For ages, men have kept their egos safe and hidden under the idea that masculinity resides in their forearms and is only as strong as the fear in a woman’s mind. But definitions are a flowing stream, they take shape, however, time demands of them. I entered Salayyai Village of Chhatarpur with a rapid heartbeat, anxious as if I was about to get the results for an exam I had prepared for months; but my nervousness transformed into pride and hope when jingles on family planning reached my ears. The men of Chhatarpur, I found, were not to be confined within the rigid definitions of masculinity.
I heard the men of Salayyai tell me how they grew up in houses where domestic violence was nothing out of the ordinary, so when they got married, their wives became victims of their anger. Beating women out of irritation or sometimes in a drunken daze and forcing them to stay within the threshold was expected from these men. The women of Chhatarpur have no option but to spend hours in the dreary company of chulhas and firewood in MP’s swirling heat and lose count of the children they bear as no one considers family planning.
These men had fallen into the pit of archaic behaviour out of ignorance and lack of education. It was overwhelming to hear that our TV show Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon that brought about change in my fictional village of Pratappur, also encouraged some young men in Chhatarpur to bring about change in this small hamlet. One of the group, Raju, pointed out how the episode of Seema losing her life to an untimely and unsafe abortion struck a chord in him and perhaps many others.
Today these men understand the need to respect their wives’ wishes in having a child before they make decisions to expand their families. Birth control measures and vasectomy are no longer taboo in this village because the men of Chhatarpur realise how these small investments can make a palpable impact on their lives. From taking care of the children to grinding Masalas when the women sit back and take some much-deserved rest – the men of Chhatarpur do it all because they realise that households are happy when partners act as equals.
Women are no longer confined to their houses; once every month the women go out and indulge in whatever pleases their hearts. They hold equal if not a greater say in important decisions about the family’s future. And most importantly, they are the ones who decide what happens with their bodies.
The men of Chhatarpur are a testament to the idea that masculinity is never endangered by compassion and equality, and it resides not in flexed muscles but in the heart. The men of Chhatarpur will not have to write history for it to be kind to them, because virtue and kindness are the greatest weapons known to humanity, and history is kind to those who use them.