“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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What it Means to Live with Depression

Mahima Sood 

Mahima Sood shares her personal experience of living with depression, how it impacted her life and why it’s important to talk about mental health

Trigger Warning: Depression

This January, I was out with a friend, walking around town and talking about things that are fun to talk about, but you can’t quite recall them in retrospect. We decided to end the day at Zara; there were people all around and the place was buzzing with conversation and laughter. The last thing I remember is waiting for my friend who was trying on clothes before everything went blank. 

“My friend rushed me to the ER, where they admitted me suspecting a stroke. 36 hours, morphine, CT scan, and spinal tap later, the neurologist declared me physically healthy, with alarming levels of stress. ‘What are you so worried about?’, he asked, and I had no answer.”

It started with a headache, which gradually intensified until I was unable to talk and started sobbing incessantly. In half an hour my mouth and hands froze. My friend rushed me to the ER, where they admitted me suspecting a stroke. 36 hours, morphine, CT scan, and spinal tap later, the neurologist declared me physically healthy, with alarming levels of stress. “What are you so worried about?”, he asked, and I had no answer.

“Depression has been the single constant in my life.”

Depression has been the single constant in my life. I say this with an acute awareness of the privilege my birth accords me: I come from an upper-caste Hindu family with educated feminist parents who are more liberal with girls than their contemporaries. I have a partner who understands my condition and is supportive, and friends who tolerate my sudden disappearances. My skin color and body type put me in the conventionally good-looking demographic – I point this out because I have people in my extended family being shamed over their complexion and body on a daily basis. Financial security allows me to pursue my passion. What is it that causes me to pause every once in a while and feel inconsolable with a grief that is so familiar, so consistent that it’s akin to breathing?

“My early twenties were a whirlwind of new experiences littered with long spells of denial about my worsening mental health, and my inability to do anything about it. I’ve gained and lost interest in people, jobs, hobbies, and my own well-being. I’ve fallen into a deep sleep after a day full of joy and laughter, only to wake up wishing I didn’t exist.”

Ever since I can remember I’ve had a constant feeling of dejection and sadness eclipse everything else. I have faint recollections of my childhood — blurs of undefined emotions that speed past, with one that stands out — disappointment. I had a happy, normal childhood. Yet, I always felt alienated and undeserving of that happiness. My early twenties were a whirlwind of new experiences littered with long spells of denial about my worsening mental health, and my inability to do anything about it. I’ve gained and lost interest in people, jobs, hobbies, and my own well-being. I’ve fallen into a deep sleep after a day full of joy and laughter, only to wake up wishing I didn’t exist. At least once a day, for the last 20 years, I have thought how wonderful it would be to stop existing, and how that would take away the pain I have brought upon myself and my loved ones.

“Throughout all this, I’ve managed to masquerade this part of me and pretend to be normal. Good grades, jobs, relationships and lifestyle. It felt alien and inappropriate to acknowledge my emotions, let alone allow them to surface.”

Throughout all this, I’ve managed to masquerade this part of me and pretend to be normal. Good grades, jobs, relationships and lifestyle. It felt alien and inappropriate to acknowledge my emotions, let alone allow them to surface. There would be moments when I couldn’t control it of course: normally culminating in bouts of sobbing. I once cried over not liking a T.V. show’s vamp, something I used to watch with my grandma every night. There was this time when I burst into tears during an appraisal meeting with my manager because she didn’t criticise as much as I thought she would. Once, my father sat on a bed that was freshly made, and I burst into tears because I couldn’t smooth over that last crease.

In retrospect, it seems I was trying to make up for that void by focusing on external achievements.

To give you some context, I have always prided myself on having wildly productive days, where I manage to get a week’s worth of work done in less than 24 hours. I am focused, sail through problems, and get great results. I will eat right and work out and read and spend my time well. However, I still feel hopeless. Balance this against six days where I do nothing but stay in bed, and avoid all social confrontations, and viola, that’s an average week in my life. Last weekend, my psychiatrist texted me to ask how I was doing. I replied, “meh. Been really productive though”. It’s almost as if I carry a fool’s hope that high functionality will magically cure me of whatever it is that ails my mind.

“What I learned was that no pill can cure us of the varying degrees of mental turmoil we go through and that each experience is different.”

