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Dear Karni Sena, Creativity Raises A Point, Your Violence Doesn’t

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The year is 2017, India has celebrated 100 years of Bollywood but even after 100 years is the industry still as good as it should be? There are several important questions that need to be answered, the key among them being on balancing artistic freedom with sentiments of the diverse population that the country is home to. The year 2016 gave us the #IntolerantIndia movement, but have things changed a year later? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

The country is still run by (to quote Steve Rodgers) “People with agendas, and agendas change.” A year is definitely too little a time for any drastic changes, but it seems like even a small one has not happened.

This of course, comes just a day after one of India’s top directors Sanjay Leela Bhansali was assaulted on the set of his latest film “Padmavati”. I have mixed views when it comes to a Bhansali movie, his attention to detail is simply stunning but the films are often long, slow and very difficult to sit through. Nonetheless, he does have his fans, and we cannot take away all the great work he has done – four national film awards are a testimony to that.

So what then promoted the “fringe group” to attack him on the set? This question is not simple to answer, since India’s love for politics and religion is a core part of the answer, and the tangled mess that is a result of the larger political game, is very hard to untangle.

The first major task is to understand what the fringe group is, and what sort of connect they have to the locals. The protesters are “allegedly” from the Rajput Karni Sena and created a ruckus following the “alleged” love scene between Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji. They key word here is alleged, we know for a fact that there were protesters, but as for the love scene Bhansali has openly stated that there is no such thing, so why create the ruckus?

It is well know that even though Bollywood creates films based on original stories, they do tend to take liberties with the facts since that is what people want to see. If one wanted to know about the truth one could just refer to the NCERT textbook. The ability to distort facts within the scope of a well known reality is not an easy task, and takes a lot of creativity . There is also a statutory warning before the film, so people are made aware that they are watching a work of fiction, so who gave these “guardians of culture” the permission to stop a shoot?Poster of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, a movie that created controversy for the director.

Given the size of the country, it is understandable that someone or the other will feel ‘hurt’ or ‘offended’ with every work of art (book, film or painting) that makes its way into the public spotlight. Just because someone gets hurt does not mean they have to create an issue, there is an option of not watching the film that few exercise. Instead causing harm seems to be a more apt solution, ironically for a country that became famous for its non-violence movement.

The face of Mahatma Gandhi is printed on every note, hangs in every school, office and station yet people choose the path of violence in order to show their disapproval. I do not see the more intelligent people cry for  Salman Khan or Rajinikanth’s retirement because of the sheer nonsense that there movies are (admittedly Salman’s latest works do seem to be a step in the right direction), or the stupidity that comes free with every Sajid Khan film.

None of the intelligent community resort to violence or even despite the insult we have to bear when our dear beloved Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi say something so wonderful that we are forced to hang our heads in shame. Education is a key factor, the well educated know that common sense means liv
e and let live, maybe this should serve as a wakeup call in order to improve the standard of education.

Leaving aside the need for better education, one should also look at the state of politics as a prime reason. India’s politics has long been a game of power, nothing more and it is not likely to change any time soon. There is a reason we refer to the people in power as politicians and not as civil servants, appeasement politics is a seasonal event- the season being elections. Post elections very few actually live up to their promises, and even fewer actually do something about the larger issues that lead to such incidents.

This is not a first, several times in the past films sets have been vandalised and films stopped from releasing (Pakistan is the true source of all evil is what students are taught I believe) and yet there is no solid action from the netas (politicians/ministers) to protect these artists. Of course, standing up for the national anthem in a theatre while littering the streets is perfectly patriotic, while making a work of art is not so, I suppose.

A person can be jailed and shamed for chewing gum during the national anthem, but cannot be for disliking a country and not wanting a person from there to ply his trade in our borders. No one asked – why do we choose Pakistani actors from a creative aspect, maybe if these patriotic souls did they would understand why so, but. Cclearly the fact that they are Pakistani is so blinding (like a headlight at full beam on a national highway at night) that we forget to focus on the essentials – (the need for streetlights).

The time for the film fraternity (Bollywood, Kollywood, Mollywood, Tollywood and the rest) to stand together is nigh, not just to protect themselves from bodily and financial harm, but to most importantly protect the artistic freedom that is now in the recycle bin.

India doesn’t deserve films like PK, Aarakshan, Satyagraha, The Lunchbox, Udta Punjab (I can go on and on, but I guess you get the general idea) it needs them. Parallel cinema needs to come out of the shadows and go mainstream in a big way. Maybe our dear censor board needs to ban commercial movies that are ‘“sanskaari (traditional)”’ and clean and let the raw, rough true India come out.

As Tony Stark (the name of the protagonist in Iron Man) once said – “We need to be put in check” and it is to ensure that art is not for art’s sake, but because the artist has a message he would like to share. Our netas cower behind several vehicles and a small army, why are they scared of actually making a difference?

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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, 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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