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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.

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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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.

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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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Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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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.

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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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