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Does Rihanna’s Tweet Expose The Fault And Fear In (Bollywood’s) Stars?

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Anyone and everyone with a smartphone and an internet connection (2G to 5G, all-inclusive) have an idea about Riri’s tweets and some replies opposing or supporting them by Indian celebrity counterparts. We may be on either side of the spectrum- supporting Riri’s point of view or demanding Greta to go back to school and focus on her padhai (which, in my opinion, is quite laughable- especially in India where education remains suspended since March and has been the government’s least priority project).

I am, thus, going to skip an introduction of what happened and who said what from which side.

What I do want to discuss is my own experience. It reminded me of a theory that a friend of mine once shared with me while we were discussing the tenets of Buddhism and he suddenly paused and point blank, asked me, “Do you really think Ashoka had a ‘change of heart’ and became a changed man or were his subjects just too scared to disobey him lest he goes back to his old ways?” 

Those who know the history better than I do can most definitely answer this question with more accuracy than I can but I want to be honest here and accept that to me, the latter seemed plausible, infact, more than the former.

That story stuck with me.

As later that week Article 370 was revoked and all my intellectual circles were discussing and debating of what might happen in Kashmir and how the Kashmiris will revolt, I stood in my own silence with an eerie awareness that there shall be none by the people of Kashmir.

That story stayed with me through all the major issues and protests that broke ever since- from the Anti-CAA protests, North East Delhi riots, University attacks, Shaheen Bagh and now the Farmers Protests. That story was not just about the fear that may have existed among the subjects but also upon the ways a ruler (here, Ashoka) can work in to instill and reinstate that fear.

While the sense of fear sometimes evades among the subjects (read: citizens) and a peaceful and consistent opposition is erected, I’m not shocked when there’s an arrogant ignorance of it by the state.

The state’s response is akin to a fragile male ego deflated with a safety pin that was until now holding the pleats of my mother’s saree neatly in place- in a patriarchal set-up.

Instinctively, all responses that this grievous safety pin injury evokes is one to invoke more fear to reinstate and strengthen existing fear. I’m not sure how else to explain myself the numerous threats to Riri that have been flooding the internet, to the extent of glorifying the physical abuse and violence that is Riri’s trauma, other than one aimed at instigating fear in her?

Further, there have been memes about Riri losing out on performances at Indian weddings, and maybe shows and paid appearances in India.

The threat of losing out on work and business. There isn’t much to lose or a tighter noose to hang over her head. However, this threat becomes very real for Indian celebrities (Tapsee Pannu, Swara, Abhay Deol) for speaking up in support of Riri, or the farmers or in support of anyone who has dissented against the state. Riri can afford to lose out on work in India but where are Indian celebrities to go, especially those who aren’t the locals of Bollywood itself?

In fact, this fear which can be questioned upon its real or imaginary existence becomes all the more visibly real when a mainstream, established, seasoned actors like the Khans are called an anti-national and advised by political leaders to “go to Pakistan”. When those personally under political fire also find themselves in a place where they have to eventually come around to align with the ruling dispensation. It provides the crack for light to enter and give a glimpse of the fear that resides.

Either wallet or bullet, the choice is yours. Representational image.

Isn’t the atmosphere that we were already living in-one of fear? And aren’t some, if not most of these responses, by Indian celebrities out of a place of fear? A fear of falling out of favour? A fear of losing out work? A fear of losing privilege hitherto enjoyed? Or worse still, for those who speak up against the ruling dispensation of the sate, to fall into disfavour? Dissenters with a target on their backs? On the backs of their family members and loved ones?

This is not to justify those who are outright spewing hate speech and endorsing genocide (there’s really only a very fine line) but only an insight into the situation that we, collectively as a nation, are currently grappling with- circumstantially surrounded in fear, instigating more fear out of fear.

When will this cycle of fear stop? How will it stop? Will it, at all, even stop? I do not know but I hope that acknowledging this fear can be the first step towards resolving it.

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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.

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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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