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And still, I rise.

Geeta Tandon
Geeta Tandon is India's first stuntswoman, and has many accolades to her name. But behind her smiling face is a story of great struggle and bravery. Read on to know about the fiery and inspiring woman. 

I was married off when I was fifteen. Since my mother had passed away when I was just ten, and my father was left devastated with four kids to look after, there were a lot of challenges. People began to tell my father that since we girls had grown up, it was time to get us married. For me, marriage seemed like shot at a possible change in my life, for the better. I thought that I would get to own things, get to cook my own food and have enough to eat. I didn’t think that I would have to worry about my in-laws, because I was struggling at home anyway, so might as well struggle there, with them. My father found a well-to-do family, whose youngest son was considered a match for me.
The people who match-made said that there was a boy with a house and came from a well-to-do family, and that I should marry him. I was married off in two days of that conversation. I was only fifteen years old, and I did not know anything about sex. I was also scared of it because I simply didn’t know what it was. Even though I grew up without a mother, I was capable of knowing what was right and what was wrong.

My husband began to misbehave with me each night. He would eat and drink (alcohol) till as late as 2:00 AM, and then throw his plate at the wall. That meant that I had to clean up, so I would tell him, “I'm not your servant to clean up after you.” Then, he would tell me, “Why else have I got you?” One morning, when I woke up and was about to get ready, I saw that his family (my in-laws) had come home. They were talking loudly in my presence, saying, “These girls have planned of all of this. They want to usurp the flat.” His mother then told him, “You are a eunuch and you are ruining my name! Can’t you control a girl? Go! tear her clothes and rape her. Let's see what her father and aunt can do.” Soon after that, he began to grope me and I was very scared.

It was 7:00 PM and I prayed for the night to end. He was drunk, and slapped me, and pulled my hair. Everyone in the house could hear all this, but not one stepped in to stop the mindless violence. Every night from then on, he would rip my clothes off me, and if I remained silent, he would bite my hands. After all this, one day, he ripped my clothes off and wanted to kick me out of the house, but I refused stoutly, telling him that I would not leave, come what may. I clenched my fists that day, looking for something to pick up so I could hit him with it. But that day, I also thought that if it missed its target, he would beat me horribly.

At one point in the journey, I thought that having a baby would mean that he wouldn’t trouble me for
sex – but, in the third month of my pregnancy, he put his knee down on my legs, to pin me down, for a good twenty minutes. I have faced all kinds of violence – including being beaten by the gas cylinder. I got pregnant with my second child, and it became all too overwhelming. I started crying, and then, one day, things got so bad that he hit me so badly, slamming my head against the wall about five or six times. I was dizzy, but I managed to get out of the house and took an auto to reach the closest police station. At the police station, they asked me who had hit me. I said it was my husband. They told me to go to my sister’s or any other relative’s house, stay there for a few days, and then see for myself, that he would settle down. This was no solution for me. I knew that if I stayed with him any longer, I was going to die. It wouldn’t be just death, but a horrible, painful death.

At that moment, I resolved to prove my worth. I went back and told him that I would no longer live with him anymore. He got angry, and asked me, “What did you say?” I looked back in defiance and said, “I’m not going to live with you!” Seeing all the violence and my resolve to get out, my brother-in-law came to my rescue and helped me run away. He was beating me so badly, that my brother-in-law decided to intervene.

As I ran that night, holding one of my children in my arms and grabbing the other by her hand as she ran alongside me, my husband chased after me with a sword in hand. I reached my sister’s house, where her husband said I was a sister to him, and they decided to take me and my children within their fold, and to take care of us. How many years I had waited to listen to those words! Ten days of happiness and nights of peace followed. But, my husband’s vengeance reared its ugly head. He burned down my brother-in-law’s auto-rickshaw. So, my brother-in-law told my sister to tell me to leave, lest things go worse.

I met a priest at a Gurudwara and asked if they would shelter the needy. He said, “A Gurudwara is God’s place so you can come and go whenever you want!” I took shelter there with my children, staying for about five days. I was given a mattress and a blanket, and I ate and slept in the free kitchen, ate the food and drank the milk that they gave us. My children and I wandered around, homeless, without food. It made me realize that I had to start earning to support them. We didn’t have any money – but if I could find a house, I could scrounge up some to pay some money as rent.
My husband used to taunt me, saying I could do nothing for a living, since I was uneducated and would have to work as a prostitute or in a dance bar. However, I was certain that I would work hard and do nothing of the sort he thought I was capable of. At that juncture, I ran into a woman who asked me to help her around the house, so I could put food on the table. She also told me that she knew of a house that had no water or electricity, but I agreed to live there and shifted.

