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‘Ramayana’ Again: An Opportunity To Create The ‘Other’ In The Garb Of Religion?

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‘If the situation is not handled in 21 days, the country will go back 21 years’: the apocalyptic foretelling by our Prime Minister set in motion a countrywide lockdown.

The fear of COVID-19 entering into the dreaded ‘third stage’ (into denial that it already has!) bringing a widespread community transmission has kept most of us holed up into the comfort – or discomfort of our homes. And yet, whether out of necessity, ignorance or simply arrogance, people are seen violating the lockdown and venturing out of their homes in steady numbers.

Ramayana which had become a household name in the 1990s is being telecasted on the national public broadcaster Doordarshan once again.

When the police baton and the pleas of the medical experts and (for-a-change) hapless leaders did not work, a novel idea to make people stay back in their homes is recently being tested. Popular mythological show Ramayana which had become a household name in the 1990s is being telecasted on the national public broadcaster Doordarshan once again. The announcement was made by Prakash Javdekar, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting on ‘popular demand’.

A throwback to the late 1980s and mid-1990s when it was aired on television, Ramayana held a reputation for stirring the people from their mundane household duties and work and transfixing them to their TV screens. Streets were deserted in the time when it was aired, and people who happened to be out, rushed to their homes for the viewing episodes, uninterrupted.

Around the early 1990s, when the first round of Ramayana was over on Doordarshan (it was aired two times again after periodic intervals), LK Advani led the Ram Rath Yatra (political and religious rally) across the length and breadth of the country, appealing to the Hindu brethren to join in the re-construction (as it was believed) of the Ram Mandir in the place where a century-old Mosque stood. We all know what happened after that. The demolition of the Mosque by the karsevaks, the riots that it caused, the blasts that followed soon after, the violence, the rapes, the bloodshed. Incidents that refuse to be wiped out from our collective memories even after so many years.

The timing when Hindu religions’ oldest epic, Ramayana introduced to the Indian masses through a visual representation was thus perfect. People—men particularly from the upper caste Hindu households—revelled in the values of honour, sacrifice (of the other!), and annihilation of the enemy which lays its eyes on your women. That’s what Ramayana seemed to stand for, in their eyes. Completing it was the idea of a masculine role model that leads the way towards the Ram Rajya, and many followed by giving their money, muscle, and tactical support.

With The Hope That History Won’t Repeat Itself

If the Ramayana ever spoke of love, bonding, selflessness, or dematerialization (as the trio leave their lavish, indulgent palaces for a life amidst nature), these ‘softer values’ were conveniently ignored. Lord Ram became the raying point, and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ became the rallying cry.

Cut to the present times. My first thought when I heard the announcement was that it was a very good decision. If it is mythology, not science that is keeping people safe in their homes, so be it. As I saw the first episode, however, an old discomfort stepped in. The fear that the show which had such influence over the minds of the people back then, would again be a catalyst—albeit small—for history to repeat itself came to my mind. And here I am talking about the mass hysteria part, not small damaging ways in which it will seep in patriarchal values of honor and propriety back in families again, which is, of course, another of my fears.

We have recently proved that we are still prone to superstition and unscientific thinking, not to mention herd mentality (the banging of thalis to generate cosmic urja that will chase away the virus!). After the pandemic passes, whether or not we manage to evade the mass deaths, the recession, and unemployment will inevitably remain remains to be seen. People will already be up to each other’s throats for money and food.

NRC and CAA are waiting at our doorstep. The state had been dividing us on communal lines. And just as the class faultlines are widening and cracking, this could have severe repercussions for all of us, over and above the damage the COVID-19 will cause.

And in this will be the people who had been watching Ramayana in their homes, dreaming once again of the glories of Hindu Rashtra and the Ram Rajya it will bring that would wipe fear, crime, and greed from the society. In the pursuit of that faux ideal, simple manipulations by the right-wing leaders could suffice. Once again, Ramayana could be used to justify and support the people who set forth to remove the ‘other’.

Maybe I am exaggerating. Maybe the news of death, illnesses and lack of resources to handle the situation that keeps playing on every damn media is playing with my mind too, making me anxious for the future. I do think that despite flawed characters, Ramayana is a beautiful, timeless story of love and longing. I do understand that people also need a break from the news and want to steep in the old era of simplicity, faith and family values to reduce their stress.

All that is granted and accepted! Only if we promise to remain scientifically focussed, rationally motivated and more loving and giving after we step out from our homes. Pay heed, the Ramayan preaches the last in abundance!

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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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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.

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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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