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'Women should live together. Men should be visitors'

By SUBHASH K JHA
March 09, 2022 16:24 IST
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'That would make for happier relationships.'

IMAGE: Shabana Azmi dances with Farhan Akhtar, Farah Khan and Hrithik Roshan at Farhan's wedding. Photograph: Kind courtesy Farhan Akhtar/Instagram

Shabana Azmi does not mince her words.

The movie legend gets into a candid conversation with Subhash K Jha and says, "How we raise our sons is an important criteria for the way we are positioned in society. This sense of entitlement and privilege that the men feel has to change."

As a woman with a powerful voice, how safe do you feel on the streets? Why do working women still have feel so unsafe?

I remember several years ago when I was working in the Singapore repertory, walking home at 1 am from a cinema theatre to my hotel, and wondering why women in India can't take this safety for granted.

The whole Take Back The Night movement was started for this very reason: Why should women be afraid to be out alone at night?

Today, there are pockets in India and elsewhere where going out unescorted is not only dangerous for women in the night but any time of the day.

This must change.

We must make the streets safe for women.

Not doing so is one way of keeping woman away from work.

You cannot have a healthy economy unless there are equal work opportunities for both men and women.

Simple things like proper lighting on the streets can make a big difference.

Rape and sexual harassment remain rampant in our country. How do you see a solution to this?

Rape and sexual harassment are sadly more about power than sex. And we have to work to change the mentality of men.

The detriment is not the severity, but the certainty of punishment.

But look at the conviction rate of rapists! Very, very low.

IMAGE: Shabana Azmi in Mizwan. Photograph: Kind courtesy Shabana Azmi/Instagram

What does gender equality mean to you?

Equality should mean equality of opportunities.

A girl in India is already a mother at the age of 18. She is either looking after her sibling or her biological child.

She is denied equal opportunities in every way, whether it is education or domestic decisions.

That must change.

We must guarantee an equality of opportunities to both genders that is guaranteed by the Constitution but hardly a reality.

In my father's village Mijwan, this is what we strive to do. We provide equal opportunities for both men and women.

I think feminism is a much misunderstood and abused concept from the time it was synonymous with bra-burning and all that.

For any change to come, extreme steps have to be taken initially. Then over the years, the change happens.

Your message for women?

We must create an eco-system where there is gender equality.

On a personal level, how we raise our sons is an important criteria for the way we are positioned in society.

This sense of entitlement and privilege that the men feel has to change.

We have to treat women, or why just women, both genders have to treat each other with sympathy and empathy in a marriage.

We have to be redefine masculinity.

I think women can help on that because I think that can lead to a change in the attitude of our sons.

Why is masculinity only about muscles?

Why not about gentleness, compassion and empathy?

IMAGE: Shabana Azmi, centre, flanked by Swara Bhasker, left, and Divya Dutta. Photograph: Kind courtesy Divya Dutta/Instagram

Do you often party with your girl gang?

I prefer the company of women to men. When I get together with my girl gang, we have a ball.

I genuinely feel women should live together and men should just be visitors.

That would make for happier relationships.

Are you serious?

Of course! I mean, think of a marriage in many sections of society.

Here is a girl who has spent all her life in one family.

Suddenly, she is told to say bye bye to her family and move in with a stranger and he becomes the centre of her universe and his parents are her parents.

It is so unfair.

When I say men should just be visitors in women's homes, I am half-joking. We need to give it a thought.

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SUBHASH K JHA