MUMBAI: When non-profit Video Volunteers launched a campaign to tackle patriarchy in rural India, several women mentioned a seemingly innocuous custom: not being allowed to call their husbands by their first name.
Women, particularly in villages, are taught from a young age
to never address their husbands – or older male relative – by
their name, as a mark of respect.
But the custom, which is less common in the cities, is deeply patriarchal, said Stalin K., director of Video Volunteers, which is based in Goa.
“At first glance, it seems like a small, harmless custom,”
he said. “But even these seemingly inane practices matter, as they
are as much a power play as sexual assault or violence against
women,” he said.
Video Volunteers trains men and women in rural areas across India to report on everyday issues that concern them. The volunteers record short video clips on their tablets, which are then screened and discussed in the community.
About 70 volunteers in more than a dozen states were trained to report on patriarchy, sexism and violence against women.
More than 327,390 crimes against women were registered in India in 2015, an increase of more than half since 2010. Many crimes go unreported, particularly in villages, because women fear bringing shame to the family.
The Video Volunteers reports included women talking about their limited freedom of movement compared to men, biases against widows, the practice of covering their heads in the presence of men, and the prejudice faced by women doing jobs considered to be a man’s – like driving tuk-tuks. Several reports were about women not being able to call their husbands by name because they were told it was disrespectful and inauspicious to do so.
Instead, women addressed their husbands as the father of their child, by their profession, or simply, “please listen”. In discussions held afterwards, women practised saying their husband’s name aloud for the first time, said Stalin, who goes by his first name.
The women were then encouraged to talk to their husbands about the practice. In many cases, the men did not allow their wives to address
them by name, and one woman was ostracised by her village for
referring to an older male relative by name, Stalin said. But some women were told they could call their husbands by
name – in private.
“That is still a step forward,” Stalin said. “Our experience with this campaign is that these women are not passively accepting of patriarchy. They are very aware and just waiting for an opportunity to push back – in a thoughtful and considered manner, which perhaps has a greater impact.”
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