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‘Raazi’: Alia Bhatt’s Sehmat Smashes The Worst Stereotypes About Politics And Society

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[Spoiler Alert]

Let’s talk about why “Raazi” was such an important film beyond the obvious reasons. However, I will still discuss the obvious ones too, because every aspect of the movie is tied up to the central message, beautifully.

The story introduces us to Sehmat as a Delhi University student in the 1970s – a time that’s still fresh in the ‘political memory’ of Indians. Once she gets home (to Kashmir), she’s informed of a mission under the cover of a marriage which she’ll have to undertake. At first, it seems like any other duty a daughter is simply ‘assumed’ to take up, without any questions asked. However, in one of the most well thought-out scenes in the movie, Meghna Gulzar and her team take special care to point out that Sehmat is not simply doing this because she’s a pushover. Neither is her decision influenced by her father’s insistence. She explicitly states that she wants to undertake this mission even when her father says that he shouldn’t have asked her to risk her life simply because her grandfather had taught him – and that she should return to college. She says that if this is ‘wrong’, then sending sons into the army is wrong as well. My heroine, indeed!

Later, she undergoes a rigorous training which proves challenging at first. But soon enough, she finds her strength and becomes a brilliant student. Special efforts are also made to point out that she’s a very sensitive soul – risking her life to save a squirrel, being queasy around blood and whatnot! But that doesn’t mean she isn’t brave. In fact, she’s quite the badass. So, when she does have to kill people in order to keep her cover intact, it takes a toll on her conscience. But she understands that two deaths on her hands are worth it if they can prevent a war.

As the movie progresses, there’s a lot of gripping tension, which is aided by some smart screenplay. I remember that at the time of the intermission, the people in the hall were all hushed and shaken-up. Such was the power of Alia’s acting.

One of my favorite scenes – and one of the most important ones too – is the one which shows what happens after Sehmat’s husband, Iqbal, discovers her true identity as an Indian spy. Iqbal informs his father, who is an important military personnel in the Pakistani army. Iqbal’s father starts to dial up the agency of the mess-up and he cusses at Sehmat. “Haraamkhor,” he shouts.

Iqbal, who’s a patriotic army guy, stops his father from throwing cuss words at her – telling him that whatever she did, she did for her country, just like they do for their own. Now, his father could have easily been angered by the comment – more so, considering the fact that Sehmat had to sacrifice Iqbal’s elder brother earlier in the movie (because he got too close to her truth). But surprisingly, his expression was one of understanding.

In my opinion, this scene was important because it showed us that when there is a war, there’s no right and wrong. Being in the military force themselves, they understood the darker realities and inner workings that have to be accepted without hesitation. Even Sehmat’s commander tells her this in the end when she has a breakdown after the emotionally-numbing goodbye she has with her beloved husband.

All in all, Raazi’s Sehmat bashed some of the worst stereotypes in our political and social circles.

She’s a woman who is a brilliant spy. She’s Kashmiri and a Muslim. And despite being an Indian, she really falls in love with a Pakistani. But all of that is only secondary to her watan and her country.

For me, this is the central message that is beautifully tied up to all that happens in the film:

Under no circumstance, can any kind of war mean good. All it brings is pain and destruction – and it should thus, be avoided at all costs.

Considering the current socio-political climate in the country, I’d say we need to take a few lessons from this film. Because that’s the point of cinema and art, is it not – to warn the public?

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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.

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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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