A Programme Specifically For Men To Help Them Be Better Men
To re-envision what it means to be a modern man in the 21st century and embrace wellness and justice in their lives”- this is the guiding principle behind the uniquely named ‘Reserved for Men’ course at the Bedaku Community College in Bengaluru. As the course objective states, the aim is to “provide young men with the space to reflect on their own lives as men, and gain new perspectives.” The college is a part of Samvada, an NGO that works with young people, primarily from marginalised groups, from across the state. The NGO, through the college, offers flexible course formats in subjects such as sustainable agriculture and waste management. It also works towards educating the youth on key values, lifestyle issues and relationships, and ‘Reserved for Men’ was another step in that direction.
The course was the brainchild of Murali Mohan Kati, the principal of the college. He, along with his staff, worked together to come up with this module, which focusses on three essential parameters: Sharing – Caring – Cooking. “We have been conducting gender sensitivity workshops for many years,” Kati told me. “Over the past few years, we felt the need for the young to be sensitized, to understand gender issues and to be equitable partners in the household.”
Mandeep Kumar, a faculty member who is part of the core team, explains what exactly this entails. “This intensive workshop involves memory work, theatre exercises, role play, body movement, debates, group discussions and film screenings, and is based entirely on your experiences as a young man and what it means to be one in this day and age,” he said. “We cover a range of areas, including family relationships, understanding the body, memories of childhood, money worries, household labour, workplace equations, confusions about marriage and dreams (or fears) of parenthood. To put it simply, the workshop is for any young man who is invested in deepening his understanding of himself, and willing to participate in open conversations about himself and the world.”
The first batch started with 15 students. They came from diverse backgrounds: organic farmers, software engineers, graphic designers, lecturers and social service workers, among others. The eight day weekend workshop began on September 23 last year, and was open to men in the age group of 21-40 years. The medium of instruction was both Kannada and English. The course also involved group activities and theatre workshops. The participants had to bring a female member of their family, during the last two weekends. The goal: to help men empathise with the women who form an integral part of their lives.
All the participants were required to maintain a diary, as a record of their thoughts and reflections through the course. The idea was to encourage questioning of pre-conceived notions. One of the participants who signed up for the course was Vineeth R, an economics lecturer. Whenever he would wash the dishes at home, the preconceived gender roles that society had entrenched in his head would make him question his actions. “I often see myself as helping my wife,” Vineeth told The Hindu. “That’s wrong. Doing the dishes is my responsibility as well. But the conditioning is too hard. I hope I gain a clearer perspective on this through the course.”
Over the course of the eight weeks, the aim of the course, says Kumar, was to allow the men who were part of it to “explore your memories, identities, interests and abilities in order to be able to build relationships that are joyous, equitable, and fulfilling. Together, we’ll venture into the many meanings of being men in 21st century India.” The course also included cooking classes, where the participants had to prepare proper meals. Psychologists and women’s rights activists were also called in, to speak about gender politics and emotional labour.
According to Kati, patriarchy is not something that only affects women – men are often its victims as well. “Oftentimes we see that if a man expresses his emotions, he is ridiculed, not just by society but by his family as well. These set perceptions have to be changed,” he said. There are plans to renew the course for a second session, says Kumar. The first batch of participants too want to come together and do something organically, in order to spread the word. The aim, as Kati says, “is to set a good example.”