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And Yet Another Documentary On India’s Apparent Daughters Fails To Impress

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By Rahul Maganti:

On a pleasant Saturday evening, more than 500 people in Colaba, an elitist part of South Bombay, had gathered at the Holy Name School Grounds, a missionary school run by the Christian Missionaries – sisters and nuns – to protest against the sexual assault of a nun in West Bengal a few days ago. The event, which attained a formalized tone right from the start, showcased a documentary called ‘Daughters of Mother India’ by Vibha Bakshi, who is an alumnus of the same school. The film won her a National Award for the Best Film in the Social Issues category.

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After all the religious prayers were done with, the Cardinal of the Catholic Community presided over the event and shared his thoughts. He took the opportunity, though indirectly, to hold the government responsible for the recent spate of attacks on Churches and the Christian community. He alleged that these attacks were politically motivated and were definitely ‘not sporadic’.

The documentary starts off with the ‘Nirbhaya’ case and the rape of a 5-year-old girl, ‘Gudiya’ . With frequent bites from lawyers, police and sociologists, the film tries to swim its way towards the aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident through the protests that rocked Delhi and the subsequent formation of the Anti-Rape Law. However, no bites of the political activists who were involved in the on-ground mobilization of the people across Delhi were taken.

While I was watching the film, I felt that it was a more comprehensive version of ‘India’s Daughter’. Both the films start with the Nirbhaya Gang Rape case and are centered on an ‘urban middle class’ rape victim, with whom the elite can relate. But, both of them, fail to dissect the class, caste, and religious angle of gender inequality. They fail to talk about the violence faced by women during communal riots.

They remain silent on the poverty stricken lower caste women who bear the brunt of the class and caste hierarchy. Many would argue that this is beyond the scope of the film – an objection – with which I strongly disagree. When you are using a generalizing statement like ‘Daughters of Mother India’ as a title for your film, you are not only talking about the upper middle class, the elite, and the urbane, but also talking about Dalit women,  muslim women, and all the women who are Indian.

You are  referring to the Manipuri and Kashmiri women, who were allegedly raped by the Army personnel. The over-simplification of gender inequality will only lead to a misunderstanding of the whole situation. We need to see how class, caste, and religion connive with gender inequality to make it all the tougher for a woman who has no significant economic and social capital to deal with crimes  committed against them.

However, this film has discussed the problem of ‘rape culture’, while talking about the subject of rape. In this regard, the film has done well. The film showed Dipankar Gupta, a trained sociologist, and Justice Leila Seth, member of the JS Verma Committee, which drafted the Anti-Rape Law, to speak about misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy in the Indian society. Dipankar Gupta, went a step ahead and spoke about how minute things represent gender inequality. To discuss this, he used the example of ‘Kanyadaan’ to explain how commodification and objectification of women is represented in films.

The film ends with a hope. It provides a way forward, rather than just posing a problem. The film shifts its focus to exposing children to sex education, and shows the tremendous change in the attitude of the children who are exposed to sex education at an early age. The film director, narrating the film from the background, speaks to the police at the end, who themselves confess that there is a very important need for gender sensitization amongst the police force.

Flavia Agnes, a lawyer and gender rights activist, who has fought for justice for many rape and sexual assault cases shared many stories from her day-to-day experiences, which left us teary eyed. However, they were very thought provoking. Albeit, the disturbing evening turned into a thought provoking evening.

I have seen a few documentaries on rape, gender discrimination, and sexual assaults, including the much hyped BBC Documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’. I have always wished to see a documentary on rape and gender inequality that starts with the Kherlanji village killings, where the whole family of Bhaiyyalal was massacred, the genitals of his wife, sons, and daughters were mutilated, while Bhaiyyalal stood and watched the brutal killings. They were murdered because they were Dalits.

I understand that I have to wait longer for my wish to come true. In my opinion, most of the filmmakers, coming from a privileged class and caste background, fail to listen to the voices of the Dalits and the working class people.

Who will tell their story?

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  1. ABs

    It is funny that the Cardinal should blame the Modi Government for the Rape of the nun, since it was a group of Bangladeshi Muslims, and that the whole Christian lobby was up in arms and was quick to blame the RSS, and “Hindu Extremists”, when in fact there was no link found between the Rape of the Nun and the RSS. There was no link between the Rape of the Nun and the loot of 25 lakhs, and Indians either (that includes Indian Muslims, in case you were wondering). And the irony is even higher when it is the Cardinal, whose religion has been responsible for the forced conversion and demonization of Tribal Religions and Hinduism, (not to mention their angst against Atheists). Where is the apology from the Christians, as their whole accusation against Hindu Groups was nothing more than an insult. Who is doing the discrimination here? Why should the Modi Govt be held responsible for a Rape it had no part in? Particularly when the rape occurred in the State of West Bengal? It is laughable that people come around with a silly appeal to emotion and cry out “Minorities are being harassed”, when data shows otherwise?

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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