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From Misogyny To Mob Justice: When Will The India Media Change Its Ways?

For the past two months, the Indian media has been trying its best to solve the mysterious death of late Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput and has yet again managed to engage its viewers with an issue they have no expertise on. Pictures of Rhea Chakraborty in the midst of reporters armed with mics and cameras, flouting all norms of social distancing, are going viral on social media. Nobody seems to be okay with this, not even the ones who have accepted her as the murderer of their favourite actor.

Memes about the issues are being widely shared on social media. This trivialises something grave and makes us question the ethics of Indian television media and its habit of mob justice.

However, this is not the first time the Indian media is desperate to solve a death mystery before any investigating authority. Anyone who followed the 2008 Arushi and Hemraj murder case in Noida can surely recollect how, for months, the Indian media continued to give the case every angle that it could, accusing anyone they felt could have murdered the duo. The anchors and their accusations ended up creating a mob mentality and a divide amongst its viewers against those they thought could be the killer.

But this is not to say that pre 2008, the media was doing any better. Television news outlets were busy searching for “Swarg ki Seedhi (Stairway to Heaven)” and finding out how much food WWE star Khali requires to maintain his physique. No doubt, the Arushi-Hemraj murder case provided them with something unique, and taking advantage of the great opportunity at hand, they continued to exploit the case and the people involved for months.

rhea chakraborty being harassed by media journalists
Pictures of Rhea Chakraborty in the midst of reporters armed with mics and cameras, flouting all norms of social distancing, are going viral on social media.

The same deceitful tactics are now being used in 2020. The media is using all its force to show its viewers the same news day in and out. The otherwise busy Indian media, which on other days warns gullible Indians against the “Dragon Threat” at the border and mocks Pakistan for its everyday problems, is ignoring the problems we have in our country, and has reached new heights of insensitivity while reporting on the Sushant Singh Rajput death case.

From leaking personal chats to giving it a political colour, this case has seen enough twists and turns.

The trail of developments, from the existing nepotism in the film industry and depression that caused Sushant’s death by suicide to it being a case of murder for money, and now, with the latest drug angle to it, is being constantly tracked and exaggerated by the Indian media so much so, that the changing narrative is making the case seem even more complicated.

The media, which ideally should have discussed mental health — a concern the majority of this country doesn’t take seriously anyway — has been feeding to the pre-existing misogyny in society, projecting Rhea as the only reason for Sushant’s death. But what the media has failed to take into account is that it is not just Rhea who is being questioned by the CBI. Sushant’s friends and family members have also been summoned for investigation.

The chances of Rhea being directly or indirectly involved cannot be ignored in this case, or the drug angle in which her brother Showik has already been arrested along with a few others. The case must be investigated, but this is the job of investigation authorities.

The chances of Rhea being directly or indirectly involved cannot be ignored in this case, or the drug angle in which her brother Showik has already been arrested along with a few others. The case must be investigated, but this is the job of investigation authorities.

The sole aim of the media trial is to prove Rhea guilty, with or without evidence, with no one giving a hoot about a fair trial. No doubt, any news about Bollywood makes viewers interested, especially when there’s a controversy with so many layers to it. And this is what has led the media to, by all standards, harass Rhea, her family, and even the guards of her building.

The actress took to social media and shared a video on her Instagram that showed her father, Indrajit Chakraborty, surrounded by mediapersons. Amid this raging coronavirus pandemic, with record daily spikes every other day, how appropriate is it for reporters to harass Rhea’s father — an elder man who is more vulnerable to getting infected with the virus?

The scariest part of all this is how catastrophic the situation might become and how the media would save its face if any of the family members turn out to be positive for Covid-19 and infect other journalists.

But it would be wrong on our side to solely blame the on-ground reporters, and leave the editors who comfortably sit in their studios, ordering to fetch exclusive footage, disregarding all rules and SOPs, and airing it, setting a wrong example for a country that has crossed 42 lakh cases as you read this.

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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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