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Consent Is The Cornerstone Of Healthy Relationships

Educators can empower the youth by providing them various tools and resources so that they can make informed and empowered choices and cultivate meaningful emotive connections based on reciprocity, love and understanding

Bijayalaxmi Nanda and Dr. Nupur Ray
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Nurturing the youth to healthy adulthood requires us to examine the idea of consent and choice. With 60% population below the age of 35, India has the world’s largest youth population. There is palpable excitement about the potential of our youth population in contemporary global deliberations. This ‘youth bulge ‘signifies the opportunity of a demographic dividend.

However, along with this opportunity there are several challenges that range from excessive dependency on social media to seemingly complex boundaries of interpersonal relationships. It is essential for the youth to navigate these challenges as a prerequisite to realise their full potential. At the centre of these navigating contours lies the core importance of consent.

Consent signifies the idea of personal agency, boundaries and reciprocal respect and obligations. Living in a dynamic and disruptive environment of societal norms, cultural expectations and social media bombardment, young adults are socialised to perpetuate and reinforce stereotypes.

The media, especially cinema, romanticises violence and coercive behaviour, especially in intimate partner relationships and trivialises the significance of consent. The commercial success of the film Animal brings to the forefront the celebration of hegemonic masculinity. The sensitive understanding of consent in the film Pink seems to have been forgotten now. How can we retrieve the richness of consent in its core essence, rather than peripheral interpretations and promote relationships embedded in equality and recognise the inherent worth and dignity of every individual?

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The systemic barriers that exist in the understanding of consent can be addressed not just through the media but also through sensitisation within curriculum. Educational institutions can play a pivotal role in fostering a culture of empowered and informed consent. Creating peer-mentoring and providing enabling spaces for young adults to speak on ideas of consent and choice is essential. Educators can empower the youth by providing them various tools and resources so that they can make informed and empowered choices and cultivate meaningful emotive connections based on reciprocity, love and understanding. It is imperative that the youth within a gender-inclusive paradigm are sensitised to concerns around tacit consent which could be ‘presumed’ or ‘misconstrued’ as ‘real’ consent.

Beyond the classroom it is also necessary to challenge the patriarchal power dynamics and promote equity, inclusion, diversity, and belongingness. A culture of empathy, focusing on the marginalised and the survivors of violence will result in creating meaningful dialogues and enabling environment.

It is also necessary to understand the intersectionality that exists within the concept of consent. Multiple identities related to class, age, gender and disability need to be understood to make sense of consent. The ability to forge equal relationships based on dialogue and sharing is essential for tapping the potential of the youth. This potential of the youth, which is hindered by the denial of the significant of consent or by the absolute notion of the hegemonic perpetrator, needs us to explore the distinction between the victim/ survivor and the perpetrator.

A young person who is exercising her/ his/ their agency in being coercive or imposing on a non-consenting person in terms of intimate partner relationships or other forms of interactions needs equal guidance. A willingness to confront and engage in difficult conversations about hegemony, privilege and oppression is necessary. Sensitisation and awareness for such individuals is essential so that they can reform and understand the injustice/ discrimination they are perpetuating.

Preventing bullying, harassment, abuse, providing support services and creating empathetic and non-hierarchical spaces for victims and survivors goes a long way in creating an enabling space where No means No and Yes means Yes.

The idea of consent is not an abstract concept, it is about creating an enabling environment where individuals are able to exercise their rights and respect the rights of others. This requires the concept of consent be seen as a guiding thread for the youth to realise their full potential – be it emotional, political, social or economic.

In a refreshing acknowledgement of consent, the movie Laapataa Ladies critically reflects on this idea. The foundational values for healthy relationship built on mutual respect, understanding and solidarity are beautifully depicted by the two inherently different characters in the film – Jaya and Phool. The protagonist Jaya finally takes a path to complete her education in organic farming. Phool returns to her husband but is in total control of her own destiny. The navigating of informed and empowered consent has given both the protagonists the potential to be in charge of their lives. The female protagonists get lost on a journey to their marital homes as newly married brides with their respective husbands to finally find themselves through a process of self-discovery and reflection. Their identical marital attire with a long veil symbolised the negation of agency of young women when it comes to their consent in choice of their partners. Their journey is replete with supporters, detractors and perpetrators who all play their parts. The point of the matter is to reform detractors and perpetrators while enhancing supportive networks and celebrating equal and empathetic communities. The emotional resilience of our youth is the cornerstone of not just enhancing their own potential but the country’s potential in every sense.

Bijayalaxmi Nanda is Principal, and Professor in the Department of Political Science, Miranda House, University of Delhi and Dr. Nupur Ray is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Kamla Nehru College, University of Delhi

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