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Hate Speech Or Character Assassination Videos Don’t Anger Us, But ‘Padmavati’ Does

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“Water”, “Black Friday”, “Final Solution”, “Angry Goddess”, “Aligarh”, “Unfreedom”, “Udta Punjab”, “Lipstick under My Burka”, “Mersal”, and many more.

The issue with these films isn’t that they are vulgar or obscene, but that some people might get “offended” by the portrayal of certain characters in these films. The latest in this list is Padmavati, and this controversy around it has again shown that our system’s democratic values are so fragile, that they can be questioned even on the basis of mythical legends.

The very fact that a “leading” news channel airs an interview in which rewards are offered for the beheading of public personalities, and four Chief Ministers from both of the big parties have helped propagate this message of violence and hatred, seems to me to indicate that the state itself has been corrupted by anti-social elements. In fact, to be more politically correct, the political groups are exploiting the fragile nature of our system’s democratic values for mere political gains.

People who probably didn’t even know who Padmavati was, are calling her their mother today, objecting that Deepika’s portrayal of the film is a distortion of history. These people are asking for banning a movie, when a majority of them recently shared a video with the title “Hardik Patel sex scandal” – judging the character of the young leader Hardik, and not of the one who invaded his privacy by surveilling his private room. If such things are morally acceptable in Indian culture/society, if videos promoting character assassination and if videos promoting hate speeches are acceptable, if the ruling parties can rewrite the history we read to support their “glory”, then why should an artistic piece (with the disclaimer that the portrayals in the movie are based on imagination), which may or may not distort the already blurred history, be in the ambit of the censorship debate?

A plain and simple thought everyone must ponder upon:

If my unconfirmed ancestor, who used to live hundreds of generations ago and may not even have existed, is brought into question – or maybe filmed in a way that I wasn’t told about earlier – should I hit the streets, or run to media houses threatening to cut the nose of the performing artist? Or should I just first watch the movie and know more about this (fabricated) biography on this ancestor of mine, and lodge a formal protest in the form of writings and debates?

So, people who are saying it is about the pride of Rajputs – protecting the pride of your ancestors is legitimate, but if you are inciting violence to protect the pride of an ancestor who may or may not have existed – that too, 800 years ago – you are plain stupid.

You wouldn’t even be able to name your great great grandfather!

These movies like “Padmavati”, “Sexy Durga”, and “Nude” (which were recently removed from the International Film Festival of India) might not see the light of day today in the form of public screenings, but Mrs Irani and the authorities in question have to understand that this unstoppable chain of banning and censoring movies for fear of mob action needs to stop. Not just because in the past these decisions aiming to pacify the majority citing similar reasons, like the beef ban, have only incited this majority, increasing their confidence and ability to disrupt day to day life; the impact being a tremendous increase in beef-related lynchings. But also because this is the era of the internet, and movies like “Udta Punjab” have already created a wonderful example, showing that this lust of yours for censoring is busted with just a click, like a needle puncturing a balloon.

On the contrary, what needs to be done is neutralizing these pseudo-democratically empowered mobs. The state tools like sedition and national security act were constitutionalized to help the state neutralize them, and not to cage Kanhaiyas, Chanderskhars, and Gogois. The right use of these state tools will help citizens get free access to the fundamental rights they were guaranteed by the constitution.

Meanwhile, what have we lost amid this media hijack by Padmavati?

Thousands of farmers protesting in Delhi, using innovative banners and dummies to show Delhi how more than thousands of them suicide every year due to their helplessness.

An air quality index of 300 being accepted as the new normal in the entirety of north India.

An ordinance by the Rajasthan government protecting babus and restricting media reports against them until the government gives a go ahead.

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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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