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Looking At Padmaavat In The Light Of Kathua

Are we asleep and everything around us is just a fragment of our imagination? We see things, events and people pass by as if in an assembly line. Dead, are we? Or just too thick skinned? Or too alienated from ourselves? This might seem like some absurdist Beckettian plot, but it is nothing less than that, when we know that violence and especially violence against women is an everyday practice in this country. But what really angers the nation is a little creative freedom from an artist which might have a potential tainting effect on the character of a queen in the distant past (the existence of whom is a matter of an ‘academic’ debate).

What happened in Kathua is a dastardly act and has to be outright rejected by any individual, community and society which dares to call itself civilised. However, the concern that this incident brought is not just the continuing prevalence of such acts or the impunity with which the perpetrators roam free after the crime, or commit it in the first place, but the fact that as a society we have failed in standing against what IS wrong. We failed that day when lawyers – the guarantors of justice – rallied for protecting the rapists. We failed when we had leaders measuring their words before denouncing the incident loud and clear. We failed when there were debates about why was the family and community even lived in the town. We failed when it took for Kathua to happen to wake up from a deep slumber and shout out that this is not an isolated event, but there are women raped and abused in every corner of the world. We failed when the sanctity of a temple was trusted more than the eyes of a father whose daughter lies dead in front of the world. We failed. Failed Yet Again.

When violence becomes the norm, the trajectory that it follows next is more violence. To address this, we need to get our priorities straight. “Padmaavat” and the entire gamut of controversy around it boiled down to the fact that the Honour (with a capital ‘H’) of a community lies on the shoulder of the woman. And thus the woman becomes the ‘object’ of surveillance and protection irrespective of her consent or wish or rather in the case of “Padmaavat” – her actual existence. A woman then becomes a site of control. She is a medium to maintain the existing systems of patriarchal oppression and not a person in herself. The men and women who took to the streets opposing the release of “Padmaavat” – claiming the breach of honour of their queen, did not care less for say Nagmati, Maharawal Ratan Singh’s first wife, whose existence was practically subdued by Rawal Ratan Singh himself. Those who were angered by “Padmaavat” couldn’t or didn’t quite call for action when the 8-year-old in Kathua needed them. This is not just juxtaposing two varied episodes in the story of this nation to prove a point but an actual question as to how flagrantly misplaced our concerns can be.

Demanding the public hanging of the rapists every time an unfortunate incident like Kathua happens, is not the solution to the glaring problem of violence against women. Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. How many people will a ‘civilised’ society be ready to hang? There lies a more basic problem with the impunity with which the power relations work. An overhaul of the way we look at our world is the need of the hour. To wake up from this dead absurdist dream. It could begin with little things but could begin nevertheless.

After all, humans hope. 

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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.

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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.

Read more about her campaign.

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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 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
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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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