This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Poornima Mandpe. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

I Held Off Watching ‘Article 15’ Until The Hathras Incident Compelled Me To

More from Poornima Mandpe

*Trigger Warning*: Mentions of rape, caste-based discrimination, caste-based violence 

I, with my urban, upper-caste/class privilege chose not to watch Article 15 and Fandry as long as I could, as I was afraid that I would be disturbed by violence and discrimination shown in the movies. But with the events of the Hathras rape case unfolding in the last few days, I called out my cowardice and realised that it is precisely this indifference, that is one of the causes of the continuing oppression of one section of the society towards the other. I decided to watch Article 15 on Netflix.

How Bollywood Addresses Caste On Screen

A still from the movie, Article 15.

While plenty of books have been written on the issue of caste and gender-based violence, sometimes by writers from the oppressed caste themselves, the problem has carefully been evaded by our mainstream cinema.

Leave aside Manthan and Nishant and others from the parallel cinema — watched and appreciated by a niche audience who are far placed from the ground reality — there are only a few Bollywood movies which tackle caste as a subject.

Surprisingly, Bollywood has many love stories based on rural/urban or rich/poor divides. Some movies have also been made on inter-community (Hindu-Muslim) love stories, but very few with the upper caste/lower caste trope.

One of the very few that came to my mind immediately was Chachi 420. In that film, Kamal Hassan plays the role of a Dalit who marries a woman from upper-caste Hindu Brahmin community (the beauty of the film is that despite being a comedy, it manages to address and redress caste-based prejudices).

Then again, the rich/poor type of movies sometimes have subtle caste references for those who can read between the lines, when an allusion to the “neech khandaan of the lover is made by the hero/heroine’s father (always the father). But that is hardly enough to address the elephant in the room. 

Anubhav Sinha, Ayushman Khuranna and the entire ensemble cast and crew of Article 15 should be applauded, for not just taking the effort to bring out a movie which directly tackles caste-based violence but also taking it to the mainstream audience. Yes, movies are closer than literature to a majority of us in India, and such things do make a difference.

The movie follows the events taking place in Lalgaon, a small village in the Hindi heartland of India (UP), romanticised at first by the new suave, foreign return, Additional Superintendent of Police (ACP) Ayan Ranjan, till the social fault lines crack wide open.

His subordinates love to narrate the stories from Hindu mythology, especially that of Ram and Ram Rajya, a rationalisation they offer to themselves for the “perfect system of inequality” prevailing in Lalgaon. Untouchability is practised blatantly — shamelessly — and even the urban educated Ayan is expected to partake in it to not “impair the peaceful balance of the village”. 

Things change when two 15-year-old girls from the Dalit community are found hanging on a tree one fine morning, 2 days after they had gone missing. A third girl, who was last seen with them is nowhere to be found. Attempts are made to botch the case up — post mortem reports are tampered with and “investigation” is mainly compelling the poor families of the girls to confess it as an “honour killing”, undertaken by the fathers themselves. Nobody wants to admit that the girls were raped and murdered even with ample evidence is produced to support the claim.

Article 15 Took No Cinematic Liberty

The details that are emerging in the Hathras case of alleged police mishandling — from refusal to file an FIR, not provide her with medical aid, inhumanely cremating her in the middle of the night without the consent of family members, has sadly proven that Article 15 took no cinematic liberty to exaggerate the situation, and in fact, the truth is even grimmer than the fiction.

In Article 15, not all the police officers who unknowingly abet the crime are bad human beings or direct perpetrators of the violence. Some are beneficiaries of the system and are not interested in changing a world that suits them so well. Some have rationalised that it is fruitless to make an attempt to bring change, and others are afraid of standing up to the powerful. One police officer who is from a lower caste does not want to associate himself with the dynamics of the case and spoil his prospects, especially after he had painstakingly climbed the ladder.

The film throws up many hard-hitting scenes which portray the reality of rural India, governed by ancient laws and supported by state agencies, and yet manages to end on a hopeful note. In the end, one of four perpetrators gets caught and faces a jail sentence and the missing girl is found after the police lead a manhunt for her. We all know how things ended in real life, in the Badaun rape case on which the film is based on.

