AFTER the pandemic forced classes online, a very good trend of holding webinars started among the government degree colleges of the Kashmir region. Though these colleges might be holding seminars and other guest talks earlier, it was only after online platforms were used that such events became accessible to the larger public outside the colleges. One is thrilled to attend these events that cover a range of relevant themes, but one is disappointed to see that all these events are manels- male-only panels. After attending a few webinars organized by various colleges on different themes, it appears that men have a monopoly over speaking rights in academic circles across Kashmir. Looking at the posters that announce these events, one finds them full of men’s pictures. There may be one or two pictures of women also, but they are mostly labelled as organizers and coordinators; that is, they do not speak at the event but do invisible work in the background, behind the scenes.
For instance, GDC Sopore held a one-day webinar on Development of Islamic Culture in Kashmir on 15 September where 8 people in all were involved in the event as per the poster. There were 6 men in all including the speakers. Pictures of two women were also present there on the poster- one of them was labelled as coordinator and another as director of the webinar. There was no female speaker at the event. Similarly, GDC Hadipora Rafiabad held a one-day international webinar on “Religio-Behavioural Strategies during Pandemic Times” on 28 September 2020. There were 5 all-male speakers from different parts of the world including USA and Malaysia and 3 organizers out of whom one was a woman. Similarly, GDC Pulwama held a webinar on 5 September 2020 on “A teacher in the digital age: Perspectives and challenges” but the way they had a manel of 7 speakers and organisers, it appeared they were concerned with the perspectives and challenges of male teachers only.
Epistemically speaking, manels are dangerous that not only seek men’s hegemony over knowledge but ethically harm individual women and have larger social consequences as well. On an individual level, it prohibits women from exercising their full range of reasoning capabilities because their ideas are not heard and validated. On a social level, it deprives the society of diverse views and fewer ideas become available, narrowing the collective imagination of society.
It would be stooping too low if the question of competency of women and other genders is brought here. Therefore, without defending the manels by comparing the competencies of different genders, colleges and other academic institutions should regulate these events and make sure that there is an equal representation of all the genders, including LGBTQIA in all the panels. All the genders have the right to be heard and the society has the right to be exposed to different ideas and perspectives coming from different genders.
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