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Should Indian Brands Be ‘Apolitical’?

“Should Indian brands openly talk about the political and social issues plaguing our country or remain ‘apolitical’?”

In a time where everything we do has political ramifications, the illusion of being ‘apolitical’ is a luxury only the privileged few can afford. Being apolitical does not equal being neutral, but implies endorsement of the prevailing social, economic, and political landscape. The caste system, patriarchy, economic inequalities, and communalism are some of the nuts and bolts in this elaborate machinery.

Keeping this in mind, being ‘apolitical’ itself becomes a political stance that favours the status quo. Let me elucidate this through three examples.

Representational image.

Shopping Is A Political Act

For instance, every time you choose to buy from a brand that donates funds to a specific political party, you are funding that party. You are enabling that political party to further propagate its ideology by handing it a larger microphone.

Shopping from fast-fashion brands that follow unsustainable practices that harm the environment and profit from exploiting cheap labour is also a political act. The ease with which fast-fashion giants can get permits to drain a country or state of its resources indicates the extent to which the government prioritizes big businesses over the welfare of indigenous communities that are directly affected by these environmentally destructive activities.

Every such fast-fashion purchase oils the gears in the machinery of exploitation and environmental degradation. This seeps into the social, economic, and environmental structure that inevitably impacts our lives.

Similarly, buying diamond jewellery is a political act. Governments dictate how conflict-diamonds are imported and distributed in your country. Every time you purchase conflict diamonds, you fund the abuse and exploitation of the individuals that went into crafting these for catering to your display of wealth and social status.

Hence, shopping is political.

When brands publicly take a stand on these issues and make (real) positive changes in their practices, even at the cost of some profit margins, they are taking a stand against economic exploitation. They are taking a stand for the environment and contributing towards making our planet more livable.

the-fashion-industry-emit-1-2-million-tons-carbon-hindi-article
Shopping from fast-fashion brands that follow unsustainable practices that harm the environment and profit from exploiting cheap labour is also a political act. Representational image.

Media Consumption Is A Political Act

You may not be a ‘sexist’, but the fact that a majority of the movies you choose to watch have a lack of indispensable and complex female characters is a political act.

These movies are indicative of the prevailing power structure if you take into account the people in positions of power who write/direct/produce these movies. These films illustrate the impact created by women in your society from the vantage point of these creators.

The same goes for movies with (or without) protagonists of particular skin colour and sexual orientation. Before you know it, your mind has been warped by a fictional realm that is not indicative of the diversity in your real world. The media you choose to consume shapes your perception of the social groups represented to you. It shapes your worldview. Representation in society is political.

Hence, media consumption is political.

Let’s extend this example to ad campaigns from popular brands. When ads choose to show individuals engaging in acts that defy stereotypes, they are questioning and defying the status quo. Remember Titan Raga’s #HerLifeHerChoices advertisement where it celebrated the ‘Woman of Today’? Or Ariel’s #ShareTheLoad advertisement where a man reflects on his role in the household after seeing his daughter juggle work and household chores?

Not only does society reflect the media it is exposed to, but the media also reflects our society.

When ads normalize stereotype-defying actions, they create a perception of the same being a part of a larger reality. This change in perception creates a ripple effect of progressive beliefs, and changing beliefs is a political act.

Loving Someone Is A Political Act

It is baffling to think that even in 2020, there are people who believe that they are entitled to decide whom other people must love.

If you love someone despite the social, legal or economic discrimination thrown your way, you are engaging in a political act.

Think about every instance where a brand normalizes a couple that doesn’t ascribe to society’s hetero-normative school of thought. Consider Fastrack’s ‘The Closet’, Anouk’s ‘The Visit’, or TOI’s ‘Out & Proud’. When brands stand by their message and hold their ground even at the possibility of receiving hate for representing marginalized communities in mainstream society, they engage in a political act.

Every time a brand takes a stand against an issue, it influences millions of people who will potentially consume its products or services. Conversely, every time a brand backs down in the face of hate or takes back its words and actions to pacify the hate-mongers, it legitimizes this hate.

It emboldens those who spew venom and further marginalizes the already marginalized. It discourages other organizations and individuals from stepping up and doing the right thing. It fosters fear and unquestioning compliance towards those in power. It sets a dangerous trend of turning a blind eye towards wrongdoing. In other words, it further cements the status quo. These actions shape mindsets, which in turn shape our society. And politics is nothing but a reflection of this society.

Ergo, everything brands do has been and always will be political.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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