Not Just Another Social Venture: IIT For Society


‘For people who’re touted as future nationbuilders, we are surprisingly insulated from the social issues in our milieu –  IIT For Society is an effort to bridge the gap between IIT and the world outside,’ says Bethanavel Ashwanth, final-year dual degree student, co-founder and head of IIT For Society. An initiative that kicked off in September with a panel discussion on manual scavenging, it has a slew of social-awareness activities lined up for the year.  Here’s a look at two of the major events held in the month of October, offering a taste of what IIT For Society has in store for the student community:

 ‘Dark is Beautiful’ Campaign– Fighting India’s Fairness Fetish

‘I’ve always wanted more.’  The ad opens with an impeccably groomed SRK saying something to the effect in typical Inspiringvoice (which has emerged, in recent times, as a rival to the Epicvoice, what with the Dove advertisements and everything). Cue Inspiringmusic (again, a genre in itself) and inspiring shots of legions of fans, flashlights and endless limos.  Just when you think you’re going to burst with all that inspiration, it ends with the lines, ‘Emami Fair and Handsome–because men need more.’ Moral of the story: if you’re not fair (and not male, apparently), don’t bother.

Publicity and political correctness have always made strange bedfellows.

On October 9, the Himalaya lawns, Gurunath Students’ Facility Centre and Vindhya mess saw a flurry of activity as ‘Women of Worth’ (WoW), a Chennai-based NGO for women’s welfare, flagged off its campus drive against colour-biased advertising. In three sessions held from three to nine, signs were collected for a petition against Emami’s advertisement for its men’s fairness cream, ‘Fair and Handsome’. The undertaking is part of its ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign, started in 2009.

The petition, initially launched on an online platform powered by, marks WoW’s effort to reach out to males.  Thanks to a collaboration between IIT For Society and WoW, IITM became the launch site for taking the movement to colleges in Chennai. The aim is to compel Emami to take down the advertising and focus on healthy skin instead, and also to request Situations Advertising –  the makers of the ad – and Shah Rukh Khan to promote responsible advertising. WoW hopes to discourage the trend of discriminatory advertising, targeting impressionable youth, that augments issues like colour-bias.

Ms. Kavitha Emmanuel, Director of Women of Worth, spoke about WoW’s initial misgivings: ‘When we started out, we weren’t sure whether people would respond adequately to such an issue –  what if they didn’t see it as being important enough?’ However, responses to the campaign were highly encouraging, with Anu Hasan and Nandita Das becoming staunch supporters of the initiative. And in IITM, throngs of students crowded around the table to sign the petition, know more about the issue and leave a comment on the ‘expression board’. ‘It’s a personal favourite,’ says Lydia Durairaj, coordinator, ‘It’s a simple and direct way to get people to voice their concerns.’ Indeed, the large white board was soon covered by scrawls — ‘Dark is Beautiful’ had obviously struck a chord with the IITM population.

 ‘3D Stereo Caste’ — Unmasking Caste Discrimination

The very title calls your attention to a jarring reality: in a world where 3D and stereo technologies have transformed the arts, something as primitive as caste exerts an insidious influence. In its short running time of about thirty minutes, A. S. Ajith Kumar’s Malayalam documentary makes the message clear: if we thought that talent is all that mattered in the ‘apolitical’ field of performance arts, we are sorely mistaken.

Held on the 15th of October in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department, the screening is slated to be the first of a series, as part of IIT For Society’s project of creating a live discussion forum for social issues in IITM.  It was followed by an interaction session with the director himself.

The documentary provided a refreshing perspective on caste politics, focussing on the victims of caste discrimination in Kalamandalam, Kerala’s premier institute for performance arts, and going on to explore far more deep-rooted issues. The chenda, a traditional percussion instrument of Kerala, becomes the centre of the caste debate: a certain type of chenda, and certain rhythms, are associated with the ‘lower’ castes and not allowed to be performed in temples. ‘3D Stereo Caste’ is a prelude-of-sorts to a series of documentaries in the works, where the director aims to further probe into casteism in the arts.

‘I seek to dispel notions that caste discrimination is no longer an issue in a state like Kerala, which is often held up as a model for development. Caste discrimination in the arts is a subtle and elusive issue; there are no visible atrocities,’ said Mr. Ajith Kumar during the interaction session. ‘There is a politics inherent to the very concept of Sound and Voice –  loud noises are considered crass and associated with the ‘lower’ castes, whereas softer sounds are associated with classical music, a cultural product of the ‘upper’ castes.’ The interaction, like the documentary itself, provided interesting insights and new perspectives to an age-old issue, and one hopes that the upcoming events of IIT For Society will continue the trend.

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