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Bollywood Stars Should Check Their Ignorance Before Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

The United States is currently undergoing a period of reckoning. Apart from the devastating COVID outbreak, the nation is finally “bending the knee” for those who’ve faced systemic racism for generations, African Americans. 

Sarah Ali Khans Instagram Post

The Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum and spread all over. But for some folks, it just became an opportunity to look woke. This morning, while I was checking my Twitter feed, I saw a user calling out Sara Ali Khan’s Instagram post which said “all lives matter”. Adding insult to injury, the post had the word “black” struck out and replaced with “all”. 

The post was meant to be a response to the Black Lives Matter movement which was conjured after the brutal murder of an African American, George Floyd, by a Caucasian police officer who hadn’t been arrested until the outrage. Added to that, the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala led to outrage in India, and Sara’s Instagram post was meant to throw light on that incident as well.

While her filmography and charisma exhibit someone with potential, her sheer ignorance is reflected in that statement. Black Lives Matter, as a movement, gained momentum in 2013 after the murder of an African American named Trayvon Martin. The man who killed him, George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch captain, pulled him over because he was wearing a pullover and looked “suspicious”. Zimmerman was acquitted, but the case opened eyes to systemic racism, where African Americans are simply profiled as a potential “danger”. 

So, killing an African American, with a prior criminal record or for being confrontational, might not lead to prosecution. Whereas, Caucasians might get a lenient sentence for crimes as brutal as rape. The Brock Turner case is a perfect example; he was given six months (which got reduced to three months) for raping an unconscious woman, who “happened” to be a woman of colour.

Recently, Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own apartment by three police officers and no one was charged.  Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white men, but they were not arrested until the video of the incident went viral. Even during the current protests related to George Floyd’s murder, there have been reports of protestors being shot by the police. The point is, saying Black Lives Matter is like saying “save your houses by throwing water on homes that are on fire instead of all homes“. “All Lives Matter” only neutralises the narratives around racism.

Now, celebrities who were silent when it came to a lot of systemic atrocities (against DBA communities, deaths during the migrant exodus, etc.) at home, jumped in to participate in this debate. What is painful is the hypocrisy displayed because the folks who have endorsed fairness cream ads are now batting for “all colours”.

tamannah bhatia fair and lovely ad
Tamannaah Bhatia has previously endorsed fairness creams and is now a “supporter” of the BLM movement.

Tamannaah Bhatia, an actress, has acted in a fairness cream commercial where a darker version of herself looked unhappy while the fairer version looked happier. I also saw an interview where she talked about a problematic version of beauty standards. While promoting her film Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, Tamannaah said that she was aware of her status as a “beauty role model” and would think twice before doing something like eating a doughnut. So, if you want to say “all lives matter”, maybe don’t perpetuate stereotypes that suggest otherwise, especially to women.

Sara Ali Khan, in an interview with Barkha Dutt at We The Women, dropped a tone-deaf statement suggesting that people should change themselves instead of trying to change the world. “If you wanna be tan, just put some on some bronzer, and if you wanna be fair, put on some powder. It’s not the end of the world, and it shouldn’t define you at all,” she said. She was even called out for doing an ad shoot and using a tribesman as a prop.

Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Disha Patani, and Priyanka Chopra shared ‘BlackLivesMatter‘ posts, and all of them have done fairness cream ads. Priyanka was specifically called out for a scene from her movie Fashion.

Influential stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, John Abraham, Alia Bhatt, etc. have also starred in fairness cream ads. Yami Gautam, when called out by Abhay Deol for endorsing Fair and Lovely, argued that it was her choice. Fairness as a beauty standard also acts as a plague in Indian society, leading to systemic racism. 

From matrimonial ads to rides on a metro, systemic racism has been fed and is reflected through people’s reactions. Now, the Black Lives Matter movement has been reduced to an opportunity to look “progressive”, instead of taking a stand. Added to that, “all lives matter” is often used by racists, with a clear intention of neutralising arguments related to racism instead of being held accountable. 

Just like saying “men get raped too” in conversation related to violence against women, instead of standing up for male rape survivors. Information is at our fingertips, and Bollywood stars should take a moment to understand these issues. Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone have been talking about social issues like LGBTQIA+ and mental health respectively but didn’t take a stand on the racist aspects of fairness cream advertisements. Check your own mistakes and hold yourself accountable, or else the arguments are just fruitless.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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