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When Will We Learn That Movie Stars Are Not God’s Messengers?

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Heroes are perfect. Heroes are saviours. Heroes are unblemished.

Such a hero, unfortunately, doesn’t exist.

In the above context of highlighting the grey areas of humanity, I am not seeking to justify the actions of Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein or a dozen other people accused of socially obnoxious behaviour. The aim is limited to analyse the impact of a real-life deed on the reel life screen. The aim is not to convince you to realign your moral standpoint. The aim is to point out the gullibility of the subjective nature of human morality on various issues. In the process, there is a huge probability of increased disagreement. Chances suggest that there could even be a vehement condemnation of my expositions.

Verbal Kint masterfully deceives the cop in a very delightful fashion exactly the same way in which Kevin Spacey has deceived us over the years. But then, upon deep introspection, do you believe that it is necessary to juxtapose the personality of Kevin Spacey and Verbal Kint, or say John Doe (Se7en), or Lester Burnham (American Beauty)? Is it even sane to compare the characters on a level pedestal especially when we are hell-bent on distinguishing the reel life from the real life in quite a number of scenarios that are offered to us?

In fact, there is no clarity in our linkages to cinema and reality. It is more a matter of personal convenience. We wish to see feminism in period dramas featuring kings simply because of the fact that we are exposed to feminism today. We glorify heroes who spew tantrums at the regressive mechanisms of the government, unmindful of the fact that the movie was terrible otherwise. A woman who abhors her husband’s chauvinistic nature continues to hold on to the relationship for the sake of her child. Yet, an abusive relationship on screen is a problem for her. It is a page from the textbooks of retrogression. It is immaterial that she has accepted it as her contemporary reality. We turn to cinema to offer solutions to contemporary problems. An employee who hates his job wants to witness the success story of a person who quits his job to travel the world. A portrayal of the reality where the EMI bill beckons is unacceptable. An escapism of sorts?

Yet, when the cinema goes overboard, we despise the movie. We criticize the lack of reality. Or rather, it is better to say that we condemn the lack of our perceived reality. The canvas is looked upon as a reflection of the utopian existence we have imagined. Any digression is unacceptable.

Great filmmakers have obviated the need to fit into the utopian vision of the masses. They seek to tell their unfiltered story and in the process, they cement their position as visionaries. Mani Rathnam made a very beautiful statement in response to why Kannathil Muthamittal didn’t propose a solution to the plight of Tamils. He said that his story was about the union of the girl with her mother. The issue is only the premise of his story. The issue isn’t the subject matter of his story.

The hope to see our perceived vision on-screen slowly seeps its way off-screen. We wish to see actors who are messiahs. Actors who seek to stand up for the public. Actors who act as wheelchairs to our disabilities. The seepage is so deep that the real-life personality of the actor is onus enough to substitute for his on-screen disability. There are so many actors that I don’t want to name who are needlessly glorified despite incorrigible movies simply because of the fact that he or she is an off-screen darling. If you find yourself nodding to this statement, the truth must be clear to you. There is a very strong boundary separating an on-screen hero from an off-screen one. It is time we build firm walls to distinguish the same.

One more issue I would like to highlight is the increased subjectivity in the weights we give to off-screen heroism or villainy. We look down upon someone with disdain when he says that he boycotts Kamal Hassan movies because Kamal is an atheist. We ask him to grow up and learn to admire the actor in Kamal Hassan. Yet, today we find ourselves despising and boycotting Kevin Spacey. The maturity that we once preached has deserted us in the time of need. We should either develop the maturity to keep the real life personality aside or inculcate a higher level of acceptance for difference of opinions when it comes to morality.

The above irony reminds me of a legendary statement by Sivaji Ganesan in Devar Magan.

Iniku Inga Kevin spacey aa edhukira payalugalaam yaaru?

Oru Kaalathula…

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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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