Busting Myths about Menstruation

Siddhi Shah

Discussing the myths relating to menstruation, why they persist and how we can challenge them

The word “menstruation” is often associated with adjectives such as anxiety, embarrassment, and fear. Despite being a natural bodily function, it is synonymous with myths and secrecy. In India, while we have progressed in creating awareness around it, menstruation is still a taboo. Myths around menstruation have contributed to serious consequences and misinformation in all peripheries, especially for those who lack access to basic resources like menstrual hygiene products and access to toilets. 

“Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to  purify themselves before resuming their everyday life.”

In India to date, menstruation is seen as something impure and dirty. Those who menstruate are prohibited from performing everyday chores. They are often asked to purify themselves before resuming their daily life. In many households, they are not allowed to do puja (prayer) or even enter a temple when they are menstruating. They are not allowed to touch and offer their prayers to holy books. Menstruating women are not allowed to touch anyone or enter the kitchen. They are excluded from activities and kept away from the rest of society. These practices exist and persist because of the backward cultural and religious beliefs that are propagated by society and passed on through generations. 

Menstruation is also linked to unaccepted cultural norms and traditions. It is said that it is associated with evil spirits, embarrassment and shame around sexual reproduction. In some areas, women are made to bury their clothes after they complete their cycle. The retrograde myth personifies that blood can be used as black magic and it can be used to assert the woman’s will on a man. The same blood from which a baby is created is considered impure. Studies show that about 71% of adolescent girls remain unaware of menstruation until they experience their first menstrual cycle. 

“Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts.”

Myths are nothing but sacred tales that have been passed on through generations as a means of making sense of the world and people’s experiences. It is an anachronism that myths continue to oppress a gender due to past experiences and thoughts. Instead, they should foster a sense of equality especially when menstruation is biological and natural. Instead of women being empowered and feeling supported they are made to feel inferior, weak and abnormal. To name a few countries and their regressive superstitions around menstruation:

CountrySuperstition about menstruation 
The USA and the UK You cannot have a shower 
If you touch any vegetable when menstruating, it will rot  
NepalYou cannot be in your house or come in contact with anybody
Romania You cannot touch flowers, they will die quicker 
BrazilYou can’t wash your hair when you are on your period 
Philippines When you first get your period you need to wash your face with the first menstrual blood to have clear skin

“In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or in a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate.” 

In Nepal, 14 million girls and women face challenges due to the restrictions imposed by their families. “Chauppadi”, is a practice which prevails in twenty-one districts. “Chau” means impure and “padi” means shed. It requires women to live in a cowshed or a separate hut outside the house for five-seven days while they menstruate. Girls and women are made to sleep on wooden planks without any basic necessities. This results in some of them being bitten by snakes and some of them are raped, harassed or murdered. In 2019 two girls aged 14 and 19 died because of a snake bite when they were residing in the cowsheds. 

These existing societal myths and taboos around menstruation have impacted the self-esteem of women. In less developed countries a lot of girls have to drop out of school when they start menstruating. This is because a large percentage of women face stomach pain or cramps during their periods and only 20% of girls are able to get medicine for cramps. 

“According to  NFHS (National Family Health Survey), 42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth.”

According to  NFHS (National Family Health Survey),  42% of women of the ages 15-24 use sanitary napkins, whilst 62% continue to use cloth. Moreover, lack of menstrual hygiene such as access to just 5-6 sanitary napkins for each woman for a whole month, lack of water or proper toilets in the house, and not being allowed to bathe during menstruation has led to serious health consequences like reproductive tract infections. Poor access to menstrual products continues to be a barrier to achieve complete coverage of menstrual hygiene. 88% of women in India have been recorded as using homemade alternatives such as rags, hay, ash and cloth. The question that arises is how we can put an end and take the first step for all girls and women to have access to menstrual hygiene?

“FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world.”

FullStopp is a student-led initiative that works to improve awareness, access and advocacy in the menstrual space aiming on achieving a more equal world. Anjali at the age of 16, founded this non-profit organisation. They conduct menstrual hygiene management sessions that outline certain do’s and don’ts, Biology behind periods and busting prevalent myths and superstitions to the underprivileged menstruators. In addition to this, they also provide biodegradable or reusable cloth pads as a more eco-friendly alternative to disposable plastic pads. So far, they have conducted sessions with thousands of underprivileged women at schools, slums, orphanages, sex-trafficking rescue homes, and NGOs across the country, and been able to provide menstrual products to cover over 75, 000 periods. Alongside running campaigns on social media, they have also been able to set up operational chapters in the UK, Algeria and Malawi.

Here are more suggestions on how we can overcome and combat these barriers:

1. The government must play an integral role in bringing a change in the system. Policies to promote menstrual hygiene by inculcating it in school curriculums is urgently needed so young children are aware and don’t blindly follow cultural myths. Menstrual hygiene education should be a priority. For example, the government of Goa introduced an educational module to encourage menstrual education and inculcate it in the curriculum. Low-cost sanitary pads should be locally made and distributed especially in rural and slum areas. In 2010, India launched a campaign called National Rural Health Mission to improve menstrual hygiene for 15 million adolescent girls and provide them with low-cost sanitary pads. 

2. Corporations and the media have the medium to change and mould perspectives in society. They should voice their opinions on gender equality and help break social taboos that still exist today in society. An exceptional campaign on menstruation was conducted by P&G. In 2014, it was one of the first campaigns in which any brand or institution in India talked about periods and it’s associated taboos on a large scale. It not only helped people talk about periods openly but also stirred a conversation as well as acceptance between men and women. 

3. NGOs and social organisations also could contribute largely to promoting menstrual hygiene in their communities. As mentioned above FullStopp is looking for volunteers to help them. You can also donate to such organisations to provide sanitary napkins to the underprivileged menstruators. 

4. The entertainment industry has also played as a catalyst in reaching out and educating people about menstrual hygiene. The film industry should create more movies like Padman and The period to make the conversation much stronger. Indian actor Akshay Kumar is a part of Niinemovement that has been conceived by social entrepreneur Tulsiyan in the ray of hope to inspire women, break taboos about menstrual hygiene and bridge the gap between sanitary napkin users. The documentary “Period. End of a Sentence” gained attention worldwide when it was recognised and awarded the Academy Award for best documentary in 2019.

All in all, these stakeholders should work together with their very own strengths to break the societal myths and secrecy associated with menstruation. Dealing with menstruation is difficult as it is and societal stigma makes it even harder. It is time for societies to come together to combat these beliefs. It is time for the colour red to become a symbol of purity and shatter centuries of myths about menstruation. 

Siddhi is currently pursuing Media and Communication from the University of Arts London. She strongly believes in bridging the gap in all societal aspects and cultures. She believes in gender equality and empowerment of the youth. She is also a music junkie who loves to travel and has her own fashion blog called Maisonsash.

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#MeToo: 1.7m Tweets, 12m Facebook posts, 85 countries

Asmita Sood

 Examining how #metoo has progressed through the years, its achievements and pitfalls

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence 

On October 15, 2017, American actress Alyssa Milano shared an image on Twitter containing the following text:

“Me Too. Suggested by a friend: “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.”

#MeToo originated from Milano’s tweet and became a global news-maker. It trended in 85 countries with 1.7 million tweets and 12 million Facebook posts in the first six weeks alone. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center after a year of Milano’s tweet estimated that 19 million tweets had used #MeToo, which is more than 55,000 tweets per day. An analysis of over 600,000 tweets and Facebook posts with #MeToo showed that tweets varied from containing personal stories and expressing general support to re-posted articles, commentary to discussing offenders. However, “Me Too” as a grassroots movement supporting survivors goes back to 2007 when it was founded by Black Feminist Tarana Burke. Researchers have found it useful to distinguish between the hashtag #MeToo as a moment, and the broader Me Too as a grassroots movement. 

When it comes to measuring the impact of #MeToo, it has been hugely successful in drawing attention to and legitimising experiences of sexual harassment for survivors. Feminist scholars and activists have been advocating for a more holistic understanding of sexual violence for decades, an understanding which steps away from ranking individual incidents on the basis of what would traditionally be considered serious, such as rape, sexual assault and not everyday harassment. This was captured in Liz Kelly’s hugely influential continuum of sexual violence that conceptualises sexual violence as continuous in nature and its effects on women as being interlinked. It sees women’s lived experiences of various forms of sexual violence as constituting a continuum, not a hierarchy. Milano’s tweet asked women to share experiences of sexual harassment or assault with the aim of making all forms of violation visible. Under the stream of #MeToo, it is possible to see stories of stranger rape, incest, workplace harassment all next to each other. This juxtaposition of different experiences points to their interconnectedness in how they are gendered and sexualised, how they can flow into each other and how they impact the victim-survivor. 

