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Watch: The Secret Lives Of The Band Wallas We See At Every Baraat

Kalakar – the Hindi word for ‘artist’. The genesis of art can be straight away linked to the genesis of human civilization. Hunting was an art, dancing after catching the hunt was an art and, painting the walls with natural colours in order to commemorate the hunting exercise was an art as well. In that era, art simply entertained human existence. It was a form of human expression. And it differentiated humans from any other living beings for it required creativity which, in a certain distinct form, was only possessed by humans.

After a few centuries, however, art was no longer restricted to being just a source of entertainment. It became a classified profession having a tangible value. Art was passed on from one generation to another and like other professions became a hereditary skill set. Rulers patronised artists and artists pampered the art they possessed. This linkage was a necessary one for the survival of art, in the absence of which it perished.

With the passage of time, so many art forms disappeared with their patrons. These art forms comprised of different painting styles, dance forms, theatres, and martial arts. With the disappearance of the characteristic art forms, the artists who earned their livelihood through them also diminished.

This short documentary film directed by Sheshank Kishore Mishra challenges our narrow understanding of an ‘artist’. The film reminds us that artists aren’t simply restricted to air-conditioned cineplexes or sophisticated theatres. In other words, there is more to art than the conventional art forms we see around us.

Occupying the central space in this eye-opening and well-scripted documentary is the plight of ‘band wallas’, who have been an eminent part of our celebrations for years. In Anurag Kashyap’s highly acclaimed “Gangs of Wasseypur”, they are also seen relieving the agony faced on the demise of a beloved.

Vakilu bhai, who owns a band in Ailum, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, narrates the story of his 25 years of servitude, struggle and, devotion. The film beautifully depicts the life of Vakilu bhai who claims to have chosen this profession for the survival of his family.

Those dark circles and wrinkles on his face easily speak for the hardships Vakilu bhai had to face for supporting and sustaining a family of eight.

The maturity of the script is palpable. It is filled with anecdotes revolving around the existence of band wallas as a community. For instance, Vakilu bhai sadly mentions the death of his elder brother due to lung failure, which he further regards as an occupational hazard common in their field.

Within a limited space, the film captures the future of band wallas. Vakilu bhai is convinced that his coming generations will not be clanging cymbals and blowing trumpets. Why would one work in a profession which does not get the respect it deserves, he argues succinctly.

In the background, the film tells us how in terms of living their art, band wallas are no different than people pursuing other art forms. They take their art as seriously as any other artist pursuing any other art. Why then, they ask, are band wallas not treated as kalakars and their art respected?

The filmmakers also reveal how there is a serious dearth of alternative means of livelihood for band wallas. During the off season, they hardly have anything to do to sustain their families. They are landless and have to rely on landed farmers for agricultural labour work.

In a nutshell, one should understand that engaging with short films is a tricky affair. They are supposed to be crisp, concise and clear, all together. The trio of Sheshank, Ehtisham and Preeti do a commendable work in this regard. What is worth noting is that the screenplay, cinematography and music are all in sync and complement each other. This characteristic allows the filmmakers to send the message loud and clear. One gets a feeling that the filmmakers knew what they were up to and in the end, they managed to deliver on their vision.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.

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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
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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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