When I first went on medication almost two years ago, the experience was different than what I imagined it to be. Books and movies had prepared me for a surreal transformation, where all my misery would obliviate with a single pill. However, what I learned was that no pill can cure us of the varying degrees of mental turmoil we go through and that each experience is different. The medication releases doses of Serotonin, the chemical that makes us happy, periodically in our brain. Each drug comes with its set of side-effects, and it’s upon the patient to decide if the tradeoff is worth it. Would you give up on a regular sleep cycle or bowel movement to manage your condition? Recovery is a gradual process where the onus is on the person to take actions that make the condition easy to manage and control outbursts that shatter every illusion of normality.

“I finally have the help I’ve always needed. I have initiated conversations with my family and friends over my condition. I have started medication. I’ve gone on and off both therapy and medication until I found the combination that works best for me.”

I finally have the help I’ve always needed. I have initiated conversations with my family and friends over my condition. I have started medication. I’ve gone on and off both therapy and medication until I found the combination that works best for me. My preconceived notions of mental health, how mentally ill people behave and how the treatment works have been redefined by my own narrative. I’ve begun to view the world with my own kaleidoscope where logic and emotions often amalgamate, but I try to stay calm and manage it the best I can.

If I, with all my privilege and resources, could walk into a store and, for the lack of a better phrase, “lose my shit”, anyone can. Millions around the world suffer from varying severity of mental illnesses. These conditions cannot be quantified into a set of consistent symptoms, but that does not render them even fractionally less severe or less important than physical ailments. We are dealing with a crisis that cannot be generalised based on symptoms, with each person manifesting it differently. Thus, the onus is on us, as a society, to collectively be responsible for the well-being of those around us.

Mahima is a Data Scientist who also runs a writing retreat in the Parvati Valley.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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Will the Arts Survive the Covid Pandemic?

Pranita Choudhry

While diverse forms of art have kept us going during lockdowns, discussing how social distancing and restrictions on events and classes has impacted professional artists

The pandemic has pushed us to imagine a world with a renewed idea of mental well-being. Never before have we been locked up within our four walls left to our own devices with little or no social interaction. Many found it distressing, especially those who have children and were trying to balance work and domestic life and those who don’t have a conducive environment at home. Others found it liberating with extra time to do what they want.

Many of us indulged in painting, dancing, singing, gardening, photography, and could now have a nine to five routine and at the same time find solace in these co-curricular activities. It is this time to explore that saved us from feeling low, under-run, de-motivated and depressed. We turned to the arts when it came to balancing our moods, emotions, self-worth, and to a certain extent, to save us from ourselves. As the Harvard Health Review puts it, exercise, as in dance, can not only “promote chemical balance” but also “deepen the mind-body connection.” Online classes became the need of the hour, with instructors in need of new skills for teaching online.

“With studios and theatres shut down for long periods and the foreseeable future, how the industry is going to survive, sustain artists, keep livelihoods going is unknown and certainly not discussed enough.”

It is ironic how many of us in full-time jobs now relied on art to keep our mental well being afloat, however, for the full-time artists, this was a time of confusion, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and loneliness. With studios and theatres shut down for long periods and the foreseeable future, how the industry is going to survive, sustain artists, keep livelihoods going is unknown and certainly not discussed enough. “It’s a desperate situation, especially for, say, nadaswaram artists, who earned their living by playing at temples or at weddings. Both those options have been locked out! What will they do? Similarly, so many artists were employed by the tourism industry. Where will they go now? no one in power has spoken up nor acted on behalf of the artists. The sector seems orphaned,” explained Padma Shri, Geeta Chandran, an eminent Bharatanatyam dancer.

“For artists, dancers, singers or more so over for the performing arts there lies a strong sense of social network and support. Being creative is one aspect, but demonstrating your art and reaching out to an audience is another.”

Another aspect was the pandemic altering the nature of our social capital. Being part of a community is what makes us feel wanted, engaged, have a sense of belonging that helps our confidence and also our mental health. If you are working for a business, as a banker, lawyer or a doctor, you may not rely on your social web as a necessary part of your profession. However, for artists, dancers, singers or more so over for the performing arts there lies a strong sense of social network and support. Being creative is one aspect, but demonstrating your art and reaching out to an audience is another. The pandemic stripped having a space to share, perform, talk, embrace and celebrate. Instead, we are now online, which while in many ways is a saviour in the absence of having a physical space to engage, cannot possibly replace the feeling of feeding off each other’s energies in rehearsals and performance. “The coronavirus is so insidious because it attacks one of the central yearnings of human nature, which just so happens to be the bedrock theatre is built on: our desire to assemble.” said theatre artist Nicholas Berger.

