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Dear Media, When Will You Let Sridevi Rest In Peace?

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February 25, 2018, was an unusual Sunday. Our pre-Monday blues and daily humdrum were replaced by a profound shock and gloom as we struggled hard to absorb the fact that Sridevi, one of Bollywood’s most proficient matinee idols, was no more.

But how could that be? She was there – just there – asserting her presence on our social media feeds and TV screens, happily posing for photographs at a big fat Indian wedding in Dubai. Ethereal she looked as we sighed at that gorgeous face. Yet she moved on, leaving legions of fans in mourning and disbelief.

The reaction Sridevi’s death has evoked is unprecedented as it should be. After all, she is a megastar and 54 was no age for her to die. She had many more years of acting left in her. The body of work she left behind is both awe-inspiring and difficult to achieve. As our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social handles filled with RIPs, we too dwelled on drafting something eloquent, befitting a star of her stature.

TV channels beamed images of devoted fans outside her residence awaiting her homecoming, and camera angles zoomed in on the galaxy of stars who descended to meet the grieving family. In her tragic death, our grief was collective – or so I thought. Within hours, conspiracy theories were being spun faster than the speed of light. Suddenly her incredible reputation as an artist was set aside to make way for speculations and allegations.

A viral social media post by one Piyali Ganguly offered an expert view on what had cost the actress her life. It squarely blamed Sridevi’s apparent penchant to remain young through plastic surgeries and Botox injections. Clearly, this post was meant as a warning to the perils of defying nature through artificial means. But again, we can agree that there is a time and place for everything – and such pearls of wisdom could have been saved for a later date.

As Sridevi’s death became the national obsession, the wave of sympathy changed its nature to slanderous details. Everything was dug up – her past affairs, present lifestyle, her marriage, her net worth, her daughters, the strained relation with her stepson etc. Theories indicting her husband are making rounds after the post-mortem said it was a case of ‘accidental drowning’ and not cardiac arrest, as had been stated earlier.

The tremendous public and media curiosity surrounding such a high profile case is understandable and it is difficult to stop social media users from contemplating. But in this case, curiosity has been laced with dollops of insensitivity – so much so that even traditional modes of media, like the TV channels, actually had elaborate panel discussions on “how did Sridevi actually die?”, “how inebriated was the actress before drowning in the bathtub?”, “did she lose consciousness before drowning? If so, what was the choice of her beverage?”, etc. A barrage of such insinuating questions was aired on almost every news channels – and it was sick to the point of being nauseating.

Conveniently, these channels seemed to forget that the matter is under investigation. Conducting their own media trial only adds to more gossip fodder. It is, in my opinion, not conducive at all to the ongoing investigative process, not to mention its effect on bereaved family and how insulting it actually is to the memory of an actor who entertained us for almost five decades.

But perhaps, someone really foolish will expect the journalistic spirit of neutrality to prevail in today’s era. The search for truth at all costs often overlooks the ethical codes of impartiality and fairness in journalism. Yes, the truth must prevail – but you cannot expect to accomplish too much through lung-exploding media debates. Under the garb of ‘finding the truth’, the real battle here is for the TRPs – and since Bollywood sells like no other commodity, the emphasis is to create the story as scintillating as possible with no room for empathy. Certain sections of the print media have also proved to be no different in this case.

Public figures are always under media scrutiny – and more so, when they die tragically and in an untimely manner. But the pain of death is always personal and the mental crisis her family is going through is probably unimaginable.

Still, in such a negative environment of maliciousness, the power of choice ultimately lies with us. As audience, readers and active members of social media, it is ultimately our decision to actively participate in encourage/discourage, ignore and stop such petty speculations. Let her truly rest in peace!

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Featured image source: YouTube
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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