Farhan Akhtar is a popular Bollywood writer, singer and actor- and he’s now adding social activist to his extensive C.V. At a time when India’s reputation has been indelibly tarnished on the world stage after a spate of highly publicised horrific rape cases, he’s campaigning against misogyny.
He is working on a project dubbed MARD, which stands for ‘Men Against Rape & Discrimination.’ The symbol of the campaign is a moustache, which is traditionally regarded in India as a symbol of masculinity and chivalrous behaviour.
Whilst perhaps a little patronising in the assumption that women need protection, the motivation for the movement is pure, and Akhtar is adamant that more men need to “stand up for the rights of women.” To encourage people to support the campaign, he has spent the past week distributing thousands of plastic moustaches around Calcutta.
“We all wonder what can we do to stop this, but nobody is telling us how we can do it.”
Since the events of December 2012, rape in India has become synonymous with the shocking gang attack of an innocent young woman on the way home from the cinema. Akhtar watched it unfold with a personal sense of sadness. Last August, a 25 year old lawyer who worked for his company Excel Entertainment was murdered in her flat after an attempted rape. He told the BBC that, “That was one of the reasons why I had to get involved. Why I had to do something. We all wonder what can we do to stop this, but nobody is telling us how we can do it.”
In the wake of the December attack, the Hindi film industry came in for a lot of criticism for the way it reinforces sexism, however Akhtar believes that it is merely reflecting Indian society at large. He has stated that Indian men, “Come from a traditional patriarchal society and that mindset is mutating into something that is very dangerous…And the men who do not suffer from this disease – and that is what it is – they need to stand up and tell the others that you cannot behave like this because this is not what being a man is about.”
“We have to tell men that if you do not treat women as equals, if you do not treat your son and daughter as equals, if you hit a woman, if you molest a woman, then you are not fit to be a part of this society.”
A father of two daughters, he is adamant that for the sake of their future, seismic change needs to happen. “It is important to target civil society and demand that it changes. We have to tell men that if you do not treat women as equals, if you do not treat your son and daughter as equals, if you hit a woman, if you molest a woman, then you are not fit to be a part of this society.”
“I am no different from any other parent. I want them to have a full life. I want them to be able to go wherever they want with their friends safely and knowing that there are people looking out for them. And for that, I have to look out for other people.”