This Kolkata Fest Is All About Literature That Other LitFests Won’t Tell You About

In the years of Jaipur LitFests, Tata LitFests and many other such literary events, why another literary festival? Aren’t these festivals attended by literary giants? Hasn’t Jaipur Literature Festival been described as the ‘Greatest literary show on earth’? Isn’t it a matter of great honour to get an invitation to the Tata Literature Festival? Doesn’t an excellent exchange of ideas happen at those fests?

One of the purposes of People’s Literary Festival is to bring all these sentiments under the microscope. If we look at the list of sponsors of these corporate festivals, we would know that these festivals’ existence is dependent on the blessings of corporations, whose existence, in turn, is based on the exploitation of humans and destruction of ecology. The twitter page of Kalinganagar Mahotsav (an art fest) claims the event to be a celebration of the “success of the uprising steel hub of India”. One should remember at this point the murder of 12 tribals in 2006 in Kalinga Nagar, Odisha, during the government-facilitated forcible acquisition of land for Tata’s proposed steel plant. The Kalinga Nagar incident is hardly unique. All over the country, from Singur to Kodaikanal, these corporations are directly responsible for eviction, torture, murder, and destruction of ecology.

Shouldn’t it be worrisome when these entities, through their capital investment, essentially become the arbiter of what ‘good literature’ is? After all, if ‘good literature’ is what Jaipur LitFest certifies as ‘good’, and if our exposure to literature becomes largely confined to what these corporate literary festivals promote, then we let these corporations become gatekeepers of ‘literary intellect’ and have a lot of control over our cultural engagements and our spaces of imagination which literature stimulates. And then we risk losing space for the literature that challenges the murderous, destructive ways of capitalism and the present social order, of which these corporations are an integral part.

Varavara Rao – Telegu revolutionary poet, literary critic, journalist, political activist and founding member of VIRASAM (Revolutionary Writers’ Association).

People’s Literary Festival (PLF) has been planned by Bastar Solidarity Network – Kolkata Chapter (BSN) to provide a space for subjects that are taboo in many so-called ‘spheres of intellect’. BSN is a forum formed by some young rights activists and students to bring into light the state- and corporate-sponsored atrocities perpetrated on the Adivasis in the heartland of India, and to build up a solidarity movement. BSN believes the solidarity movement cannot be built up in isolation, but one must look into the larger picture of the structural violence of the Brahminical Fascist state and connect the dots to fight it.

PLF will host Kashmiri writer Shahnaz Bashir. Shahnaz will talk about the brutality by the Indian government in Kashmir and Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination. Jacinta Kerketta, whose verses will talk about the ‘bloodstained rivers’, Madua fields and Saranda forests in Jharkhand and of the people who have to pay the costs of ‘development’, will also be there to share her thoughts. One can meet Chhaya Koregaonkar from Maharashtra, talking of Savitribai Phule, of the daily lives of women, and intimate experiences of caste and gender oppression. Kutti Revathi will unabashedly talk about her body politics, the need to take control of narratives around women’s body, desire, sexuality.

Jacinta Kerketta – Written in Hindi, Jacinta’s poetry explores Adivasi identities, both within and outside Jharkhans, while strongly critiquing the rhetoric of “development”.

One can hear Chandramohan S’s poetry engaging with Islamophobia, beef eating, and appropriation of Dalit literature. Raja Puniyani will talk about the Gorkhaland resistance movement, and Varavara Rao will talk about the culture emerging out of fascist repression, of the stories, songs, slogans created in Dandakaranya. PLF will have Hansda Sowvendra Sekhar telling stories of the Santhal community. Rinchin will be bringing in stories of the jhuggies in big cities where ragpickers live, the Adivasi farms in ravaged coal-rich Chattisgarh and the resistances of her brilliantly stubborn child protagonists who foreground the voices of those we refuse to see or choose not to see in children’s literature.

Also, there will be Arun Ferreira talking about art being created and etched in prisons. Iravi will be telling stories of queer desire, and Haripriya Soibam weaving narratives of women’s resistance to patriarchy within and outside Manipur. One will hear Rela cultural group from Bhopal with their songs of resistance, of protest, of hope that promises to expose Hindu fascism, resist consumerism and foreground cultural expressions of Dalit and tribal people and bring together various artistic and linguistic styles.

At PLF, one will also hear about the ‘outsiders’ to the ‘hallowed literary spheres’ blessed by the socioeconomically and politically powerful. One will hear about little magazines that have existed to provide a space for thoughts that the powerful don’t want or care to give space to. One will hear about literature written in languages that ‘don’t have a market’ as big as literature written in the more dominant languages. One will hear about Kamtapuri literature, little magazine discussing casteism or come across a critical look at the representation of Muslims in Bengali literature, from Ansaruddin, Nirmal Haldar, Afsar Ahamed, Dipak Kumar Roy and Kalyani Thakur Charal. Mahmoud Nawaja’a, an activist from Palestine with a long experience of campaigning for the Palestinian freedom struggle and the General Coordinator of the Palestinian National Committee for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, will also be attending, talking about resistance literature in Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Kutti Revathi – Poet and editor of Panikkudam, a literary quarterly for women’s writing and also the first Tamil feminist magazine.

PLF intends to provide a space where literature plays its social role, taking an analytical and critical look at the social order. Corporate fests cannot be the only space for writers and literature-enthusiasts – and PLF intends to be an alternative space free from all corporate interferences. This literary festival is entirely publicly funded – there is absolutely no corporate funding.

Join People’s Literary Festival on March 24-25 at Sukanta Mancha, Kolkata, in resistance, in solidarity and in rage, to listen to this cacophony, to participate, question and together try to make sense of these times.

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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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