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6 Times Tanmay Bhat Broke Stereotypes And Forced Us Out Of Our Comfort Zones

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By Rohini Banerjee:

The comedy scene in India has been going through somewhat of a transitional phase. While on the one hand, you have mainstream television comedy by the likes of Kapil Sharma – who continue to rely on sexist, transphobic and homophobic humour, the stand-up and sketch comedy scene has been evolving and expanding to include subversive voices, and dealing with important social issues through satire and other forms of humour. Comedy collectives like that of All India Bakchod is playing an important role in reinventing the landscape of the genre, by experimenting with various forms of satire and by taking on issues ranging from rape culture to Section 377 to net neutrality.

But it is co-founder Tanmay Bhat who has proven time and again that he’s a comic who doesn’t shy away from asking the hard-hitting questions and raising the important issues. Apart from his work with AIB, Bhat has used his prominent social media presence to constantly address subjects of social and political significance – from gender, violence, to freedom of speech. Though he has faced his fair share of controversy – being slapped a legal notice for a Snapchat video earlier this year, and being constantly trolled on social media for his views on political issues – Bhat continues to be a strong and influential voice of dissent, one that the youth is actually paying attention to. Here are a few instances where he raised his voice, and did so brilliantly:

When He Spoke Up For Net Neutrality

In early 2015, when the debate on net neutrality in India was at its peak and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was about to pass regulations which would essentially benefit big telecom companies and hurt smaller initiatives (giving certain online platforms an edge over the others), Tanmay Bhat (along with AIB) came out guns blazing, in full support of the cause for net neutrality. Through a series of YouTube videos, they spread awareness about what net neutrality actually means, and why the curbing of it would change the face of the Indian internet; and most importantly, they kickstarted a campaign along with savetheinternet.in (now the Internet Freedom Foundation) to send petitions to TRAI which would persuade them against passing these harmful regulations. Over 1 million Indian citizens joined in the campaign, as a result of which TRAI agreed to a public consultation on the issue.

When He Had Some Important Lessons To Impart About Feminism

In an extensive series of videos, Bhat explored a subject that many Indian men misunderstand or shy away from – feminism. He took apart all the stereotypes associated with the term, unpacked the criticism against it, and explained that feminism ultimately means equal rights for all genders, and shouldn’t be something that people are reluctant to identify as. While his breakdown of feminism was simplistic, not entirely intersectional (he still spoke about gender in binary terms), and often veered into the territory of mansplaining, it was still an important step forward because it made a lot of people take notice of these concepts and engage with them (something that is sorely needed in a country like ours).

Feminism 1/3

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Feminism 2/3

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Feminism 3/3

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

When He Used Snapchat To Talk About The Friend Zone And The Male Ego

The platform that Bhat has truly made his own and used to create impact is Snapchat. He takes on various hilarious personas using the filters the app provides, but the one that’s most powerful and significant is something he calls ‘The Humble Bee’. Taking on the voice and mannerisms of a honeybee (and using allegories around the same), Bhat addresses some important feminist issues. In a series of videos, he imparted some important messages about the male ego, how it’s understanding of consent is flawed and reeks of entitlement and how men get offended by the ‘friendzone’, which in itself is a problematic term because it assumes male ownership of female bodies. These videos are equal parts funny and important.

Humble Bee chronicles episode 2, part 1 – follow me on snapchat for more at thetanmay

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Humble Bee episode 2, part 2

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

…And Used It To Talk About Bullying And Harassment

Using various allegories, Bhat used his Snapchat bee persona to talk about bullies and haters (perhaps drawing from personal experiences of being harassed by online trolls). He talks about how these people spread negativity and violence because they themselves are insecure, which is why they deliberately target the ‘weaker ones’. “They hate you because they secretly love you,” he concludes, and then encourages the ‘bee’ facing all the bullying to not be deterred by such hate. It’s an important message not just in the context of online harassment, but real world bullying as well.

#BeeYourself (Follow my snapchat for more – ID: thetanmay)

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

#BeeYourself part 2 (Snapchat ID thetanmay)

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

And Used Snapchat Again To Talk About Workplace Sexism

Bhat’s Snapchat Bee has pretty much become his most important mouthpiece for bringing up issues. In another set of videos, Bhat uses allegories again to drop some important truth bombs about workplace sexism. He talks about the pay gap, about tone policing, about how women often have to denigrate themselves to be taken seriously in positions of authority in the workplace, about insecure male subordinates who cannot handle female success and so on and so forth. The message in the end is an overwhelmingly positive one. He encourages the bee in question (the one facing gender-based discrimination in the workplace) to shatter the glass ceiling and not pay attention to any and all of sexist criticism. The fact that these videos have been shared widely, and have reached a large audience is a huge leap forward because of how prevalent these issues are, and how much awareness we need about them.

Part 2/4 – watch all four parts!

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Part 3/4 – check out the first two parts!

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

Part 4/4 – check out the first three!

A video posted by Tanmay Bhat (@tanmaybhat) on

When He Made These Important Observations About The Indo-Pak Conflict

The recent Uri Attacks have left public opinion divided – some wanting retaliation through war, others wanting peace and condemning army violence. As debates about whether or not India and Pakistan should go to war continue, Bhat had some important observations to make about how innocuously we have internalised the vocabulary of anti-Pak violence. On a Twitter thread, he recounts an experience from his school debate, where the topic was that of an India-Pakistan conflict, and how, in it, his opponent (a mere school kid) had spouted arguments which casually suggested the inevitability of war. Considering the current political climate, it goes on to show how these sentiments of war and violence have been conditioned into us deeply, and how that can be extremely dangerous.

Bhat is slowly emerging as a voice that’s truly reinventing comedy in India and turning it into the kind of social and political commentary that is sorely required. While he isn’t entirely unproblematic, he’s still a strong and influential figure who is addressing the issues that need addressing, and actually reaching out to people and trying to change mindsets.

Listen to Tanmay Bhat talk about using comedy for social change at YKA’s flagship event, CONVERGE, on November 12.

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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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