Artists don’t work for benefits or salary packages, they are often independent with little security and assurances. The pandemic has made some fears come alive, where a lot of creatives are having to trade their time to look for ways to have a stable and enough income through alternative jobs rather than doing what they do best, to create. Rajesh Baderia an artist from New Delhi says: “Due to Covid-19, all economic activities were severely impacted so did the art scene. As art is not considered a necessity and is almost entirely supported by art lovers, investors and connoisseurs, and due to the pandemic, all of these are out of scene and as a result, artists have seen their incomes disappear entirely,”.

“This does not mean abandonment and discontinuation of a career in art. Artists are claiming various spaces online on social media platforms.”

Moreover, what about those who support an artist’s work? “The most disturbing outcome is many folk and supporting artistes and backstage staff being pushed to the brink because of cancellation of rehearsals, major festivals and regular performances” explained Aditi Mangaldas, a renowned Kathak dancer. Government support has come in as a saving grace, but this support is mostly only available in developed economies. However, this does not mean abandonment and discontinuation of a career in art. Artists are claiming various spaces online on social media platforms. They are now grappling with various other questions on how to navigate copyright issues? 

How does one become an expert on shooting a good dance video, one for which you need specialization and training, how do you manage the technical glitches that come about through invasion on zoom, fault in the wifi or just simply phone device failures? This is especially true for singers and dancers, as a performance is the most delicate intangible process there is the experience of which can be ruined by even the smallest technical glitch. This is all well and good for artists who can afford to have a smartphone, shoot videos and keep uploading them, but what about the artists working in remote areas with lack of access to resources or even the internet? How do they survive and navigate the demands when they have been so used to perform live for an audience? “Thousands of folk and tribal artists, who are part of India’s vast informal economy, have been unable to earn because of the pandemic.” (Mahima Jain, Vice, 2020)

“It’s important to recognise that artists are going through a tough time, and take the responsibility and initiative to encourage and support artists you may know or have heard about.”

Now you are forced to remain indoors, with little avenues to have a community, take and give inspiration, and feed off the energy that drives the soul to remain a pathfinder and a creative. It’s important to recognise that artists are going through a tough time, and take the responsibility and initiative to encourage and support artists you may know or have heard about. Instead of expecting free sessions online, make donations to art organisations and pay for performances. Can you imagine a world on the other side of the pandemic, where there would be no more creatives who follow their passion and create their craft that keeps us engaged, alive, debating and discussing? It’s important to stick together during these hard times and support one another, and function as a unit. “We will survive this and the only way is that we can all come together with solidarity and no more free stuff” Sonam Kalra, singer and composer.

The pandemic doesn’t discriminate, young, old, rich, poor, doctor, artist, we are all vulnerable to the virus, but some are at a greater risk to it than others. It’s important to question the relevance of the arts and what it means to you. Why do you enroll in singing and dancing classes? Is it simply to pass their time or is it an integral part of their upbringing, engaging with our culture and heritage. Can you imagine a generation with no access to this? It is crucial that now more than ever we support the arts and the artists. 

Here are some useful links for artists and supporters:  
Experimenter Grant 
Khoj Support Grant 2020
Serendipity Arts Grant 
The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts 
ASEF culture360
Indian Foundation for the Arts Grant
Danish Arts Foundation
UNESCO – International Fund for Cultural Diversity 

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. She is also a trained Bharatanatyam dancer for over 20 years and continues to perform in group and solo choreographies.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Revelation of the Unspoken

Siddhi Shah

An insight into the UN Women Ad Campaign “the Autocomplete Truth” which exposed the stark gender inequality and discrimination that exists today.

Over the past decade, the way in which women are presented in the media has come a long way. With women-centric films and increased focus on gender equality by the government and corporates alike we have seen greater acceptance of feminism. However, there exists a deeply entrenched assumption and stereotype of a “woman”, as a mother, daughter, homemaker, or caregiver, who is responsible for the household.  

“The assumption of women as the one responsible for the household is further emphasised when advertisements related to cooking, cleaning, washing products predominantly feature women.”