“#MeToo has legitimised experiences of sexual harassment which did not rank as ‘serious enough’ in hierarchical frameworks of conceptualising sexual harassment.”

The links between different forms of abuse and how continuous they are in women’s lives become difficult to ignore in the face of thousands of individual stories shared under one umbrella. #MeToo, thus, has legitimised experiences of sexual harassment which did not rank as “serious enough” in hierarchical frameworks of conceptualising sexual harassment. It has also brought these experiences to the forefront, when they may not be explicitly defined as criminal acts, and has shown how they inform women’s everyday decision-making processes in regards to safety and risk in public and private interactions. In this way, #MeToo has fostered a more survivor-centric, continuum-based thinking of sexual harassment in wider public discourse. 

“Allied to #MeToo were hashtags such as #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) in France and #RiceBunny and #MiTu in China which sparked and rejuvenated local feminist organising and protests.”

This reckoning with different types of sexual violations brought on by #MeToo has not been limited geographically. #MeToo inspired global movements and lent itself to the rise of activism for context specific feminist goals. Allied to #MeToo were hashtags such as #YoTambien in Spain and Latin America, #BalanceTonPorc (expose your pig) in France and #RiceBunny and #MiTu in China which sparked and rejuvenated local feminist organising and protests. In India, women in the entertainment and media industries started using #MeToo to share their stories of abuse roughly a year after Milano’s tweet. This caused a renewal of wide concern with sexual violence which had been largely absent since the 2012 New Delhi gangrape case. 

In Argentina, #MeToo was shared by actresses to share their experiences of sexual harassment. It then evolved into #NiUnaMenos (not one woman less), an activist coalition of grassroots protestors and popular actresses demanding redressal of feminist concerns such as through legalization of abortion. China’s #MiTu emerged on new years’ day, 2018 in universities where several senior academics were accused of sexual harassment by current and former students. As of September 2018, more than 50 public allegations were made in China on social media against powerful men coming from different backgrounds, including NGO founders, media personalities, businessmen. Local feminist movements across the world were able to adopt #MeToo for culturally specific causes and they harnessed its burgeoning visibility to further their feminist goals. This ability of #MeToo to permeate borders and extend its platform has the potential for creating cross-cultural coalitions for preventing sexual harassment. 

“#MeToo has not included every survivor. For one, #MeToo requires digital literacy and the freedom to be able to share your story without fear of repercussions. This means that a large chunk of survivors including older women, women and children in conflict zones, incest victims, those with abusive partners or otherwise marginalised remain unable to say #MeToo.”

However, #MeToo has not included every survivor. For one, #MeToo requires digital literacy and the freedom to be able to share your story without fear of repercussions. This means that a large chunk of survivors including older women, women and children in conflict zones, incest victims, those with abusive partners or otherwise marginalised remain unable to say #MeToo. Activists point out that the focus in the international #MeToo remains largely on relatively privileged, western, white women often to the exclusion of Black, Asian, Indigenous, Minority Ethnic women and LGBTQIA people. In the international press, faces associated with #MeToo that gain most visibility are primarily middle-class Hollywood actresses, particularly those who brought charges against Harvey Weinstein and at the helm of Times Up!, the legal defence fund set up in conjunction with #MeToo. 

“There are many such cases of #MeToo mobilising grassroots protests and strike action, but these #MeToo affiliates did not get nearly as much coverage as Hollywood actresses speaking about abuse. The media discourse around #MeToo erases their stories and the online moment has not been able to remedy that so far.”

In the US, Alianza Nacional de Compesinas and similar groups domestic workers and female janitors highlighted harassment in their industries. McDonalds workers in ten American cities organised a day-long strike protesting workplace sexual harassment. There are many such cases of #MeToo mobilising grassroots protests and strike action, but these #MeToo affiliates did not get nearly as much coverage as Hollywood actresses speaking about abuse. The media discourse around #MeToo erases their stories and the online moment has not been able to remedy that so far. In India, the conversation around #MeToo remained largely restricted to film and media industries, with little attention paid to the plight of women who work under even more precarious conditions. The harassment of garment factory workers or domestic workers have received barely any coverage in the media that has chosen to focus on details of high-profile cases that can be sold for shock value. Nearly two years since Tanushree Datta accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, it is unclear if any of the film production companies that publicly vowed to build safer and more equitable film sets have followed through. 

While this focus on more privileged and well-known faces of #MeToo can be attributed to patriarchal and commercial media conditions beyond the control of those speaking out, that does not account for instances where women of colours’ voices were actively side-lined. In a joint television interview about #MeToo with Burke, Alyssa Milano was criticized for taking up most of the airtime and interrupting Burke in her responses several times. According to Alison Phipps, because #MeToo has replicated the hierarchies of mainstream feminism that privilege white women, and thus, “Speaking out” can become “speaking over”. 

“#MeToo has so far not been able to address the intersections of race, age, class, religion, and other categories of marginilisation in compounding violence against women.”

#MeToo has so far not been able to address the intersections of race, age, class, religion, and other categories of marginilisation in compounding violence against women. This has hindered the vast potential of the online #MeToo moment into becoming a movement for all survivors. However, #MeToo has immense, unprecedented potential for harnessing cross-cultural coalitions against patriarchal oppression that still needs to be actualised. It has been transformative for women and survivors world over and has validated experiences of abuse and trauma that survivors have historically been told don’t matter. It has highlighted that sexual and gendered violence is the unspoken pandemic raging unchecked. This speaks to the work that is yet to be done and the need for #MeToo to become a movement inclusive of all survivors. 

Asmita is currently pursuing a Masters in Woman and Child Abuse. She runs the Talking Research Podcast and is an Editor at Bol.

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India’s 112th Rank in Global Gender Gap Index

Gurbani Kaur Bhasin 

Examining India’s fall in the Global Gender Gap Index, what it means and where we stand going forward in a world with covid

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is based in Cologny-Geneva, Switzerland is the organization for Public-Private Cooperation, committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.

According to its Gender Gap Index, countries are ranked according to the calculated gender gap between women and men in four key areas – Health, Education, Economy, and Politics. “Gender Gap” is the measure of this gender-based disparity.

It reports that for the year 2020, the Global Gender Gap score (based on the population-weighted average) stands at 68.6%. This means that, on average, the gap is narrower as compared to last year, and the remaining gap to close is now 31.4%. Iceland is ranked the most gender-neutral country, which is the country with the lowest disparity (highest equality) between men and women when measured based on the said parameters. 

“Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.”

India’s latest position at 112th has dropped 14 ranks lower than its reading in 2006 when the WEF started measuring the gender gap. India is ranked lower than many of its neighbouring countries like China, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and Bangladesh. This widening gap raises red flags for India for many reasons. Despite the remarkable spike in the educational attainment for women and the formulation of schemes to encourage women’s education, the Economic Participation and Opportunity rank reveals that India stands at the 5th position from the bottom.

“The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women.”

Similarly variables of Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment, are aligned with the numbers reflected by Educational Attainment graphs to study the reasons behind gender disparity. The findings provoke questions on lifestyles, law-making and execution, and attitudes towards women in Indian society. The assumption that major gender parity problems can be solved by making education available to women is challenged due to the fact that healthcare and basic necessities are a luxury for many people in India. The country is 4th last in the list of 153 others in making healthcare facilities available to women. A striking contrast on the other hand is seen in the relationship between education and political empowerment where the nation stands at number 18 on the same list.      

Upon analysing the reasons behind the dynamics of each of the above trends, one can broadly infer that the stem of this disparity roots down to and raises doubts about the quality of education, healthcare provided, and interest and capability in Politics (ref WEF_GGGR_2020).

“While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrolment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers.”

While 93% of women have access to primary education, the numbers are filtered as we move to secondary and tertiary enrollment figures and ultimately lower than 30% of women become professionals and technical workers. This in turn accounts for a similar low share in economic participation and income earned.

