A movement called MAVA


A male youth movement in Maharashtra to sensitise people against violence and abuse of women has gained a lot of attention. By targeting patriarchal sterotypes, this movement hopes to change perceptions all around, says Shoma A. Chatterji.

MAVA, a civil service organisation was born in March 1993. MAVA is an acronym for MEN AGAINST VIOLENCE AND ABUSE and is based in Mumbai. It will celebrate its silver jubilee next year. Over the past 24 years, it has done yeoman service in spreading awareness about violence against women among young men and women of the city and across the state of Maharashtra and beyond. The three-pronged objective of this organisation was, (a) to deconstruct masculinity, (b) to help men break out of their dominant masculine image, and (c) help form an equal society that would regard women with respect.

A scene from a streetplay put up outside Grant Road station in Mumbai, as part of the RISE Campaign by MAVA

MAVA is the brainchild of Harish Sadani, a graduate of the TISS (Tata Insitute of Social Sciences), Mumbai, and a bachelor by choice, who was brought up in a community housing home where as a child, “I witnessed our neighbours’ lives up close, and noticed how women faced oppression and violence even at home. My family, however, reversed the order of the world outside,” says the ever-smiling and cheerful Sadani who does not wear his glory on his sleeve, and is grounded enough to father a movement few men would have thought of. The initiative to form this was first taken by noted journalist C.Y. Gopinath in September 1991.

Over the past decade and more, Harish has been closely working with a large number of male youths between the ages of 18 and 20 focussing on issues surrounding masculinity, sexual health and gender-sensitive behaviour. This youth initiative began in Pune district in 2006. “The initiative included selecting youths from colleges and rural communities, finding out if they had leadership skills and creative potential, and then sensitising them to be imparted intense training to communicate with their peers and other young men on gender, healthy relationships and sexuality-related matters. Through experiential learning, personal dialogue and revisiting formation of gender norms, the trained youths have been engaging their peers and thousands of young men in their respective regions,” explains Harish.

The impact
In 2006, three boys from Jejuri College in rural Pune were given expulsion notices for harassing a female student with lewd songs played on their cell phones. Out of college, they would have spent their time smoking or drinking or gambling or all three and working at some garage maybe for a few extra bucks, education, a forgotten exercise. “Our volunteers pleaded with the college administration to reconsider their stance and give the boys a second chance to learn from their mistakes. The college listened and says Sadani, now 50, “The boys never misbehaved again and one of them ended the year as the college’s top NSS (National Service Scheme) cadet.”

One therefore, can easily conclude that this lateral “second chance” approach fetched Harish and his NGO Yuva Maitri the Ashoka Changemakers and Campus of Excellence Award in April 2010. Ashoka Changemakers is an international online community that awards innovative solutions in various fields. Yuva Maitri – Marathi for Friendship Among Youngsters, beat 155 global entries to win a cash prize of $5000 (`2.3 lakh) and an invitation to attend and deliberate at the Campus of Excellence that was to be held in Spain in October the same year. In 2011, it was listed on a website by the Government of India in its list of Best Governance Practices in the country.

Another streetplay performed at Tardeo Circle, Mumbai

Harish who lives in Mahim was brought up in a Mumbai chawl filled with acts of domestic violence, and began to feel very strongly against ways and means to stop the sustenance, support and promotion of the subjugation and oppression of women. “But my firm conviction is that for change to be effective, men need to be sensitised rather than penalised, the process needs to be made inclusive with men and young boys involved and not excluded and labelled perpetrators. By 2010, MAVA had built up a solid body of 120 volunteers across the state of Maharashtra who now function through workshops, an active Helpline (26826062) and an active website (www.mavaindia.org)

MAVA has initiated the use of varied out-of-the-box tools like interactive gender-sensitisation sessions, residential workshops, annual men’s magazine, periodic wall newspapers, FAQ booklets, street theatre performances, film screenings, to create and perpetuate gender sensitivity among participants, elocutions and other special campaigns from 2007. “Our mentored youths reach out to peers and other young men and in the process, they have learnt to challenge gender roles and stereotypes besides evolving positive models of masculinity that are gender-equitable,” explains Harish.
When Harish received a fellowship from the Population Council in 2006, he conceived the Yuva Maitri project which aimed at enlightening young students about gender equality, sexuality and domestic violence. The two-year project selected 33 volunteers from six colleges across mostly rural areas of Maharasthra and trained them to spread the word. These volunteers then spent a year learning about the issues in detail, and the following year the focus was on spreading the knowledge that they had gained through posters, interactive sessions and one-to-one talks.

