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Our ‘UnManifesto’ Demands Freedom Of ‘Creativity’ From The Shackles Of “Control”

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By Lata Jha:

Reason begets reason. And as a nation, it’s high time we realized so. The most terribly misbehaved kids in stores who scream for attention, wail for nothing, and make their presence felt for all the wrong reasons are usually accompanied by harried mothers who couldn’t be more inept at dealing rationally with their tantrums. For way too long, we’ve suffered those brats.

For the 2014 elections, our ‘unmanifesto’ should certainly entail indifference and inaction towards random groups who find themselves a convenient time and delightfully take offence for everything from the colour of a leading man’s socks to the crack in the edifice he’s dancing in front of. It should also seek to redress unnecessary delays and imprecision in taking decisions for the benefit of and in respect of the work of those artists concerned.

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If as citizens, we are often uninformed and impulsive, as governments, we’re indecisive and blithering. We cannot handle chaos. And I say ‘we’ because people like you and me are as much a part of this vibrant democracy as our revered elected representatives. So I believe we are all truly equal. And we bear equal responsibility for handling crises and accordingly, our artists deserve equal respect when due.

I do not say defamatory or derogatory content should be encouraged in the name of art. The ‘unmanifesto’ should also include the inability to say a firm no to truly offensive content. No gibberish should masquerade in the name of freedom of speech and expression. And yet, I ask for better understanding of sentiments. Of both our communities and our artists, who also form a community of their own.

It baffles me that people like Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have had to face the irrational wrath of certain groups for so many years now. And not once did anyone in a position of authority initiate discussion that both parties deemed fair. Nair’s Kama Sutra (1996) was banned for its explicit sexual content and she had to move the Supreme Court to show the film to people in her own country. Mehta shot the monumental Water(2005), a heart rending take on widows in Varanasi, in Sri Lanka, after there were issues with location permits. About 2000 right wing protestors stormed the sets on the ghats and destroyed the remnants of the shoot. Mehta managed to complete the film after nearly seven years of turmoil. Where was the government then, which later went to town lauding the film when it made it to the Oscars(not as an entry from India, mind you)?

Mehta of course is no stranger to controversy and backlash. Screenings of her movie, Fire (1996) were disrupted after the film had been running to packed houses for three weeks. I’m not eulogising filmmakers to the extent of saying they can never go wrong. What I do not understand is why there ever isn’t a concerted effort to promote dialogue. No matter how sensitive the issue is, there is nothing that talks can’t resolve. Or do we have such little faith in our own abilities to reason, judge, act and interpret that we prefer to let the swords do the talking?

Manifestos should also be about patience and resolve. Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania (2005) and Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa (2006), films of two completely different genres and calibres were both banned in Gujarat. And yet, not one step was taken to sit people down and evolve consensus on where the line should be drawn between cinematic justice and humanitarianism. Recent examples would show even more intolerance. Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan (2011) found itself embroiled in political controversy for no reason. Sensitive and thought provoking, the film had very little intent to target any minority group or those concerned with them. A sole screening by authorities could have put things right.

Kamal Hassan’s latest outing, but of course takes the cake. The film that’s supposed to have offended Islamic sensibilities and ‘caused social disharmony in the state’ has the protagonist playing a Muslim, who pretty much saves the world. Why such passivity in sorting things and making sure the film released on time? Surely, the guy who’s given four decades of his life to the country’s entertainment industry deserves as much. Surely, anyone who puts together a piece of work for public exhibition and gets embroiled in controversy, unfair or otherwise, deserves that kind of attention and action.

I understand if people from the academia question Deepa Mehta’s interpretation of homosexuality in Fire, because they probably have a reason to. But those protesting against Vishwaroopam’s release had no idea what they were talking about. Isn’t the ministry that’s supposed to ‘formulate rules and regulations regarding information, broadcasting, press and films’ also supposed to balance public sentiment with artistic freedom?

It’s not about who’s right or wrong, but whether both have equal right to tell their side of the story. I’m not saying people’s grievances should be shot down. We live in a democracy, and we shall always have the right to speak our mind. The need is to facilitate dialogue, not impose sanctions. Give the artist/writer/filmmaker a chance to explain himself. Give the ones who feel they’ve been wronged, the opportunity to view his work. Stop looking for solutions all the time, try finding answers to questions. If a group feels offended, banning the film or stalling its release will not put things right. Mediating discourse will. If there’s something genuinely wrong with the content, it’ll help prevent the production of similar content henceforth. And if not, it might just help the concerned group gain a different understanding of right and wrong.

We need to start trusting our reasoning instincts. Our ‘unmanifestos’ should focus on our tendency to not try and bring things under control. Art is just one aspect of life. The mother needs to put her foot down before the brat goes beyond the store to create havoc in the world.

This article is a part of the 5th space series on Youth Ki Awaaz. 5th Space is an initiative to facilitate young people to expand beyond the typical 4 spaces of career-edu, family, friends and leisure by exploring the 5th space, a journey from self to society and back

Photo Credit: derrickcollins via Compfight cc

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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