This filtration can further be attributed to the largely patriarchal nature of Indian society impacting households and professional environments. The vicious circle of this disparity looms large out of the fact that it is women, who preach these social norms to younger women and the following generations. Any attempt for reform is defamed as an indecent rebellion. Women who stand up against these norms are ostracised from society making large scale social reform very difficult.

Another unfortunate contributor to the bottleneck situation of women’s quality of education is the very fondly tamed culture of meticulously planning and saving for a fat, extravagant wedding and heavy dowry – a presumed responsibility of the woman’s family. Prevalent in many rich and poor, educated and uneducated households of South and East Asia, this culture shapes the savings of the family where the majority is invested to compound into huge sums to meet unnecessary wedding responsibilities, followed by only basic education and lastly, healthcare of the girl child.  This adds to the gap because of the presumption that the man is the earner of the family. As a result, most women either aim or are compelled to confine their lives as homemakers. Thus, many among the very few who manage to attain tertiary education, are not able to transform their years of investment in academics, into monetary rewards.

“Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.”

Since largely all the above, in varying magnitudes, affect the educational turnover of women, the standard of their qualifications is poorer than their male counterparts thus yielding them less lucrative employment opportunities. Moreover, the employers in India view most women as short term resources as they are expected to get married early into their careers. Many newly married women are also not welcomed by employers for long term jobs as women are expected to start having children soon after their marriage and maternity leave is not a cost most employers are willing to incur.

Contrary to popular hashtags, women are not exactly “in this together” or at par with men, they are not in the same boat even when they share the same storm. The risk of the current Covid pandemic to an average female employee is much higher compared to her male colleagues. 

“Women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc., and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on the women.”

A report by McKinsey shows that women are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic in the job sector. Women have lost 54% of all jobs during the pandemic even though they only held 39% of all jobs before the pandemic. This is partly due to the nature of employment of women in sectors worst hit by the pandemic, like tourism, hospitality etc. and partly because of the disproportionate increase in the burden of domestic chores on women since they are the main caregivers in most households.

Another issue is the sex ratio which has been perpetually lopsided due to a long prevalent practice of female infanticide and foeticide, which even though has been abolished for a few decades now, has made a deep dent in the gender distribution of our population. Technologies such as IVF are being misused for sex selection leading to a rising sex ratio of males per female. Figures of infanticide and foeticide together show that nearly 200,000 Indian girls are killed before the age of six owing to gender bias. Many women also succumb to death during childbirth due to low access to healthcare facilities 

The world is a witness of how much more efficient at management, women are than men. Former Union Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj had assumed the rightful liberty to once quote that: “As a woman and an elected Member of Parliament, it has been my firm conviction that there is a shortcut to real social change — empowering the girl child.”

“Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders.”

Having studied the credible data about the gender demography of our country, the need for women’s representation in the given parameters is louder than ever. Not only is this a pressing human rights issue to be inculcated and implemented through government’s policies and reforms but also an alarm call to increase efforts towards equality for all genders. At the dawn of the 2020s, building fairer and more inclusive economies must be the goal of global, national and industry leaders. 

The points distinguished in the WEF report on Gender Gap and elaborated above highlight the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent and at the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.

Gurbani is a 23 year old student, in the final year of Chartered Accountancy and a graduate of Commerce from Hislop College, Nagpur.

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Migrant Deaths: “No such data is available”

Sukanya Maity

Speaking to Bhunia, a migrant worker who shares his experience during Covid pandemic, as the government claims to have no data/record of the deaths of migrant workers.

The constitutional strongholds of India were shaken up when the Ministry of Labour and Employment claimed “No such data is available” in response to a question about the deaths of migrant workers during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

On March 24, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced a nationwide lockdown. The entire country was panic-stricken. While those of us reading this worried ourselves about groceries, medicines and purchasing disinfectants, 40 million people who account for more than half the population living below the poverty line, had just one question in their mind – “How to go home?” In India, where inter-state migration is common, hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal migrate to the cities in search of jobs and better living conditions. Migrants usually end up working in informal sectors and as daily-wage labourers. They live in substandard living conditions or slums in the margins of cities.

“They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders.”

Shutting down factories and mining centres rendered these daily-wage workers jobless overnight. With no alternative forms of employment and very little savings, they had to bear the prospects of starvation, homelessness and even death. Hence, started the great exodus! They marched from one city to another, walked miles after miles barefoot, carrying their aged parents and young children in trolleys, bicycles and mostly on their shoulders. The pandemic, undoubtedly, brought to light the plight of the most vulnerable, ignored and exploited section of the society – the migrant labourers. 

Migrant workers photo by Sukanya Maity

While most of them, fortunately, made it to their homes, some of them had succumbed to the journey. Reportedly, sixteen migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train in Aurangabad, in Madhya Pradesh, five of them were killed in a truck accident and eight people died in a road accident in Karnataka. As many as 378 people lost their lives, out of which 69 people died in road and rail accidents and others succumbed to starvation and exhaustion.  In the Shramik Special trains deployed to rescue stranded migrant workers in the middle of a heat wave, 97 people have died before 9th September. Those who made it to their hometowns faced stigma and new forms of untouchability. 

“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience”

Speaking to Bol Magazine, Sourav Bhunia, a resident of a small village in West Bengal who had migrated to the Khammam district of Telangana to work as a labourer in a granite factory, shared his heart-wrenching experience: “For the last two months from the start of the lockdown, the contractor allowed us only one meal a day….one chappati (bread) and sometimes a spoonful serving of rice”. 

Bhunia, 25, along with eight other people, originally from Madhakhali, a small village in East Midnapore district of West Bengal, had left for their destination in 2019, sometime around September. After nine months, spending their maximum earnings, impoverished and jaded, they returned to their home state in the first week of May 2020. Following is Bhunia’s account of the lockdown. 

Sourav Bhunia photo by Sukanya Maity

How did you get through the initial days of lockdown? Did you save up?

Whatever little we had earned in the past few months, we transferred the amount to our families back at home and kept with ourselves, not more than what we would need to buy groceries or pay the rent. The contractor, Bera, under whom a group of eight people worked, promised me a sum of twelve-thousand rupees by the end of March. Because of the countrywide lockdown, the granite factory had to be shut down and the contractor always found an excuse to not talk about our wages. We waited for weeks until we confronted him. He seemed helpless and ignorant about the entire situation when we came to know that the factory owner had not paid him the sum that was due. I grew restless, without a penny in my pocket and an empty stomach, I would cry to sleep every night. We prayed for the lockdown to be lifted in no time so that we would get our due wages and return to our village. We did not want to die there, either of hunger or from the virus; we would rather die in our homeland. 

He broke down in the middle of our conversation.

Did the State Government or the local officials help in easing your condition? 

Mr Bera had recorded a video of us pleading with the West Bengal Government to arrange for our return. He had assured us that it would reach the Chief Minister of the state. We were betrayed again. It did not; why would the government think of us? 

The Central Government had arranged for Shramik Specials (special trains to carry the migrants to their hometowns). How has the initiative helped you?

When the Central Government passed an order to bring back the migrant workers to their villages, we were overjoyed; but we are labourers and why would anyone do us any good? The rail authority asked for our Adhar Cards so that we could get the free tickets to our home. I felt a sudden urge to kill myself when I realised that I did not have my Adhar card with me. How would I know that the only thing they care about even when we are in the midst of a pandemic, is a proof of citizenship? Back at home, my father contacted the local BJP cadres so that they might help in any possible way, but it did not work. I was not surprised at all. In the last election, I had voted for the Janata Party thinking that Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) coming from a family like ours, would work for the betterment of the majdoors (labourers and menial workers). I was only daydreaming.

How did you manage to return?

Thank heavens, I was not the only one without an Adhar card. Some of my co-workers, who could not board a train the following day, planned to go to the local police station in Khammam to seek help; I accompanied them too. The police personnel asked us to arrange a feasible means of transport for ourselves and made it clear that they would not be able to help us in any way. There were eight of us and we managed to get an ambassador car which charged each of us 5,000 INR. After continuous rounds of visits to the local police station and the district magistrate’s office, we were finally granted permission to leave for our home states.

Bhunia sighed after narrating his experience. As a sign of empathy and being at a loss of words, I exclaimed how the pandemic has affected the lives of people in the worst possible ways. What followed next, has kept me wondering about the situational reality and the world that we are living in. He said, “A pandemic becomes a pandemic when no one can escape from it, be it the rich people in the cities or people like us and when it affects them (referring to the privileged sections), it becomes a global issue. People like us anyway die of hunger. It has been ‘their’ (the privileged) government, ‘their’ problem, and now, ‘their’ disease. The only thing that we want is our wages. That will help.” 

“Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter.”

Last week, the Home Ministry openly declared in the parliament that the panic created due to the migrants’ exodus has been solely stimulated by “fake news” about the duration of the pandemic. This negates the reality that the government did not specify the duration and for a daily-wage migrant worker the most rational action, like many other professionals, students, travellers was to go home. Not acknowledging the sufferings, hardships, humiliation and helplessness of the workers and erasing their reality by not keeping a record of their lives reflects how little the lives of people like Bhunia matter. Speaking to Bhunia and listening to his harrowing experience, I realise how we, as a nation, have failed to uphold our democratic ideals by choosing to be silent observers.

Sukanya is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is a feminist, anti-fascist and anti-capitalist and hopes to document the lives of remarkable women so that their stories don’t vanish into anonymity.

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School Ki Ghanti – Listen, Learn, Imagine

Team of School Ki Ghanti

 Using digital storytelling to create access to education possible for children during the Covid pandemic

On the 24 March 2020, with the announcement of a lockdown in India as the nation stepped into their homes, thousands of children stepped out of formal education. Schools have now been shut for the past six months, leaving children at home with no access to education because of lack of resources and infrastructure. Statistics show that the education sector has been hit particularly hard with 1.3 billion learners out of school and school closures in 195 countries.

The question is simple – How would children access education without gadgets, smartphones, and internet connection?

“School Ki Ghanti aims to make education and learning practices more inclusive and accessible even for those who have no access to the internet.”

School Ki Ghanti aims to make education and learning practices more inclusive and accessible even for those who have no access to the internet. The founder of School Ki Ghanti, Vedika Lall, is an information designer. She has always shown a keen interest in system design, interventions and activism. With inclusivity and equity being the central lens, she aimed to look beyond the world of e-learning, online platforms and digital accessibility. It’s the 21st century and education is still based on privilege, accessibility and availability of resources. One needs to take informed and unbiased measures to find alternate and complementary solutions for children from vulnerable communities/ toxic households and backgrounds. The need of the hour is to leverage technology to build enabling ecosystems that bridge this digital gap in India. Lall realized that this crisis brought an urgent need to reimagine the teaching and learning landscape. That is when the seed of School Ki Ghanti was sown, with an attempt to create a new resilient narrative by responding to such a situation both mindfully and empathetically. It shows how simple technology can carve learning paths to engage students and encourage adaptive learning. 

At School Ki Ghanti, the next lesson is only a phone call away. They are trying to reimagine learning through the age-old practice of storytelling to design inclusive and accessible learning systems so that every child gets an equal opportunity to learn.

At School Ki Ghanti, the next lesson is only a phone call away. They are trying to reimagine learning through the age-old practice of storytelling to design inclusive and accessible learning systems so that every child gets an equal opportunity to learn. School Ki Ghanti is run by a passionate group of people who have come together to radically reimagine learning as the world grapples with a pandemic and its aftermath. The multi-talented team ensures a story 5 days a week, every day at 4 pm without any delays or excuses. Even a five-minute-long narrative involves multiple people responsible for  – scheduling, researching, writing, communication and impact analysis.

“The aspiration is to reach children currently deprived of any kind of learning opportunity. School Ki Ghanti that started with phone calls reaching thirty children in May now has more than four-hundred children listening and diligently completing the activities as instructed at the end of each story.”

The aspiration is to reach children currently deprived of any kind of learning opportunity. School Ki Ghanti that started with phone calls reaching thirty children in May now has more than four-hundred children listening and diligently completing the activities as instructed at the end of each story. Many even maintain a notebook where they record the stories they heard, the lessons learned, and also the ensuing activities they undertook. Medha Kapoor, a sound designer of the modules, believes that sound can evoke imagination and memory and thus each narration is carefully edited and bejeweled with appropriate sound effects to keep the listener engaged. 

“This one-of-a-kind school bell rings Monday to Friday, sharp at 4 as an important reminder of love, hope and the little joys of finding a friend over the phone. It is for anyone who wants to embrace a call of cheer and play. We want to engage kids with little or no access and introduce a fun learning tool in their lives.”

Storytelling is one of the oldest, traditional technologies which has the innate power to penetrate and affect the mind. When paired with an engaging audio experience these stories are rewired to life to bring out increased engagement and retention. This one-of-a-kind school bell rings Monday to Friday, sharp at 4 as an important reminder of love, hope and the little joys of finding a friend over the phone. It is for anyone who wants to embrace a call of cheer and play. They want to engage kids with little or no access and introduce a fun learning tool in their lives. With the powerful skill of listening, it allows them to visualize the plot and characters and opens an arena to curate new and age-old stories integrated with basic primary school knowledge. 

“The story-based pedagogy incubates the oral tradition, revisits folktales, drives new ideas and also tries to decolonise the rote method of learning.”

School Ki Ghanti aims to reach out to children with stories based in local contexts and allow them to think of solutions to the day to day challenges faced in their local community. Pankhuri Sinha, a Design Researcher and Product/lifestyle designer heads the content team and understands the complexities of writing for children. Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. It allows children the freedom to choose what they want to learn and develop their insights through art. The story-based pedagogy incubates the oral tradition, revisits folktales, drives new ideas and also tries to decolonise the rote method of learning. 

As a pedagogical tool, one can use storytelling to explore cultural diversity, to discover a variety of ways to create stories, to integrate the curriculum, to foster imagination, and to investigate the power of narrative. Stories can simplify a complex subject. They can be used effectively to teach lessons in a way that allows children to retain information and stay interested.

Story-based learning helps to reach novices in ways they cannot with other dry, rote, deductive strategies. School Ki Ghanti’s module is as follows:
1) The module consists of an introduction of the new chapter or story with an engaging sound of a school bell.
2) The story starts with the narrator performing it with different voice modulation to keep the children engaged and excited. To increase the element of fun, they also intersperse the narration with sound effects and tunes.
3) The story will then be followed with a small exercise, which the child can act upon and choose to send it to their facilitators.

Art and drawing-based activities allow children to let their imaginations unfold. When they draw they access their imagination and make physical representations of what’s in their mind. It makes children more expressive and enhances their motor skills. With a lot of stories-based in their local context, such exercises also allow them to think of creative problem-solving methods, for instance, poster making exercises to create awareness in their community. Their passion and energy is reflected through these activities. Here, phones act as a perfect tool to interact, engage, inform, and effectively educate listeners in their mother tongue. It is the most accessible medium for both urban and rural citizens and can facilitate remote learning effectively.

“It costs just INR 110 ($1.5) to make education accessible for a child for one month. Crowdfunding campaigns/ strategies helped raise funds and to gather community support.”

It costs just INR 110 ($1.5) to make education accessible for a child for one month. Crowdfunding campaigns/ strategies helped raise funds and to gather community support. Currently, more than 400 children are benefitting from the system and to maintain the call and content creation costs as well as reach out to more children who do not have access to the internet right now. Uurja Bothra, the co-founder and the business strategist realised that to make School Ki Ghanti effective, they need to be able to assess the impact School Ki Ghanti was creating and how well children were receiving their content. For that, they then developed a system that tracks engagement levels of children across groups through parameters like how often they pick up the call and whether they hear the entire story. This helped gauge the response their content got as well as identify and focus on different cohorts. 

Today, covering around 5 cities including Patna, Delhi, Raipur, Ranchi, Jaipur, and many districts, School Ki Ghanti’s impact analysis show that 91% of their listeners eagerly wait for the calls, 92% of them diligently do the exercise recommended with each story and 94% say that they can understand the stories that are being narrated. Their maximum audience falls in the age group of 6 to 10 years old. Their most popular stories are that of animals, nature, scientific facts as well as Motivational stories. Drawing and colouring activities keep the kids engaged. Sometimes when children are unable to listen to the calls, they ask their parents to listen and narrate it to them later or even record it.

Since the inception of this initiative, conversations and collaborations with NGOs and individuals have provided great insight and channelled growth. The collaborations aim at welcoming participatory efforts in order to drive change and reach diverse communities, partnering with new networks. Vandana, a teacher associated with Samarpan Foundation quoted: “kids are interested in the story and listen to the story and they are also learning a lot from the story. Overall they enjoy the story,”

“Deekshashree, one of the listeners quotes: ‘I love to listen to the story based lessons and do the activities as well. My favourite stories are Ek Jadaui Subah and Laddoo Party. My sister and I listen to them over the speaker together and are very fond of them. We eagerly wait for the calls.'”

