As a kick-start to Breakthrough’s campaign Mission Hazaar on gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, film screenings were organized in various colleges across districts in Haryana. Although being a part of the digital media team at BT, I was fortunate enough to attend one of these film screenings.
It was a cold January day and three of us from BT huddled in a car set off to Rohtak. We arrived at Neki Ram College around 10 AM and I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the classroom where the screening was scheduled. It was a huge classroom, but apparently not big enough for the swarm of students inside. There were more girls than boys and the students were searching for any available tiny spot in every nook and corner of the classroom. The very enthusiastic teacher, Ms. Uma Avasthi, professor of history and in-charge of the women’s cell, was trying to make sense of space shortage and eager students. I had an opportunity to talk to her before we dwelled into the session and asked, how come there are more girls in the classroom given the general ratio of the college is somewhat skewed. To which Prof. Avasthi replied, she had purposefully put a notice only for the girls so that they are more visible and that the boys do not outnumber them given the number in the college is 1200-5000. But the boys eventually came due to curiosity (which we learned later was for the better) and hence it was balanced.
The classroom was jam-packed and some students were peeping in from outside. We started with Satyamev Jayate’s episode on gender-biased sex selection. The students were very receptive and watched in rapt attention. They clapped at the impact stories, had tears in their eyes listening to the sorry state of affairs and laughed at another clip. Simply put, they were touched. After the episode ended, they watched a video presentation on Mission Hazaar and were introduced to the IVRS game. I noticed a lot of students taking down the IVRS no. After this they watched three short films from Jagori on gender-based discrimination and violence.
Once the screenings were over, the room was opened for debate. At first, the boys came in the front and spoke how one must end gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, but still putting the onus on women how they need to become stronger. However, after a few hesitations some girls stood up and started to speak. They were still not very comfortable to come forward and preferred to talk from their allocated seats. Although less in number, the boys were somewhat aggressive and clearly steering the conversation. The debate was becoming heftier in nature and there were some confrontations among the sexes. Sensing trouble the BT trainers took over the debate and brought forward a nuanced discussion to the larger issue.
Although receiving an overtly positive response from the students and the general atmosphere during the training, it is quite evident that our journey is very long even with the youth. Young adolescents are our future and will take the way forward, but even they need to be further sensitized on gender issues and any biases stemming from age-old patriarchal mindsets need to be nipped in the bud.