This is because we live in a world that is surrounded by prejudiced visuals, imagery, and other representations that help us perceive our surroundings. A factor that contributes to the human lens and the representation of the worldly domain is advertising. It forms a vast superstructure within our human existence and has a major influence on our day to day lives.  The assumption of women as the one responsible for the household is further emphasised when advertisements related to cooking, cleaning, washing products predominantly feature women. In today’s time, it is important to curate advertisements that bring a positive change in society by addressing the issue of gender inequality. 

The United Nations organisation for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women or UN Women works for women empowerment by raising awareness of biases that exist against women and highlighting the long term imbalance of inequality. To address the issue with advertising,  it created a campaign called “The Autocomplete Truth” in 2013. 

“Google searches starting with “women should” depicted in the advertisement showed regressive attitudes about women and how they should be in order to be accepted in society.”

The Autocomplete truth was an exemplary campaign that provided insight into the discrimination that women face across the world. What made it unique was the fact that the campaign collated stereotypes that exist against women and responded to them. Google searches starting with “women should” depicted in the advertisement showed regressive attitudes about women and how they should be in order to be accepted in society. The search gave autocomplete results like “women should be in the kitchen”, “women should be slaves”, and “women should not have rights”. 

With the campaign, UN Women tried to highlight the sexism that exists even today. It challenged the higher social, political, and legal rights that men have enjoyed over women. Gender equality in terms of all peripheries is the major message that was emanated to the audience. 

“What stood out for me was the curation of the google search bar showing auto-completed results on the mouths of the four women, depicting how women have been silenced over the years”

I believe the UN campaign gave a voice and strength to women. What stood out for me was the curation of the google search bar showing auto-completed results on the mouths of the four women, depicting how women have been silenced over the years. It evoked the viewers to look at the grim reality of the prejudice and discrimination against women that continues even after decades of global progress on gender equality. It also showed how women are perceived on a global platform. Are women only supposed to be in the kitchen? Are they only supposed to serve men? Don’t they deserve the same rights economically and socially as men? 

“The Autocomplete truth had visibility of 755 million people globally and was tweeted by accounts of official authorities of more than 50 countries”

The campaign in the digital age created its trend with hashtags and left impressions online. It emerged victorious with 1 billion and 224 million impressions on Twitter. It also created #womenshould hashtag empowering women and acknowledging their achievements. The Autocomplete truth had visibility of 755 million people globally and was tweeted by accounts of official authorities of more than 50 countries. It became the most shared promotion of 2013 on Adweek.

The campaign got a lot of positive feedback. It had a profound impact that was reflected in headlines across the globe in leading news and media companies like CNBC, The Guardian, Times of India, Buzzfeed, and Cosmopolitan. The campaign also served as a helpful educational campaign for women empowerment. Companies such as Bajaj Allianz made a campaign after the hashtag to support UN women and it’s global equality purpose. This campaign served as an important medium to make consumers of internet media see that women are more than just being responsible for the household.

“The campaign made viewers question the culture of oppression that has persisted through generations”

The Autocomplete Truth campaign made viewers question the culture of oppression that has persisted through generations. It was positioned to provoke a widespread reaction from the new-age audience, to personify the positives of globalisation in society. It asked the audience what they were doing to make a change to the sexist perceptions of women that have been prevailing for years. In 2020, this campaign is still relevant as we see women across the globe bearing the burden of housework, along with working from home and being the primary caregivers. With Covid lockdowns, there is evidence of drastic increases in reports of domestic violence against women. It is important, now more than ever to look back at the Autocomplete Truth campaign from 2013 and challenge and question the inequality that persists today.   

“It’s time for each one of us to call out sexism at our workplace, educational institutions, and our homes”

I believe that the Autocomplete Truth Campaign revealed the patriarchal bigotry that has been encrypted in our society for generations. It has been a powerful attempt to challenge the power dynamics that exist even today. We need to build a  society in which women are equal to men in all situations and at all times. It’s time for each one of us to call out sexism at our workplace, educational institutions, and our homes. That is when the Autocomplete Campaign campaign will succeed.

Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.

