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‘Airlift’ Made Me Proud Of Being Indian, But Also Left Me Feeling ‘Appalled’ And ‘Useless’

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By Yukti Agarwal:

Nimrat Kaur and Akshay Kumar in ‘Airlift’. Source: YouTube

“Yeh sub news main mein dekhta tha, par aisa kabhi nahi laga ki ek din hum bhi news material bun jaate (I used to see all this in the news, but I never thought that one day we would ourselves become news),” said Poonawala (played by Kaizaad Kotwal) in the recently released movie Airlift, starring Akshay Kumar, as Ranjit Katyal, the protagonist, and Nimrat Kaur, as Amrita Katyal.

I will not waste any time in describing the movie because the true description of this marvelous piece of art can be done justice only when witnessed by one oneself. To me, this is a movie that is a portrayal of a plethora of character traits like pride, dignity, respect, courage, intrepidity, love and sympathy for those around you, trust and a burning want to live another day, to survive and be rescued, saved, airlifted.

This movie has truly succeeded in creating a conflict in my mind. On one hand,  I am proud of being an Indian. Because we Indians executed the world’s largest evacuation. Because we saved 1,70,000 people of our country. Because we cared so much for our people. And mostly, because we Indians stood by each other when we really, desperately needed that moral support and help. On the other hand, I am appalled by the moral slackness showed by people, where one human doesn’t stand for a fellow human, where one human will readily shoot another with a gun, rape another with their hands and bodies, run over the other with tanks, steal another’s food, where one human will forget their humanity and only see the futile aspects of life which, sadly, do include even nationality.

A common government ‘babu’, Sanjeev Kohli without having known any of those people, fought with the Indian government, persuaded pilots, woke up in the middle of the night, and worked relentlessly, just to save those people, even when all the credit would be taken by a useless, good-for-nothing politician. In this movie, a businessman, a man who could have escaped from the terrors of that war, the Iraqi soldiers and the cheap, contemptible, immoral politics, and the entire conflict itself, stayed behind and stood alongside humanity. And I am not saying he took the side of Indians. No, I am saying humanity. Not just because he helped save a Kuwaiti, but because he didn’t see her as Kuwaiti even when the people around him did. He saw or rather perceived her to be, more than that, to be a mother, a woman, a person who was suffering just like he was, and most importantly, a human. He saw beyond the confines of seeing people by their nationality. He saw beyond and above futile labels and names given to people on the basis of their place of birth, skin colour or mother tongue. And he could have sent her away, he could have easily given her into the hands of the Iraqi soldiers at the checkpoint when her identity was revealed, where she would have been raped and stripped off her dignity, her pride, and her humanity. But he did not; he courageously fought for her life, indirectly fighting for humanity.

There are some movies that actually make me want to respect and honour the story and the way it is portrayed, and this was definitely one of those.

It had me in tears, because the country whose government I believed to be redundant and slack, today in my eyes did more than any other government.

Although this movie does revolve around Indians, it also gives a wide vision of the utter plight and predicament that any country would go through during war. This was the story of Kuwait, what happened when the vile, inhumane, president of Iraq, the ‘Great’ Saddam Hussein, launched a surprise attack on Kuwait, killing civilians and damaging property, and life. It may be local in its setting, but it is global in its reach. Kuwaiti’s are not Palestinians, but they know how it feels when one’s land is stolen from them. So do Syrians, Yemenis, and Afghanis.

I write this to honour each person who was affected physically, mentally or emotionally during this invasion. Rather, this story is for humanity, so I write this in honour of all those affected by the game of monopoly in political, geographic, or economic interests, and all those affected by war.

My heart goes out to the girls who are groped by soldiers like Poonawala’s daughter was when the Iraqi soldiers came to loot the Indian camp, or when the soldier said, “let my boys have some fun” when the Kuwaiti woman was taken away from the protagonist Ranjit Katyal. My heart goes out to those children who have to listen to the noise of bombs exploding, or guns shots echoing instead of lullabies, and play with bullets instead of toys. My heart goes out to each man who has to act like the man of the family and always keep a strong façade for his family, to prevent them from loosing hope. My heart goes out to those who grieve for their lost ones, and mostly my heart goes out for humanity because this is what we have been reduced to.

This movie is a must see because it makes you feel like a proud Indian, albeit a useless human being and also utterly fortunate for not having to experience the events depicted first hand.

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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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