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What India Can Learn From Hannah Gadsby’s ‘Nanette’

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What is it that which drives us? Probably, a great line for a hit movie. Live your dreams and follow your passion. A friend once sent me a video of some motivational speaker, probably self-appointed, who said that he didn’t care whether you are smart or dumb, strong or weak, rich or poor; if you want something, go and get it. That motivational speaker was a straight white man.

We live in a world that has a vast pool of ideas, but somehow they are widely distributed and wildly disorganised. There are so many initiatives that people want to take and people do take, but they just don’t seem enough. And when they actually do start making something beneficial, they have to face administration, governance, rudimentary judiciary and social injustice. No matter how much you can ignore the facts but it is a reality that the world is not a great place for women, for the LGBTQ+ community and for any minority in major economies of the world. There is discrimination, and we are not doing much about it.

The one important thing that led us to civilization and growth was our thinking. If we hadn’t thought of developing ourselves, we never would have. Today, that thinking is corrupted, polluted and radical against any progressive change. If you have any doubt over the narrow-mindedness of today’s world, have a look at those who run the world’s biggest economies.

An orange haired man who is accused of harassment, who openly broadcasts his hate against the second largest religion of the world, and is cheered for doing so by people who are adamant on their idea of a great country, is the President of the most powerful nation of the world. Another man, who has no orange hair but loves the colour in his attire, a childhood member of an organisation whose ideas, coincidentally, resonate with those of Hitler and Mussolini heads the fastest growing economy and the largest democracy of the modern world. It is interesting to note that he accused his predecessor of keeping his mouth shut and he himself never speaks against mob lynching against the people of the second largest religion in the world. One may wonder if he even recognises the acts of mob lynching, killings of journalists (who didn’t want govt. pay), abduction and rape of little girls (one reported to have occurred inside a temple), as crimes. Though, he does speak a lot of black days of past and his struggle as a tea vendor during his early days. Many tea vendors still suffer, but there is an army of true believers of this man’s (who was supposed to be accused of riots that occurred under his rule in Gujarat) who consider him a vision of good days. If you would move towards north from the largest democracy and the most unsafe nation for women (according to Thomson Reuters), you’ll find the countries of Marx and Mao, where in the name of socialism people don’t have any semblance to complete independence.

Today, I live in a country that is not safe for women and study among people who use ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ as an insult for the sake of their own amusement. I am unable to trust the media because somehow, almost all of them seem to support the ruling party and its saffron agenda. The leaders of the country who once were active student politicians today advocate jailing of students who protest peacefully in their own university campuses. There exists an army of online trolls who consider themselves as protectors of their holy religion and their motherland, and openly (for lack of a better word) bash every person who dares speak against the government. We considered a man, who thought of caste system as a perfect thing to exist and believed that everyone should work according to their caste, as the father of our nation. They use the names of great leaders who fought for our independence as cover for their agendas of making India a Hindu Rashtra. The people who were chosen as a public representative to the government openly support killers of liberal journalists and carry out rallies in support of rape accused (their excuse was that rape accused was a Hindu and the victim was a Muslim girl, her age of just eight didn’t matter to them). But there is still hope.

Last night, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix special, “Nanette”. Towards the end of her set, she said something very important and fitting to today’s world. She said that anger, just as laughter is infectious and will spread like fire, and it was not her right to do so just because she can. Unfortunately, lately, the leader of two important democracies of the world have leaders who have an army of blind supporters who are fuelled by anger against anyone they deem a threat to THEIR culture and THEIR country. It is everyone’s duty and most importantly of those who are privileged and do not have to face the atrocities of the society to understand the people around them and embrace our differences. If we could just embrace our differences and lend an ear to hear their stories, we will realize that we are not much different from one another. That we must let go of any rudimentary thinking about gender rigidity, patriarchal superiority, religious insecurities, and communal hatred.

We are a nation of 1.2 billion people. These people have their own personalities. Imagine, if people who have access to education actually spent time reading and understanding the struggles, the challenges and the adversities that are faced by different sects of the society, and then collectively work towards the betterment of it. The one lesson that we should learn from the history is that blind following of people with dangerous and violent mindset has never resulted in any good and it never will. The basic essence of a democracy is to question. To raise doubt and suggest improvements. Today, even this fundamental factor of democracy is in danger.

India is not just a country (and this might sound pretentious, it isn’t though) but an idea. For years, we have taken pride in aphorisms of our unity in diversities, of embracing our differences and loving everyone without any malice. Somewhere down the line, we lost the meaning of this and protests became acts of sedition and patriotism became nationalism and dissent became anti-nationalism. I would recommend everyone to watch “Nanette” as it speaks of feminism, the malice of homophobia, the struggles of minorities in a much different perspective, and when you’re done watching it, spend some time reading about the struggles of all the minorities which still ‘dare’ to exist in our country which seems to be driven on its way to madness and chaos. Try to understand things from perspectives that are not yours and if you’re unable to do so, ask someone to help. People will always tell you their story if you’ll lend them an ear.

When I was a child, during morning assemblies, we sang in chorus, “… Mazhab nahi sikhaata, aapas me bair karna…. Saare Jahaan se achcha, Hindustan Hamaara…”. Its high time that we start believing in it as well.

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  1. Bliss Ningnem Langel

    Just what I wanted to express after watching this stand up :’) thank you for expressing it well in finer words.

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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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