A few days later, she asked me what I would do for a living. I told her I could work as a cook in about four houses, draw a decent amount from each and put a good amount into my family’s income trough each month. But, she recommended that I become someone’s mistress – and that he would take care of my family, but I refused and told her to never, ever say that to me again. I left the house immediately, again, and dumped all our bags in my sister’s house.
A few days later, my sister found a vacancy for a cook at a mess, and sent me to ask. I did as told, and the man there asked what I could do. I asked him what he wanted done, and he asked me to make rotis, at about 500 each day, for Rs. 1200 a month. I didn’t think, I just joined his place and began to work. I would wake up at 8:00 AM, make 250 rotis until about noon, and then take home some food for lunch, return, make 250 rotis until the evening, and take home some dinner.

With time, I shifted to a new place, paying a decent rent. I stopped working at the mess, soon, and made new friends in my neighbourhood. Incidentally, I saw them dressing beautifully to go to work every day – and I asked where they were going. They told me they were employed to give massages and were paid well. I asked them to help me find a job with them, and they agreed. The next day, I went to the place, and was introduced to a senior, who asked me if I knew how to massage, and I told her I did, and that I had massaged my mother-in-law before. She told me to join, agreeing to pay me Rs. 8,000 a month. I took the job on the spot. But, just as I did that, I noticed the customers who came in were dirty men. I asked if we had to massage men, too, when a girl told me to come the next day. I did, and at that moment, I saw a girl sobbing as her customer left. She said that she was forced into oral sex. I fumed – I couldn’t do this! The girl told me that this was only a massage parlour by name. She should've told me this before! Now, people would think I was a whore! I ran away unnoticed, crying to myself at the plight of my children.

I prayed hard that night, asking God to never make me come to selling my body or to beg. I asked my father to find me a job. Since he used to arrange for devotional programs at people’s houses, he gave me someone’s number and asked me to work there. With some apprehension, I called them – and they turned out to be a dance troupe. He told me to join the group of dancers for some money. I did, and it was amazing because food and snacks were given for free. He paid me Rs. 400, which was huge for me. On another shoot, I met a friend who told me that I looked like a friend of hers, who did stunts in films. That was attractive to me, and I wanted a job like that. With her help, I landed the job.
We went to Ladakh, where they got me to wear a fire body suit, and a costume on it, and they set it ablaze. The flames burned my face, and I was in pain – but I was treated. I returned home and my children and brother told me not to do this work. But I’m not going to quit! I got work as a stuntswoman and went from one to the next to the next. I enrolled my children in a good school. I have come a long way in life.

Today, I am in a place where I am sure that a woman doesn’t need a man to support her. I am proof of this. Why should women be subservient? Can’t you be your own proof? Do good things and you will get good results. God will take care of you. My entire journey may seem a journey of bravery and courage and inspiration – but it makes no difference to me to receive these titles because I was merely living my life and going forth with it. Never settle for ghulami (servitude). Never settle for suffering and abuse. Karam Bhagwan hota hai (work is God). I want people to understand what the true meaning of Azaadi (freedom) is. It is not the illusory idea that people think it is. It is truly to be able to stand on your own two feet.


By Rupande Mehta 
Source: Twitter

Last morning I woke up to the news that Roger Ailes the ex-CEO of Fox News was dead. My first response: good riddance. Earth is better off without people such as him.

Now I know the passing of any person is a sad event but Ailes was a monster. Not only was he a ruthless businessman, who in all fairness did a very good job making Fox what it is, but also a very controversial figure who forwards the end of his life was dogged by accusations of sexual harassment. He was a predator who ruled Fox with an iron fist with little regard for fairness or equality. The culture he created at Fox screams of patriarchy, harassment, racism and so much more. People like Bill O'Reilly were encouraged by him and his disgusting behavior to call women names, objectify them and view them as mere pieces of their lust instead of human beings capable of performing a job.

