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When It Comes To Controversies Around Historical Films And TV Series, Who’s Responsible?

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Films and TV series have often taken the idea of creative liberty to preposterous heights. How is the idea of creating a side-story of Abraham Lincoln as a secret vampire hunter not preposterous? How is dressing Mary (Queen of the Scots) in contemporary gowns, and inserting a fictitious love triangle in her life (“Reign”) not preposterous? How is showing Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” being inspired by real-life events (“The Frankenstein Chronicles”) not preposterous? Creating fictional stories about real historical characters is nothing new.

And here in India, we show outrage over the exposed midriff of a Rajput queen – fictitious or real. I don’t necessarily believe in ‘art for art’s sake’. And I don’t necessarily consider the outrage shown by Rajput associations as unreasonable – although here, I’m not supporting vandalism or death threats issued by these groups. What I’m saying is that I understand their outrage. It can certainly generate dialogues around it – dialogues that doesn’t justify calling the outrage ‘ridiculous’ by saying that the character in question is fictitious and not a real historical character. It doesn’t matter if the character is fictitious or not – what matters is that the film has outraged a symbol of the Rajput community.

For the Rajput community, Padmini is a symbol of Rajput pride. In many cases, her characteristics define even the present-day identity of Rajput women. And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t apply your sense of feminism in defining what is empowering (and what is not) when viewing a historical or fictitious character set in medieval India. For that matter, do you really criticise the actions of women in “Game of Thrones”?

India is a country of diverse social groups – hence, the probability of the groups conflicting with each other is more. Besides, in-group solidarity tends to be higher in India. And when a community believes that a representative symbol has been wrongly portrayed on the screen, their collective conscience, as Durkheim would have said, comes under attack. So, they do have the right to criticise and protest – but of course, not take it to violent levels as it often tends to happen in India. When members of the community believe that symbol to be portrayed inaccurately, it’s justified for them to feel the need to reclaim their symbol.

But the maximum that they can do here is to create awareness of the existence of an alternate narrative – their own narrative. They can let people know how their symbol ought to be portrayed, but that isn’t really facilitated by pressuring the censor board. Rather, the only way out is to create a dialogue around their grievance – get people thinking and talking about the matter.

However, the issue that always arises here concerns whether the creators have some responsibility when depicting historical times or characters or other issues. Should they be held responsible if they portray factually-inaccurate things? Should they also be held morally responsible while showing sensitive issues on screen? As the visual media is becoming more accessible to a larger mass of people and is gradually overtaking the more conventional sources of information and entertainment (like books), should the creators bear responsibility to show content which is factually and morally correct?

Many people probably came to know about Homer’s “Illiad” in greater detail through the movie “Troy”. It’s possible that a large number of people didn’t know anything about the great duel between Achilles and Hector, until that movie made it popular. But Homer’s “Illiad” didn’t have the happy ending the film had. Yet, most people would have thought that Homer’s “Illiad” ended happily, because of what they saw in the film.

Here, the ‘art for art’s sake’ logic creates misinformation, but people have the right to expression in whichever manner they see fit, unless it violates someone else’s rights. If the visual media is to be held responsible, then what about the porn industry? Why is the porn industry not regulated? Why do people have uninhibited access to porn, which might cause people to have misconceptions about sexuality, sexual prowess and body image. Some might even blame porn for increased sexual violence, especially when watched by teenagers or under-educated viewers in a country like India.

Should we, therefore, blame the creators – or should we blame the viewers who seek out only these media contents, without ever looking for the same information or cross-checking them from other more valid sources?

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

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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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