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Making Click-Bait Work: How We Obsess Over Things That Are ‘Shocking’

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By Abhilasha Singh:

The function of art in a post-modernist world, my HoD who taught me European Literature and Art always said, is to provide shock value. To see how much you can shock a person before they turn immune to the object causing the shock, since no one thing can induce a prolonged state of shock or shock more than once. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a moral judgment one cannot entirely make, but one can’t help but notice the trends emerging in the present day many-steps-away-from-the-post-modernist-movement Indian society, that aim to do no more than shock. Move over Andy Warhol and his urinal, because the latest way apart from outrageous comments on rape and ‘Indian Sanskriti’ by politicians, to shock an ever ready to be shocked (to the extent of almost anticipating it) Indian public, is cruelty towards animals.

Many people came down hard, and rightfully so, on the boys who took a video of themselves kicking a dog off of the building in Chennai. But they probably did not think twice before sharing the video with someone else in the name of spreading information. While that may be the primary intent, it would be foolish to deny that it also had something to do with every individual’s craving to appropriate such incidents to satisfy their own need of a regular dose of shock and its foster child, outrage.

As observed over multiple events these last few months, the drill goes something like this: first, find an incident that will never cease to be shocking because of the various forms its core theme can take, or if lucky find an entirely new genre of incidents with potential shock value. Once identified, find yourself stunned for a brief moment (it can last a few days based on the nature of discussion individual Facebook feeds are indulging in) before recovering and beginning to discuss with feigned horror, the nitty-gritty of the incident because the actual horror associated with the graveness of the situation has gotten over. Once the incident has been discussed to an individual’s fill based on their taste, they will either move on to being satisfied and go about their daily lives until another horrific incident comes along and momentarily leaves them shell-shocked. Or one can move on to discussing something frivolous now that they have completed their quota of ‘intelligent discussion’ for the day.

I have seen the same thing happen to reports of rape as well. Once the initial cloud of empathy-induced sadness has worn off, nothing is left but to dissect the incident by discussing particulars of what the victim was wearing, where she was standing when it happened, and all those specifics that any socially sensitive individual recognises as the root of rape culture because, often, these discussions in their tone imply moral judgment, while splashing about in a pool of gory shock value provided by the details of the incident.

Will they deny that the incident was horrific? Of course not. But there is something specific about horrific incidents that for at least a moment unites Indians from every walk of life in this collective need to address this horror publicly so as to see this horror mount up to the level at which this discussion shocks them (at least partially as much as it did the first time). Maybe this is done to be able to re-live the experience of what it meant to have adrenaline course through their veins, and rejoice this time in the additional thrill of having the ‘right’ opinions.

Because we as a society thrive off shock and controversy, we readily click on ‘clickbait’ headlines that read along the lines of ‘SHOCKING! ABC seen exiting XYZ’s apartment at 3 AM!’ or ‘LOOK! XYZ had a wardrobe malfunction!’ and then swear at the news agency for covering ‘pointless’ stories in the face of other pressing national concerns. I would suggest that the shame of having fallen for the need to be shocked forces the individual to want to redeem themselves by transferring the onus of stupidity on to the news agency with its clickbaity article. Nevertheless, we all know why clickbait headlines work, and as much as we might hate to admit it, this tendency proves that they are here to stay no matter the nature of pretense the reader puts up.

It is also this very need to be constantly shocked, and more often than not having this need catered to by the various people making strategic decisions, that a death toll that reads ‘1’ doesn’t warrant the same kind of empathy that a death toll reading ‘600’ does. Maybe next time, a death toll of ‘600’ will do the same thing that a death toll of ‘1’ did this time. It is this very fact that underlies every complaint or observation of the fact that we are losing our ability to be empathetic, but it will always go unnoticed because everybody does it, but will vehemently deny it.

Featured image source: Ed Ivanushkin/Flickr (modified).

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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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