Student-Led 'emBODYindia' Campaign Sparks International Discourse
The Harvard U.S. India Initiative’s “emBODYindia” campaign published its first post at midnight on Thursday, and fewer than twenty four hours later, is already attracting international attention. When I caught up with the organizers of “emBODYindia” Thursday at 12:30 p.m., they were in between phone calls with Buzzfeed India and the American version of the popular news site. Articles covering their project had already been posted on ScoopWhoop and Deccan Chronicle.
The project seeks to combat the “unwanted sexualization of women” in India, which has been the subject of a recent controversy: earlier this month, The Times of India posted pictures of a popular movie star on Twitter with the caption “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show!” When Padukone responded with outrage, the TOI responded by publishing an op-ed accusing her of hypocrisy.
In an article titled “MY body, MY choices: #emBODYindia,” the authors, Disha Verma '15 (an inactive Crimson editor), Upasna Sharma '15, and Zeenia L. Framroze '15, criticize the TOI’s actions, and state that “this country’s voyeuristic relationship with female anatomy and femininity itself is fueled by poorly-enforced legislation, wrist-slaps instead of court cases, and an acceptance of an unequal status quo. It is a toxic, self-perpetuating relationship that needs to stop. We need to start with the fundamental premise of ownership”.
"Where we can make an impact is in social and cultural issues, and how people think about things," Disha Verma '15 says.
Along with the article, the group also has a photo campaign on tumblr with students holding signs in a similar fashion to the the photos used by the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign, which drew national attention last year.
While the organizers I talked to, Verma, Aditya Agrawal ‘17, and Ayesha A. Mangaldas ‘17, were happy the campaign was attracting attention, they shared concerns about the nature of the attention.
emBODYindia currently features sixteen students and the Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana. While two of the pictures depict Verma and Mangaldas individually appearing to be topless behind signs they are holding, they very clearly state that “no one was nude. No one was topless.” The fact that this is the subject of so much attention, however, highlights the problem they are trying to expose.
“Instead of taking the campaign as a whole, the entire Indian media has picked up on ‘Oh, Harvard students go topless’,” Verma said, “Exactly what we were trying to say was ‘you shouldn’t be doing this.’”
Agrawal revealed the team will be writing a “very angry, very radical article” and that there will be a second set of photoshoots posted soon. They are also working with other school and are currently thinking about how to have an impact in India.
“As an organization in the U.S.,” Verma said, “there’s usually not much on-the-ground impact we can have, right? But where we can make an impact is in social and cultural issues and how people think about things.”
The gallery below contains a selection of images from the #emBODY india tumblr. To see more, click here.