Images from Ad series for UN Women by Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai

Kong, The Women of Tyrshang

Hemashri Dhavala

An insight into the matrilineal society of Meghalaya

“It’s an iron rule of history that every imagined hierarchy disavows its fictional origins and claims to be natural and inevitable.” – Yuval Noah Harari

In prehistoric times, humans lived in small societies as hunter-gatherers. To survive, men and women would together hunt down animals, gather plants, berries and nuts. Nurturing for the young was a communal activity and parenting was a group effort. Studies have shown that more than three-fourth of the handprints found in the caves in Spain were made by women. Even in early agriculture settlements the men, women and children worked equally in fields. It’s rather absurd to think that in such labour-intensive activities one group would sit idle while the other worked day and night.

Bobbing its head a chicken walks carefully, laying its feet one by one on a clay road, leaving its footprints on the road, damp from the rain. There is a faint noise of women giggling and thumping mud from a nearby shanty. A few more chickens cluck about and the strong smell of freshly cut pine wood engulfs the entire village. It’s all very surreal.

In ancient times, it is said that the Khasi and Jaintia men were fierce warriors who protected their land from invaders and spent most of their lives away from their homeland. The uncertainty of whether the warriors would come back and the consequent fear of their sacred land falling into the hands of the invaders gave birth to the idea of female inheritance of land. And so this tradition became a part of their religion and from then on the woman is the owner of the house. According to Khasi culture, the youngest daughter of the family inherits all of the property passed down from her mother and before that her grandmother.

A one and a half-hour taxi ride from the city of Shillong brings you to the village of Tyrshang. Located in the Jaintia Hills in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. It is home to some Khasi and Jaintia communities. As a part of a craft-based subject to study and understand more about the unique craft of making handmade pots from black clay and greenstone acquired from the Sung valley, I was lucky to witness the beauty and simplicity of this village and peek into the lives of the people and witness their culture. Working alongside highly skilled artisans observing and absorbing their splendour. 

Kong Ibahun’s sister showing us a freshly made pot.

The title Kong meaning sister in Khasi is commonly used in the region to respectfully address a woman. Kong Ibahun is one of the many women of the village who make pots out of black clay. She is my guide and mentor in learning more about the community. 

A typical day starts at around five in the morning with children running to school and women gathering in Kong Ibahun’s courtyard to start pounding the clay for a day’s worth of pots. Gathered around with muddy hands they shape pots and discuss their day. The majority of the households here make a living by making and selling ceremonial hand-made black clay pots. This craft, known as Khiew Ranei, is said to have originated by a family in a neighbouring village, their kin settled in Tyrshang and continued practicing the craft. The fresh produce of the week along with local delicacies and handlooms are sold in a weekly market. 

A shop selling assorted dried fish
A woman selling Potha Ru

Every Saturday, the women prepare to go to the market. As I walk into the market I am transported into a whole new world with vendors selling everyday utilities from dry fish, poultry, silkworms, Koi, paan leaves, local vegetable, berries, spices, tea leaves, duma (local smoking tobacco), smoking wood pipes, clothes, jainsem (a traditional garment), baskets, pots to Bangladeshi boots, fishing nets, and potions. The market is dominated by women.

People from nearby villages flock to the market to replenish their weekly supplies and it gives the sellers a good place to display the variety of their products and skill. There is a woman selling Potha Ru (traditional rice cakes) to a woman who then hands it over to her baby tied on her back. The woman with the baby then picks up her sack full of amenities and walks away. A woman selling paan leaves and koi calls me to her stall and asks me to take a good picture of her, in return she offers me a paan leaf with some choona and half a koi nut. I accept her gift with gratitude.

A mother with child on her back buying Potha Ru
Women selling Paan leaves and Koi

Typically after marriage, the husband acquires the wife’s name and moves into her family home. Their children take the mother’s last name. They say that the man is the head of the family and the woman is the neck, where the neck turns the head follows.

Next to the market is a tea stall, offering red tea or sha with a selection of garlic chicken, smoked pork, boiled spinach gravy with a side of red rice and fermented fish chutney for lunch. The woman who owns the tea stall gets busy feeding her son after serving her customers. She has a few friends sitting and drinking tea and talking when suddenly lightning strikes and everybody goes quiet. The awkward silence makes everyone in the little shop burst into laughter.

Walking back I hear somebody calling me from behind, it’s Kong Ibahun. I spotted her earlier in the market selling her pots. She is now on her way back with a bag full of groceries and a big bunch of local bananas. I give her a hand as she escorts me back to her home. 

