The Bridge Talks – A view on Women empowerment in India

“There is a dire need of a system to protect the mother of a girl child” said Maneka Gandhi, Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development

Sharmila Tagore at the Bridge Talks

New Delhi, 8th October 2016: The Bridge Conclave – Conversations on Gender Empowerment, was inaugurated by Ms. Maneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Child development today in New Delhi.

The day witnessed presence of other eminent speakers – Sharmila Tagore, Nandita Das, Ankhi Das, Rohini Nilekani, Shohini Ghosh, Ginni Mahi, Urvashi Butalia, Mona Eltahawy, Nivedita Menon, amongst many other luminaries.

Speaking on the occasion, Mrs. Maneka Gandhi highlighted the issues related to Defense & Safety and Actual Empowerment. As a solution to the issue of molestation, she brought up, “We have taken the First ever initiative to introduce the world’s 1st panic button on the cell phone. It is an app for the safety of women – once you press the button, it will alert 10 people closest to you before the police arrives (technological solution)”.

She further said, “We have also taken an initiative to introduce ‘One stop centers’ dedicated to women. One stop centers will be a solution for this issue. Further, for encouraging women in India, we have recently started a program called ‘STEP’ in order to train 200 women at once to get them jobs in the fields like organic farming and learning different skills. The other one is E-Mahila Hut where people can buy stuff from, instead of buying them from outside. It has to be a whole generation of women who can lead the nation and this should be started from the ground level”.

The inaugural session was followed by a session on the evolution of female actors in Bollywood. Narrating her experiences of gender biases in the industry, Sharmila Tagore said, “Somewhere or the other all female actor has been in shackles and that is the attitude which we need to change. The fact that even now in many movies which are based on women empowerment and related issues, somewhere there are subtle patriarchal messages and this is where the gap lies.”

Nandita Das speaking about her roles in ‘Aks’ and ‘Firaq’ said, “When I came into the limelight I had always been referred to as ‘Dark and Dusky heroine’. Somehow the film makers considered my complexion related to a certain social class and that was the only role they wanted me to portray.”

At the conclave, Mona Eltahawy, freelance Egyptian-American Journalist, Ms. Nivedita Menon, Professor Of Political Thought , JNU and Urvashi Butalia, co-founder of Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publisher talked of the translation of the idea of feminism in the context of Indian society and its culture.

The first half of the conclave concluded with a live performance by Ginni Mahi, the famous Punjabi Pop Singer. Through her songs, she encourages the Dalit community to unify against forces of social inequity and economic deprivation. On the occasion, Ginni Mahi said that women empowerment is one critical subject that she has addressed in her songs.


The momentum of the day long event was carried forward in the second round of conversation, wherein, Ankhi Das (Public Policy Director, Facebook) in an extensive conversation with Radhika Piramal (MD of VIP Industries, Richa Shah (Managing Editor, Children Publishing Division at Delhi Press) and Shikha Malan (Film-maker & Writer) brought out the issues that patriarchy enforces upon the working women in India.

Taking the conversation forward, Rohini Nilekani, a leading Indian philanthropist, conversing on the plight of the young Indian man said that India today needs to get rid of the patriarchal stereotypes in terms of constructing masculinity as well as femininity, eradicating the challenges in society as a whole.

Aditi Mittal, stand up comedian brought up the changing dynamics of sex and dating with the growing inclination of technology into our day to day life, in a conversation with Taru Kapoor (Head, Tinder India), Parmesh Shahani (Head of Godrej India, Culture Lab), Paromita Vora (Filmmaker & Writer) and Mayank Shekhar (Film Critic). The discussion revolved around how technology and love have evolved, changing the existing stereotypes in the eyes of the society.

Taking the pace of the event to the next level, while talking about “A woman in the World, Farah Khan (Bollywood Director, Choreographer & Actor) said, “Bollywood doesn’t care about your gender, orientation or origin. There are two aspects around which the dynamics of Bollywood revolve- Chivalry and Chauvinism.”

Speaking about Mohalla Sabha, Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, said, “Mohalla Sabha is not a place to discuss or direct what a girl should wear or do, instead it is a platform to facilitate all those things which a girl wants to do. In a society, if there is something that might hamper the freedom of our girls, Mohalla Sabha shall take note and act upon it.” He further said, “ The most important clause in Mohalla Sabha is that one-third of its members must be women.”

Blaming the current education that is prevalent in any of the social groups for gender bias, Manish Sisodia said, “Since our childhood, we are taught that the opposite of man is woman. What we must realize is that men and women are not opposites but complimentary”.

Sharing in views on Love, sex and cinema Dibakar Banerjee, Director, Screenwriter, Producer and Filmmaker said,” We see patriarchy in insidious simple plays and we start suppressing it. We should allow children to play the same games from their very childhood. In order to eradicate gender division, we need to get rid of these untold, silent damages. Objectifying anyone, be it men or women, is beyond question. Therefore my movies doesn’t have a female protagonist as such.”

Soni Sori (Adivasi school teacher turned political leader in Sameli village of Dantewada in south Bastar, Chhattisgarh, India), Vrinda Grover (Women’s rights activist), Kalyani Menon-Sen (Feminist Activist & Writer), Shalini Gera (Advocate) shared their views on the subject matter. “Young adivasi women have to take the role of human rights defenders as the young men fear the authorities” said Shalini Gera at the event.

Speaking on the occasion, Mallika Dua (Copy-writer) said, “Men aren’t called out for rejecting offers that does not suit them. Its ‘mansplained’ as “attitude problems” when it comes to women.”

The day concluded with extensive conversations coupled with in-depth discussions on gender equality, the idea of feminism, portrayal and perception of female actors in the Indian cinema. Keeping this in view, all the speakers who were present in the conclave agreed to the fact that there is a dire need of a robust education system to bring about a change in the mentality and the social cultural construct in the Indian society.

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