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Roots Episode 06: Is the 'Good Girl' a Feminist?

In conversation with feminist and filmmaker Aman Kaleem from New Delhi


In our sixth episode, we speak with feminist and filmmaker, Aman Kaleem, on what the idea of being a 'good girl' is, where feminism in India stands today and how do women fight the good fight.

Based in Delhi, Aman is the CEO of Kahaani Wale Infotech and is widely known for her campaign on gender issues, 'Acchi Ladki', which translates to 'Good girl'.

Transcript

 Dilpreet  00:00

You're listening to Roots with South Asian today. This podcast is being recorded in Australia, on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay our respects to the elders past, present, and emerging. Sovereignty was never ceded. Welcome to Roots. Today, we are talking to filmmaker Aman Kaleem , who is the CEO of Kahaani Wale, which means storytellers, a media tech company in Delhi that focuses on social impact. Thank you so much for joining us, Aman,

Aman  00:41

Thank you so much for having me.

Dilpreet  00:43

Aman, you have started this new campaign under Kahaani Wale called 'Acchi Ladki', which means a 'good girl'. So, please tell us what the purpose of the campaign is, and what prompted you to start it.

Aman  00:55

So the word 'Acchi Ladki', translates to 'good girl'. And I think the way the term is used is trying to push women to follow social structures, to follow what is already existing, and not question, not try to challenge it in any way. So, I wanted to change the meaning of the word, I wanted to change what that meant. So, you could be 'Acchi Ladki' while you're asserting your rights of any kind, you could be 'Acchi Ladki'  that asserts her rights sexually, that asserts her rights, you know, on property that, assert her rights in the real world, in marriage, that assert their rights in the workplace. And while you do this, you become an 'Acchi Ladki', because if you're not doing it, you're sort of becoming this invisible person. And that is what the status quo wants you to be. So, it emerged from my own experiences of how the term is used to make women not really reach their fullest potential, while sort of patronizing them. So, so yeah, that's where it came from. So if you have to become leader at your own workplace, there will be times that you will be roughing up a few feathers and that's alright. Because men do it all the time. And nobody sort of questions them that this is not an 'Acchi Ladka' (good boy). So, you know, it's this idea that you have you....it's one of those ideas, you know 'fight like a girl', it is very important, you know, that we change the meaning of popular narratives that exist, and question them and challenge them in the right way. So that people, young girls that come after us, or while we are having these conversation, these conversations are one more inclusive second, or empowering in a real way, and not just patronizing. "Oh, she's a good girl, and therefore she will not, you know, marry outside her caste."

Dilpreet  02:59

Right. So basically, fighting for your rights makes you a 'good girl', rather than, you know, this society's idea that "Oh, she's too frank", "She's so she's too bold", and "She's not a good girl anymore". Yeah. Yeah. Lovely. So how how does the campaign work? What kind of means you're using to send this message across.

 Aman  03:21

So the way we sort of started was, I just made a poster. And then the poster. Of course, like the idea of nasty woman was running in my head, I flipped it and said that being nasty woman and fight and the poster did really well on the internet. And then I kept on making one post a day suddenly just got a lot of attention. And the posters were around the idea of everyday experiences that women have, it could be from a bra strap, to eve teasing, to, you know, sexual desire to workplace harassment, to being a leader in your workplace, all of those things, an ambit of things that are out there in the world that women were dealing with every day, we did 60 of those. And while we were doing those, a lot of feminist organizations sort of collaborated with us to get their messaging across. So for instance, 'Sangat', Kamla Bhasin's organization was working on property rights at that point of time. And we did a number of posters with them about property. So like this, it became 27 feminist organizations that were sort of in one way or the other using the material in their dissemination of information, doing workshops around the material. We did workshops, where we spoke with young men and women both we spoke about how women don't read blue, and it was a very interesting conversation that we were having with boys, teenage boys that why do you think that women are their blood is not shown? Why do you think that that is what is shown in the advertisements, and these were very insightful. Conversations just in terms of understanding what a teenager is thinking right now, where his politics lies in terms of feminism, does he think about it...And these were very personal topics, right? Like when you talk about desire, it's very personal. So, a desire in a lot of women's mind  was from ability to have mobility. So, she wanted to get us up. And she this person drew up a poster in the workshop, she riding a scooter. So for her 'Acchi Ladki' was somebody who rode the scooter. So it's not a definitive term, like, it's not what I am saying. It's a term that anybody can use for themselves to interpret in the way their lives assumption. Yeah. Right. So it looks like social media has played a crucial part in uplifting this campaign, right? Yeah, that's actually quite true. Because sometimes I have to go on social media to find women and like minded people to share my experiences about feminism, or to share my thoughts on it, because social media has become this big platform where you can connect with people you don't even know. And you can together push the conversation further. So if there's one movement, for example, in India that has inspired you, or that has pushed the conversation even further and made you think more about 'Acchi Ladki', what would it be? So social media is a part of it, but I don't sort of look at it, because social media is also a rabbit hole. And I recognize that the way social media is functioning, it is it is something that sort of once you get into the conversation is just becoming darker and darker specifically, like things like Facebook and Twitter, which are just much more popular, have less spaces for any kind of dissenting voice, you know, you will find a few feminists that will come and join the conversation. But it is a very armchair sort of an activism, which is something that we didn't want our campaign or our work to be, we actually want to do things that make a difference and deal with the element of, you know, from workshops to using the material for educational purposes, things like that was integral part of the campaign, because I feel that what happens is social media, we were looking at our audiences and these audiences are were all urban audiences. And a lot of them were men. And a lot of them were men of a certain age group, the women were engaging in a certain way. But these were small groups of women that were engaging. Now we had no interaction with tier two or tier three women, we had no interaction with ruler, women. And we were talking about things like agriculture and how women don't have any right over land. While they do so much work. Now, this is a conversation that has to happen on the grassroots, as much as it can become a part of popular discourse, it needs to happen at the grassroot. For us, it was very important to figure out a way to reach there, there are smaller organizations in West Bengal, there is an organization called 'Haqdarshak', all these organizations are sort of taken back in their own way and use the content, which is what, how we look at the success of the campaign. So social media for me, of course, you know, there is you can find like minded people in communities that you wouldn't find otherwise, you're absolutely right in it. But the campaign, we wanted to make it a little bit bigger and real in that sense, not just on social media, of course, there's a lot of value in doing art, and creating that content and making all of those things. But also, I want to do things that actually, you know, make a difference, change people's minds in any way possible, even in the smallest way possible. So even if I had a conversation with a 14 year old, and if I was able to explain to him, like no, you know, you should go and talk to your sister about pads, or you should be able to look at that and be comfortable with it. For me, that's a very important conversation. And I would really choose to do that. Fantastic.

