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Kangana Ranaut: A Masterclass In Non-Intersectional (And Non-Existent) Feminism

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In the aftermath of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic demise, one actress has captured the nation’s imagination like few others ever have. From leading the unsubstantiated witch hunt against Rhea Chakraborty to appointing herself judge, jury, and executioner in the absence of any locus standi whatsoever, Kangana Ranaut’s antics have been a masterclass in opportunism. Interestingly, demanding justice while at the same time upholding the dignity of the deceased hasn’t been very high up on her list of priorities. She has, however, been dogged and even hugely successful in portraying herself as a crusader against all real and perceived ills.

Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut

From nepotism and sexism in Bollywood to more sensitive issues like mental health and national security, Miss Ranaut has an opinion on everything under the Sun. Those who differ are immediately labelled “anti-national”, “terrorists” and, funnily enough, “male chauvinists”!

While all these labels are uncalled for and simply wrong, the last is the most relevant to the purpose of this essay: debunking the myth that she’s a feminist icon or even a feminist.

A brief look at her life story and filmography will reveal a completed checklist of what constitutes a feminist icon. Defied the patriarchal society she was born in and pursued the career of her choice? Check. Is wildly successful at the said career? Check. Has worked in some of the most critically and commercially successful female-centric films in the history of Indian cinema? Check. Spoken out against discriminatory practices at her workplace? Check. Refused to endorse skin lightening products? Check. Doesn’t need a husband or partner and wears her independence as a badge of honour? Check!

Unfortunately, though, the sum of parts isn’t always a perfect whole. Although her feminist credentials are noteworthy, even stellar, she is also notorious for her appalling displays of internalized misogyny. She has, in the past, boasted about having made “size zero” fashionable. What do you call a feminist who takes pride in promoting a culture of disordered eating and distorted self-image? That’s right; a(n) (oxy)moron! Her much-applauded criticism of the unfair treatment of outsiders in the film industry soon degenerated into something far less noble and far more self-serving.

She, as the self-proclaimed guardian of the flock of “outsiders”, has taken it upon herself to shame fellow actresses on every aspect of their professional and personal lives, conveniently classifying them into “dumb nepo kids” and “chaploos (sycophant) outsiders”. From their physical appearances and love lives to their sartorial choices and calibre as actors, Kangana has seldom missed an opportunity to tear another woman down.

Off late, however, Kangana, more popularly known as “Jhansi ki Rani”, appears to have gone from bad to worse. By comparing the demolition of A PORTION of her OFFICE building to the plight of rape survivors and that of internally displaced Kashmiri Pandits, she has reached a new low, even for a veteran like herself.

Via her recently verified Twitter account, she has spewed venom on all subjects, and in all directions. Her blatant casteism, Islamophobia, queerphobia, ableism, and offensive views on women who work in adult entertainment would be sufficient to disqualify anybody else from occupying the exalted position she has so comfortably settled into. RIP, intersectionality. RIP!

All said and done, Kangana is not the disease. She’s just one symptom thereof. Her appeal, however unfortunate, lies in the fact that she validates the prejudices that are rampant in India as I write. Her massive fan following is testament to the fact that an overwhelming majority of Indians either have a woefully inadequate understanding of feminism or simply do not care.

For them, fawning over Kangana Ranaut performs two functions: championing a self-made, successful woman flatters their egos and makes them appear “woke”. On the other hand, an endorsement of her regressive views also acts as an endorsement of their own hatred, ignorance, fears, and insecurities. A win-win situation, albeit one that is absurd!

As tempting as it is, ridiculing her and giving her the importance she clearly doesn’t deserve, is not the way to counter the cult she has inspired. For it is nothing short of a cult. The way out is to strike at the roots of the malady. To teach, learn, question, and listen to one another. To thus reach the realization that a shallow, elitist, and exclusionary form of feminism is no good. That the pie needs to be bigger and the table, longer.

Although she’s a hugely problematic figure, the secret (?) to her success is the hugely problematic society she’s flourishing in. In a more enlightened country, rabble-rousers like Kangana Ranaut would have little, if anything at all, to capitalize on. Such a country would be safe, or at least safer, space for all. All women and all men. Irrespective of religion, caste, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. Because feminism must work in tandem with other movements aimed at achieving social justice and equity. Anyone who claims or believes otherwise, is himself, or herself, as in the present case, a “male chauvinist”!

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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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