By Harsh Chauhan:
As Ansuhka Sharma’s character in NH10 sits down in a public restroom at a local dhabha, she notices the word “रंड़ी” written on the bathroom door. That particular moment, as insignificant as it may seem to many, sets the premise of what to expect from the movie.
As the narrative shifts from a city of high rises to the downtrodden outskirts where the unlawful rule, the scene attempts to depict the rampant misogyny and patriarchy prevalent in the area that would control the upcoming events.
Public toilets are private spaces, that provide the anonymity and audience that is unlikely to be found anywhere else in today’s world. Researchers have been studying restroom graffiti for decades now to analyze and assess the thoughts expressed by men and women in these single-gender spaces.
Over the course of the short campaign of #AndarkiBaat, we received almost a dozen entries from India, as well as countries like Netherlands, USA, and France – with hundreds of people engaging with the initiative. A majority of the progressive and positive submissions came from foreign countries; while from India, apart from a few rare instances of voicing concerns about traditional power structures and gender roles, or the demand for a better society, the graffiti largely reflected conservative sex-role attitudes. 3 people also mentioned how they are now reluctant to, or have completely stopped using public restrooms, due to the lack of hygiene and presence of obscene and offensive messages/sketches.
Even as we saw expressions of sexual impulses in Indian restrooms, we also received an equal and opposite reaction from a number of people who engaged with the campaign - our own youth advocates told us that their colleges no longer have graffiti on the toilet walls. This was heartening to hear, until they added that the existing graffiti had disappeared under newly tiled walls - and since then, all bathroom scribblings have become temporary, since they can be cleaned off so easily!
Those who engaged with #AndarKiBaat agreed that the bullying, slut-shaming, and negative conversations around people's sexual proclivities and bodies has continued in the bathrooms and locker rooms of their educational institutions. It seems that these conversations are not going unnoticed by authorities; instead, they are being whitewashed and shut down by them. In discouraging these conversations, educational institutions seem to be ignoring these problems - that women continue to be shamed by publicly humiliating them for being sexually active (or by insinuating the same), while their male counterparts are generally bullied by questioning their masculinity.
While the voice for equality and sex-positiveness is stronger now than it has ever been, there is also an increasing level of opposition through misinformation. In today’s day and age, where information is just a click away, it becomes difficult to separate truths from lies, and evidence based data from cooked up narratives. We need to have discussions around gender-identity, sex-positiveness, consent and freedom of choice, in safe spaces, to ensure that the voice of reason does not get drowned out by the noise of 'alternative facts’.
In order to have a more inclusive approach and critically think about these issues, Comprehensive Sexuality Education becomes imperative. CSE aims to provide people, especially young people, with fact-based information and knowledge to help them develop a positive view of their sexuality in context of their emotional and social development. The information is not specific to a particular target group but is rather inclusive of concepts important for every stage of life, and for all people.
In the long run, CSE can prove to be an effective tool to help fight the good fight – to ensure a more inclusive, positive, and progressive #AndarkiBaat.
Harsh Chauhan is an India Fellow alumnus and is currently interning at TYPF.