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‘Masaan’ Actor Richa Chadha On Playing The ‘Strong Woman’, Fighting Patriarchy, And More

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By Rohini Banerjee for Youth Ki Awaaz:

You might know her as the spunky, motor-mouth Nagma in ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’, or the conflicted, subdued Devi in Masaan — Richa Chadha has quickly emerged as a force to be reckoned with, both on and off screen. Her interesting film choices set her apart from the herd, but more than that, it’s her vocal stance on various social issues – such as body-shaming, and recently, human trafficking – that make her a truly honest, dedicated and unique individual. We got the chance to have a quick chat with her, and here’s what she had to say about films, social change and fighting the patriarchy!

Rohini Banerjee (RB): You have always been outspoken about issues that matter, and you recently spoke at length about bulimia and body-shaming. What prompted you to talk about this, and what was the response to it like?

Richa Chadha (RC): We’re in good times, where people aren’t afraid of speaking up. Nowadays, people actually talk about the issues that affect them, and what they think will make a difference in other people’s lives. I spoke up because I thought that if somebody else can learn from my experiences, it’ll be good. The response to it was overwhelming, and people were encouraged to talk about their issues and experiences as well. Lots of women came up and spoke to me about how their daughters go through eating disorders, and the struggles they face—which was amazing.

RB: Even in your films, you’ve played women who are complex and strong-willed. What motivates you to do so? And how has the response to this work been?

RC: First of all, I don’t always play strong women and I think the press likes to typecast me in those roles—my last two roles (in ‘Sarabjit’ and ‘Main Aur Charles’) have been quite timid actually! (laughs)

However, why shouldn’t I play strong women? When those roles come my way, obviously I will pick them up, because they’re great parts, and I think I’m fortunate enough to get them, so I do them! Generally, I have a lot of respect from the film fraternity for the roles I play, and while that makes me happy, I also value it a lot.

RB: What do you think are the problems with how our mainstream Bollywood cinema portrays women?

RC: We’re living in a patriarchal society, so the portrayal of women in cinema is obviously going to reflect that. There will be objectification, and women will face hardships. Having said that, I still think Bollywood is doing pretty well in recent times, because it’s talking about issues that are not spoken about in other industries. Women in Bollywood are also doing pretty well and they’re even telling stories and becoming producers, so I have hope for the future.

RB: Do you identify as a feminist? Why do you think many refuse to identify as feminist?

RC: Do I call myself a feminist? Yes, definitely. I think people refuse to call themselves feminists because they get confused with the terminology. I don’t think they mean to say that they’re not feminists, I just think they are not sure about what the term really means, and they go off track there.

RB: While many of your films deal with social issues, in real life too, you have just tied up with a Ketto campaign to help survivors of human trafficking. What motivated you to join this campaign?

RC: I’ve actually wanted to use my social media following to do something worthwhile for some time now, and when this campaign came my way, I was convinced that this would be an important cause to take up. So I became a part of this, and we’re taking this step by step, and are trying to reach out to as many people as we can. I just shot a three-minute video for it with the help of a studio and all around, we’re doing pretty well. It’s been about a little over a week since the campaign launched and it’s already gained momentum, which I’m very happy about. Hopefully, it’ll end up helping people.

RB: Do you think it’s important for actors to take up social causes?

RC: No, actually! If somebody wants to do it, they can, but it’s not important for them to take it up. I wouldn’t like to burden actors with this responsibility, because there are plenty of other people in the world who can do it, and are already doing it with great success. Because they’re in the limelight, there is always this added expectation from actors. I believe in using the attention you receive as an actor, to do something good for society, but having said that, there are (and there should be!) better role models in our country than just actors.

RB: What is your quick tip to fight the patriarchy and everyday sexism?

RC: I think the fight against patriarchy and sexism can only come with general awareness. The way society looks at boys and girls differently—that must change to not just end sexism, but any kind of discrimination. To beat that, we need to be aware of what we’re fighting against.

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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 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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