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What Role Do Power Dynamics Play In Discrimination And Harassment?

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When #MeToo jolted Bollywood, a lot of people were quick to point that those survivors had the choice to say no and were equally responsible for their conditions. Even though choices are seemingly available in any situation, power dynamics in any profession are quick to negate the availability of choices. Over the years, people have overlooked the power dynamics, especially in India, for the sake of growth and development, be it Bollywood, or any other industry. Even religion.

What is Power Dynamics?

Power dynamics in their natural environment mean taking control over the other person’s capacity to make choices that might be beneficial to that individual and their family. When TV actor Rajeev Khandelwal criticised the #MeToo movement on the basis of one’s choice to say no and failure to believe in oneself, he simply failed to take into account the power dynamics within the profession.

This control forces the individual to either abandon the profession altogether, or suffer consequences. It is also true that some people are lucky as this power dynamic escapes them, but in reality, the percentage of such people is very low.

Components Of Power Dynamics

How do power dynamics exist? It has three major components.

  • First, there is a power holder and power receiver. These are simple terms, but when witnessed in real life, you’d realise how much people try to manipulate each other.
  • Second, in power dynamics, power is used for attaining selfish gains at the expense of others. In other words, power is used negatively.
  • Third, power dynamics often deplete mental and physical strength.

Power Dynamics Through the Ages

Power dynamics is not a new-age concept. Kings, merchants, landowners, big farmers, bureaucrats, or people in possession of valuable resources have exerted their power for their own concern and self-satisfaction. Centuries ago, people, in general, had to struggle more than they do today, and life span of ordinary folks was also minimal, making power dynamics more bearable. Now, more available time and larger life span, power dynamics have a deeper impact.

Power Dynamics Are Either Underestimated Or Ignored

People are always quick to judge whenever someone raises a voice against another. Such instances suddenly harp on the opinion of the public to establish reliability with either party. But what happens in public is ignorance or blatant disregard for the use of power dynamics. This is the root cause of the problem.

For example, in The Mahabharata, the use of power dynamics by Shakuni are undervalued in the whole book. But actually, he is the root cause of the whole war. Instead, Draupadi is partially blamed for the war, as she insulted Duryodhan. What we fail to probe is that in our daily lives, we insult many in many ways. Does this mean everyone should go for war?

In India, differently-abled people and transgender folks are mocked and insulted every day. So should they also go to war? Wars or disputes happen because of power dynamics. Ignorance of power dynamics never resolves the problem at its core.

Power Dynamics In Bollywood

Whether there is blatant or unapologetic nepotism in display in Bollywood or not, there is definite abuse of power. Popular or successful celebrities indulge in questionable activities and are able to walk out without impunity. Power dynamics among them come from money and public opinion. Fans refuse to treat celebrities as humans who need to be held accountable for their actions. This simply results in a great tornado of power dynamics in which several innocents get hurt eventually.

Unlike other professions, Bollywood lacks structure. There is no defined recruitment procedure to enter the Hindi film industry. It is not easy to define talent. Moreover, the regular contract-making law in India does not restrict Bollywood in any way. This broad framework is never discussed rationally to establish transparency in the industry.  These contracts simply state their terms and conditions to abuse others who have no other solution but to accept. Unless these unstructured parameters are discussed meaningfully, this abuse will remain the root cause of power dynamics.

Power Dynamics In Politics

It is public opinion that politicians are corrupt. But it never translates into containing the action of politicians, unlike in Bollywood. The reason is simple — unlimited availability of resources at the disposal of a politician results in power vacuum like no one else. This was visible in case of migrant labourers, wherein the public refused to come together to seek justice for these people, unlike in case of Bollywood.

Power dynamics in politics affect lives in ways that cannot even be comprehended, but the general public refuses to acknowledge this absurd power dynamics in order to escape the reality of life.

प्रतीकात्मक तस्वीर
Representative image. 

Power Dynamics In Religion

Religion for centuries has fostered power dynamics by using faith and faulty understanding of human nature. This power dynamics has created so much tension that we tend to give into all kinds of negative emotions. This has now become the new normal against the stated objective of every religion.

Power Dynamics On Social Media

Power dynamics within social media are evolving at a faster pace than in anything else. People are abusing others at unprecedented levels in new ways every day. People are losing their mental sanity, jobs and morality. Power dynamics on social media are unfortunately used for trivial matters and not real-life issues. There was no demand for justice for those affected during the pandemic. Such power dynamics will have far-reaching consequences that cannot be quantified.

Power Dynamics Among Men

This is the least talked about or discussed power dynamics. A lot of people from Bollywood are speaking against injustice perpetrated by men against men. The reason is simple: a large number of men are at positions of power. Power dynamics among men are thus more common in politics, bureaucracy, business and culture. Men destroy other men blatantly, and jobs are taken away by men more easily, destroying families in the process.

Vikas Gupta from the TV industry has shown incredible strength by publicly accepting himself as bisexual. Sadly, this was the result of bullying by two men, which was very conveniently ignored by the public as always. If a woman’s name had come up, God save that woman.

In colleges, men still rag men to the point where freshmen die due to suicide. Yet, these topics are never discussed or taken seriously. Sadly, men refuse to talk about this situation. Fathers teaching their sons to not cry, and enforcing this rule in all kinds of ways has been documented for centuries, having resulted in only fragile toxic mental health. What is even more disturbing is that men encourage this destructive power to prove their dominance, which is considered a desirable trait among them.

For How Long Are We Going To Remain Silent?

The real purpose of democracy is to have a voice in matters that really affect our everyday lives. It is invoked regularly for abusing and demeaning others, but the same hatred is not invoked when it comes to issues such as price rise of petroleum without any valid reason, pitting of two religions for the sake of diverting attention, or failing our economy in spite of having all the knowledge pool under your belt.

Why does power dynamics exist to cause as much destruction as possible? Why do people with easy access to power find it easier to get away with their cruel and inhumane behaviour? Why don’t we demand accountability from people with great power rather than succumbing to an agenda that plays with emotions and desires blatantly? People forget easily that an ordinary citizen is the most vulnerable to power dynamics, which can even take your right to live with dignity.

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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.

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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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