A group of boys are enacting in a street play in the slums that they come from that talks about a gender-equal society and the need to stop the oppression of girls and women around them.
Many of the boys have grown up seeing girls being discriminated against and being subjected to taunts in their locality, which they always presumed to be the norm, said a social worker who works with these boys.
These young boys are members of a boys’ club that is part of Calcutta Rescue, an NGO that works both with girls and boys.
The club has initiated this campaign involving the boys because it will have a greater impact.
When these boys take about discrimination against girls in the community, they are heard.
Saundarya Jana, 15, who is taking a lead role, said that in their neighbourhoods they have seen that boys are given priority when it comes to education or opportunities.
“I have seen boys being asked or told that they have to study but not so when it comes to girls. In fact, there are examples when they are told that they will be married off and they need not study,” said Jana.
“Their desires are not even considered,” added Jana, who stays in a north Kolkata slum.
His friend Tushar Gayen said that he once told his parents, who work in a godown, that why they have rested all their aspirations on him.
“When I do not perform well in an exam I am told that they have expectations from me and not my sister (a Class VI student). That can be demotivating for her. I have objected to that,” said Tushar.
In the play, these young boys have raised the problem of child marriage which is common in some of the localities.
“Ladka ladki ek saman, dono ko do gyan or maan,” (Girls are boys are equal. Give knowledge and respect to both) is one of the catchlines in the play.
Joining them in the street play for some of the female roles are girls as well.
They have conducted the play in three localities.
The play is preceded by talking to parents about gender equality.
“The boys make the preparations before they go for the awareness drive or to perform the play. They are from the community and are more acceptable to them,” said Ananya Chatterjee, school administrator at Calcutta Rescue.
The social worker who works with the boys said that there is a difference when girls talk about their problems and when boys do the same. It is more impactful when boys speak about these issues, he added.
“When a boy talks about his sister’s education it is bound to have more impact because he will be listened to,” said Souvik Sarkar, a social worker.
Sarkar said they have to educate the boys because what they have grown up seeing and thinking that to be normal is not right.
“They have to understand that in a civilised society it is not natural to subject them (girls and women) to violence,” said Sarkar.