As we reach home her younger son and elder daughter come and take her bag from her and start unpacking the groceries, Kong gets started on making lunch after feeding her four-month-old daughter. Sitting with Kong Ibahun in her sultry kitchen as she makes smoked pork curry we drink some sha. She has freshly made pots stacked on the side of her herth. Rows of corn hang on the ceiling of the kitchen most probably left to smoke.

Smoking Corn
Kong Ibahun’s children helping her out

Kong Ibahun’s eldest son

While in Tryshang, Kong Ibahun and the other women of the village are in a position of power that is granted to them through inheritance of property, in many societies across the world, women are not so lucky. Today, even when women do pursue their careers in professions previously dominated by men, they bear the bulk of the household work and are assumed to be the primary caregivers. The distribution of labour is skewed drastically with no added gains for women. 

A village elder

Passing down all the ancestral property to the daughter may not be the best way to create an equal society. That said, piling all the housework on a woman or  presuming a bulldozer operator, a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, a stockbroker in wall street to be a man isn’t equal either. 

“Does the handle of a jhadu (broom) come printed with the words: ‘to be operated by women only’?” asks a petition started by Subarna Ghosh, co-founder of an NGO called ReRight Foundation. It asks Prime Minister Modi to ask Indian men to do house chores as well. In the hope that if the Prime Minister asks them, they might listen. The time I spent in the village of Tyrshang will stay with me forever as a time when I witnessed a society that not only encouraged women but also placed them in a position of power through inheritance. Their involvement in important decisions related to the household and the village allowed them to live a life of their choice and in their own terms. 

Hemashri is a Graphic designer from the National Institute of Fashion Technology and the Creative Director of Bol Magazine.

Photos by Hemashri Dhavala

Self-Love in the time of COVID

Spandana Datta

Why it’s A good IDEA to say no to pandemic pressures 

The first four months of 2020 have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. With the outbreak of a highly contagious virus, life has come to a standstill. An extensive lockdown, social distancing, and self-isolation has changed our perception of normalcy and has compelled us to rethink our lifestyle. 

COVID-19, widely known as “coronavirus”, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19 has affected people from all walks of life. These months in an exhausting, intercontinental lockdown have proven to be a challenging period for many and have affected people deeply, especially impacting those who struggle with mental health issues like depression, dementia, and eating disorders.

“A state of complete lockdown has left people unemployed, working from home, homeschooling their children or appearing for examinations, all within the four walls of their home”

The purpose of the lockdown is to isolate oneself from society to prevent the spread of this life-threatening disease. A state of complete lockdown has left people unemployed, working from home, homeschooling, appearing for examinations, all within the four walls of their home. Consequently, according to the WHO, this isolation could be a major trigger for people facing various mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc. Staying at home has disrupted our daily lives and for some of us, it has resulted in a severe lack of exercise and bad food choices. This has caused people to fixate on their bodies and hence, body image issues have come to the forefront. 

Humans have struggled with body image issues for the longest time. Even before the onset of social media, advertisements in newspapers and magazines established “ideal body standards” that are influenced by patriarchal norms, for both men and women. Today television and social media play a pivotal role in brainwashing young minds about perfect bodies and trigger body image issues, in the process. Although body positivity activism is at an all-time high, fat-shaming memes, jokes, and workout videos are triggers for people affected by body image disorders and cause small yet impactful setbacks in their healing process.

Actions reflecting sizeism, fatphobia, and body shaming are never pardonable, but society preaches otherwise. Even as children, humans are pressurized by society to look a certain way. Young minds are influenced by doltish notions. They’re led to believe that with a perfect body, flawless skin, and a pearly white smile, one can thrive.

“Diet culture is dominant in today’s society, and unabashedly promotes a lifestyle of fad diets and extreme exercising”

Diet culture is dominant in today’s society, and unabashedly promotes a lifestyle of fad diets and extreme exercising. Diet culture follows a school of thought that one can live a happy life only if they look a certain way. This leads to the belief that physical well being can lead to the fulfillment of emotional needs, a mindset that fails to address the complexity of underlying unresolved traumas.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep up a healthy lifestyle to flourish. Working out every day can have brain changing effects. Exercise is a powerful tool that helps people manage mental health issues by relieving stress, improving memory, boosting your self-esteem, and your overall mood.

According to a study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it was found that running for fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. One does not have to become a fitness freak to reap the benefits of exercise. A recent study in the UK found that people who workout once or twice during the weekend, experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often.

