It was mid-November when an unusual group of six met in Andheri East with the book, Cyber Sexy, in each’s hand. What followed was a three-hour intense discussion on feminism, online sex culture, sex education and idea of pornography.
“The novel part is that you discuss with strangers, open your heart out and no one is judging you,” says Jerin Jacob. The Sanskaari Girls Book Club, contrary to what the name suggest, is a shared space to have ‘unsanskaari’ dialogues — as the club members smirk — and to encourage discussions on feminism and share literature pieces.
Vandita Morarka, founder CEO of One Future Collective, who created the group with Nishma Jethwa, said they both love literature and feminism and wanted to cultivate a culture to discuss book by South Asian authors.
“The purpose is to learn and grow as a feminist,” Morarka says. Every six weeks, the club meets after reading a book authored by a South Asian writer, and initiate discussion on its plot. On November 18, Richa Kaul’s book, Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography, was the centre of discussion.
“My favourite line in it is ‘Porn opens my mind to diversity of desire’,” says Jacob, a PhD student in gender justice at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The 24-year-old has attended three club meetings till now. “In one, there was a 90-year-old participant,” she smiles. The book club has no bar on age and gender.
Jacob, as she puts it, thrives on books. When she came to know about the club, she was amongst the first to join. “The idea of this club is of being sanskaari and flipping it on our head,” Jacob smiles.
In one club meet, Suniti Namjoshi’s book The Fabulous Feminist was discussed, in another The Liberation of Sita by C Vijayasree and T Vijay Kumar was taken up.
Jethwa, a lawyer activist attached with the Strategic Advocacy for Human Rights, says when discussion began on Sita, they realised each one of them could actually relate to her character. “She is a sanskaari woman. Even in her story, we could relate to the expectations that a woman has from her husband, from family and from the society,” Jethwa says.
Feminism, she adds, means differently to different people. “But the club is about gender equality, and how we can debate on it along with having fun,” the 31-year-old lawyer says.
The concept of the group has expanded to Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore. In each meeting, about a dozen people join to discuss a pre-decided book. But the discussion go beyond the subject — hovering over people’s personal experiences, motherhood, sexual pleasure for women, how marriage works in a patriarchal society, rape and sex culture in India.