Gretchen Carlson; after many years of sexual harassment spoke up against Ailes and won a lawsuit to the tune of $20 million opening up the can of worms that Fox News was. She was forced to listen to that disgusting man tell her to sleep with him and perform other sexual acts in return for a promotion or more visibility. Seeing her courage, many more women, including the star Megyn Kelly, came out and confessed to the rampant behavior of harassment purported by Ailes and his cronies.

For me the legacy of Ailes is that he was a white man who while doing some good work destroyed a lot of lives. The legacy he left behind continues  to harass women no matter what the Murdochs claim to have cleaned up after thorough investigations and firing of O'Reilly. Cultures such as the one enhanced by Ailes do not dissipate over night and in some form can never be eliminated. Every woman has had some experience with a boss/colleague/superior making a comment that has made us uncomfortable. Someone once told a group of us (all women) sitting in a conference room, "I go home and play with my kids. Then I play with my wife." Why we needed to know such disgusting details, I don't know. But this someone always spoke about his personal life only in the presence of women; never when men were present. And women who were his junior. The consequences otherwise could be serious and jeopardize his career. And this someone, was a white male.

Ailes was a horrible man who terrorized women, demanded sexual favors and grew a culture where harassing women every second of every day was a routine part of his life. He considered himself above the law - thought being white would save him everyday and from everything - not even once pausing to consider that a plain woman like Carlson could bring about his downfall. The man who made many wise moves in business underestimated the power of a woman. For that I am glad but I am also happy that Mother Earth is lightened by the load of such a perverse man. He is gone and I hope all the women he harassed can find their peace in his aftermath.

