What Laadli award winner Namrata says about gender equality

Story by  Shaista Fatima | Posted by  Aasha Khosa • 10 Months ago
Namrata Zakaria
Namrata Zakaria


New Delhi

Namrata Zakaria who has recently won Laadli Award for her article about bikini bottoms, capsules, hijab, unitards and sportswear for women as a political criterion for judging them. Saquib Salim of Awaz-the Voice spoke to her about her idea behind sexualization of women's bodies in sports. Excerpts from their conversation:

Namrata Zakaria normally writes about fashion, dresses, women, about everything, and also she has started she has her initiative called Biradari which is to uplift artisans and to bridge the gap between artisans and fashion designers. Can you please tell our viewers about this whole initiative called Biradari?

Yes, so it started in 2020 just after the lockdown since they were all affected in India, especially in so many different ways. Some of us were happy to be home and not go to the office. Just working out of our laptops and comfortable doing our surroundings. Some of us have to walk. Multiple states to reach home. There was a story of a construction worker who was pregnant and she had to walk through Tuesday to reach the way she goes home. She had to give birth on the highway. Rest for a few hours. Get up with a newborn and start walking again.

I mean, stories like that usually belong in a magical realism novel by Salman Rushdie or Marquez. So you know we read about things like that, but. You know, when we are faced with the broken reality of the economy. I can't even say diversity, but it's the differences are so, so vast we need to question our existence. We need to question our country. We need to question our governments. We need to question ourselves and how we do business. All of India's billionaires are made rich by the exploitation of labour we have. We have a billion and a half assets. And this workforce that is given to us so readily so easily so cheaply is really what we build our industries on and they're not able to give anything back to them in return, we are not able to better their lives in any sort of way I can especially speak for my 20 years in fashion where we work directly through the designers and it's. The story of Indian fashion I always say is the story of Indian craft and the story of Indian craft is a story of hunger. You know we cannot separate glamour from poverty when we look at a beautiful outfit in India Today and this is something that we all need to think about and we all need to question ourselves. So as a journalist, I wanted to speak to the designers. I wanted to understand what they thought. I wanted to bring it back.

I wanted to close the loop of the garment full sales. The full proceeds of an outfit should go back to the person who thought it was needed. So I asked all of my designer friends and in the first year, we had 110 fashion designers all Indian participating. And I ask them for donations of the latest cloth. What they have is signature pieces 100% of the sales proceeds after GSP were donated to economically impoverished capitals that we had big deteriorated. We found that they had an immense challenge, but they did not have the capital to sort of market the challenge to stay with directly to the marketplace so that every sort of gave them you know what can be called as a safe capital to better their lives. Somebody ended up buying the room. Somebody bought it as a cellphone and it was motorcycles and. You know, get a computer, somebody just save their self because it is full just as self, you know, those things. And it is also a little bit of a social experiment because. Money is. Opportunity money is especially a choice, you know at that level of India, you know when we are given a little bit of money. Sometimes we have to choose whether we pay for the child's education or we pay for health care of and of parents in the house, but when you have enough then you can do both. That privilege is not relative to 70% of India. So that is the source of a social experiment that we wanted to give people a choice that they don't have to choose between a or B they could choose unicorn money. Was that sort of empowerment and we gave them a chunk? It wasn't like the way the NGOs worked. No, if you need. Money for the raw material to provide it if you want to buy two looms, we'll give you money for looms. You know we give them all the cash up. Make the most of it and do what you like with it and it works out very seriously. We had it for two years. We are doing it in a physical format this year and to think about it.

Oh, that's great. Being a historian and someone who writes about culture and society and history, my mind goes to that most of the weavers, and tailors belong to a particular cast in India and mostly these are Muslim casts and, called Pasmanda. The backward Muslim cast because for many reasons are socially and economically backward people and recently the government has also raised the issue a lot since your Biradari initiative is closely related to those people. So how do you think that is a social issue related to the caste system or something and how does your whole initiative helps those people like people living in Banaras and guilds as they are living? Or does the government help come to you or is if not, that how it works?

Unfortunately, caste does come into play in everything that they do in India. The way our society is built and continues to function. Sometimes we accepted and acknowledge the ramifications of our decision are linked to caste Sometimes we just brush it under the carpet. The upper task is male. Runs the country. Runs every big job and runs every big decision in government or in private institutions. Especially the Muslims in fashion and India are mostly embroiderers. We find a lot of very talented artists who are Muslim in the heart of the South and in Bengal.

