Discourse, Not Debate: The Way Forward For Quality News Content In India

Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges

In his great short story titled ‘Funes, His Memory‘, Jorge Luis Borges talks about the eponymous protagonist: bed ridden, and completely incapable of forgetting anything. Funes remembers all the stars in the sky, all the books ever written and many other things I have forgotten. He is unable to think, and doesn’t live long. The story has many layers of narrative stacked above one another including Borges’ fascination with various numerical systems, South American daily life and obviously, the nature of reality. However, one message does particularly come forward – all thinking is forgetting. It’s a message that has lived long enough to be echoed by psychologists, sleep scientists and general observers. An overload of information is deadly to our decision making.

This overload is perhaps what is making our news and personal media bubbles so appealing and harmful. If you took 40 days to find a book in the library of Alexandria, and then came to me with a paragraph that confirmed what you claimed and said ”THIS!”, I’d take you for a learned person.

But there is no glory in googling an article that agrees with you and exclaiming with your preferred pronoun. It’s just thickening your bubble.

A Detour:

Things used to be boring in the past, but boring is better than information on Speed. This is perhaps what the daily news suffers from. News is information, mostly non actionable. Rather, news is information presented to us for a desired effect.

So, you’ve got 24*7 news channels that are primarily competing, not for authenticity, but for our sedated addiction and ad revenue. Then there is a more outdated format, that of TV debates. It is anyone’s guess how much gets done when you allow a person seven minutes to speak, with a bunch of tickers and banners demanding your viewers’ distraction.

There is a third, more respectable format of inviting guests over for a conversation. This could have been the tool to save news, but the funding of news channels by corporation ensures that a certain pre-determined stance is assumed before the conversation begins. However, in an age of new media, this will be the format whose ashes will be revivified to facilitate the discussion of complex issues.

A New Gutenberg Revolution: Long-Form Broadcasting

We have barely scratched the surface with video as an open medium. Speculations that it is as big a media disruption as the invention of printing press are abundant. A tribe of people dissatisfied with the aforementioned narratives has already loosely assembled in the West with leanings from both sides of the aisle. These men and women, just like pioneers of any other movement, have taken to self publishing with almost zero regulations. Everything goes. Dangerous ideas? Yes. Nascent theories? Hell yes. Unpopular opinions that’ll get you banned from public speaking? Looks delicious.

But then, it’s not just the West that needs an Intellectual Dark Web, which I believe will have diminishing returns in the first world countries. India, however, is a different story. With a billion plus numbers, way too many political agendas and segmentation, the landscape of discussion essentially wants to expand itself to accommodate more voices.

The scope of discourse goes beyond a few Twitter famous personalities who may actually have something to say. Not to mention, with all the cringe on news (two hours dedicated to Astrology, really?), the viewers are more than ready to engage in a deeper conversation about how India might need to function. We see a fractured society because no one has changed the lens yet. For the first time since 1947, urban Indians actually have inclination, income and data packs to engage in a discourse.

Long Form Content As A Savior; Discourse, Not Debate:

A podcast that lasts longer than an hour would by nature strip away the veneer of arrogance or deceit from the guest and reveal what he truly means. In a country like ours, which is pretty split (at least intellectually), uniting forces need to work overtime. Kunal Kamra started doing that with ‘Shut Up Ya Kunal’, where he did a commendable job of engaging with Kanhaiya Kumar as well as BJP’s Youth Wing leader. Were it a little less edited, the whole thing would have been brilliant – but it’s a start. However, from The Wire to Swarajya, we seem to be talking in absolutes, and video content, wherein people can sit down, and hear each other out, would perhaps be a way to make our timelines less cringy.

The beauty of discourse is that you cannot dodge a question, or an issue for too long. You’ll circle around and keep coming back to what is important, rather than the frivolous information and whataboutery aiding facts. It will distill the ideas out of information.

And maybe, unlike Funes, we’ll be able to rise above information, and think.

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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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