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What’s With The Indian TV’s ‘Unreal’ Portrayal Of Working Class Characters?

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The working class was part of a scriptwriter’s arsenal back in the day. With Ekta Kapoor changing the way we looked at characters, somehow, the working class disappeared. When the audience got bored with seeing a 400 crore worth family’s member using a CDMA phone, the working class returned to the scriptwriter’s world. But any number of series that I am seeing now tell me this, scriptwriters need to spend more time with the working class of today.

During the lockdown, the wife and I discovered the streaming apps and so many series that plays on the terrestrial channels.

Ladies Special

First We Saw Ladies Special

The first series that I was watched was Ladies Special, a series about three gritty women with different problems in their lives and how they solve them. While there were several infuriating sequences there, one aspect that stood out for me was the way the scriptwriter handled the working class. For the modern scriptwriter, the working class is a snivelling, crying, resourceless,  character who wouldn’t think twice before falling on the feet of an employer who have sacked them.  I thought this was a one-off, but a while later, we stumbled upon Shaadi Mubarak.

This is a unique series, that began as a cheap version of Made in India, and now exists in a world where DNA tests don’t exist, bigamy is yet to become a law and a legitimately married couple needs to meet in the bathroom to ensure that the ex-wife doesn’t find out what they are plotting.

But what happens somewhere in the middle is that the daughter of the weak, spineless protagonist remains at the mercy of an employer from hell because she ‘won’t get a job anywhere’. And it’s not like Suits where she doesn’t have the required qualifications, or she’s fibbed that she’s attended Harvard. No, the writers aren’t bothering with any of that. They just maintain that the character is unemployable.

Series Yevu Kashi Tashi Mi Nandayla

Marathi Series Yevu Kashi Tashi Mi Nandayla

And it all goes lower down with the Marathi series Yevu Kashi Tashi Mi Nandayla. A young woman who lives in Ambernath finds employment in a health and fitness company owned by her mother’s best friend. It’s about three episodes until now, and the girl’s been fat-shamed, lifestyle-shamed, and everything in between. Her father has actually fallen at the feet of his ex-employer.  At one time, he had no option but to work as a waiter at a caterer’s. Another character is now selling snacks – no, not tea – at the railway station, so on and so forth.

That the industry has lost its connect with the real world when it comes to money is something out there now. Govinda famously said in an interview that when one of his movies went a hit, he talked to his brother Keerti about buying fifty rickshaws and living life king-size. The industry has come a long way to Ayan Mukerji chiding his celebrity friend on phone during Kaun Banega Crorepati for calling him for a question worth 25,000. I still remember Ayan Mukerji’s surprised voice, “He’s calling me for 25k!” Well, it was 10,000 less than my monthly salary at that time. That was the epitome of the entitled looking down on the poor.

“Indian Television Scriptwriters Should Come Out Often”

The working class is no longer looking at the doors of unscrupulous moneylenders for saving their daughter’s life in the hospital. A person who has worked for more than three months gets a loan for 3 to 5 lakhs in a jiffy, EMI under 3000 for a number of years. Yes, it’s expensive but better than falling at the feet of an ex-employer.

The working class has at least three credit cards that couple up to 1 lakh in their back pockets and they are not splurging because they don’t want to splurge, not because they can’t. Even the ones that they consider ‘unskilled’ live in a society that knows people who can give them soft loans, jobs. Hell, I am meeting with a bank this week that’s giving 50,000 loans right off the bat to women, provided they are working and have a valid Aadhar. EMI? 600 rupees per month.

Do you know what a smart entrepreneur can do in 50,000 immediate today? They can buy a good camera and become influencers. They can actually buy babywear in wholesale and sell it, door to door, and still live a respectable life. There are websites that deliver all over India if you order over 10k. They can start a cooking business, they can do anything, but they won’t live in a world where they have to fall at the feet of their employer.

What message are these series giving to the person who’s studying for their SSC? For their graduation? What about the person who’s looking to make a career by pursuing higher studies, or even a non-mainstream profession like, say, a tailor? Not a fashion designer, a tailor. That they will have to be part of their boss’s evil plans even if they don’t want to? That they will have to stand outside their ex-employer’s homes and fall at their feet to re-hire them?

Is this the reason most youngsters no longer want to study and have a mainstream career as their parents did? If these young people think that the mainstream career is so risky, they should also wonder how they were never evicted in their 25 years of existence because of non-payment of rent. That was because their parents knew what the television series is no longer comfortable telling because it doesn’t get TRPs:

If you have the skill, you don’t need to pander. Unless you are a television script-writer who doesn’t have an answer to the producer’s ‘real life batana hai’ scene.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, 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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