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Corruption And Sexism At Workplace: Sherni’s Plain Story Breaks Many Stereotypes

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Last night, I watched Sherni with limited network access; the movie paused in between to buffer number of times due to network issues. But the interesting fact is that I am still not able to get over thinking about Vidya, the lead role played by Vidya Balan.

It made me think about various aspects covered by the film. It might look like a very boring, ordinary and not-so-fun movie to some, and that’s the beauty of it. It is a usual story of working women, be it in the government or private sector.

Let’s start from the character Vidya. She is medium built (that’s the term they use in matrimonial bios or dating bios, right?) — not that zero-figure woman with a gym body who wears tight clothes and maybe even rides a bike in action movies.

The first stereotype Vidya breaks is the actor Vidya herself. Not all superwomen are the way they are showed in movies. Balan looks like any ordinary woman in her 30s. She wearing clothes as per the situation and her choice — from saree, salwar kameez to shirt-pant.

The first stereotype Vidya breaks is the actor Vidya herself. Not all superwomen are the way they are showed in movies. Balan looks like any ordinary woman in her 30s.

Vidya’s husband lives away in the movie and insists her to not quit her job — not because he wants her to take a stand or fight for herself at the workplace, but because he need financial support from her. He is dependent on her. She does not mind it, obviously, but then, isn’t she being forced to do that mundane job with no authority or power even to execute her own duties? Isn’t this pulling her morale down every other day?

When a surprise visit of her husband to her place is accompanied by a visit of her mother in-law and mother, was there even a bit of consideration what she might want and not want? Was she ready for it? Right in middle of a crucial task, she was expected to take leave to take the mothers around. Is it because her job is not important enough? Would the same have been expected from her husband?

And on top of all this, she is supposed to dress up well to showcase the pride possession of their family, whereas, her husband going out in his shorts is no problem at all?

There’s a scene where Vidya chooses to drink whiskey when offered a cold drink. Why is it assumed that women don’t or shouldn’t drink? Is it because women’s and men’s health seems to be affected by alcohol differently? Or because it does not look good based on our societal norms? The expressions on the face of the man serving the drinks suffices to tell us all about it.

Her decision of not having kids is discarded time and again and she is the one being questioned, not her husband. Bringing up kids is assumed to be the sole responsibility of women.

No wonder, the political gains affecting her every action is an absolute reality, as is the reality of mines and disputes over jungles. Who has the right over this land? Animals or sapiens?

When she was present at the very first incidence of a man being killed by Sherni, the politician had commented, “Lady officer ko bheje hai.” Be it a man or woman, she is just performing her duty and has equal, power, responsibility and rights, but no, it’s never considered so, even when she was the one who successfully settled the case for the time being and negotiated while her senior, a man, was running and hiding under tables when questioned.

The movie is full of such action, words and dialogues that express the sexism persisting in society, at the workplace. One need to just identify them and understand them.

And I should mention this, I love this man, Neeraj Kabi, for the way he brings the negativity expected out of his character so fluently that in the end, you start hating him and forget that he is just playing a character on screen. We have a plenty of such man around us — not Neeraj Kabi, but Nangia, the character he played. The Hippocrates.

He was handed over the case not just because he was a man, but also because he was one of them, the powerful corrupts who were lecturing  the audience about the co-existence of environment and development. Ultimately, the T12 is dead, killed to be precise. Or should we call, T12 a victim of man’s pride and ego? A victim of the destruction of forest in the name of development? Because she couldn’t have crossed the mines and the national park across the mine.

The narrations of politicians are also phrased very well. They tell you how it works. It’s never about the right, wrong or the middle way, it’s about playing with the emotions of people, using their ignorance to fool them.

It seems this is one of those movies that go beyond entertainment. There is no overdramatic or heroic moments. The film is as plain as our everyday lives, yet, it conveys the right message and gives us a glimpse of reality.

I expected an ending where Vidya takes a stand and comes out as a winner, maybe files cases on the person who shot the T12 without even trying to rescue her or goes to the media to screws the lives of the Hippocrates, but that is not how it ends.

She was successful in rescuing the two cubs of the T12. She does so silently and takes the transfer order. She gets transferred to a museum of animals, i.e. dead animals. She seems to be of no use to the ones alive.

Yes, she writes a resignation letter. And how many times do women write one, change the dates and again end up saving it to Drafts, unsent, moving on?

Is it because they aren’t equipped enough to fight back? Because they have other pressing needs and family responsibilities to fulfil? Because fighting may turn ugly and ruin their career? Yes, that’s what happens in the movie and hence it’s a good movie. They say real life is different from reel; yes, it is, most of the time, but Sherni has been successful showing the real life on reel.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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