At present, the aim is to grow this initiative along with mentors and supporters. School Ki Ghanti along with their outreach partners have impacted many lives. The model has been used for children from several communities, where the teacher makes the phone available to them in groups of ten. They follow social distancing and listen to the call on speakerphone, after which the teacher facilitates discussion and the exercise.

Deekshashree, one of the listeners quotes: “I love to listen to the story based lessons and do the activities as well. My favourite stories are Ek Jadaui Subah and Laddoo Party. My sister and I listen to them over the speaker together and are very fond of them. We eagerly wait for the calls.” 

“It’s been a delight to hear these children listen and understand what is being conveyed through stories. They enjoy the characters and due to no internet, this storytelling learning has given them new ways to learn and enjoy new things.” says Kusumlata, Principal of GPSS Pathankot. 

“While private schools take over digital space and provide experiential learning through zoom calls and Google hangouts, the underprivileged are suffering because of the digital divide. It is important to design empathy-driven systems that promise equal access and optimize reach to all sections of the society.”

While private schools take over digital space and provide experiential learning through zoom calls and Google hangouts, the underprivileged are suffering because of the digital divide. It is important to design empathy-driven systems that promise equal access and optimize reach to all sections of the society. For a better future, young designers, teachers, creative practitioners must come together and ensure that remote learning becomes more inclusive, accessible and empathy-driven. They are bringing lost schooldays to children from underprivileged and marginalised groups via phone calls, one story-lesson at a time.

We are trying to reimagine learning through the age old practice of storytelling to design inclusive and accessible learning systems so that every child gets equal opportunity. It cost just INR 110 to make learning/education accessible for a child for 1 month. To learn more, visit our website at – www.schoolkighanti.org

Design by School Ki Ghanti

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खोता हुआ हमारा अस्तित्व

अपूर्बा बी

रिश्तेदार, परिजन, सहपाठियों, अध्यापकों के असंवेदनशील, आक्रमणशील और निर्मम प्रश्न, टिप्पणियां और कसे हुए तंज सुनते सुनते अब कान थक चुके हैं लेकिन हौसले नहीं टूटे।

पहली बार इन्हें सुन कर मेरे मन मे क्रोध की भावनाओं ने जन्म लिया था लेकिन अब ये सब कुछ मेरे लिए हास्यास्पद हो चुका है।

ये सिलसिला तब से शुरू होता है जब 2011 में  मेरी माँ ने इस दुनियां को हमेशा-हमेशा के लिए अलविदा कह दिया। उनके इंतक़ाल की वजह कैंसर थी। तब मैं मात्र चौदह वर्ष की थी और मेरे दसवीं के बोर्ड्स आने वाले थे। माँ के इंतक़ाल से पहले यूं तो हमारे परिवार के हालातों की किसी को चिंता नहीं थी और ना ही खबर। लेकिन उनके जाने के बाद अचानक हर किसी को यह चिंता सताने लगी कि मेरी परवरिश पर क्या असर पड़ेगा। आखिर कौन मुझे “संस्कार” देगा, मेरी शादी कैसे होगी, कही अपने पिता के छत्रछाया में आकर में “लड़कों जैसी” ना हो जाऊं वगेरह वगेरह। हर कोई पिताजी पर दूसरी शादी कर लेने का सुझाव कुछ इस प्रकार बरसा रहे थे जैसे बम्बई की बारिश हो, दोनों ही  रुकने का नाम नहीं लेते हैं। हालांकि इतने दबाव के बावजूद भी उन्होंने  कभी दूसरी शादी करने का  ख्याल भी अपने मन मे लाना ज़रूरी नहीं समझा।

हर किसी की एक ही दलील थी, “मास्टरजी, आपकी ज़रूरते कैसी पूरी होंगी, बच्ची को संस्कार कौन देगा, घर का ख्याल कौन रखेगा”, और उनके “सुझाव” नाजायज़ भी तो नहीं, आखिरकार भारतीय समाज में  एक औरत की हस्ती भी तो ना के  बराबर होती है।

हर किसी की एक ही दलील थी, “मास्टरजी, आपकी ज़रूरते कैसी पूरी होंगी, बच्ची को संस्कार कौन देगा, घर का ख्याल कौन रखेगा”, और उनके “सुझाव” नाजायज़ भी तो नहीं, आखिरकार भारतीय समाज में  एक औरत की हस्ती भी तो ना के  बराबर होती है।  पैदा होते ही पिता की बात मानो , फिर भाई की बात मानो , शादी हो जाने के बाद पति और ससुराल, खास कर सास जो की खुद भी एक औरत है उनकी  बात भी मानो और अपनी दुनिया  छोड़ कर उनकी दुनिया में समा जाओ और अपना अस्तित्व भूल जाओ, बच्चे जब बड़े हो जाये तब उनकी जरूरतो के हिसाब से अपने आप को ढाल लो जिससे उन्हें तुम्हारे  गैर अस्तित्व से  शर्मिंदगी  ना महसूस हो और  फिर एक दिन यू ही किसी रोज़ हमेशा-हमेशा के लिए खत्म हो जाओ और अगर गलती से भी किसी दिन अपने अस्तित्व के होने को भी याद कर लो तो खत्म कर दिए जाओगे।

हम भारतियों के लिए  हाउसवाइफ शब्द एक बहुत  सीरियस मुद्दा है, वस्तुत: रूप से भी और लाक्षणिक रूप से भी। हमारा ये मानना है कि जब एक औरत की शादी हो जाती है तब उसकी शादी किसी इंसान से नहीं बल्कि एक परिवार से और एक घर से होती है जो कि अंत में  उसे  सिर्फ और सिर्फ एक भोगविलास और दिखावे की वस्तु ही बना कर रख देता है जिसका औहदा उसके शारीरिक स्थिति और गर्भ को ताक़ पर रख कर ही या तो  बढ़ता है या तो घटता है और जब वह उपजाऊ या “दर्शनीय ” नहीं रहती उसे बदल दिया जाता है। एक औरत जन्म के बाद भी अपने घर में  पराये धन की तरह सुशोभित होती है और अपने पति के घर में भी एक किराएदार की भांति ही रहती है जिसे कभी भी निकाला जा सकता है। आभूषण, पैसा और प्रासंगिक रूपी “सम्मान” और “अधिकार” भी जो उसे उसके पति के घर से मिलता है वह भी एक जमाराशि  मात्र होता है,  जैसे अपने घर के अलमारी के किसी कोने में पड़ा कोई पुराना मलमल का कपड़ा हो जिसे कभी-कभार साफ सुथरा करके धूप दिखा कर दुबारा उस ही कोने में पटक दिया जाता है और जब वो कपडा सड़ जाए तब उसे कचरे के डिब्बे में फेंक दिया जाता है जिससे एक नए मलमल के कपड़े के लिए खाली जगह बन जाये।

मैं  इस किस्म की विचारधारा से बिल्कुल ही अपरिचित थी क्योंकि मैंने अपनी माँ को हमेशा एक मनुष्य के रूप में देखा था, क्योंकि वही तो वो थी। मेरे पिताजी भी मेरी माँ से बेहद प्रेम करते थे और पूरे मन से उनका सम्मान करते थे। लेकिन तब मैं पितृसत्ता नामक इस सामाजिक त्रुटि से अनजान थी जिसके लिए स्त्री या तो देवी है नहीं तो पैर की धूल, उसके बीच कुछ भी नहीं।

इस सामाजिक त्रुटि का सामना मुझसे तब हुआ जब कभी मैं अपने पिताजी के साथ किसी  के भी घर  जाया करती थी और उन सभी लोगो का एक ही उपदेश और सवाल होता था कि मेरी माँ का रिप्लेसमेंट( प्रतिस्थापना) कब होगा।

लेकिन मन में  कुछ प्रश्न भी अब सामने आते  है कि ममता जैसी पावन और पवित्र भावना पितृसत्ता और पितृसत्तात्मक विचारधारा से कब जुड़ बैठी? आखिरकार माँ के अभाव से और पिता के प्रभाव से बेटिया कबसे “बिगड़ने” लग गयी? क्या मेरी परिस्थिति और दूसरी “बिन माँ की बेटियों” की परिस्थितियों में कोई खास अंतर है? शायद नहीं।