Dilpreet  09:02

So where do you think the feminist conversation in India is right now?

Aman  09:07

One, I think what we really need to accept as a matter of fact is if a woman has any say, in a man's life, people will immediately call her 'names'... immediately, no matter without blaming the man at all. And I think we need to recognize that that after so much work that has gone cross India in all sorts of, you know, maternal health, sexual health, we work on periods, all of those things, we've not been able to change mindsets, we are still stuck with this idea that women somehow are never going to be equal as men, and that's you can see it, you know, sort of manifest itself in various ways. What is happening with us in feminist circles is that somehow we are living in a bubble thinking that the country's in a better shape. It is not, this is what it is. Because this is what people are watching. This is what people are watching. They're consuming this, they are agreeing with this. And you will find in your homes, that, you know your parents relatives will agree to this narrative, which for somehow popular media has been able to completely blame a woman. The second one is I think what is happening also is that feminist struggle is getting sort of, it's getting diluted in a lot of unnecessary conversations. So when I did my film 'Shaadi, Sex Aur Parivaar' which is about how do young women navigate institution of marriage, which is a very important institution in women's life, and not necessarily all women need to go into it, but majority of women do. So how do they make these choices and even empowered women make these choices? So what is their sort of metric that they get into that institution? So every conversation that I was having with reporters, you know, in film festivals, all of those things was very binary, the conversation was like about this idea of we only get outraged on rape, for instance, and not necessarily all rapes a particular kind of rape. So it is, what is happening is that the real struggles which are around the idea of, you know, "Oh, I should have more financial independence," "women should be given more education", "we have to reduce maternal mortality", "we have to figure out when women want to have children, if they want to have children", "we have to figure out if they want to get married"...the real struggle is somehow completely getting lost in conversations that are trivial, I feel that we need to refocus on what is important. You know, as feminists what is important, we need to figure out fights that we want to take up and change narratives, I think when that happens, because, you know, we fundamentally, our argument about body and clothes, and things like that is this idea of asserting who we are in the world, I can be whoever I want to be. And that idea needs to be asserted not a derivative of it.

Dilpreet  12:01

You know, freedom for women is always relative, never absolute. If you have been given freedom, it always comes with, you know, *conditions apply, even if it's clothes, or the kind of people you meet, or you drink, or you smoke or anything, it's all relative. So I'm always supposed to be just grateful for whatever relative freedom I'm getting. But the moment I start fighting for absolute freedom, it becomes a huge idea of rebel!

Aman  12:29

Which is absolutely true. So, we should talk about going to school, we should talk about and that's what I am saying there are very, very legitimate fights that we should pick up. But I think what is happening is that we're getting sort of distracted in irrelevant arguments that we don't want to be a part of. Women are dragged into these arguments that we don't want to be part of. We need to refocus on how we're having these conversations. And there are, of course, always negotiations that happen, you know, you you're never going to make tremendous change, suddenly, it is going to be slow. And it will take a while. But I think we need to focus on the right kind of change that we want to make, which is pushing absolute freedom, equal equality in a true sense, not just a patronizing way. I don't want to have a conversation. Men don't talk about the truth. I don't want to talk about my clothes, I'll wear whateverI want. I don't even want to have that conversation. You are nobody to tell me what I put on my body. I can wear a bra. I can wear a bikini I can wear a sari - whatever I want. It's not a conversation point. It needs to stop. Men are walking around entire North India, men are walking around in lungis...nobody's asking them. What rubbish!

Dilpreet  13:34

Okay Aman, one question I aske everyone, before we wrap up, if you had to define representation in a single sentence. What would you say?

Aman  13:43

Representation? It's a struggle.

Dilpreet  13:48

It's a struggle. That's how I'll define.

Aman  13:51

Actually, a revolution. It needs a revolution.

Dilpreet  13:55

It needs revolution. Yeah, I think I like that. It's a struggle, and it needs a revolution.

Aman  14:01

Yes.

Dilpreet  14:02

I think that's fits. Thank you. And, you know, best of luck with 'Acchi Ladki' a fantastic campaign and something, something I wish I had when I was growing up. But I'm so glad that the young girls and young women of India and South Asia, you know, in general have access to such campaigns and they can at least talk about it and engage with it, and know that they're not alone.

Aman  14:29

So thank you so much. Lovely talking to you, Dilpreet.

Dilpreet  14:32

You too, Aman. To stay tuned with all our upcoming episodes, subscribe to our Spotify, Apple Podcast, or give us a visit on www.southasiantoday.com.au

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.

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