The patriarchy hurts both men and women. Certainly not equally, but substantially. While much is spoken about the healing and empowerment of women, not nearly enough is being done to prepare men for the ongoing social change. The result? Further disconnection and resentment between the sexes. The solution is for men to rise to the challenge and do their own healing and emotional work because the women, most certainly, have their hands full.
This is the kind of thought process that birthed Biraadari, a community of men that meets over Zoom video calls every week to hold space for sharing, connection and healing. The founder-facilitators are Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu-based Shiven Prem, 33, a language and music teacher, and Bengaluru-based Kalpesh More, 38, a consultant adviser with organisations on gender issues, especially those concerning men and masculinity.
Prem has a background as a guidance counsellor at Swaraj University in Udaipur, Rajasthan, where he worked with 16- to 25-year-old students for three years. He and More also did a course in listening with mindfulness and embodied presence at the Just Being Center in Pune, Maharashtra. Biraadari launched in August 2020 on the heels of Zanaan, a similar community for women started by Shubham Srivastav and “Gulnaar” Sheetal Bhan. In the course of their meetings, Bhan realised their work would be incomplete without corresponding inner work by men and asked Prem (her life partner) and More (a friend) if they could start a similar group for men. They did.
The circle meets every Sunday from 10am to noon. The first 20 minutes are spent on grounding through a guided meditation; the rules of the space are announced thereafter. The floor is then open for people to share. Members of the circle are encouraged to listen deeply and focus on their emotions, while holding anything that comes up without judgement. Any responses may be shared in the chat box. Each session concludes with someone reading a poem, singing or sharing a piece of art.
Samir Mishra, 40, works in the IT sector in Mumbai and has been part of Biraadari for close to a year. “I have never been able to talk about my feelings to anyone in my life, except maybe psychiatrists. In Biraadari meetings, I feel accepted with open arms. I get to express myself, even use profanity as I do. I also get to stay on the call and simply listen if I don’t feel like talking that day,” he says of his experience.
Nevertheless, attendance, which was higher in the thick of the pandemic, has tapered to a smaller gathering. Lately, the meetings have had just six-eight regular members, says More. Attendees are usually in the 21-45 age group. “Generally, when men get together, they either go for drinks or engage in a physical activity, or they do something…destructive. In our initial sessions, there were men who showed up with a drink in hand because when we said it was a safe space for men to come together, that’s what they thought it meant,” says More. Eventually, the facilitators put together an agreement that is sent out to people as soon as they sign up. The agreement allows members to bring a glass of water, nothing alcoholic.
Authentic presence is a challenge for most people but men especially struggle with it, says Prem. “Most men do not have the habit of tuning into themselves. They constantly operate from a head space—which means they either live in the past or in the future. The people they talk to in their daily lives also tend to come from a space of opinions or solutions. For them to shift from a thinking space to a feeling space is hard—which is where our grounding practice helps,” he explains.
In their own lives, More and Prem have felt the absence of positive male presence. “In our time, it was okay for our fathers to be absent. We ran to our mothers for everything. We haven’t had men in our lives who said ‘it’s okay to feel what you feel’ or ‘it’s okay to not know what to do’,” says Prem.
This pattern continues into adulthood and men turn to the women in their lives to hold their emotional burdens. More recalls a time when this came up in a session, when a man in his 50s asked if women could be included in the sessions as he felt more emotionally supported in their presence. “I understand where he was coming from, I myself feel deeply comforted in the presence of my partner and my female friends. But I think it’s important for men to also do their own emotional work,” adds Prem.
Emotional suppression, isolation and loneliness, challenges in relational spaces and performance-related pressures are among the things members commonly talk about in sessions, says More.
Over time, some members have found that they need more than just to be heard, says Prem. While Biraadari may be a therapeutic space, it is not therapy: The facilitators are trained to listen and hold what is shared but they cannot provide psychological help. “We have a couple of therapists that we refer our participants to if and when they express the need,” he adds.
Participants are encouraged to pay between Rs.200-700 for each session, to help the organisers cover the costs of running the circle. However, it’s not compulsory; anyone who signs up receives the link to the Zoom meeting.
To sign up for the session, fill out the form at: https://tinyurl.com/ht5wercw
Indumathy Sukanya is a Bengaluru-based writer and artist.