The movement that sustained
Out of the original 33 of Yuva Maitri, a few dropped out, but the core group remains strong. One of them, Sunil Chachar, now a leader-volunteer, said that they do face resistance when they try to make people listen. “First we struggled to get students interested. Even our teachers in college opposed it saying that this was not a worthwhile issue. Harish Sir told us to face this and find a way. Slowly, things started falling into place and as we ourselves began to change, our teachers began to see our point. Now they sometimes call me to talk to students in college about violence against women and other related issues.” Chachar works as mentor with the Koregaon Park-based Equal Community Foundation (ECF) who began with the Yuva Maitri project under Harish Sadani when he was a student with the Jejuri Kala Mahavidyalaya, and remains a volunteer with MAVA. Chachar has now founded his own social organisation called Manas Ekatmat Samajik Sanstha, which focusses on women’s health. At ECF, Chachar works in slum areas educating 14 to 17-year-olds about gender, sexuality and domestic violence. He began four such areas in the city way back in 2011.

A Personal Change Plan also forms a part of the functioning which includes working towards the empowerment of women in their personal lives such as upholding their mothers’, sisters’ aunts’ and brother’s wives’ right to a life of dignity and safety. “Since 2008, I have gradually up-scaled the initiative (that began in Pune district with 30 young men) to six other districts through collaboration and strategic alliances with grassroots organisations, universities and youth bodies. A telephonic helpline for youths started in Mumbai in 2009 as a result of the up-scaling, is reaching out to thousands of distressed young men and counselling them to deal with their specific gender-related problems,” explains Harish.

On the first anniversary of the brutal gang-rape of Nirbhaya in Delhi, MAVA, Mumbai organised a city-wide campaign called ‘RISE’ on 16 December 2016. As a part of the campaign, over 3,000 students from around 30 colleges were involved in mass public rallies simultaneously organised in 40 key spots across Mumbai from 9 a.m. till 3 p.m. Several shows of a street-play ‘De Dhakka’ (Give a Blow) was staged by students of eight colleges. They had collectively scripted the play, covering forms of violence on girls and the measures that can be taken by youths to address the issue. It was a befitting tribute to Nirbhaya by the teeming youths. “I do not believe in candlelight processions because few attain concrete results, though such strategies raise awareness among the masses so that they can rise against violence on women,” says Harish.

Through strategic collaborations with local colleges, universities, women’s groups, grassroots community-based organisations and individual health activists, MAVA’s 700 plus youth mentors are working in nine districts of Maharashtra. They have reached out to over 2,00,000 young men and adolescent boys over the past eleven years. These youngsters are spreading the message of respecting women and treating them with dignity. Leading Lines, an all-women professional agency is documenting the journey of MAVA through a video that will help the organisation to reach out to more boys and men to advance their mission. Referrals are effected through women’s groups in the city like Sakhya, Special Cell for Women, SNEHA and YWCA for counselling husbands in cases of marital conflict and domestic violence periodically.

“Till date, my initiative has reached out to over 60,000 young men through hundreds of interactive workshops, symposia, camps, youth-meets and other community outreach programmes. A few years ago, my youth initiative was featured as an example of ‘Best Practice in Public Service Delivery’ at Government of India’s website,” sums up Sadani, adding, “Feminism is an inclusive concept and practice. Men are not enemies of women. The true enemies are attitudes born of patriarchy. To change these attitudes, we must seek solutions through both men and women, specially men who have been conditioned through thousands of years to believe that they are physically stronger and socially more powerful than women which vests them with the right to abuse and misuse the power against groups they believe are weaker – women.”

Among many awards, Harish Sadani was bestowed the prestigious Maharashtra Foundation 2010 Award by the Maharashtra Foundation, US, instituted by entrepreneurs of Indian origin to annually felicitate individuals doing significant work on social issues in Maharasthra. He won the prize of Rs.50,000 in January 2011. He won the Muktaa Sanman 2014 Award from IBN-Lokmat, and the Karmveer Puraskar in 2010.

Shoma A. Chatterji

Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author. She has authored 17 published titles and won the National Award for Best Writing on Cinema, twice. She won the UNFPA-Laadli Media Award, 2010 for ‘commitment to addressing and analysing gender issues’ among many awards.