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I Think Rape Culture Is The Problem, Not Salman Khan

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By Prachee Bhardwaj:

Do you know how may Salman Khans we can possibly find in a single glance around us? It infuriates me to the hilt when the heart of the matter becomes ‘how Snapdeal was almost boycotted when Mr. Aamir Khan made an obnoxious comment, apparently’ and ‘now, would you ban Salman Khan films?’ and not to forget the ‘bhaai bhakts, what do you want to say now?’

The core of the problem shifts paradigmatically to chauvinism again. Social media is talking about ‘Salman Khan made an obnoxious statement’. The actor is being blamed while only a handful understand the crux of the matter which is: how prevalent rape culture is in our society.

It’s easy to fight against a problem, a human mistake. But a culture that has seeped down to our bones and made our hollow minds so captive to the heroic manhood around us, I suppose, now needs a civilisation to end and be reborn.

The language we talk in is male-centric. What kind of a process do we enter by calling ourselves ‘awakened’ and ‘activists’ while the language we use, the ideas we hold are so unconsciously blotted with silhouettes of egoistic heroism that only romanticises the wrong idea of manhood? A woman can be compared to vices, marriages are made fun of, ‘colour’ and ‘shape’ are open to judgement, women are ‘rated’, sold and bruised mentally, physically and emotionally and this culture is not even a problem.

A man who has made a prolific mark in Indian cinema and has almost claimed power over the Indian judiciary makes a statement which is obnoxious and walks off. The problem doesn’t end here. A single statement that has outraged each one of us is not going to make much difference to someone like him. Audiences will continue to watch his films, he will remain the bhai that he is. Banning his films or not following or admiring him for his work is not the solution one is looking for out of this controversy. I wonder what kind of difference that is going to make.

The right question, I guess, would be: is it possible that he repents for what he said? Would he realise how his ideas about women are shaped by the false grandeur about manhood in his life?

But are we still talking about the right problem? It’s not about Salman Khan. It could be any man in the corner of your street or even in your own house for that matter because rape culture has innumerable victims. It’s about how, in spite of the fact that women have entirely changed the scenario from being the sacrificing figures to souls full of voice and justice, it is so easy for a man to make have an image of women this low in his mind, publicly talk of it and live as conveniently as he wishes to.

Another side of the story that I happened to read was about how Salman Khan compared his ‘tough’ schedule to the suffering of a raped woman: ‘It’s not simply tough for a rape victim, the experience is traumatic and deadly’. And how I beg to differ on that! Why is a raped woman a ‘victim’ in the first place?

I remember activist Kamla Bhasin asking in ‘Satyamev Jayate’ that if a woman is bitten by a dog, who would be the culprit. It’s the dog. Undoubtedly, it’s physically painful and outraging. But under the given understanding of the idea of rape, it is mentally and emotionally difficult for a woman to come out of it. I feel it’s high time that we stopped ‘sympathising’ with a raped human, making him/her feel like a ‘victim’, building a discourse that holds rapes as the end of someone’s dignity or sexual and emotional life. Isn’t empathising a better way to let a person cope with rape? Sympathising with a raped woman somehow presents her as weak, someone to be felt sorry for. But in reality, weak is the man who raped her, not the woman. Feel sorry for a man who is a coward and not for the rape survivor.

The problem here is not a celebrity but the inbuilt mindsets we have inherited and carried forward without introspection and questioning. Rape culture is prominent around us where without thinking and realising one can normalise every aspect of rape.

Nobody exactly knows what kind of a day it would be when we would stop talking in the language of films, stop considering celebrities as gods and know the art of raising the right questions, the right way. Had this been understood for its root issue it would have not been called the ‘Salman Khan controversy’, simply because it is not.

Featured images credit: K.Asif/India Today Group/Getty Images and Milind Shelte/India Today Group/Getty Images.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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