हमने जब कभी अपने आस पास चीज़ों को बनते-संवरते देखा है उनमें हमारी माँ ओ का बहुत  बड़ा योगदान रहा है।

हमने जब कभी अपने आस पास चीज़ों को बनते-संवरते देखा है उनमें हमारी माँ ओ का बहुत  बड़ा योगदान रहा है। चाहे वो स्कूल की टेक्स्टबुक में लिखी छोटी छोटी बाल कथाएं हो, surf exel का विज्ञापन हो, या बॉलीवुड की फिल्मो में बेटी को “विदा” करती हुई रोती-बिलखती हुई माँ हो। हर जगह सब कुछ बनाती-सवारती माँ ही है, बाप हर वक़्त किसी न किसी कोने में पड़ा चुप-चाप अखबार पढ़ता हुआ ही मिलेगा।

बचपन से ही बच्चियों को रसोई में हाथ बटाने के लिए मौजूद रखना,
भाई की झूठी थाली धोना सीखाना,
परिवार में मौजूद पुरूषों के  खत्म होने के बाद ही खाना,
अडजस्ट करना सीखाना,
आज्ञाकारी बनाना, 
चुप्पी साधना सीखना,
ज़ोर से ना बोलने, हँसने और चलने पर रोक लगाना,
मधुर स्वर की  एक औरत के “जीवन में  प्रयोजन समझना”,
पढ़ाई  के साथ-साथ घर के काम-काज सीखाना,
खेल कूद में भाग लेने से हतोत्साहित करना,

रूढ़िवादी पेशे अपनाने  के लिए दबाव देना और शादी हो जाने के बाद या बच्चे को जन्म देने के बाद  कैरियर छोड़ देने के लिये अप्रत्यक्ष दबाव डालना,  ये सब कुछ माँ या ममतामयी रूपी पारिवारिक संबंध ही सीखाती है।

माँ , पितृसत्तात्मक सोच- विचार धारा बच्चों में बचपन से ही डालना शुरू कर देती हैं क्योंकि माँ ये खुद भी  आंतरिक लिंगवाद का शिकार होती है।

बचपन से लेकर “शादी की उम्र” हो जाने तक लड़की को एक परिपूर्ण औरत में तब्दील करने का भार हमेशा  माँ पर ही होता है, घर गृहस्थी की जिम्मेदारियां सीखाना हमेशा माँ की ही ज़िम्मेदारी मानी जाती है, क्योंकि इन सभी चीज़ों की  अपेक्षा भी हमेशा औरतों से ही बचपन से की जाती है। माँ , पितृसत्तात्मक सोच- विचार धारा बच्चों में बचपन से ही डालना शुरू कर देती हैं क्योंकि माँ ये खुद भी  आंतरिक लिंगवाद का शिकार होती है।

हमारी शिक्षा और समझ  संबंधों और देश-दुनिया के प्रति इतनी तुछ है और हम जेंडर स्टीरियोटाइप नामक दलदल में इतनी बुरी तरह से धस चुके हैं कि हमारे भारतीय समाज के अनुसार एक पिता अपने बच्चों, खास कर अपनी बेटी की परवरिश करने में असक्षम समझा जाता है।  एक  पिता अपनी घर की चार दीवारों से बाहर निकल कर अपने परिवार का पेट पालने वाला/अन्नदाता,  एक मजदूर, परिवार के लिए एक निर्णायक और एक चयनकर्ता के किरदार से बाहर कुछ भी नहीं है, किसी भी किस्म की भावनाओं और सुघड़ता के नाक़ाबिल समझा जाता है।  हम समझते है कि पिता का  बचपन से बेटियों की परवरिश पर प्रभाव पड़ जाने से बेटियां पुरुषों के आचार-विचार अपना कर अपना स्त्रीयत्व ना खो बैठें क्योंकि  ऐसा होना सामाजिक “विकृति” समझी जाती है। लेकिन ये हमारे परिवार का क़ायदा नहीं था। मैने हमेशा अपने पिता को इन सभी सामाजिक सीमाबद्ध किरदारो के बिल्कुल विपरीत ही पाया है। अंत में  मन में बस एक ही सवाल  आता है कि आखिर कब इस देवी-देवताओं की नगरी में स्त्री को सामाजिक  किरदारों से मुक्ति पा कर मनुष्य का किरदार निभाने का मौका मिलेगा।

Apurba is a visual artist. She completed her bachelor’s in arts degree from Jamia Millia Islamia and currently pursuing Masters in anthropology and post graduation diploma in Folklore and culture studies. She is  Pansexual and her  pronouns are she/her. She likes  reading, writing, gardening and prefers chilling  most of the time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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The Great Indian Witch-Hunt

Asmita Sood

How the sudden death of Sushant Singh Rajput has turned into a media led prosecution of his partner Rhea Chakraborty 

Content Warning: Suicide 

Indian media has a long legacy of vicious media trials. With that in mind, the coverage around the death of Sushant Singh Rajput should not come as a surprise. Sushant was a brilliant actor, a rank outsider who survived and excelled in a cut-throat industry, and gave some memorable performances. On June 14, Sushant was found hanging from a ceiling fan. The post-mortem report and the initial investigation declared that his suicide was caused by clinical depression for which he had been undergoing medical treatment. As with great artists, he felt familiar and his loss felt personal, even to those who never knew him closely. At 34, his death was hard to process. 

“The tragic passing of a young star has been made by the electronic media into a brutal, unforgiving public flogging.”

Since June 14, the initial shock is gone, and in its place is a feral media circus. The tragic passing of a young star has been made by the electronic media into a brutal, unforgiving public flogging. What should have been a time to grieve and introspect on the epidemic of mental illness silently killing India’s youth has turned into a systematic attempt to punish a culprit, by any means possible. If there is no culprit, it appears that one must be created to sate the public appetite. 

“The adjudicator and the executioner in this trial has been a media drunk on its tremendous power to shape opinions, rewrite history and distort reality for the sake of its viewership.”

At the other end of this is prime suspect Rhea Chakraborty, 28-year-old actor and Sushant’s partner, now arrested and in judicial custody on charges of facilitating the procurement of 56 grams of marijuana for Sushant. She may have just been arrested, but long before any investigation, the media and viewers decided that she was guilty. The adjudicator and the executioner in this trial has been a media drunk on its tremendous power to shape opinions, rewrite history and distort reality for the sake of its viewership. The viewership in question has remained hooked to their screens, well-fed on a meticulously curated diet of primetime TV shouting matches and unverified WhatsApp forwards.

“Even if you don’t actively tune in, it’s impossible to escape this story because this is all the news media has chosen to report in the middle of a raging pandemic and the deepest economic recession since independence.”

It’s been chilling to watch this story unfold over the last few months. It drills in the point that women who deviate from the patriarchy are not safe in India. Because she lived with her partner, her character is questionable, if not entirely flawed. Those slut-shaming her naturally don’t apply the same yardstick to Sushant, an equal half in that living arrangement. Because she’s Bengali, she practices witchcraft. Because she’s not as successful as he was, she’s a gold-digger and her entire family lived off his wealth. Typical woman. Because she was unable to stop him from consuming drugs, she’s responsible for his addiction. Because she took his mental illness seriously and encouraged him to seek help, she drove him to kill himself. It’s endless. Even if you don’t actively tune in, it’s impossible to escape this story because this is all the news media has chosen to report in the middle of a raging pandemic and the deepest economic recession since independence.

There are videos of cameramen harassing food delivery boys outside her building, hunting for any stray piece of information they can bring back to the newsroom. A day before she was arrested, disturbing pictures of Rhea being mobbed by a crowd mainly of male journalists circulated. As someone who has been groped, my first thought on seeing those pictures was how easy it would be for anyone in that crowd to get away with touching her without her consent. How unsafe and vulnerable she was even when surrounded by swathes of policemen.

“Throughout the coverage, there has been little public support for Rhea. But after her arrest, #JusticeForRhea began trending on Twitter. It needs to be noted that justice here does not mean absolving her of any wrongdoing she might be responsible for.”