But yes, largely, I think. I think that knowledge is often been sold by men who belong to it. Who think they belong to the upper class and manual work is often delegated to people who don't. Who sort are from the locals or from other communities that are economically established and that focus keeps them in the loop of the chronic poverty cycles? 

I read a very interesting thread by professor Dilip Mandal recently, and he said the reason why India cannot invent something, fantastic is that there is no bridge between knowledge and manual work if an intelligent man or if an educated man is also doing manual work, he will invent the machine that sort of improved his later, but its manual work is given to somebody and the education is given to somebody else then that bridge is. Then the gap is never closed and they're not able to come to any sort of great inventions. And this is one of the buggers that India has to live with that unless we focus on education and empower all of US and all of US. Come to a place of privilege. You know data issues that are going to play with the US. Upcoming tension. Okay. Yeah, thank you.

So, moving to another issue that is, your award is also related to the gender issue. The gender equality issue, that how your whole initiative Baradi and also the whole fashion industry, how it helps women as we see that women are mostly considered out of the workforce, even though they were. Even though they work in all these gUIlDs, we don't count them traditionally. So how this initiative is helping them to you know to be counted as we can see.

Yeah in the library we make it a point that every year we have to have one women's rope out of our beneficiary. One of them has to pay for him, you know once we selected the women's troupe from cherala in I think it was an Andhra or Telangana agel, maybe tell him gana. It's very famous as a weaving town in India and and we found this, women cooperated that we very beautiful cotton and silk and they also spin their own, yarn and they read the fabrics themselves and they used to get paid about 6000 a month. The emphasis, salary, and the whole group came together, so to speak, on medical grounds that they were farm workers and landlords. encouraged hysterectomies on them so that they would not take leave, and would not have too many babies. Sort of degender them through the hysterectomies and these women came together and they put on medical grounds and they decided that you know they were the. So the. Cooperative counsel them against the hysterectomy and said that it was not required at least at that time and they did not have to do it. So at that time, before the Biradari met them their monthly income was 6000 to save a month.

Of which is very negligible, of course, and with US with our funding, they sort of waive it for the year to 9000 degrees. They will definitely have the payment there and just. Boots that they received is very negligible for US and it's been a very low salary for them to have every year, but it probably changed the game for them. Personally, emotionally and especially in their home. The whole family dynamic change, they became the decision makers just buy a 3000 rupee jumps in salary. You know, in their houses they began to give their children such a food, they just. They just begin equal to their husbands and that I thought was a very eye opening. Anecdote for somebody living in a city and, you know. Just to watch that sort of change and the person we were coordinating with is it is a very well-known trade unionist in the south. Natalie Mohan rao. He's he's really my hero and he keeps writing to me. He sends me pictures, he keeps calling me and bringing me stories of the women. It's really. It's heartwarmingly at the same time, heartbreaking to see how so little it makes so much impact right.

So we see that we see what emboiderry has done for women in Lucknow especially if it was always the man's case, it was always the mechanic and savvy the most beautiful network is famous all over the world was always the man theme and with savour with ela patch with so many women who have encouraged chicken curry to encourage women of luck now to start embroidering in their houses. It's really. So just give them. I mean, money is powered, right? If you put money in the hands of a woman. Society can see if you if you put money in the hands of a man. You know, he he will save a little bit for his sippers, but everything changes when a woman gets monies.

Yeah, it's interesting that since you are of you are someone who writes about fashion, the costumes, the, clothing, et cetera, and. I remember that i have read somewhere. That how the importance of pockets and women clothing. It is quite important, I think. Yeah. So you can tell more about that. You can tell US more about that.

It's a little bit it's a little bit of a joke. But you know designers started introducing pockets in the Langers and they they said. You know, women make their money and you don't need to carry their own money. But you know all these gigantic rides actually use it to keep their cellphones so they can take a picture whenever they want and it's up on Instagram while they're getting married. And it's cheap. But yeah, I think of it as a practical, you know, we you know, I don't think there's anything woman carries that different to what amendments and and I think we are going at least at least in cities where women are working, you know, we're finding. With finding less and less reason to depend on a man, whether it is to can you hold my bag or whether it is to can you pay the bill. So pocket it is packet center.

So now coming back to the. Your award, the largely award, it is about an article, the basically an article. It is about the clothing of women sports, women basically. Yeah, so, and. Right now in the last few months, at least we can see that there has been a lot of talks about hijab in India and Iran, etc. So we are listening a lot and then you write about that how everything is about that. And, if i can relate to it, begam Lucaya sakara, who was one of the earlier prime minister of India in 1905, she writes that if a man tells me that i should, cover myself and if a man tells me that i should uncover myself, it is equally bad for me. It's equally oppressive. So what is your take. We have read your article registration.

