Lady Shri Ram College for Women has always nurtured amongst young women a critical and creative relationship with the society that we live in, through the vital lessons of leadership with social responsibility. International Women’s Day is an occasion for the LSR community to reiterate this very ethos. To reaffirm this, the ASSK Centre along with the Ford Foundation and Wiscomp and American Embassy organized Academic Congress 2015, Breaking Barriers, Claiming Spaces - Women, Leadership and Change, three days of introspection, reflection, creation and celebration. March 7th, 9th and 10th, 2015 were days full of joy and exhilaration, of intellectual enrichment and creative expression. In the course of these three days, there were several academic activities including Panel Discussions, Workshops, Screening of Documentary Films, exciting performances and a Gender Mela on the 9th and 10th of March to encourage entrepreneurial skills among women.
The Academic Congress was introduced by Dr. Ujjayini Ray from the History Department and Ms. Manosi Chatterjee, Cultural Secretary, LSR Students' Union 2014-15 followed by a welcome address by Dr. Suman Sharma, Principal, Lady Shri Ram College. “Hum Mukhtara”, a dramatic depiction of the story of Mukhtara of Lahore by Usha Ganguly's Rangakarmee Group from Kolkata clearly spelt out a pledge to audiences across genders to not remain silent spectators to incidents of violence on women. The opening day also had various workshops - “Jurrat, Thy name is Woman”, which taught revolutionary songs to the participants, conducted by Majma, “Mardangi-DIY”, which gave the participating women one day of being a man, conducted by Shivani Kaul and “In Movement” conducted by Stance Dance Studio.
The second day saw the release of the Safety Audit Report and inauguration of the Gender Mela by Kavita Ramdas, Ford Foundation, Emily White, Director of the American Centre and Dr. Suman Sharma. Women’s’ participation in economy, polity and society has been kept invisible at large. Much as “History is her story too” emphasizes the role of women in everyday lives, narratives and most importantly in histories, the theme of this year’s Gender Mela was breaking both the indiscernible and the tangible barriers.
Echoing the sentiments of Casey Miller and Kate Swift in Words & Women (1976): “When women in the movement use ‘her story’, their purpose is to emphasize that women's lives, deeds, and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories” Breaking Barriers and Claiming Spaces was about dismantling glass ceilings, prejudiced notions and reclaiming spaces of hope, empowerment and participation. It was as much a celebration of coming of age of women’s increasing share in the public sphere as it is a rejection of binaries like womanhood and manhood, conformity and radicalism, modernity and tradition, mainstream and niche.
The Mela explored the worlds of women and felt the magic of being a part of its ‘everydayness’. The Mela gave exclusive space to small-time women entrepreneurs and alternate publishers, and offered a chance to participate in their activities such as pottery, handicraft, textile printing, embroidery and many others.
The second day also included a screening of “Mardistan”, a film by Harjant Gill which is an exploration of Indian manhood articulated through the voices of four men from different generations and backgrounds. Together, their stories make up different dimensions of what it means to be a man in India today. The film starts a conversation on critical issues including patriarchy, son preference, sexual violence and homophobia in a nation increasingly defined by social inequalities. The film was followed by a panel discussion on the same moderated by Dr. Sunalini Kumar. The panelists were Gautam Bhan, Kavita Ramdas, Vikramaditya, Shikha Jhingan and Vani Subramaniam. The second film screened was titled ‘Journey of Two Women’ made by Risham Wasim, Rabiya Arif and Gazala Remat. It is a participatory documentary about two young women trying to discover what gender violence really is in Pakistan, and an honest look at how gender roles are usually perceived in Pakistan and the basic issues women face regarding their rights. The film was followed by a panel discussion by students and was moderated by Mr. Siddharth Tripathi and Mr. Pankaj Jha. There was a parallel session on music and its role in breaking barriers with a special emphasis on Vedas and women. The panelists were Subhadra desai and Rishiraj and the session was moderated by Saroj Bharadwaj. The day ended with a performance by the band Menwhopause, introduced by Mr. Jonathan Koshy and a demonstration of the Self Defence workshop by LSR students who participated in it.
The third day began with the screening of a documentary film ‘The Court’, which flays alive India’s justice system while commenting on class, education and access to power. Managing to be both extremely rational and utterly humane, the film works very well, thanks to an intelligent, superbly understated script and a feel for naturalism that extends beyond mere performance. It was introduced by Ms. Silika Mahapatra and presented by its director, Chaitanya and Vivek. This was followed by a panel discussion on ‘Demystifying Law and Gender” which was moderated by Ms. Bindu Menon. The panelists were Bishakha Datta, Naina Kapoor, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi and Chaitanya and Vivek.
Another film screened was ‘I am Nirbhaya’ by Areeb Hashmi and Stalin K, introduced by Ms. Shatarupa Bhattacharya. Shot in various languages, 'I am Nirbhaya' tells stories of women from the most marginalised communities and also includes some sharp questions by these women to the society. The third day also saw some performances by Majma, “Mardangi-DIY” and Stance Dance Studio. The Academic Congress came to an end with a vote of thanks by Dr. Krishna Menon and Ms. Sabika Abbas Naqvi, the President of LSR Students' Union 2014-15, drawing to a close three engaging days.