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Why The Social Media Attack On Kangana Ranaut Shows Our Dislike Of Independent Women

By Rahul Ranjan:

hrithik_kangana_sumanOver the past few weeks, the television screen and virtual spaces have been flooded by a wave of unmindful character assassination. Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut’s flawless performances and stepping out of the usual image of women in the industry had set a new bar. The actress’ alleged relationship with Hrithik Roshan, however, has recently led to ravaging accusations against her character. Hysterical responses emanating from all corners about her life and Kangana as a person and as an actress betray a legacy of witch-hunting of independent women.

A set of emails, photos establishing her ‘lumpen’ and allegedly illicit relationship with Hrithik were made public. I am not a media critic, nor do I really take Bollywood very seriously, but this episode actually gave me the jitters. The emails led to an unholy war perpetrated by the media, not only through its singular medium of telecasting through news hour bulletins but media in general, the media that is constituted by us, the public, whose posts/comments and information on Facebook forms the general opinion.

The debate over whether Kangana and Hrithik were in a relationship eventually morphed into a character assassination episode for Kangana. The initial emails, and photos, which were shared on virtual spaces like Facebook by various pages instead of in a court, didn’t merely bolster the perception but established Hrithik as innocent. In fact, if one looks into the comments section of any such source that spoke of them, one could clearly see the use of foul language for Kangana.

On 22nd April 2016, a set of emails sent by Kangana to Hrithik which had information highlighting how Kangana felt for Hrithik was made public. This led to a series of further clarifications. Hrithik Roshan’s ex-wife came out publicly in support by tweeting a photo of Hrithik with herself to clear the confusion about another photo which had been circulating and ostensibly contained a blurred image of Kangana instead of Sussanne.

The legal notice against Kangana cites that she “suffers from Asperger’s syndrome”. This seems like an excuse for taking the matter to the media or maybe an attempt to avoid accepting his own mistakes. Firstly, to shed some light on Asperger’s as a category of conditions known to the medical world, one must know that it doesn’t declare someone as a ‘lunatic’ if that is at all a category. By the very definition of Asperger‘s, “Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and unusual use of language are common. Symptoms usually begin before two years old and can last for a person’s entire life”. For a while, if I were to go by the definition of Asperger’s, Kangana, who has won three National awards, and several Filmfares, might have at least shown some signs of ‘unacceptable social behaviour’ among people she had worked with. Moreover, Kangana is a woman who has never failed to surprise her audience on screen with her acting skills and commitment towards the characters that she played.

She made her entry into Bollywood by going against the commonly accepted image of women in our films, by playing roles of women who live by their own rules, be it playing the role of a Schizophrenic woman or being spotted getting drunk at a bar. Her commitment towards ‘living through the character’ she is assigned has always been amazing. This is not to suggest that she should be cleared of any charges against her without due process because she has set high standards in acting. The attempt is to flag post a few things that people might overlook while declaring her ‘freaky’ and ‘lunatic’ all over the virtual space. The abusive undertone with which Kangana is been discussed stands as testament to the misogyny which gets collectively consumed through media portals.

The case has had a slow run until now since we do not have many feminist groups, barring a few individual exceptions, that are pushing for the matter to be discussed in a court of law instead of the trial that’s been going on everywhere else. The way in which Kangana is being demonised by people including her ex-boyfriend raises a disturbing question which should concern us all.

The constant vilification of Kangana may be based on some ‘objective’ sources, but it must unfold in a court of law instead of virtual spaces. The whole episode re-enacts a long tradition of hate campaigns that suddenly come up when a woman is accused (not proven guilty). Such attempts to ostracise independent woman should certainly be not seen in isolation.

The practice of drawing up a genealogy of a person’s life, picking up events of ‘abnormal’ acts, and establishing a relation between both is bizarre. Adhyayan Suman’s sudden revelation of his memories gives a clear indication of why we really need judicial restraint on issues that deal with gender. Surprisingly, his act of owning up to have had a turbulent relation with a person who as he says believed in ‘black magic‘ and what not, is strangely so timely that it convinces me even more to believe that there might be a conspiracy against her.

Even if I am to believe that she might have been unfair in her relationship with Hrithik, this is certainly not the way her private life should be ‘consumed’ by the media. The attack on women’s integrity by the virtual-space-justice-seeking-revolutionaries must be encountered with an appropriate degree of punishment. Hysterical accounts of apologists and the cult of Bollywood sexism must be given their due response, if not by law, then, at least, by individual responses and engagements. We must realise that such unfortunate abuse could also happen to any of us.

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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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