I mean, 1000 years after the korea said that, you know, we we we are in the same place, you know, whether the hijab is on a head or, you know, we are not allowed to verify both problematic because it is not about an article of clothing. It is about a mandate. It is about a fourth dress force that is pretty much bullied on the women's forties by all three men governing bodies, either sports bodies or religious bodies that are central with five men and the woman is 16. Constantine. The the the navy africans is, is about how. Gender plays such a big role in in sports and how the police think of women's bodies even to 20 twentyone, which is when I will see up because it was the first year. The update was published last year.

It was the year of the Olympics. We had them one year later in 20 twentyone because obviously it is probably and for the first time in the history of the olympics they were almost equal. A number of women participated. They were fortynine percent women to fifty-one percent men, which is I mean, there's never been such a high participation of women, at least from across the world and I thought that it was so significant. I'm going to read about you know what women can wear. What they can't wear, whether they shot what you saw it. Whether they, you know. When, and Iranian, scene was banned in, you know.

In the previous Olympic multiple times just to be known as William sketches of you know capitals for band or. Women's clothes are always the discussions. It's never their fault and it's really unfortunate because men just have to show up. You know, where a genji where and where they show how long the short size nobody's business or nobody's discussion pages have to play whether they save their own fish or shape the legs or no status have to win. Women have to show up. They have to battle their clothing, they have to battle gender, they have to battle patriarchy. They have to battle men who don't like women in sports. But once I'm in sports, they have to. You know, battle their beauty standards and they still have to win. It's a very. Very tall ask and and I think. The fact that women get into force is herculean, you know.

It's a herculean effort for that and to be able to come to this level and still be you know not just on the way you play, but just for something else, if so. It's so humiliating. I i cannot, find another word for as you know. The women, at least to sort of go go through that. I'm also going to wait at a time where it's not just about men and women. Oh. Gender has become such a social construct today that you know if you may be born as a man and you may choose call yourself a woman. But I don't know if you have a exchange or not. It may be the other way around. You may be born a woman that may identify as a male. You may have an imbalance of hormones available to be chances. And i think sports bodies need to get out of that ancient Greek sort of mentality and some to terms. With the changing space of gender to think with the changing scrolls and and find a middle path where everyone can compete because everyone would like to play.

Yeah, this is very interesting aspect. That how always women are look from a point of view of like this should look like a sex symbol in the sports hall. So like we have seen, as i think, Kathleen writes around almost eight years ago and he writes that he has T B X T S H O N E, but still we look a woman through their plans of Giovanni, that how her body looks like. So what do you think, what is the future, what is the future, do you think you can. The future is Wendy is saying we like this. Don't let anybody look at that. But he's again a man I'm talking about women, will he. He totally caters to. He totally caters to the female gaze. He totally sexualizes himself and and dealt the things that I expected of women to do. He's completely. You know, I think he's come to be such a so such a cultural icon today just because of his. I I really put him out of the distance because I feel that, you know. He sent so much for for feminism and so much for. You know. For for for gender, even for masculinity, you know, he's he's definitely an alpha male. But he's so a soft around the edges, you know. That if if he's really a new man, you know, he truly is the new man that we've all been sort of waiting for. That volume with the side. What can be done to. To equalize gender, is that a question.

Maybe what is the future do you think that these things within the sports era and office sports or anywhere else, is it going to end in new in near future or something. What it will be raised the points.

Beijing and I on the same page 1000 years later the future doesn't look very bright, but I I. A change can only come with conversation. Change can only come with questioning rules and questioning the quality. And as long as we continue to do that, I think babysit will just help US to be in a better place in the near future. I wish i had a sister bowl. I I would like to see within in a more equally I would like to see them. Superstitious man in almost. Cause I feel I don't I really unhappy to say, oh. You know, equality and all.

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And I keep saying there is no equality. I don't believe in equality because you cannot say today, you know if a man works 10 hours, a woman must also work 10 hours or 8 hours or whatever it is because you know, their lives are different. They need a different, they are primary caregivers at home. So equality is a bit of an abusive term to have an administration. I think you know my understanding of feminism is that you know we need to make rules and find rules that benefit willing to get to work or to get to home or to get to do what they do in their day safely and happily and if it benefits the woman. Then that can lead to an equal voice, but I don't think that an equal was at all that.

Transcribed by Shaista Fatima