Are there feminist men in India? Yes, there certainly are. In a three-part series titled How I became a feminist, CYC brings to you to the stories of three feminist men – Bappaditya Mukherjee, Manak Matiyani and Aditya Gupta, who started to explore gender at different points of time in their lives.
Here they share experiences from their personal lives which ultimately shaped them as feminist men. They also talk about how they are enabling youth to question patriarchy through their work.
The story of Bappaditya Mukherjee
Bappaditya Mukherjee has been working with marginalised youth in Kolkata through his organisation Prantakatha for more than a decade. From the very beginning, he has been championing the rights of LGBTQ community and addressing gender issues as a part of his work.
Growing up with feminist friends
Bappaditya, who is fondly called Bappa, discovered his sexuality in the 90s when he was an adolescent. “Back then, as I developed my fantasies about my sexual expression, I understood that my sexual orientation was in conflict with my gender role. This was not accepted in a heteronormative society. It was the most challenging time of my life. I felt like a lone survivor in a dark cave,” he says.
While growing up, it was easier for Bappa to relate to the women around him. He says:
“I first came out to my female cousin who was also my closest friend. I could see how she was struggling because she was a girl. One of my aunts left an abusive marriage and raised her daughter alone…My sisters, cousins and friends became my support group. It was only later in life that I connected the dots and saw that their struggle was actually a feminist struggle.”
Bappa says he learnt feminism without knowing that it existed as a concept. “No one tells you about feminism in your school books. I learnt it by experience,” he says.
The two incidents that changed everything
The arrival of the new millennium, the internet boom and cell phones made information accessible for many Indian youth including Bappa. He joined an LGBT rights group in Kolkata and began to work with sex workers and survivors of human trafficking.
Soon afterwards, there were two incidents that propelled Bappa into the sphere of social action. Bappa was working as a TV journalist when he learnt that a close friend was facing domestic violence because her in-laws wanted dowry. Despite working in the media industry, Bappa could not take action against the friend’s in-laws because they were influential and had connections. He felt helpless.
Also, around the same time, Bappa came out to his family and friends. Although his parents were shocked, they slowly managed to accept it. But soon word spread in his small neighbourhood.
“One day, I was abused and beaten up by some friends – people I had known from school and college and men from my neighbourhood. They called me abnormal. Suddenly I was an outcast. This attack left me completely shattered,” says Bappa.
As he slowly emerged out of this incident, Bappa decided to do something about it. He wanted to create a space where young people like himself could speak about this katha (story) along with other silenced stories. That’s how Prantakatha was born in 2006.
Taking inspiration from feminism to start Prantakatha
Bappa started Prantakatha, a non-profit organisation that is based on his understanding of feminism, which is grounded in the idea of equality and equity. He explains:
“Feminism is primarily a gender-based equality mechanism in which any gender – be it female, male, trans and in-between – can have equal access to all support systems and necessary resources.”
All the programmes & campaign activities at Prantakatha have a gender component. “Prantakatha is a safe non-judgemental space where we accept people as they are. We have a drop-in centre which currently houses a transgender person, a homeless boy and an interfaith couple”, says Bappa.
Bappa has seen that youth who open up about their gender and sexual preferences during adolescence are likely to face violence. He says, “Even as young adults, they remain highly vulnerable and need support. That is why youth work is a critical part of what we do at Prantakatha.”
Discovering the values and feelings of the 5th space
Bappa started engaging with youth work formally when he became a Changelooms fellow at ComMutiny The Youth Collective (CYC) in 2012. Durin the fellowship, he discovered the 5th space, a space meant exclusively for youth. He says, “To me, the 5th space is driven by feelings rooted in values of non-violence, empathy, equality, respect and dignity. It helps you not only to see your own self in the universe but also the universe that resides within you.”
Bappa became a forum member of CYC in 2014. “Being a part of this collective has given me the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of people at the national level. I have learnt enormously from them and built some rare lifelong friendships,” he says.
Enabling young people to create their own stories
Bappa’s lessons from the fellowship and the Youth Collective have enriched his work on the ground. Today Prantakatha runs four youth-led programmes. Their biggest programme is Melting Pot, an year long programme for youth which nurtures capacities such as self-awareness and leadership skills. Young people who have graduated from this programme have brought change in their own communities. For example, their alumna Ankita persuaded the local authorities in her area to build a public toilet for women after she realised there was no such facility.
Prantakatha has three other programmes that support youth and children in various ways. They empower young entrepreneurs, provide care to elderly citizens with the help of young volunteers and operate a learning centre to support the education of marginalised children.
12 years after starting Prantakatha, Bappa continues to explore new horizons. His short story Green Chillies was recently published in Twenty Shades of Love, an anthology of love stories. Bappa is also a media commentator who actively speaks about LGBTQ rights. Lately, he and his team at Prantakatha have been celebrating the historic Supreme Court judgement which decriminalised homosexuality in India.
This article is the first in a three-part series titled ‘How I became a feminist’. The series features feminist men from India who also lead youth-centric organisations that are a part of ComMutiny The Youth Collective (CYC).