Línea Calma (“The Calm Line”) is a helpline for men in Bogotá, Colombia. It was launched in December 2020 to provide assistance for men dealing with anger, jealousy, the desire to control, anxiousness and other emotions, some of which potentially lead to violence against women. The New York Times reported that the calls are “urgent and pleading” – a sign both of the necessity of such a helpline, and the willingness of many to better themselves and the lives of those around them. Línea Calma has recently been featured in a number of international publications, which invites this dream: what would such helplines be like, in other parts of the world?
As far as I know, nothing like it exists here in India yet. But there are helplines for men to report abuse, including physical or sexual violence from women and especially when domestic abuse charges have been raised against them (under Section 498A). In their approach, these helplines are the opposite of Línea Calma. They villainize women. There is nothing that suggests that they work toward dismantling toxic patriarchy. One of the largest, with a network of 40 NGOs, even brands itself as “saving” the Indian family system.
What would a helpline for men that actually understands that the root of all gender-based violence in this country is the patriarchal system as enforced primarily by the institution of family be like? To have such a premise would mean that even a man who has experienced abuse from his wife or wife’s family should be able to call this helpline and be understood and assisted. The onus will not be on the person seeking help – the one on the inside of a personal nightmare – to shoulder systemic weights, but the onus is on the staff to avoid a misogynistic framing.
Most feminists would agree with the above; but very few “men’s rights activists”, as they call themselves, would consider an inclusive view that takes into account how patriarchy is bad for everyone or how patriarchal agency is societally and culturally inbuilt into people of all genders in places like India. Just like how Línea Calma centres its approach on machismo, a culturally-sanctioned belief in male dominance, other helplines must find their own contextual centres.
But in a country as diverse and unequal as India, a single contextual centre may not apply. Beyond requiring multiplicity of languages, sensitivities to other factors including caste, class, religion, community-specific gender dynamics and education will also be essential. If the helpline can set the overall approach, the callers can themselves fine-tune it, working in tandem with counsellors as per their personal needs.
What a tall order this helpline is turning out to be. But the fact that there is so much to deliberate while even dreaming of it, let alone setting it up, indicates how very necessary something like it is. I invite you to envision these possibilities as well, and then to bring that envisioning one level more deeply into your own context. In the absence of the helpline, what do we offer ourselves and each other each day that brings us closer to the dream of a better world?
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on October 27th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.