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Kavitha Lankesh Talks About The #MeToo Movement in Sandalwood And Section 377

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Famous blogger Titas Biswas spoke to filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh, sister of late journalist Gauri Lankesh, on the #MeToo movement in the Kannada Film Industry and Section 377 of the IPC.

Titas Biswas (TB): What is happening around the #MeToo movement in Karnataka right now?

Kavitha Lankesh (KL): I am the chairman of this committee in Karnataka and I’d suggest it is prime time that it has begun here. Being a director myself, and hence a part of the film industry, I’ve always heard claims of not socialising enough, of not attending parties. So, if you have to party in order to win over a producer, I don’t think I’d approve much of such a situation. I’m way too passionate to make a compromise in that area. There have been times when one or two of them have kept calling me for coffee or further partying and that’s absolutely useless. One day, the lead actress called me up and asked me, “When are we shooting abroad, Ma’am?” And I was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” This producer had set his mind on that without informing me about it once and tried to impose it on the rest of the crew. This is where the #MeToo should take up its role. See, what they’re doing out of willingness is not my concern. If they are being exploited, molested or being harmed in a way, then it must come out. Because I have observed this particular trend throughout my life. If you’re not compromising, then they’ll predate on you in such a manner and go on saying nasty things like you’re not on time or you’re not…

TB: …good enough?

KL: Not good enough as an actor, or similar things which are not true and you will be out of the industry before getting a chance to react about it. What has happened to one might happen to another tomorrow, so it’s a good thing that a lot of youngsters are actually showing support for the cause.

TB: But, don’t you think there could be loopholes in it? Like, it can be used otherwise even if the incident hasn’t happened for real. I mean I’m not saying every time someone comes up with claims of being victimised, we need some sort of standardised proof but…

KL: It is not just about women. There are men in this industry who are…

TB: …exploited the same way?

KL: Yeah, they should come out as well. Women, especially because the casting couch problem is infused with misogyny – say, sometime back an entire event was caught on camera in a hotel. So, it’s about things like that, you know. Maybe it’s a tad bit more subtle here in Karnataka but the problem is aggravating further everywhere, nonetheless. How do we ever know what extent is too much?

TB: Because we don’t have a scale.

KL: We don’t have a scale. We cannot say if it is “rape little” or “rape lot”. So, rape is rape. Or, even molestation is an incident that leaves deep scars inside. If someone comes to the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC), we should listen to him even if he is a male. It is not just pro-woman, I’d say it is pro-humanity. Think about the transgender people and how social conditioning leaves deep scars in them. Simply because some people think it is okay to accept everything and segregate crisis as being non-crisis, say harassment is not harassment, it only makes matters worse. We do not know the difference between what right and wrong is like that anymore, so whatever lies inside should be exposed.

TB: What do you think about Section 377 being decriminalised?

KL: Well, this was long overdue I think…(laughs) Because, in India, I have a lot of gay friends and that is not what they can be criminalised for! I loved the fact that the judges apologised for being able to achieve this so late…this really was long overdue. Apart from that, I think we should look into the social aspects beside the legal inscriptions. It starts from a very young age, and the kind of isolation they face is difficult to handle. I always suggest exposing children to good films. However, the kind of mainstream cinema they are exposed to distorts the real facts.

TB: And portrays a very commercialised ideation of sexuality.

KL: Yeah, sexuality has to be dealt with from an early age. And the entire unit, consisting of teachers, parents, acquaintances have to be supportive enough and careful not to isolate them, not to make them feel strange about something that is absolutely normal. Parents of these kids actually make things look more difficult than it is supposed to be. And then these children have to wait until they are eighteen to twenty years old before they get to exercise their freedom. Eighteen years of living in confusion! Imagine the extent of internal trauma that might cause.

TB: Yeah, that would probably turn your life upside down.

KL: I think the teachers might help by organising workshops, by helping kids realise that this isolation is not necessary at all.

TB: So, there should be some kind of sex education for kids as well?

KL: Yes, this is another problem here. Nobody wants to talk about it! Your kids actually learn about sex education through commercialised media, through the porn industry, which are not ways in which you are supposed to learn about it. So, you’re taking your kids to Khajuraho and you don’t want to talk to them about sexuality, then why are you taking them there in the first place, or anywhere else at all? There are these Goddesses in Khajuraho with absolutely naked bodies (laughs)…I mean when you’re exposing them after all, then do talk to them about sex education – the right time to have it or not to have it. Tell them the necessities of taking precaution.

TB: (Laughing back) Yes…there is this realm of confusion adolescence suddenly lands you in, right?

KL: When you tell a child not to do something, the first thing that they’ll respond to that is by doing it! That is what children do. (Laughs)

TB: Right. What do you think about women directors in Indian cinema? Like, say ‘Village Rockstars’ has really made it big this time.

KL: Yes, I would say it is happening gradually. A lot of women directors are coming up. But, there is a problem with producers here. It doesn’t matter to them if you’ve won a National award or an International award. They will probably pick a director who has no clue about what direction is, and then ‘direct’ things their way. You see, it’s quite difficult out there.

TB: Is it because of…the nature of the sponsors?

KL: Sponsorship could be one thing but they do not really like professionals or professionalism to begin with. They like petty stories, or commodifying every element there is, picking out the leads et cetera…

TB: And is an inherent pattern of misogyny existent?

KL: Absolutely. Obviously. I hope I am not talking in an absolute pro-woman tone here, but I think a womanly touch to the separate departments can bring out wonderful essences and flavours! Like, women can really be fantastic sometimes. Say with the lights, or costume designing, or anything – as a matter of fact.

TB: Is there anything new that you’ve been working on? How…did you come into film; like, how did it matter when you were younger?

KL: No, I mean I was basically running an Ad agency. Then, I chanced upon making a documentary film. After that, I was doing corporate films for a while. But corporate films were not satisfying mentally. You just do what the company tells you to do.

TB: Very robotic.

KL: Yeah…Right now (I’m working on), a woman who used to work with folk music once, now had to sell her medals in order to earn a…

TB: Livelihood?

KL: Earn a livelihood, run her expenses. This is something that has been intriguing me for quite a while. Haven’t planned it out very well yet but might just be taking this up once I’m feeling all is set. Half my time now goes to my daughter and being a single Mum is not an easy task, quarter of it goes to Gauri and quarter of it is what I am left with.

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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.

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 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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