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No Matter How Emotionally Disturbing, ‘The Stoning of Soraya M.’ Is A Must-Watch

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It has been quite a while since this film came out, yet ‘The Stoning of Soraya M.’ is still relevant. Its underlying themes of patriarchy, greed, and misogyny manifest themselves in various forms (maybe not as brutally as in the film) even today. I sincerely felt the need to write a review on this and make a few more people give it a watch, for this masterpiece deserves to reach beyond linguistic barriers.

The film tells the horrific tale of Soraya Manutchehri, an Iranian woman who was pushed into a pit dug for her by patriarchy, literally as well as figuratively. Soraya is caught in an abusive marriage which her ruthless husband, Ali. He offers to end things on his terms, terms that would leave her and her daughters unable to fend for themselves. She has few options left before her. After a particularly violent episode of domestic-abuse, she storms off to her widowed aunt Zahra’s place with her daughters, seeking refuge.

A convict-turned-mullah, whose unwanted advances were turned down by Soraya, aides Ali in hatching a plan that ends in her paying dearly with her life. The wicked duo manage to convince their fickle-minded mayor that Soraya is guilty of adultery with Hashem, the local mechanic. A lack of sufficient evidence doesn’t stop anyone from sentencing her to be buried till the waist and stoned to death. The village mechanic Hashem, played by Parviz Sayyad, out of fear for his life and what would become of his mentally-challenged son, agrees to utter a lie that leads to the death of Soraya, the woman who cooked, cleaned, took care of his son, in order to earn money to support herself and her daughters. The complex nature of his character is highlighted when he weeps and drops the stones he was given in order to hurl at her, though it was he who was pivotal to the scheme.

Iranian-American actress Mozhan Marno portrays the brave woman who refuses to let her troubles pull her down and looks out for her daughters. Be it the distress of having her own sons turned against her or the cynicism at her husband’s desire to marry a 14-year-old or the simple joys of watching birds fly over hills with her daughters, she emotes it all.

Her aunt, Zahra, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, is the feminist the remote village of Kuppayeh needs, but doesn’t deserve. Her feisty nature makes her defend her niece to the best of her abilities, for she even offers to be stoned so that Soraya could be spared.

Navid Negahban plays the repugnant Ali, who, unwilling to support two wives, plans to be rid of one, in order to marry another from a well-to-do family and does extreme justice to his role for one can feel hatred burning through them for his character. The stoning scene is gruesome to watch, yet one cannot take their eyes off the screen and the piteous waling of the helpless Soraya fills one with anger that is impossible to shake off. The mob that hurls stones at her is somehow Shakespearean, but alas, Soraya is no Mark Antony to sway the public opinion to her advantage.

The screenplay does not drag along with unnecessary sub-plots and is cleverly written. The arrival of a circus and the first stones missing their mark are depicted as the divine signs that the mayor prays for, vowing to stop the heinous punishment, were they to appear, but are unheeded nevertheless. The background score is kept to a bare minimum, yet complements the cinematography.

The story is narrated by Zahra to Iranian-French journalist, Freidoune Sahebjam, who is stuck in the village for a few hours owing to the breakdown of his car, and barely manages to escape with his life and the tape carrying the recording. The image of Zahra blocking the men pursuing the journalists’s car and exclaiming that the whole world will know the story of Soraya and that truth cannot be silenced, burns into one’s mind and stays on as a reminder that the story of her niece is one of the many innocents who fell prey to greed and misogyny. The film, excellently made, makes for a very emotionally disturbing watch which makes one bubble with anger, long after the film has ended.

Featured Image source: YouTube.
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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.

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.

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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 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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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