Throughout the coverage, there has been little public support for Rhea. But after her arrest, #JusticeForRhea began trending on Twitter. It needs to be noted that justice here does not mean absolving her of any wrongdoing she might be responsible for. Remember, the CBI investigation that was so loudly demanded by the Justice for Sushant campaigners, several Bollywood actors, his family and Rhea herself, hasn’t concluded yet. There is no trace of the large sums of money that she allegedly stole from him. His therapists have come out and verified his diagnosis of Bipolar disorder and clinical depression. No false medical prescription that she forced him into has been discovered. Instead, every aspect of her private life is now part of public record. Anyone at home with a TV connection can find minutely specific details of her personal relationships, how much her flat’s EMI payment costs and the exact amount she spends on one session of hair and makeup.

“Justice for Rhea means acknowledging the devastation that the news coverage has wreaked into her and her family’s life. Justice for Rhea means upholding her constitutional right to an unbiased trial. Justice here means securing for her the basic premise of any fair criminal justice system – innocent until proven guilty.”

Justice for Rhea means acknowledging the devastation that the news coverage has wreaked into her and her family’s life. Justice for Rhea means upholding her constitutional right to an unbiased trial. Justice here means securing for her the basic premise of any fair criminal justice system – innocent until proven guilty. Whenever this ordeal ends, she may get her life back. But it’s hard to imagine the film career she’s been working on for the last ten years continuing now. All of this, and there’s still not a single shred of evidence in the public domain that points to her culpability in Sushant’s suicide.

What has been done to Rhea is distressing to watch. There are plenty of precedents of similar media vigilantism: the prime-time villainisation of JNU students accused of sedition in 2016, the abject dismissal of institutional casteism that drove Dalit scholar Rohith Vemulla to suicide, and more. A Republic TV journalist detailed in her resignation announcement how the channel executed its goal of vilifying Rhea by any means necessary. This may not be the first one, but there’s every indication that media trials can and will get worse. Many have pointed out that the treatment of a Hindu woman from an upper-caste family, a daughter of an ex-Army Officer does not bode well for those without the same class and caste privileges, those with no access to good lawyers. The rise in access to technology and a lack of effective regulation of fake-news dangerously aids newsrooms in constructing the narrative their commercial agenda needs in the next witch-hunt.

“Her refusal to blink in the face of unimaginable injustice and hardship and the words she wore are a call to action. Rhea’s deplorable treatment by our country calls for strong, urgent condemnation. No one accused of any crime should be treated like that.”

On the day of her arrest, as she was being driven away to custody, Rhea defiantly stared at the cameras that were frantically chasing the police vehicle. People began quoting the words on her t-shirt- “Roses are red, violets are blue, let’s smash the patriarchy, me and you”. Her refusal to blink in the face of unimaginable injustice and hardship and the words she wore are a call to action. Rhea’s deplorable treatment by our country calls for strong, urgent condemnation. No one accused of any crime should be treated like that. It is shameful that this has gone on for nearly three months, and it’s unlikely to stop until the news media and the public decide that she has been punished enough. It is a warning that the combined might of government investigative agencies and the national media can be turned upon anyone on the wrong side of the patriarchal state and society. It is a reminder that anyone can be made fodder for election campaigns. The less she conforms to patriarchal norms, the juicier the meat. 

In solidarity with Rhea Chakraborty.   

Asmita is an MA Woman and Child Abuse student. She also runs the Talking Research Podcast and is an Editor at Bol Magazine. 

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

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हुजूम पे आखिर इल्ज़ाम क्या है

By Smriti Bhoker

Smriti is a feminist Urdu poet and writer with a post grad in Sociology. 

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What Not to Wear

Arti Kadian

Examining how clothing traditions have sought to control women’s identity and autonomy in India.

Content Warning: Violence Against Women, Rape, Victim-survivor shaming quotes

On 19 June 2020, the Gauhati High Court passed a judgement granting a divorce to a man because his wife refused to wear sindoor (a vermillion red powder worn in the part of their hair by married Hindu women). The order grabbed attention as it stated: “her refusal to wear ‘sakha and sindoor’ will project her to be unmarried and/or signify her refusal to accept the marriage with the appellant (husband). Such a categorical stand of the respondent (wife) points to the clear intention of the respondent that she is unwilling to continue her conjugal life with the appellant.” 

“Other facts withstanding, the order has exposed the belief pushed by the age-old patriarchal system that the identity of a Hindu woman is defined by her relationship with men.”

Other facts withstanding, the order has exposed the belief pushed by the age-old patriarchal system that the identity of a Hindu woman is defined by her relationship with men. In this case, it was her marital status, signalled by her wearing sindoor that legitimised her relationship with her husband. 

A Family Court in Mumbai granted a woman divorce on grounds of cruelty as her husband objected to her wearing a kurta and jeans, forcing her to wear sarees. When she refused to do so she faced humiliation and harassment. The case reaffirmed the norms applicable to women concerning their clothing choices and illustrated the varied consequences of a pushback against the existing system.

In May 2019, a video of a middle-aged woman went viral for verbally harassing a group of young women for the length of their dresses. She associated their attire with a heinous crime like rape, stating that “All ladies who wear short or naked dress should get raped”. Meanwhile, recent reports on the Bois Locker Room – a group for sharing images of underage girls and jokes on sexual assault and rape on Instagram – highlighted the sexist misogynistic and deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes towards women.

“Clothes have been used as weapons by institutions, religions and societies to oppress women’s freedom. From a very early age of a woman’s life, there are persistent reinforcements and reminders of do’s and don’t rules imposed regarding clothing and choices.”

Clothes have been used as weapons by institutions, religions and societies to oppress women’s freedom. From a very early age of a woman’s life, there are persistent reinforcements and reminders of do’s and don’t rules imposed regarding clothing and choices. These rules vary over religion and caste, with disproportionate unfairness to minority communities leaving women with no space for expression, control or decision-making. 

“Women have always been subjected to intense scrutiny, with strict implementations of ‘covering up’ to protect them against ‘evil intentions’.”

Women have always been subjected to intense scrutiny, with strict implementations of “covering up” to protect them against “evil intentions”. Other reasons justifying this misogynistic practice are those of “honour of community” and “traditional norms”.

Alpaxee Kashyap, a Ph.D. scholar in Women and Gender Studies, rightfully notes that clothes represent culture, the protector of which is the state. She argues that women have used nudity to resist injustice and as a tool of protest. She elaborates using the example of a 22-year-old woman who walked in her underwear in Rajkot, Gujarat to protest against police inaction to her complaints. The complaints were against her in-laws who were emotionally and physically harassing her, demanding a dowry and a male offspring. 

Globalisation brought western clothing and attires to India. Modernisation along with an increased focus on women’s education and the inclusion of women in the formal labour market contributed to Indian women choosing western garments over traditional clothing. However, this created friction with the patriarchal set up of Indian society which saw it as “against ‘Indian culture’.” The choice of attire, when western, was categorised as being “vulgar”, and the woman wearing it as “immoral”. 

“A grocery store owner in Delhi expressed: ‘But here girls can’t be like the girls in the west. They have to dress decently and watch where they go, who they are with’.”

An article by The Sydney Morning Herald presents the various views of men regarding rising sexual assault cases in India. Many have found ways to blame the “western culture”. A grocery store owner in Delhi expressed: “But here girls can’t be like the girls in the west. They have to dress decently and watch where they go, who they are with”. Mohan Bhagwat, leader of the Hindu organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said: “Such incidents[rapes] happen due to the influence of western culture and women wearing less clothes.” 

The argument of Indian vs western culture falls flat because according to fashion historian Toolika Gupta, in India there were no written dress codes. This concept was imposed by the British colonisers. The terms “blouse” and “petticoat” were introduced by colonisers, coexisting with some Southern as well as Bengal regions where women were traditionally bare-chested. These findings negate the argument that ties Western clothing to “immodesty”. Gupta also explores pre-colonial clothing attires adorned by women. Early representations of women have shown them with minimal clothing. 

“Clothing for women has also varied with religion and caste in India with discrimination more pronounced for minority categories.”

Clothing for women has also varied with religion and caste in India with discrimination more pronounced for minority categories. A Livemint article, titled, “The changing fabric of Dalit life” (21st April 2017) talks about how caste barriers also defined the rules surrounding attire for example what Dalit women could wear. As an example, the article mentions the period of 1800s where men and women of the Nadar community of Travancore were forced to keep their upper bodies bare to show respect to the upper caste Hindus. This was termed as the “breast tax”, named after the fine required to be paid on violating the rule. Vivek Kumar a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, interviewed in the article explains: “Dalit women were involved in midwifery—so whatever was there which was soiled during childbirth, was given to them. Dalit women also performed duties at the time of death, so whatever was left by the dead, they would get that.” The article mentions that men from lower caste communities also demanded that women be conservatively dressed to prevent upper caste men from their villages from sexually objectifying them. 

