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From Anaarkali To Sulu: 2017 Was The Year Of Strong, Fearless Women In Bollywood

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The dark clouds of patriarchy have shadowed the Indian culture for centuries. It has taken a considerable amount of struggle to get rid of evil practices like sati and purdah; and it will probably take a considerable amount of struggle to get rid of dowry, female infanticide, objectification of women, rapes, assaults, etc.

They say that cinema is a reflection of society. Cinema not only mirrors the society but it also depicts what can become of it – in both negative and positive ways. As we approach the end of 2017, we feel happy and hopeful for the future of women in our country. 2017 saw some incredible characters portrayed in main stream as well as art movies. If Hollywood gave us “Wonder Woman”, we were not far behind in celebrating ‘sheroes’ in Indian cinema.

Let us raise a toast to some of the most substantial female roles that Bollywood gave us in 2017.

Vidya Balan as Sulochana Dubey in “Tumhari Sulu” And In “Begum Jaan”

Vidya Balan has challenged herself with exceptionally strong roles time and again. “Parineeta”, the “Kahaani” franchise, “Ishqiya”, “No One Killed Jessica”, “Paa”, “The Dirty Picture”, “Bombay Talkies” – the list of strong female roles taken up by this woman is quite long. So, when it came down to sheroic roles, Vidya did not disappoint her fans even in 2017. She came out with two movies – “Tumhari Sulu” and “Begum Jaan”. We doted over the sweet happily married housewife Sullu’s transition into a popular RJ with a sensual accent in the former; whereas, we were floored by Begum Jaan’s fearless persona in the latter. Since, Vidya gave us two quintessentially strong Sheroes, hence hers is the first name here.

Bhumi Pednekar As Jaya In “Toilet Ek Prem Katha”

With the Clean India Campaign in full swing and rightly so, this movie could not have come out at a better time. And to see a fresh face portray Jaya – the woman who files a divorce petition on grounds of lack of a toilet in her husband’s house – was indeed a treat. Defecating outside is not only bad for the environment but absolutely unhealthy and unhygienic. However, there is no dearth of cities, villages, districts and towns in our country where open defecation is a routine activity. The way Bhumi Pednekar convincingly imparts the message of how important it is to have toilets, is a much-needed and welcomed portrayal. Bhumi’s debut “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” delicately spoke against body shaming and was appreciated by audiences and critics alike. She does not disappoint with “Toilet Ek Prem Katha” also.

Swara Bhasker As Anarkali In “Anarkali Of Aarah”

Swara Bhasker plays a Bihari folk performer in Anarkali of Arah and convincingly gives the message of consent. The best part about this character was that she has not been shown as the ‘ideal’ Indian woman. She is a dancer who performs at weddings. She is assaulted by the VC of a premier organisation and is not taken seriously on retaliating. The police, her friends – no one takes her complaints seriously. She struggles for justice by herself and eventually gets it. She closes her act in the climax scene saying be it a prostitute, your wife or any woman – seek consent before touching. This one was definitely a shero!

Konkona Sen Sharma As Shireen Aslam In “Lipstick Under My Burkha”

Konkona Sen Sharma is yet another actress who has given us many impressive characters. She has done amazing movies like “Page 3”, “Life In a Metro” and “15 Park Avenue” to name a few. 2017 saw the controversial release of yet another feather in her cap – “Lipstick Under My Burkha”. This movie revolves around four women from different walks of life.

Starring aside Ratna Pathak, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur; Konkona plays Shireen Aslam. Shireen is a housewife married to unloving and orthodox Rahim (played by Sushant Singh). Rahim sexually dominates Shireen and forbids protected sex. Shireen secretly takes pills to prevent pregnancy and also gets multiple abortions. She is secretly an amazing saleswoman. Konkona Sen’s impeccable acting brings this character to life and takes us on a journey of pain, anger, struggle and freedom.

Some Other Memorable Mentions

In addition to the ones mentioned above, there were some more names that pushed the envelope a several notches further. Kangana Ranuat’s “Simran” was a unique story of a notorious thief. The fact that Bollywood is taking up stories without any heroes and audiences are responding to them if the content is good, is in itself a win-win situation. So, kudos to “Simran”!

Other honorable mentions include Sridevi’s “Mom”, Sonakshi Sinha’s “Noor” and Taapsee Pannu’s “Naam Shabana”. All these films had one thing in common – a shero for us to draw inspiration from. All these stories told us that women can have their own identities. They can be fearless, strong, passionate, reliable and even notorious. These beautiful sagas reminded us that women deserve their share of attention, respect and dignity.

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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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