There’s no point denying it. I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at pictures of those super cute guys on this Facebook page called Kurd Men For Equality. There are so many types — bearded gentle-faces, bespectacled cherubic, the bushy moustache-men, the broad-chested and the athletically built. And the clothes! They’re dressed mostly in traditional Kurdish costume — sequined maxis, fringed skirts, kaftans with wide sleeves, granny scarves knotted below their chins, fetching turband and something that looks similar to a lehenga-kurti and chunni. Their expressions range from deadpan to nonchalant. Some of them carry a placard to express their solidarity with women and their belief in equality.
The photographs are part of a protest campaign against the ruling in a recent domestic violence case in Iran. The accused, found guilty of harming his wife, was ordered by the judge, to parade through the town dressed as a woman, as punishment. In protest against the implication that there’s nothing more humiliating for a man than to be like a woman — this group of Kurdish men has begun a campaign, posting pictures of themselves dressed as women. Their expressions of utter normalcy that say “and what are you looking at?”, abuse and accuse no one, but instead, ridicule misogyny and gender prejudice.
Back home, when everything from a perceived slight to a disturbing crime elicit demands for violent retribution and taunts of “kya tumne choodiyan pehen rakhi hain”, one can’t help but long for a little of this cleverness and creativity in protests. It’s not that we don’t have a tradition of pointing out the absurdity of injustice through acts of performance and drollness. Mahatma Gandhi’s performance of non-violent protest brought colonial violence into stark relief. In 1992, Bombay’s mill workers went on a morcha dressed in chaddis and banians — to declare that the government and the mill owners had taken the shirts from their backs (many bought new chaddis and banians for this event.) Hijras have made outrageous fun of social pomp and pomposity with their gender-bending performances. And most recently, the Pink Chaddi campaign was a delicious giggle of a dismissal — subverting the Ram Sena’s moral and violent attacks on the right of women to go out, basically.
Why have we come to fear lightness and prefer bhari-bharkam denouncement instead? Denouncement and the bristle of moral outrage say very little except to assert superiority. The intention of attack is decimation of the enemy — revenge — not a desire for justice. Nestled inside this high dudgeon and moral long-facedness is a lack of belief in change. Humour and satire, on the other hand, are open ended. They contain a hope, that if we can reveal the absurdity of an idea, then people may see the same thing differently, and having done so, begin to change. It also contains the ability to laugh at oneself, the willingness to look a bit ridiculous, less than ‘dignified’ and so, less than superior. Most of all, humour is an act of trust and confidence — a belief in other people and in oneself. It is a gesture which questions assumptions of who is superior and who subordinate, which challenges the right to absolute authority, which does not take the pretence of seriousness, seriously —– which asks to be understood and trusts that it might meet understanding.
What a crisis of confidence we must be feeling as a culture today, then, that we find ourselves unable to recognise the seriousness behind a smile, unable to believe in an idea of equality, and looking to humourless absolutists like Mr No-jokes Modi and Mr No-smile Kejriwal as leaders.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.