“The conversation surrounding women’s clothing and attire has even found its way in arguments abetting sexual violence.”

The conversation surrounding women’s clothing and attire has even found its way in arguments abetting sexual violence. In the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case, one of the rape accused named Mukesh Singh was interviewed for a BBC documentary “India’s daughter”. He majorly used the character assassination in his defence, that a “decent” girl would not be roaming on the streets at night and would not wear “wrong” clothes.

“While this horrific incident shook the consciousness of the Indian society, the victim-survivor shaming that accompanied the initial investigation proved the apathetic response to sexual violence.”

While this horrific incident shook the consciousness of the Indian society, the victim-survivor shaming that accompanied the initial investigation proved the apathetic response to sexual violence. The case highlighted illogical “victim shaming” reactions which eventually normalise our society’s misogynistic response to sexual violence against women. This was demonstrated when a biology teacher in Kendra Vidyalaya in Raipur, proclaimed and taught her co-ed class that “wearing revealing clothes incites crimes like that of Nirbhaya”. 

On similar lines, a HuffPost article by Chetan Bhagat, attempted to examine the reasons for rape apologists to question the character of victim-survivors. He proposes it as a “coping mechanism” for those who seek comfort in the belief that victim-survivors are responsible for what happened to them and so their family members are safe by dressing conservatively. Another reason Bhagat explains is the denial of female sexuality that is expressed through clothing.  

Bhagat may argue that the imbalance of sexual power between the two genders could be a reason for violence against women, however, on exploring further one cannot discount the systemic injustices meted out to women on their relationship with their bodies. Clothes have been a means to further the objectification of women as property of men. This regressive treatment of women reflects how women’s identity,  choices and right to self-expression have been controlled by Indian society and used as a tool to judge their character.  Feminist movements have highlighted this issue and aim to provide women with equal social, legal, political and economic rights enjoyed by their male counterparts.

Arti is an Economics Major, keenly interested in development economics especially in the area of gender. Currently working as a risk consultant, she is also an avid reader and a yoga enthusiast. She aims to work at a social consultancy that focuses on education of girls. 

Design By Daya Bhatti

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A Non-Binary Love Story

Vidhi Maheshwari

Discussing “I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story” by Fox and Owl Fisher 

Over the years, gender commonly considered in two forms – male and female – is often aligned with the physical sex of the person. However, in reality people can identify as both male and female at one time, as different genders at different times, as no gender at all, or could also dispute the idea of gender altogether. They may also use terms such as genderqueer or non-binary to identify themselves.  

“‘I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,’ is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher.”

“I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,” is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher. Through their personal narratives, with their love story as the focus, Fox and Owl voice the struggles of non-binary people who often face rejection from society. In their documentary, they also include the voices of other non-binary folks from across Europe in order to put forward their shared experiences. It explores issues and challenges such as legal recognition, language, health care, and social acceptance.

Non-binary transgender individuals are at a heightened risk of negative mental health outcomes. In the documentary Fox explains: “It’s like always having to prove who we are, always having to prove our identity. We live this day in and day out, and it’s just become this big news about what non-binary is and how threatening it is to society or whatever. What a joke.” This sends out an extremely powerful message and insight into the constant struggles of non-binary people. 

Fox and Owl appeared on a popular morning show Good Morning Britain (GMB) hosted by Piers Morgan. The social media hate and abuse that Fox and Owl were subjected to even before the show reflects how the society views non-binary people. What should have been a few minutes on GMB for questions about Fox and Owl’s story, the conversation about gender turned into race when Piers Morgan asked them if he could choose to identify as a Black woman. What could have been questions to understand them turned into an attack by Piers Morgan. This highlighted how intolerant even “well-educated” people are towards non-binary people and how their rigid mindsets about the binary nature of gender prevent them from seeing beyond it. 

“In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words to call each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours.”

In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words they use to refer to each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours. This once again highlights the intensity of hate that is instilled in the minds and hearts of the society towards non-binary folks. This also demonstrates how non-binary people are constantly policed and are under the scrutiny of society. A comment that particularly stood out was from a transgender person that said, “they give transgender a bad name and we already have it rough with people.” 

This shows how non-binary people also face a lack of acceptance from transgender communities. A study conducted by Harrison et. al. showed how individuals who see their gender as hybrid, fluid, and/or rejecting the male-female binary are subject to significant anti-transgender bias and in some cases are at higher risk of discrimination and violence than their transgender counterparts. In an interview, Fox says that “No one makes room for us and we constantly have to try and make our own space.”

“Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people.”

Two other challenging socio-political issues faced by non-binary people that Fox and Owl discuss are the barriers in language, marriage rights, and healthcare. Marriage is a beautiful bond of love and commitment. It is something that individuals shouldn’t be denied based on their gender identity. Moreover, while transgender individuals in the UK have access to health care, allowing them to be themselves socially, physically and legally, the same does not apply to non-binary individuals. Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people. 

The very definition of the term non-binary means that these individuals fall outside the binary, outside what is culturally deemed appropriate. Since cultures across the world are embedded with the binary boyfriend, girlfriend, husband and wife terminology, non-binary people also have a hard time finding words to describe their partners. Social media too plays a major role in making these problems worse. While on one hand Owl was voted the sexiest “woman” in Iceland, on the other hand, as mentioned above, they received over 7,000 comments of hate for their identity. Thus, by peddling all sorts of misinformation about non-binary individuals, media in the UK facilitates a culture war on trans rights issues, instead of addressing them with evidence-based discussion

Owl and Fox Fisher (MyGenderation)

“Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people.”

While there are a multitude of issues faced by non-binary people, other than their inability to get married, the fact remains that everyone should have the same right. Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people. 

The results of the study conducted by Liu and Wilkinson in 2017 show that married transgender individuals, especially trans-women, experienced lower levels of perceived discrimination in various life domains than their unmarried counterparts. The lack of research on marital status and perceived discrimination for non-binary people makes it harder to conclusively generalize these results for them. However, given the societal attitudes towards them, their absolute inability to marry and even be recognized as gendered beings in the UK, it can be deduced that the levels of discrimination faced by non-binary people will be higher, if not similar than that faced by their transgender counterparts who share legal and social privileges.

“Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more.”

In their interview with Parsons, Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more. However, it is hard to assess how this documentary would be perceived by the transgender and cisgender communities. The film shows a large proportion of cisgender and transgender people speaking against Topshop’s policy to have gender-neutral changing rooms. In multiple other instances, as seen in the film, both these communities also spoke against the non-binary gender identity. While certain cisgender folks, such as Piers Morgan, lashed out and abused non-binary people, calling them all sorts of names, even transgender people posted comments of hate claiming that non-binary individuals ruin the transgender name. 

“Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles.”

Thus, it is not surprising that a portion of these communities responded negatively to a documentary  trying to educate people about what it means to be non-binary. However, I hope that cisgender and transgender people are able to open their eyes to educate themselves and empathize with the struggles and challenges faced by non-binary people. Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles. By hearing the personal accounts of non-binary people, I hope that people are able to get a deeper understanding of the systemic brutality, ignorance and oppression faced by the non-binary community.

My identity as a cisgender female, born and raised in India greatly influenced my desire to learn about the non-binary community. Like many others, I was socialized to consider gender in terms of its binary form – male and female. Even today, discussions with my parents make it evident how this concept is ingrained in their brains like a habit that is hard to change. However, moving to the USA for college, studying in a women’s college followed by wanting to pursue counseling psychology made it increasingly important for me to educate myself about gender. This stems out of a desire to not only be culturally competent but also to be a conscious citizen in the 21st century. This documentary truly made me self-reflect on my privilege as a cisgender woman.

“In Fox’s words: ‘Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it’.”

“I am They- A Non-Binary Love Story”, by Fox and Owl Fisher takes the step to educate people about the various issues faced by non-binary people with the hope to overcome the outrage and fear-mongering. In Fox’s words: “Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it”.

Watch the documentary here

Vidhi obtained her undergraduate degree in Psychology and International Studies from Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing her MA in Mental Health Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.

Design by Simran Mehta 

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