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3 Indian Films That Unabashedly Explore Sex, Sexuality And Women’s Oppression

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The very word ‘sex’ intrigues us, and when a movie is certified with the rating ‘A’, we audiences feel all the more excited to watch that movie. Also, it is a fact that when a movie comes under the scrutiny of the censor board, not only the movie but the entire cast and crew become famous. We as a society are judgmental and we cannot deny the fact that we cannot talk sex openly, as we consider it a taboo.

I always feel connected to the characters when I watch a particular movie and given my choices, these movies differ from what is popular with the masses. I do not watch the movies that are box office hits – I prefer the ones which are low budget but have a message for society. Since my essay cannot cover all the genres I love, I chose three films which ventured into this interdicted category called “sex”, and oppression on women.

Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, 1992

Directed by Shyam Benegal and produced by NFDC, it was a low budget movie based on the novel by Dharmavir Bharati. The movie is narrated by the storyteller Manek Mulla, who narrates his journey revolving around three women at different points in his life.

One woman is intellectual and affluent, another from the middle class, and the last a poor one. Among all three women, Manek loved the poor lady though he denied it. The poor lady, Satti, lived with her uncle, toiled for money, and dreamt of a home of her own and a loving husband.

Though the movie had several intersecting stories, what caught my eyes was how a woman was sexually exploited. And that woman was none other than Satti. Maheshwar Dalal, a debauched businessman, sets his sight on Satti. Satti runs to Manek in the middle of the night to save herself from the clutches of Maheshwar Dalal, who had bribed her uncle in order to have sex with her. Manek doesn’t save her but instead watches silently as she is dragged by her uncle and Maheshwar Dalal and ultimately gets brutally raped by both.

The movie is a perfect example of a brutal patriarch society where the rich have power over the poor. And not just Satti – Maheshwar Dalal, on the death of his wife, brings another woman to his home as his mistress and enjoys having sex with her. When she comes to know that he has been eyeing Satti, she tries to confront Maheshwar Dalal, gets beaten up, and is ultimately thrown out of the house.

Shyam Bengal asserted in the movie that women are indeed oppressed, and the movie was a proof how a woman can be treated as a commodity. Sadly, even today, nothing has changed, and a man, a noted personality, can press my breasts standing in the middle of the road, then block me on social media, then unblock me and clarify that he is my friend. As I said, I connect with every character. I can see myself in Satti and that thoughtless womanizer in Maheshwar Dalal. I do not have any evidence that he pressed my breasts while talking, right in the middle of the road, avoiding the public glare, just like Satti lacked evidence.

So nothing has changed. Society still remains dominated by men. Satti couldn’t speak for herself, and neither can I, since no one will believe me. They will just point fingers at me, claiming that my body language had made him press my nipples.

Jara Bristite Bhijechhilo (Those Who Were Drenched In Rain), 2007

Directed by Anjan Das and based on a novel by Joy Goswami, Here again, are three intersecting stories which speak about sex, oppression of women, and lesbianism and bisexuality. The first woman, a naïve student, falls in love with her home tutor. He too professes love for her, until she realizes that her lover looks at her as merely an object, and has a hidden agenda to sell her ancestral home to a promoter for money. Though he has a physical relationship with her, he leaves her in a broken state of mind. She struggles to cope with the loss, but ultimately survives the blows life throws at her.

The second woman dreams of being a teacher and falls in love with a naïve poet, but due to financial constraints and ill-treatment by her family, gets married off to a sadistic and impotent husband. He rapes her each night. She bears the stigma that she is a barren woman when in reality her husband is infertile. Unable to bear the fact that her husband, while mercilessly exploiting her, is also in an illicit relationship with another woman, she confronts him. He beats her ruthlessly, and she leaves the house. Her mother in law threatens her never to come back, and she doesn’t either.

The third and fourth women have been portrayed in a very different way. The third woman is a lesbian, and she is happy with her status, but the fourth woman goes for a physical relationship with her teacher, exploits the emotions of the naïve poet – the lover of the second woman – and also goes on to marry a millionaire.

In all these characters, I find myself. I find myself in the second woman, who has a sadistic husband, as I am a survivor of domestic violence. As I said, I feel one with the characters when I watch any movie.

Bow Barracks Forever, 2004

Directed by Anjan Dutt, this movie is based on the experiences of the Anglo-Indian Community residing in the Bow Barracks area, in a crowded corner of North Kolkata. Though the story revolves around their desperation to keep their dreams alive and struggle for money, it also depicted atrocities committed against women.

A smuggler beats and rapes his wife. Yet another huge naked potbellied man has sex with another woman, neglecting his wife. An aged lady aches for her son who has abandoned her. I feel an uncanny connection to that neglected wife, whose husband prefers having sex with another woman, who has a naïve husband – a teacher who loves his wife.

I listed these films as a message to this patriarchal, misogynistic society that we women are still oppressed. I have been abused so many times, physically and mentally. I was tortured to an extent that in my place someone else would surely have had a mental breakdown. That donkey who calls himself a noted personality pressed my nipples – what could I do? Will I get justice? I have no evidence, no proof, and no marks on my nipples either. And that was just the physical part – what about the mental agonies? Who should I approach in that case? And not just me – there are several women like in those movies who are raped, tortured, groped, and then thrown away or treated like doormats.

There have been several instances where I was treated like crap by both men and women. So I say no to oppression, and I seek justice for each torture/abuse hurled at me.

The above filmmakers all have cognitive abilities that allow them to portray a woman, her sexuality and her oppression, and thus make the masses connect ourselves with those characters. I caution that man who pressed my breasts in the middle of the road, who blocked me after that episode, and then unblocked and clarified that he is my friend. I, too, seek justice through this essay of mine. The world says women are equal. Then let society stop those atrocities on women. That guy who pressed my nipples is scot-free. I will not rest till I see his hands chopped off for what he did to me.

Those movies had a message, and so do I. I say to all women – speak up, say no to abuse, say no to oppression, share your stories, and do not let men overpower you.

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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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