A few days ago, Sona Mohapatra ‘ranted‘ on her Facebook wall about how the organisers of Mood Indigo, IIT Bombay’s cultural fest (which they claim is Asia’s largest) have been calling her to perform at the fest but necessarily with a male performer.
She accused the organisers of discriminating artists on the basis of gender and substantiated her claim with screenshots of Mood Indigo’s Facebook page. The post was met with denials, counter-arguments and most importantly, trolls, not just by the organisers but by most engineers (often called the ‘engineering fraternity’). This is not the first encounter that Mood Indigo has had with sexism. Previously, it has been in the news for the sexist statements that were made by Palash Sen in his performance there.
To come clean on the issue, I will say that I do not agree with some of Mohapatra’s claims. The organisers of any fest work under the whims of their sponsors and audience; they hardly have the power to invite or not invite someone to the fest just because they wish to not do so. Having said that, her ‘rant’ isn’t totally invalid. The fact that almost all the artists and speakers at their fest are or have been men should raise some eyebrows.
One of the most common responses to her ‘rant’ is that she is unable to handle ‘rejection’. Let me put this in a language that most engineers would understand, the language of startups. Imagine a VC pitch for your startup, at the end of which your idea is appreciated but funding rejected because your team does not have an IITian. Will that make you angry? Should that be called not handling rejection well? It is sheer discrimination against which Sona’s anger is directed, not against the rejection.
Then there are others who say that she is doing it just for cheap publicity, just to be known. These are also the people who have plotted detailed graphs illustrating how hits on her Facebook page have increased ever since she posted that ‘rant’, thus giving more of what she apparently wanted. If you really think that this is just a PR stunt, you must just let it pass; trolling her only adds to it. The fact that she has refused to give any TV or newspaper interviews should clear the air about her intentions.
Further, the denial of a problem only ensures it perpetuation. The Facebook page of Mood Indigo clearly shows how male-dominated their festival is. While this is, according to me, something that was expected in a college with such a poor sex ratio, the situation is not better in college fests of DU where a much better sex ratio exists. Sona claims that the only colleges that have treated her with dignity are the girl’s colleges, and this is something we should be concerned about. Even if it is not Mood Indigo that’s doing it, there is a clear systemic discrimination at many levels. First, there are fewer women among those considered the best artists of the country. And the ones who exist are clearly not paid at par with their male counterparts (something which has been emphasised on, by a lot of Bollywood and Hollywood actors, not just Sona).
Not many female artists are as vocal about their opinions as Sona Mohapatra, Swara Bhaskar, Kangana Ranaut and Vidya Balan, who are a few exceptions, according to me. It is important for everyone who believes in gender equality to ensure that their voice is heard and paid heed to. Democracy only functions well when all stakeholders have a voice to raise and silencing women in arts only takes us one step away from being a well-functioning democracy.