IDEX Alumni and Self-Proclaimed "Radical Vegan Feminist", Sagar Tandon, shares his passion for feminism and the importance of empathy in almost every situation.
IDEX: What’s the most important thing you learned in IDEX that you couldn’t have learned in a classroom?
Sagar: IDEX has really helped me to become more practical in life, see things from implementation and customer (or beneficiary) angle. I come from a research background and in my engineering days I have worked on theoretical research models. I have worked on implementing things but have never gotten my hands dirty. While working as an IDEX fellow, I understood, it's not just about brainstorming ideas in an air conditioned room, it's also about understanding the challenges, needs of your customers, empathizing with their situations and then ideating and doing prototypes.
What do you think is the one misconception about women in the workplace?
The biggest misconception about women in the workplace in India is women are like ornaments or objects- they don't have brains, they can just use their bodies, which I feel is the most sexually objectifying idea. This misconception is a very common things which is widely spread across workplaces in all nations and this objectification of women bodies happens everywhere.
Another problem I see in workplaces is most of the business models arise from the idea of masculinity, so whatever you do you can't make the system or a workplace inclusive. For example, I think the idea of the army is a highly masculine thing and that's why you see less acceptability of women in armies. Most of the businesses around the world are based on the principle of profits, which excludes empathy (which is a more feminine trait).
What are your thoughts on how employers can approach gender equality in the workplace?
It is astonishing but true- for the last few days, I am having conversations with our centre managers, trainers and HR. It's eye opening for a person like me who believes in true gender equality, coming from feminist background. I know violence against women exists or there are issues related to gender inequality at workplaces but it's astonishing to see what our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives face in everyday life. Why I am raising this point? Am I raising a new point? No not at all, I am raising a fundamental thing that women in all societies face, i.e. security- how being a woman means insecure life, life full of threat. That while hiring we need to mention that environment is inclusive for women, why we always need to consider that a woman can't sit alone at the centre, why we are still concerned that a woman can be attacked at the centre, why a woman IDEX fellow can't stay in Malavalli (a town outside of Bangalore), why we are still struggling with these basic problems. We all say that we've reached a state of equality, but I don't know how anyone can thrash the idea of feminism and it's appeal. Even, it is tough for me to explain this thing to my mom and dad, my dad supports the idea but he doesn't consider himself a feminist, he is skeptical of the term. How on earth can we talk about equality when one section of society is living under constant threat and insecurity.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievements to date?
Achievement is a very subjective term to me. I define my achievements in following ways:
1. Life achievement: identifying myself a feminist and vegan
2. Professional achievement: working with Gray Matters Capital
3. Personal achievement: leading "new initiatives and innovations" in Wings Learning Centres and initiating "Lets stop sexism" in my college days
4. Spiritual achievement: that's my ultimate aim- everyday is an achievement, everyday I learn something new about life which guides me to become a better person.
What question do you wish more people would ask you?
I wish more and more people would ask me why I am a male radical anti-porn vegan feminist. Also, I want people to ask me how humane education can help us solve world problems.
What's the one challenge or request you have for someone reading this post?
I will request whoever is reading the post, please put empathy at the centre before you design any solution to any problem or challenge or make any assumption. If you can understand your beneficiary- empathize with your beneficiary or customer, then half of the problem you have is already solved, the rest is simple.