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When Reel Life Becomes Real: Of Wannabe Vampires And Child Brides That Kick Ass!

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By Vaagisha Das

Actually studying to earn a law degree seems like such a drag. Wouldn’t life be easier if one could just skip to the glamourous, high paying job part of the entire rigmarole? If you think that this would be entirely impossible outside the plot of Suits, you’re mistaken- one man did exactly that. He decided to cut out the middleman altogether, learning legal jargon from Boston Legal and his own encounters with the law to such an extent that he was able to pose as a successful lawyer for almost five years before getting caught. Whoever said watching TV wasn’t productive?

pop culture hero worship collage
Popular culture can impact our lives in wonderful, enriching ways- so it’s a pity that most often, it does not. For every Shawshank Redemption, there’s always a Twilight. However, the fact remains that what we see and read regularly on various forms of media plays a huge role in shaping who we are as human beings, from incorporating words like ‘selfie’ into our language to absolutely needing the new Game of Thrones T-shirt. The most elevated entertainment media can influence our views on just about everything. It can, apparently, even set murderers free- experts believe that the ‘CSI Effect‘ causes jurors to wrongfully acquit murderers in light of  ‘not enough’ scientific evidence. In short, if we cannot construct a 3D hologram of the accused’s face, made from a single skin cell found under the bed, then he is not guilty.

The case of art imitating life and then life imitating the very same art goes one step further when ardent fans seek to imitate their on screen idols. Taking their cue from the Hrithik Roshan- starrer Dhoom 2, a gang of six tried to pull off a gold heist in just 5 minutes, using the cunning tactics of the hero. They took care to adhere to every single precaution; even disposing off their mobile phones in the gutter after the job was done. But since movie tactics are best left onscreen, they did it in 15 minutes instead- AND they got caught. This is just one of the many cases of hero worship gone wrong- and we’re not even talking about the 13 year old boy who tried to become Edward Cullen. The sparkly vampire wannabe allegedly “bit” 11 of his classmates in a bid to taste their blood.

Many of us, especially children might be too star struck to know the difference between reel life and real life. Hence, to them, following in the swashbuckling hero’s footsteps to get similar rewards seems like a natural consequence, as assumed by a 16 year old boy who killed his classmate in lieu of unrequited love, a la ‘Raanjhanaa’. He pledged that ‘if he couldn’t get the girl, no one else would’, proving that stunts such as these never work outside the make-believe world of cinema.

These fans overlook the obvious – that these movies are well crafted illusions in order to show the audience a good time, and just because someone with an unlimited budget pulled off an impossible heist and escaped on roller blades, doesn’t mean that it can be duplicated in real life. In the words of the TV warnings, do not try this at home.

Yet there are two sides to every story- what about when hero worship yields positive results? I remember hours spent pretending to be Rogue or Jean Grey, thinking that if these superheroes could save the world, I could make a difference too! Disney princesses like Jasmine and Tiana make people of colour realise that they are not ‘other’ or ‘different’, and give them someone relatable to look up to. Representation is important- if a person can see it, then they can be it. This can further bring about social changes by empowering people like Lakshmi, a child bride from Jodhpur, who was inspired to annul her marriage by watching Balika Vadhu. In Nepal, a National television programme called ‘Sajha Sawal‘ gives adolescent girls the opportunity to ask tough questions of public officials alongside men and older women in their community, creating visible role models engaged in political discussion.

Since actors exert such an influence over the masses, an example being Amitabh Bachchan urging people to get polio shots, it may be said that they have a social responsibility towards their adoring public. But is in no way mandatory for them to do so- they are artists, and they’re only doing their jobs. The ultimate responsibility lies with the audience to know that it is all part of the act. Maybe actors could tone down the theatrics, but till then, flying should be left to Superman.

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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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