CHENNAI: Simply because the state of patriarchy is better than what it was before, it doesn’t mean we don’t have a problem with it anymore right? That it’s better cannot be the reason to reduce the intensity of the wave (of awareness and effort) against it,” says Jeeva Saravanan, an engineering graduate who is working on landing himself in the Indian civil services. In the meantime, he’s been holding up his end of the feminist fight — including fellow Tamizh men in his journey of unlearning and acceptance — through Uyiraa on Instagram. From discussing women’s struggles with the constructs of marriage, work and relationships to advocating for freedom of self, sexuality and identity, there’s much he has to offer the men who are still on the bylines of the global movement.
All this came from a delicate combination of culture shock upon migrating to Chennai from a small village in Villupuram, and an earnest desire to try his hand at journalism. “On one side, you have these culture protectionists who stand by what they have grown up with and claim that to be right; on the other, we have women (more so in urban spaces) who are aware of their rights, having experienced the taste of freedom. I, too, was once such a culture protectionist. After all, I was raised in a patriarchal set-up. It’s when I moved to the city for education and got to see one new thing after another that there was some unlearning. And I wanted to share this unlearning experience,” he begins.
Jeeva had wanted to go down the road of journalism to make this happen. When that dream seemed out of reach for even his relative privilege did not let him escape the doctor/engineer paradigm laid down for young men he turned to Instagram to make it happen. That there is a severe dearth of Tamizh pages dedicated to the cause of feminism is no news. Uyiraa stepped in to fill that lacuna. ‘Adangi vaazhvathu dhan ponnukku azhaga’ questioned how compromise is made mandatory for women. ‘Ithu ellam joku ah?’ brought to light the unsavoury ugliness of rape jokes and housewife jibes.
The practice of glorifying the abuses the mother faces is called to question in ‘En amma oru irumbu manushi”; while ‘Entha thairiyathula thappu panraanga?’ looks into how much anonymity and male privilege let men get away with crimes and abuses, both big and small. Besides these insightful discourses, Jeeva also takes a moment to touch upon what's in news — be it Priya Ramani being cleared in the defamation case or the controversial brownface treatment that Samantha gets for her role in The Family Man 2.
All these posts are designed to be a jump-off point for introspection and change, in that it gives you an introduction to an idea or thought and pushes you to take it further yourself. After all, there’s only so much you can be fed. “I’m not here to offer a definition for feminism. Ultimately, I am a man too and I am not right all the time. I can only share my unlearning here. And where I go wrong, I try to fix that and share that too,” he explains. And it’s been quite the learning/unlearning process for him.
The initial struggle was to find a place for himself between taking away the space of the oppressed (be it women or LGBTQIA community) and alienating them through unnecessary glorification. “For example, there’s a difference between a woman talking about periods and how bad it can get, and a man talking about it. I would never be able to experience it myself; I can only offer empathy. So, where does that leave me? In a place where I can help amplify their voice. It took me years to get to this level of understanding,” he shares.
While he considers fellow men to be his target audience, he admits that it’s been reassuring to hear from women that his page and the discussions therein offered help and guidance through troubled times. Some came back to him to say that his posts let them introspect the abusive nature of their relationship, seek counselling and go down the path of divorce to find relief. He and his followers helped an intercaste couple manage the family’s disapproval and find an amicable way out. “There are people progressive thinkers who comment on my posts, offer support, share their stories and experiences. They form a community here (on the page). So, when a problem is placed before them, multiple ideas come up and that helps so many women handle their issues,” he shares.
This positive resonance has reached his family too. His elder sister was wed last January in an intercaste marriage. While it was not without its share of troubles, Jeeva got the family to make peace with it. “It was my learning process that helped me make this happen. If I had stayed in my village, I would have held on to the belief that my caste was superior, that the woman is the family’s property and has to be treated as a commodity. While my sister and brother-in-law appreciated my effort in making the marriage happen, I don’t see this as something to be proud of. What should have happened normally took so much struggle. Oru aan athikka society oda karuppu pakkama dhan paakaren (I see this as a black page in a patriarchal society). At the end of the day, when I don’t have the need to speak about feminism is when society has gotten ‘better’,” he offers.
He reiterates the point that feminism is for everyone. First, it’s for every woman, not just the ‘achievers’. “There’s this idea that women talk about feminism, only when they have achieved something that they have made ‘good use of it’. But feminism is for every woman. It is important for even the most ordinary women. From what they wear, to how much they get to study, where they get to work to equal representation in politics, one freedom begets another; and liberation needs to start with these small steps. And it’s with women’s liberation that men too can find relief from structures that confine them,” he suggests.
Find more such discourses on Instagram: uyiraa