How do such brutal, inhuman acts of rape, torture, lynching and beatings continue to take place again and again in our country? These acts are just the extreme ends of underlying invisibilised violence and discrimination that already exists in the lives of a huge chunk of people in the nation.

These extreme acts are so excessive that they spill over to the larger public and sometimes make prime time news. Thus, the entire edifice on which our society operates is itself violent and unequal in the first place, and such extreme incidents are bound to repeat whenever someone tries to defy that order.

In Article 15, the young Dalit girls who work at a tannery factory ask for measly ₹3 wage rise to their contractor. In return, they are slapped on the spot, and later kidnapped, raped and killed. They are punished for the “audacity” of asking for more, of demanding a change in the status quo (aukat) as defined by those who have the means.

We react only to these extreme acts that we are forced to confront, whereas the entire foundation on which this rests, which allows, fosters and normalises the violence and suppression, remains unnoticed and untouched.

Within the caste structure, Dalits who work as manual scavengers are usually from the Hindu Valmiki sub-caste.

How We Benefit From Carefully Placed Hierarchical Structures

Also, where we think there is chaos is an invisible system operating perfectly, in complete synergy, to meet the requirements of the “haves”. Half of us in our cities may think of the Hathras case and the gender and caste-based discrimination in rural India as some other world’s problem. What we forget is that we all want to benefit from the labour that this carefully placed hierarchical structure produces; and we thus, essentially perpetuate the hierarchy.  

Having said this, I think getting the perpetrators arrested and punished is not enough — the entire system of patriarchy and caste and its juxtaposition needs to be first questioned and then dismantled. Also, it is the beneficiaries of the unequal system that should be responsible for changing it. The onus cannot always be on the community which is already vulnerable and do not have the adequate resources and means to speak up against it.

Some semblance of justice is achieved towards the end in Article 15 because everyone — the educated urban IPS officer, the local police, young leaders from the aggrieved Dalit community and even his city-based “woke” girlfriend come together in rallying against the system and resolving the case.

Here, our hero is not the one who solves the crime and punishes the culprit and gives a speech. He first battles with his convictions and then through his relentless pursuit of the case manages to stir the conscience of his team.

In real life, we need this unity, and we need this variety of heroism too. It rarely happens though. We are steeply divided as a country to care, except when cases like these awaken us.

Even though the links of gender and caste are apparent in the case, I found one of my acquaintances on twitter asking why there is a “selective outrage” and why the caste of the girl was so “important”.

Enraged, I attempted to reason with him, but he argued that the girl’s caste is used to politicise the issue and to challenge the ruling government and it should be treated like any other case of sexual violence against women.

Firstly, the issue “is political” in the sense that we see an age-old pattern of upper caste, powerful men raping a lower caste woman with little or no agency and then covering up the crime, and being allowed to do that because we live in a society where rape is a tool of punishment to those who challenge the order.

Secondly, of course, the government is accountable and has to answer how things came to such a course. I did not say all these things to him because it seemed pointless to argue with someone who had made up his mind. These people, I gather, are deluding themselves. It’s the same category of those who say #humanlivesmatter and say “gender equality” instead feminism. They miss the point that there are some historically oppressed and marginalised sections of society that need a voice to speak up against the injustice that was specifically perpetrated against them, by a system designed to do so.

I hope that the media takes this chance to redeem itself after their voyeuristic reporting of the SSR- Kangana-Rhea-Deepika series of events and cover the Hathras case meaningfully enough that the truth is brought out to more and more people.

I hope as a civil society we make a loud enough noise till the State Government takes responsibility and compels the police to do their duty. It’s the least we can do.  

And finally, I hope more movies like Article 15 continue to be made and seen until it no longer remains an issue that catches our attention only when a young Dalit girl is tortured and killed.

You must be to comment.

More from Poornima Mandpe

Similar Posts

By priyanka gulati

By Akanksha kapil

By Shruti Jairaj Singh

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below