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Paatal Lok: Unlocking The Fatal Locks Of The Society

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By Areeb Uddin and Srishti Mehta

The fancy doctrines of equality are still finding a path to enter the zones where supporters of the ‘separate spheres of men and women’ reside. It could be an apartment, a cabin in a multinational company, or a small village, away from the metropolitan.

The recent thriller — Paatal Lok, has unlocked the ‘fatal locks’ of Indian society and clearly reflects the position of women within our structured society. It blends crime, suspense and corruption at distinct metaphorical levels — from Swarg Lok to Paatal Lok (and Dharti Lok). The series revolves around the idea of how three people, accused of a crime they haven’t committed, are blatantly tortured, and how the transfer of fake news is beneficial for power holders.

It is a tight-packed, gripping show that showcases stellar performances by the lead characters and the supporting cast. The creators of the show have highlighted and brought before our eyes the various dark sides of the country that are deeply rooted in distinct forms. Some of the darkest realities of our society have been dumped, and we often normalize these instances. But we need to stop and review and eradicate such evils and prejudices from within.

The high profile case, which is “unfortunately” handled by Inspector Hathi Ram Chaudhary, depicts many angles of social evils that people have been facing; from stigma towards transpersons, Islamophobia, ignorance towards mental illnesses and especially the positioning of women as ‘ghar ki izzat’.

We Have Failed To Recognize The Idea Of ‘Sexual Orientation’ In a Free Society:

Still from Pataal Lok
Credits: Amazon Prime

During an interrogation scene, police officials come to know about Cheeni’s orientation as a transwoman, and they treat the revelation by beating Cheeni violently. This is the harsh reality of our society, where many cases have been reported which portray how the transgender community is targeted, and there is a certain amount of gross presumption that they always indulge in anti-social activities.

Over centuries, there has been a refusal to accept one’s sexual identity and an individual’s right to choice, and this has been shown throughout the series in a really delicate manner. There is a scene where Cheeni is taking a bath in the local jail, and what’s striking is the sheer insensitivity and denial to accept a person’s individuality while the person is subjected to gross humility. We need a safer backdrop for every community, as even places like jails can turn into an earthly ‘hell’ for any of us.

Revisiting The ‘Separate Spheres’ — Home For Women And Work For Men:

Still from Pataal Lok
Credits: Amazon Prime

Gul Panag plays the character of Hathi Ram’s wife, and the series portrays the life which is being lived within the ‘private’ sphere. From managing household chores to being held solely responsible for the upbringing of their children—her simple life showcases the quintessential role that is expected of all mothers.

She is a daunting mother who is forever trying to protect her son, but is blamed for his mistakes. She displays a promising role of a strong wife who is vulnerable in her space but is somebody who stands up for herself and her self-respect when her husband behaves in an unjustified manner.

The idea of separate spheres was vandalized by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in Samya, the first political text on equality, but we need to get back to Bankim’s version of equality, which says:

“If there is true equality, both men and women must bear an equal share in what is called the duties of the household. One partner will tend to the household and be deprived of education, the other partner will escape such onerous duties and become learned — regardless of whether this is natural or not, is against the principles of equality and inequality leads to inequality.”

Mental Health And Anxiety Attacks Are ‘Real’:

Still From Pataal Lok
Credits: Amazon Prime

Dolly, Sanjeev Mehra’s wife, suffers a setback because of her mental health and anxiety attacks. In India, people often dismantle the idea of mental health and psychological therapies, for we believe that medicine can cure anything. But sometimes people need a real conversation, interaction and meditation to overcome their fears. The only person who never judges Dolly for these attacks and emotional pitches is her stray pet — Savitri.

Her side of the story clearly portrays a message that mental health is ‘normal’, like any other disease or illness. Despite knowing about her husband’s affair, she tries bonding with him and even attempts to cheat on him; instead she chooses to stay back and wait for him, displaying the strong act of yearning for love.

An Honest Officer Without Unnecessary Restrictions Can Do Wonders:

Still from Pataal Lok
Credits: Amazon Prime

Hathi Ram is given the charge of the case, “unfortunately”, as the investigation comes under the jurisdiction of his Police Station. For Hathi, this is one of the most important cases of his career, but later he unlocks the dirty puzzle which is formed just to serve the purpose of the power-holders. The case is later transferred to the CBI, and interestingly, without any second thought, the accused are linked to ‘ISIS’ and to an inter-border conspiracy. This clearly reflects the cheap play of “hierarchy” of power within the system and shows who controls the flow of information.

A Sense Of ‘Phobia’ For The Minorities:

Still from Pataal Lok
Credits: Amazon Prime

Ansari, who plays the role of a policeman under Hathi Ram as his junior, is a Muslim and gets dragged into the frame on various instances because of some ‘pre-assumed’ ideological stigmas. But, Hathi Ram, who plays a wonderful role in motivating and supporting Ansari for his pursuit of Civil Services, reflects the idea of ‘neutrality’ that we need to hold within these government offices and services.

Ansari shines as a ‘hero’ throughout the series where he displays a sense of compassion that every police officer ought to have while dealing with cases. The discrimination and the indifference felt by him from time to time is easily noticeable on his face, and a clear message for Muslims can be drawn on how badly we need an ‘educational reform’ rather than a social one.

The ‘Reel’ vs. ‘Real’ Journalism:

Still from Pataal Lok
Credits: Amazon Prime

Sara, who plays the role of a journalist working under Mr Mehra, is a well-established ‘prime time’ star. Sara does a fine job in portraying a strong confident woman of today’s time who is devoted to her profession and portrays a brilliant and daunting journalist.

She is not afraid of her choices, which range from having an affair with Mehra to unapologetically choosing the path of righteousness when she begins to get a whiff of Mehra’s self centeredness in the whole controversy. She stands up for what’s right after getting to know the truth. She helps Hathi Ram step-by-step in addressing little loopholes in the mystery of the series.

And on the other side, Mehra is only concerned about the TRP of his show, which clearly unveils the picture of the fourth pillar in India, where the media needs to play a better and responsible role.

Hence, Pataal Lok has outshone itself in a brilliant way, where in mere nine episodes, it swings you across in a whirlpool of multiple social spaces that the country is home to. It spills out the dirty dark secrets and spins them into different stories that get entwined together, and collectively shows us the lives of the three loks (three worlds) in one. It will leave you waiting for what will come next, and what it surely won’t make you feel is disappointment.

(About the authors: Areeb Uddin Ahmed, Law student at the Faculty of Law, AMU; Srishti, presently undertaking her judicial clerkship at the Allahabad High Court, Uttar Pradesh)

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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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