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Beyond ’13 Reasons Why’: When Suicide Is Glorified In Pop Culture

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The second season for popular and controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” is coming out on May 18. I remember watching this show last year and reading the polarized reviews related to the depiction of suicide in the series. Several mental health experts slammed the series for glorifying it with a graphic depiction and for justifying Hannah’s (the main character) actions through each reason.

In a nutshell, “13 Reasons Why” is about Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who was wronged and isolated by people around her. She falls into depression bit by bit and soon, after a traumatic encounter with her senior Bryce, she decides to kill herself. Before doing so, she records 13 tapes stating 13 reasons why she decided to kill herself and sends each tape to the ones who broke her.

Now, I agree wholeheartedly with those arguments which stated that the show unhealthily blamed her suicide on a third person instead of focusing on her mental health. Maybe the show unintentionally gave a message that you can kill yourself if the odds are against you. But personally what I liked about the show is:

1. It began a conversation about mental health and teen suicides. What the show tries to elucidate at the end is that anyone out of the 13 could have stopped Hannah’s suicide.

2. The show challenges the social evil called “rape culture” which drags victims of sexual assault through mud and sometimes even drives them to commit suicide. The whole shift of focus from the victim to the perpetrator happens in the show.

Leaving aside “13 Reasons Why”, there were instances in the past that actually gave a green light to the idea of suicide and hopelessness. One of the examples I could think of is “Aashiqui 2”. Rahul Jaykar falls into deep alcoholism and depression. He could very well see that Aarohi had prioritised him over her own career and he was pulling her back. So he removes himself as an obstacle by killing himself. “Aashiqui 2” is praised as an epitome of romance but the film clearly depicted and romanticised his Rahul’s mental health issues while depicting jealousy over Aarohi’s overnight success. What’s even worse is that his friends taunt Aarohi saying that “he died so that you could live”.

In “Twilight Saga: New Moon”, Edward decides to kill himself after mistakenly assuming that Bella is dead. The Twilight series has faced a lot of flak for paedophilia, teenage pregnancy, abuse, but seemingly nobody is talking about how the scenario unintentionally glorified suicide. Edward leaves Bella early on but then, he thinks that Bella is dead over a misunderstanding. He decides to kill himself but Bella manages to save him. Edward later accentuates that he attempted suicide not because of guilt but because he couldn’t live in a world where she doesn’t exist. That was Stephenie Meyer’s way of convincing us that Edward still loves Bella.

*facepalm*

Ladies, here’s the thing. If a guy tries to kill himself in your name, know that he needs help. Just like in “Raanjhanaa” how Kundan apparently wins Zoya over by saying that “if she rejects him then he will kill himself”. It is like trapping the woman in a corner with no way out. Plus, it is not love but obsession and immense disrespect towards the other individual’s autonomy. Edward’s actions put everyone in danger and after leaving Bella all alone in the forest, Edward wasn’t a hero for doing the same. It is high time people stop using suicide as plot-point for romance.

Then, the mass self-immolation in “Padmavaat” is another horrifying way in which suicide is glorified. The filmmakers and “die-hard” Padmavati worshippers will call it a “factual accuracy” or what happened at the time, but can we sit back and think for a second that Bollywood could have invested 190+crores for a woman-centric film that didn’t involve mass suicide or glorification of upper-caste patriarchal rape culture?

In “Kaabil”, Yami’s character repeats that she is no longer the same after a rape and then kills herself. Suicide was her way of escaping from the “shame” but that didn’t neutralise the shaming aspect. After seeing a determined character in “Udta Punjab”, the suicide of a rape survivor in “Kaabil” was rather a regressive step.

Malayalam films like “Naran”, “Oruvan” and Tamil film “Raavanan” show rape survivors committing suicide, the former two include the killing of a daughter to prevent ‘possible’ rape. The whole “better to die than be raped” angle only highlights victim shaming, especially for any survivor watching the film.

Films could be inspired by real stories. Women and marginalized sections rarely get the platform they deserve, unless they are all glamorous and get to wear good-looking attire. There are stories of women who have overcome the shame and trauma related to sexual assault. There are stories where women have saved women from sexual violence that should take more than two minutes of the screen-time.

Also, it is high time we talk about the depiction of ableism and how suicide is glorified in films.

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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 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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