked, “How difficult is it for a woman to start a company?” To which, she replies, “… It is challenging…” She then makes another point that reads, “I can work late nights, can deliver what a job demands. I can manage my house and office; it’s about proving oneself every time, at every step and in any circumstances.” 

“The narrative thus gets derailed, and the focus shifts from ‘an entrepreneur’ to ‘the (woman) who is an entrepreneur.’” 

The narrative thus gets derailed, and the focus shifts from “an entrepreneur” to “the (woman) who is an entrepreneur.”  When we define entrepreneurship on the basis of gender, are we giving an agency to the women who’re averse to such descriptors and be rather known by their talent and gumption? In that situation, aren’t we boxing these women again in the confinements of gender? 

In an interview to ET, Kalaari Capital’s MD Vani Kola, says, “I don’t think it is about what we can do more, it is about just letting women be. We don’t have to do women any favour. We just have to remove the force of judgement— what happens if she has children, will it affect my investment, will others work for her, will she be competent. We just have to remove this attitude.”

Similar thoughts are echoed by Kanika Tekriwal, Co-Founder & CEO, Jetsetgo Aviation Services during a panel discussion, wherein she says, “On one hand, we are talking about equality and on other, we are asking for special status for women. This is not right. Instead of treating this mission of helping women as a sort of agenda, entrepreneurship should be made ‘normal’, for everyone.”

“In the course of interview/s, a woman-entrepreneur is often asked questions like, ‘but how do you manage business and family?’, ‘Are your in-laws okay with this?’ Such questions are rarely asked to the male counterpart.”

The title women entrepreneur often comes loaded with a certain set of performative expectations. “People started taking me seriously only when I got two male co-founders with their respective expertise in business development and finance”, says Vanita Prasad, an entrepreneur. In the course of interview/s, a woman-entrepreneur is often asked questions like, “but how do you manage business and family?”, “Are your in-laws okay with this?” Such questions are rarely asked to the male counterpart. Anyone working in journalism will tell you; the stark difference in the way a male-entrepreneur and a female-entrepreneur is pitched for stories and profiling. The gender-based pitching quadruples as the women’s day approaches and thins out, eventually.

If we’re so adamant in clinging to the “wokeness”, a gender-based prefix can bring in then why do we rarely see a “womxn entrepreneur”? Are we doing a colossal disservice to them? What about those who identify as “non-binary”, “gender-queer” but are slotted – and neatly classified in the category of “women entrepreneur”? In such a situation, not only do they get misgendered, but rendered more invisible and suffocated through an incorrect label. 

Parenthood & Entrepreneurship: Another Botched up Semantic? 

Before we move further, I’d like to ask you if you’re aware of the term, mom-preneurs. Put simply, this badge refers to a mom who also runs an enterprise. Let’s turn that term around. Do you know any dad-preneurs?.

“Constructing gender-based entrepreneurial identity around parenthood comes with its own set of issues. For example: If you are a mom-preneur, the first line of questioning pertains to your management skills vis-a-vis kids and business.”

Constructing gender-based entrepreneurial identity around parenthood comes with its own set of issues. For example: If you are a mom-preneur, the first line of questioning pertains to your management skills vis-a-vis kids and business. Depending upon the response, and after its scrutiny, one is placed at the various points on how “good” or “bad”, they are as a mother. If you’re lucky, you get a clean chit- and if you’re not, you are just not. But, a male-entrepreneur is hardly judged on such parameters. Joyce Shulman, the founder and CEO of the walking app 99 Walks and Macaroni Kid, in an article for Working Mother, writes, “how a top boss at an equity firm discredited her entire venture, calling it ‘a weekly email newsletter written by moms’.”

Towards A Gender-Free Approach

Is a gender-neutral term need of the hour rather than observing or framing the narrative of entrepreneurship through the brush of the gender?  A parent can be a man, a woman, or a womxn. They can be single, separated, married, divorced; heterosexual or homosexual.  How about an umbrella term, parentpreneur? In my opinion, it is an apt substitute and encompasses all. 

“‘women-entrepreneur’, in larger discourse, the seemingly innocuous prefix establishes ‘man’ as a dominant gender, and ‘woman’ as a subjugated one. In a few cases, their style, dressing sense, wardrobe and other so called visible markers of femininity becomes the talking point.”

Coming back to “women-entrepreneur”, in larger discourse, the seemingly innocuous prefix establishes ‘man’ as a dominant gender, and ‘woman’ as a subjugated one. In a few cases, their style, dressing sense, wardrobe and other so called visible markers of femininity becomes the talking point. I remember, once getting a call from a publicist, who pitched her client as a “stylish woman entrepreneur” ( and this was from a non-fashion space and hence unrelated ). The male entrepreneurs are however primarily pitched on the basis of their qualities and achievement- and rarely, in terms of the style. This implicit bias adds to the “pinkification of entrepreneurship” by suffusing a color and placing the attention away from the talent and back to the gender. 

“Summits, awards and conferences designed on such lines, amplify the existing notion, wherein at times the presenter for the award is ‘a male’. This just punctures the entire point and feels like an exercise in tokenism.”

Summits, awards and conferences designed on such lines, amplify the existing notion, wherein at times the presenter for the award is “a male”. This just punctures the entire point and feels like an exercise in tokenism. Carol Roth in an opinion piece for The Entrepreneur writes: “The constant segmentation of everyone by gender, race, age, or other qualifier beyond their control does nothing but create self-doubt for those who have been categorized as well as others around them. I was at a “women’s entrepreneurial dinner” held the night before a “women’s entrepreneurship conference.” I was asked what I hoped the future held for women entrepreneurs. I told the organizer that I hoped in ten years that his conference would be put out of business. Entrepreneurship should, and must belong to everyone irrespective of their gender. The larger question remains, whether we are short-changing talent by letting it pass through the codes of gender? 

An introvert by nature, Vinay believes in the strength and the beauty of vulnerability. He likes to read about arts & culture and has worked full-time as a features writer, and has contributed for various publications.

Design by Khyati Garg

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