We often tend to generalise our perception of body image as simply loving or hating our bodies. Body image can be influenced by bouts of low self-esteem which can vary in severity that influences our perception of our bodies. Body image issues stem from childhood and the environment one has grown up in.  

“Eating disorders, just like body image issues, stem in individuals who were regularly subjected to extreme scrutiny and considered unworthy as they did not fit into an ideal body type, promulgated by society, primarily patriarchy”

Research shows that people raised in a healthy home environment are less receptive to body image issues than people who were bullied by peers and family members. Body image issues and eating disorders tend to coincide. Eating disorders, just like body image issues, stem in individuals who were regularly subjected to extreme scrutiny and considered unworthy as they did not fit into an ideal body type, promulgated by society, primarily patriarchy.

Eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder affect both men and women, widely across the globe. It has also been found that people who are high achievers and have personality traits like perfectionism and self-criticism are highly susceptible to body image issues. Still, many psychologists have seen a development of body image issues in those individuals who have never had them, during the lockdown. 

Dr. Heather Widdows, PhD., talks about peaking body image issues during the global lockdown. Self-isolation makes one fixate on unresolved traumas which cause negative thoughts, hence manifesting into such mentally exhausting situations. How can one tell if they are struggling with a body image issue? Some signs include extreme self-scrutiny, comparing one’s body (e.g. waist measurements) with peers or family members and extreme envy while comparing or seeing someone with a better body than yours.

Celebrities, just like us, are doing their bit to flatten the curve. Many have used this time to create awareness and talk about mental health issues that people are battling, across the globe. Recently, famous pop singers, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato used social media as a platform to talk about their struggles with body image issues and how to deal with them during the lockdown. The duo hosted a live session for their followers on Instagram, discussing how social isolation may cause the return of such negative thoughts and how one can deal with them. The “Sorry Not Sorry” singer believes that anyone who has dealt with body image issues and is alone at home with mirrors, must not get consumed in any kind of negative self-talk. 

Pop sensation and body positivity activist, Lizzo preaches self-love fiercely. She recently shared a post on Instagram talking about how self-hatred and negative thoughts can creep up on anyone during the quarantine period and how celebrities are no exception. But the “Good as Hell” singer bossed up and told herself that she’s “110% that bitch”!  

Social isolation may disturb your mental and emotional equilibrium but practicing self-compassion and inculcating new hobbies are some ways to help you combat negative thoughts about yourself. Though challenging, strive to embrace the uncertainty and make the best of these unpredictable times. 

Spandana is an English literature graduate who loves writing, whiskey and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

A Feminist Approach to Climate Justice

Anupama Nair

In a world which constantly questions feminism, this is why women could be the game-changers in climate action

Concern and action to protect the environment have gained a lot of traction in recent times, with more and more people worried about the future of the planet under the imminent threat of climate change and its projected repercussions. The past couple of years have seen a considerable rise in the number of people, especially the youth, taking to the streets to protest against political inaction over climate change. While climate change is one such concern that involves the whole world, there have been several different environmental problems specific to countries, often to do with particular communities, that have rallied the masses.

“These trees were sacred to the community, and their form of dissent comprised the simple act of hugging the trees, signifying their willingness to die to protect them”

India has a long history of community movements and other forms of activism for environmental protection, many of which have been quite influential in shaping the way the state handles matters concerning environmental wellbeing. The Khejri or Bishnoi movement of 1726, the first well-known action of this kind, saw members of the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan attempt to prevent the felling of Khejri trees by their ruler for construction purposes. These trees were sacred to the community, and their form of dissent comprised the simple act of hugging the trees, signifying their willingness to die to protect them.

“But what might strike one about many instances of environmental activism in India is the central role that women have played in them”

Many colonial and post-independence laws have since directed large scale exploitation of natural resources, resulting in the displacement and disruption of the lives of countless people in the country. Some of these have been successful, others not so much. But what might strike one about many instances of environmental activism in India is the central role that women have played in them.

The Bishnoi movement is famous for having been led by a woman, Amrita Devi, who gave her life along with over 360 other community members for this cause. The Narmada Bachao Andolan is also strongly associated with activist Medha Patkar, who mobilised thousands of people in two states to protest peacefully against the Sardar Sarovar dam project. Further south, Sugathakumari played a crucial role in the Save Silent Valley movement. In academic circles, Vandana Shiva is renowned for being very vocal about the perils of industrial agriculture and globalisation at large. And Sunita Narain, another well-known figure in Indian environmentalism, is currently the director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment, a non-profit research and advocacy organisation in Delhi.

