On 31 August, in an Instagram post, artist Indu Harikumar uses a cat to further the narrative around consent. In a four-panelled comic, she talks about how a girl starts feeding cats in the neighbourhood, only to realise that they "embodied agency and consent like bosses," as the comic puts it. "Cats model agency so well they know where they stand," goes the final panel of the comic. "They know they have a say in what happens to them."
Indu, whose comic is part of a collaboration with dating app Tinder's ongoing campaign on consent, points out that it is an essential part of her work. "I work with people's stories," says the Mumbai-based artist, who prefers to go by her first name. In 2016, she came up with the 100 Indian Tinder Tales project, a crowdsourced online art project that detailed the experience of Indians using the dating app. The new ongoing project is crowdsourced too, adds Indu, who created eight comics as part of this collaboration.
Tinder launched its campaign in August this year, to create a "safe dating ecosystem and dating culture," says Taru Kapoor, General Manager, Tinder & Match Group, India. "Popular culture has often blurred the lines of consent. It is not something that we understand well and talk about well. So internalising the nuances of consent was a conversation we felt was important," she says.
The campaign, which includes establishing a resource centre, tie-ups with creators and influencers, social media buzz and several videos, is partly an offshoot of the covid pandemic. According to Tinder's recent Future of Dating report, the pandemic has prompted people to be more introspective and brought out more discussions around personal boundaries. "The word 'boundaries' is being used more than ever (up by 28%), and the term 'consent' rose 21%," says the report, adding that Gen Z users are especially invested in such conversations.
Twenty-four-year-old Garima Kunzru, a Mumbai-based writer-director, is one of them. Kunzru, who has been using the dating app for 8-9 months, says she especially likes how nuanced Tinder's campaign is. Most conversations around consent present it as a black-and-white narrative, she points out. "They don't take into consideration the vast human emotions we have and our individual experiences," she says. Neha Vyas, an intimacy coach who has been working with Tinder for this campaign, mirrors her thoughts. "I feel, to define consent with just a verbal expression is limiting," says Vyas, pointing out that consent is a spectrum of sorts. "We forget that consent travels between a yes, maybe or no. It is important for people to understand what is a yes to maybe and what is a maybe to no," she says.
Indu's comics, for instance, manage to capture this nuance, covering several situations, including learning how to set boundaries, standing up for oneself, verbally checking in on a partner while having sex and exercising digital consent. "Yes is yes, and no is no is all good, but it doesn't really prepare us to initiate these difficult conversations," she says, admitting that consent in intimate relationships is something she is still herself navigating. However, she is getting better at it, Indu adds. "I am learning to question the patriarchy that is part of who I am under the veneer of feminism and stand up for my needs more and more," she says.