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Raat Akeli Hai: In This Narrative On Patriarchy, The Women Are Missing

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Spoilers Ahead!

Raat Akeli Hai‘, the newly released multi-star cast Netflix Original, directed by Honey Trehan and produced by RSVP Movies, has successfully portrayed a whodunit where audiences are captivated the end (keeping in mind the length of the movie being about 150 minutes). It’s a classic thriller around the murder of the patriarch of a rich landowning family in Uttar Pradesh on his wedding day.

The entire family is put under the radar of the suspect. The dialogues, written by Smita Singh (also known from Sacred Games), have extensively contributed to sustaining the thrill and making the movie much more than a criminal investigation. The movie runs a commentary on political patriarchy and its consequence of abuse and exploitation. The ‘victim,’ Raghubeer Singh (played by Khalid Tyabji), was murdered on the day of his marriage to a young bride Radha (played by Radhika Apte), who was also his mistress. As might be expected, Radha became the chief suspect in the course of the investigation.

The chief investigator of the case, Jatil Yadav (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui), is the protagonist of the movie who is determined to ensure justice to the ‘victim,’ and has also been portrayed as ‘the saviour.’ Bollywood has, for a long time, suffered from ‘saviour complex,’ and this is an essential conversation that needs to be initiated in reference to the portrayal of abuse and exploitation in popular culture.

Jatil Yadav has been portrayed as a layered character, who on the one hand in his personal life upholds his notion of ‘how an ideal woman aka his wife should be,’ and on the other, the stances and approaches embraced by him in the course of the case to ensure the protection of recently widowed bride Radha, illustrates the duality of the character.

However, it is important to understand his act of engaging in ‘impartial investigation is nothing but part of the duty,’ as correctly addressed by Radha in the course of her conversation with him.

His sense of objectivity during the investigation was not only determined by his impression of being an ‘imaandar police officer’ but also his increasing love interest in Radha. Jatil was helping Radha to flee and trying to kiss her, where the consent was denied and he crossed the professional line in his attempt to establish a sense of right over Radha. The portrayal of Jatil as a flawed protagonist but open towards working on himself runs a commentary on addressing unconscious biases.

Coming back to the mystery, while continuing the current investigation, Jatil comes across another missing link of the death of Raghubeer’s wife, five years back. The local minister, Munna Raja (played by Aditya Srivastava), trying to bury both the cases demonstrates India’s route to justice has to pass by power, hierarchy, and exploitation enabled by the state machinery, in this case, SSP Lalji Shukla (played by Tigmanshu Dhulia).

The movie highlights the close networking between the police and the political leaders in accomplishing corrupt practices. Through his investigation, Jatil discovered Raghubeer was killed by his niece, Vasudha (played by Shivani Raghubanshi), who, in turn, was the survivor of child sexual abuse by her uncle. To bury the words around this horrific act of abuse, Raghubeer’s wife was silenced by Munna Raja.

Raat Akeli Hai Review

Though the movie tried to portray violence against women in upper-caste powerful families and the reality of trafficking, it became more of a narrative of vengeance. The recent releases like Bulbbul or Raat Akeli Hai can also be understood as the narratives of glorifying vengeance and employing sexual abuse as the plot device. Though it is trying to strike a conversation around the incompetence of the legal system, it lacks illustration from women.

It rather reduces it to a satisfactory vengeance story from the male gaze. Despite plying child-sexual abuse primarily to the narrative, we do not hear Vasudha’s story in her voice. The revealing sequence appears to be more of a ‘moment’ for a saviour’s hero’ police officer than understanding and listening to the survivor.

The movie successfully portrays how elderly women in upper-caste families are complicit in maintaining heteropatriarchy. Vasudha’s mother, despite knowing dreadful injustice being done to her daughter, remained silent and rather was only interested in ensuring inheritance rights for her son. She not only attempted to suppress her daughter’s experience but also exerted control over other female members of the family. The movie remains successful in holding viewers’ interest because of the exceptional acting by the entire cast.

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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.

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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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