While these are just a few names that have been at the forefront, they represent a significant population of women environmentalists in India. They work not only through activism, but also in the ways they interact with nature every day.

A vital discourse that has shaped the narrative on women and the environment is ecofeminism, which draws a parallel between the oppression of women and environmental degradation by attributing them to patriarchy and capitalism.

A form of this theory is cultural ecofeminism. Criticised for being essentialist in comparing women to ‘Mother Earth’, it holds that concern for the environment is inherent to women owing to their reproductive ability and their nurturing and compassionate nature. Vandana Shiva is a famous proponent of cultural ecofeminism.

More recent versions of this theory, such as social ecofeminism, argue that the oppression of women by a society dominated by men and the assignment of roles that are less removed from nature render them more vulnerable to environmental hazards. Many such ‘natural’ disasters and extreme weather events have increased in frequency and intensity as a direct result of the consequences of conventional economic development, and among those most negatively affected are women. 

In most societies, women continue to play the primary role of managing the household, taking care of all family members, procuring and using the resources required by the household or community, all of which bring them closer to nature. Women, therefore, acquire different kinds of valuable knowledge and experience with regards to environmental management. Although cultural and social ecofeminism differ greatly in theory, they agree that increased involvement of women in key decision-making roles and challenging patriarchal norms are necessary for holistic environmental management. 

Studies do point to higher levels of environmental consciousness and action among women. Research in western nations confirms that women recycle more, have a better understanding of the risks and threats of climate change and are more likely to be in favour of environmental regulations. Marketing and consumer behaviour reveal that women are far bigger consumers of eco-friendly products than men. Even in the west, household activities largely remain the domain of women, making them the target for all types of household products. But another reason suggested for this behaviour is the association of ‘greenness’ with femininity. One particular study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that this association may motivate men to avoid or even oppose eco-friendly choices ‘in order to safeguard their gender identity’.

“the persistence of gender roles that are firmly adhered to by both men and women, arguably place Indian women in a position where they can champion the cause of gender equality along with environmental protection”

It wouldn’t be surprising to unearth similar findings in India. In line with social ecofeminist thinking, the persistence of gender roles that are firmly adhered to by both men and women, arguably place Indian women in a position where they can champion the cause of gender equality along with environmental protection. Ecofeminists have long contended with how this can be achieved. Differences in location (urban or rural), religion, caste and class, amongst other things, create a vast array of women, all of whom undergo different experiences of oppression and also have differing relationships with nature. 

The migration of men from rural households in many parts of the country has left women in charge of several villages, where they have started to occupy roles that were previously limited to men. Women in other parts of rural India have been encouraged to organise themselves into self-help groups and increase their involvement in local governance. In tribal communities, women come together to market local resources and earn money. 

Similarly, women in the city have been starting businesses that are eco-friendly with regards to their products or services and how they operate. Formal education of girls all over the country has also seen a considerable rise, with the gender parity at primary school level now eliminated. All these instances are examples of ‘empowerment’ of women in various settings, pointing to the potential role of the Indian woman—if there could be such a singular identity—to lift an ‘oppressed’ environment along with them.

“This idea has the potential to resonate among Indian women now more than ever, with questions of gender and climate justice coming to the forefront throughout the world”

This idea has the potential to resonate among Indian women now more than ever, with questions of gender and climate justice coming to the forefront throughout the world. Gender equality is increasingly recognised as a potential accelerator for achieving sustainable development, with known positive spill-over effects on the environment. Not only is higher representation of women in positions of power associated with greater environmental action, but a recent study on Green parties in various European countries also finds the parties to be “universally feminist,” suggesting that benefits flow both ways. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely have its own set of implications on gender equality and women’s rights and safety. However, the emphasis on the need for upliftment of women in society must remain.

While it may not be necessary for all action towards environmental sustainability to also improve gender equality or vice versa, intentional action to link the two could result in the possibility of women taking the lead in concerted efforts to bring down further environmental degradation. Empowering women to occupy more leadership positions, along with greater dissemination of information about the state of the environment, could therefore collectively work miracles in the fight for climate justice.

Anupama is a researcher at the Indian Institute of Science, currently trying to figure out how her work could help improve the environment and society at large.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala