Why Bollywood Celebrities choose to remain silent on political issues

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Recently we observed heavy criticism against Bollywood actors for not voicing their dissent publicly or for choosing to remain silent on political matters. 

This upsurge in criticism was particularly noted after the anti-CAA protests took place as the public blamed celebrities for not raising their voice. They believe celebrities have the power to influence the masses.

Many people stated the example of Meryl Streep who publicly criticized Donald Trump for using his position to bully a reporter in her Golden Globe Award speech back in 2017. 

Comparisons were made between her and actors in Bollywood who apparently choose to stay silent when something unacceptable happens in India.

However, while we make this comparison we tend to forget the difference in freedom of expression in both the countries, the willingness of people to accept a difference in opinion and the kind of reaction both the parties would get in terms of online abuse, harassment and bullying in the two countries.

Meryl Streep could voice her opinion publicly and stay assured that her security and sanity wouldn’t be threatened in the way Deepika Padukone was abused for showing her support towards the anti-CAA protests in JNU. 

People perceived her reaction as “pro Muslim” in nature and threatened to boycott her movie Chhapaak. The same actor received death threats on social media for apparently glorifying and supporting “Muslim culture” in her movie Padmaavat

How one perceives a movie varies differently from people to people and so, if that is the kind of reaction a celebrity gets for supporting a particular religion on screen, the consequences of the same will definitely be heightened in real life.  

Actors in India probably feel that it’s safer to remain silent on political issues, especially when their words and actions are magnified by the general public and media.

A star as opinionated and bold as Priyanka Chopra, UNICEFs goodwill ambassador who has spoken about multiple issues, from poverty to inequality on international platforms, refrains from commenting on Indian political issues. There isn’t much doubt why other, less popular and those who have just started to make a career in the industry would do the same.

Actor Sushant Singh’s contract with Savdhaan India was terminated a few hours after he attended an anti-CAA protest. Would a common man be willing to go to a protest at the cost of his job? If no, then why should it be expected out of our actors?

When Amir Khan expressed his views on his wife’s uncertainty about raising their child in India, he was probably expressing the emotions and fear of many others who are living in this country as a minority, especially when conflicts between the minority and the majority are in fact no surprise. 

He also lost a contract with Snapdeal soon after because people slammed the company for using Amir Khan as their brand ambassador after the actor’s remarks.

If a girl from Delhi or any part of India expresses her decision to move out because she feels unsafe about the rape culture in India, does she deserve to be criticized and threatened when the fact is that India was named the most dangerous country for women in 2018?

While there are many actors who do express their opinions on platforms like Twitter they often seem to be extra cautious of their words. The title of role model that we have given them adds extra pressure on their shoulders to be politically correct, but one may or may not be politically correct in the other’s eyes. 

If expressing your views is done out of pressure and is followed by a fear of trolls it loses its value. No wonder celebrities choose to avoid it.

It’s unfair to expect them to be politically aware and also express their views on the same. That’s not their job and it’s certainly not what they’re paid for. 

It should be normalized for them to have a politically or morally different opinion without having to face a backlash as severe as they do right now.

These trolls and online harassment can take a toll on anybody, including people with a million fans.

Sonakshi Sinha recently deactivated her twitter account (a platform on which she had garnered about 16 million followers) after being subjected to trolls for being a privileged star kid saying that she wanted to keep away from the negativity. 

If a few thousand trolls can affect the mental well-being of a celebrity like her, it’s not very hard to imagine the kind of impact it would have on others.

 

 

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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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