The Role of Patriarchy in Hinduism

By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
In a feminist’s life, religion will always have an omnipresent (and sometimes nagging) role, especially if one identifies with a religion or grows up in a religious community. It is very tricky to reconcile gender roles and religion because many religions rely on patriarchal structures and the near-blind acceptance of them. In fact, feminism and religion are connected in that many of our views on feminism can be framed by religious practices and doctrines. They are also allied in the sense that the end goal is the same: inclusion and connection through a common belief in the community. However, it is important to internalize the fact that being a feminist does not mean being anti-religion. The entire purport of feminism is to empower women, most often by providing them with the ability to choose. If a woman is not given a choice to reconcile feminist values and religion, we risk alienating the very women we wish to uplift. Being a Hindu myself, I have experienced the ways in which the patriarchal structures of Hinduism have influenced my feminist thought. Examining gender roles and orthodox traditions in Hinduism, can give us insight into how certain stereotypes and gender roles came to be.
In Hinduism, there are a countless number of gods and goddesses. To my surprise, the ancient scriptures and texts seem to provide evidence that gender of these deities was not seen as binary but more like a spectrum. The creator, Brahma (the creator), is perceived by many Hindus to be genderless. Many gods, such as ‘Ardhanarishvara’ are also seen as androgynous. There are several words in Sanskrit and Tamil, such as ‘pedi’, ‘kliba’ and ‘sanda’ that suggest that civilization has long been familiar with queer thought and behavior. Today, however, sexuality is a rarely discussed openly in society. Homosexuality has been illegal for many years until a brief period in 2009. Soon after, the Supreme Court of India reinstated the legal ban on homosexuality. In fact, homosexuality, sex education, safe sex etc are all considered to be taboo topics and are rarely spoken of in the public without criticism or backlash.
In a society where sexuality is such a taboo topic, it is very fascinating and ironic that many religious customs that married women adhere to are for the purpose of improving a woman’s libido and sex drive (thereby increasing the woman’s fertility). The bindi is a small dot (often red) that is worn by women on the forehead, between the eyes. Though the actual purpose behind the bindi is widely debated, many Hindus believe that it is to enhance beauty, signify that the woman is married and improve concentration and focus. The placement of the bindi is such that it places pressure on a nerve on the forehead that connects to the uterus. A married woman may also apply sindhoor/kumkum (a vermillion powder made using turmeric) on her hair line to signify that she is married. Sindhoor is known to produce a cooling effect on the body, but the popular use for this powder suggests that the deep red colour signifies the fertile blood and the redness of the womb. Articles of clothing and other accessories such as toe-rings and the Mangal sutra (which literally translates to ‘auspicious string’) worn after marriage serve similar purposes.
The Mangal Sutra is both the creator and destroyer of a married life. When tied to a woman’s neck by her husband, it promotes her to wifehood. When it is removed, it demotes her to widowhood. A widow is also usually stripped of any jewelry - bangles, toe-rings, anklets, rings, sindhoor and even colour clothes. In older times, widows were considered extremely inauspicious. Anyone who encounters a widow before an auspicious or happy occasion believed they would have bad luck and considered seeing a widow was a bad omen. Centuries ago, there existed a practice known as ‘sati’, wherein the widow throws herself into her husband’s pyre or commits suicide in any other fashion, immediately after her husband’s death. This practice was not completely eradicated or made illegal until the 20th century. In 1987, the government of India passed a ‘Commission of Sati (prevention) Act’ that made it illegal to support, attempt or even glorify sati. Even though scholars suggest that sati was a voluntary action, many cases seem to suggest it is forced. Not only does this suggest the patriarchy’s role in making the man seem to ‘own’ the woman but also induce the toxic notion that a woman has no worth if she is not married/ is widowed.  
In Hindu temples, the majority of priests are male and it is rare that one ever sees a female priest. If you walk into a Hindu temple, more often than not, you will find the priest to be topless – wearing only a long sarong (saffron, yellow, white, red or black) draped around the lower-half of the body. According to the ‘Agama Shastras’, many temples in Kerala do not allow male devotees to wear shirts. The reasons behind this strange custom stem from the fact that back in those days, men did not traditionally have an upper body garment. Another popular belief is that going bare-chested and removed of all materialistic and accessory garment shows god that you have nothing to hide while also driving a more personal connection with the deity. In polar contrast, many temples have a stipulated dress code stating women must only be dressed in Indian wear/dressed ‘modestly’ – i.e. sleeveless tops and tight jeans are not allowed. Theorized reasons for this dress code is to ensure comfort and no distraction (to other devotees and to oneself) or embellishments around God. The double standards are still apparent in the case of men. Whatever the reasons used by our Hindu ancestors to justify these age-old customs, I strongly believe that most of these temple traditions have little relevance to today’s world. If a woman feels comfortable wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the temple, she should be allowed to do so. Similarly, a man who wants to keep his shirt on while offering prayers to the deity should have the right to do so. What matters at the end of the day, is the devotion, spiritual connection to god and the prayers offered/blessings sought in the temple.
Unfortunately, in India, periods and the menstrual cycle are very taboo and hush-hush topics of discussion. For most Hindus, the unspoken rule is that women who are menstruating are not allowed to enter temples, religious shrines or even prayer rooms. There are even certain temples in India, such as the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, wherein women who are within the age of menstruating are forbidden from entering. Girls who have not matured yet and women who have reached menopause are allowed entry into the temple. In some households, a woman on her period is not allowed to sleep on the bed, eat from daily kitchenware and must wash her clothes separately. In most rural households, they are not even allowed to enter the house. The reasons behind these rules seem sensible. Staying separately and using different kitchen ware pertain to the reason of hygiene and cleanliness, to avoid the spread of bacteria and therefore infections. A woman is also not expected to strain herself and therefore take a lot of rest because she may experience pains and cramps. In the 21st century, these practices are not really followed as customs primarily due to advancement in healthcare and availability of tampons and sanitary pads, which minimize the risk of bacteria and other harmful microbes even if a woman is on her period.
With the rampant proliferation in globalization, the roles of women in Hinduism are changing. Hindu women experience more freedom and have more choices today, than ever before. With ongoing efforts to abolish outdated and irrelevant traditions like child-marriage, Hindu-practicing individuals are on the road to more religious freedom and open-minded thinking. It is important to remember, that there is still a long way to go in creating a gender-equal community for Hindus and the way to do this exists not only through legislative changes but also through changes at the local level. Raising awareness about unjust practices and archaic customs can go a long way in changing the lives of women and men in their community. We must continue to question preconceived gender-roles and outlandish traditions (but not just for the sake of them) and work to improve the lives of the minority women and men.  
*The author of this article does not intend to offend anyone or even the Hindu religion with her opinions of the same.

Brokering Peace Between India and Pakistan: Where Women Lead the Way!

By Chintan Girish Modi 

I am a bit sick of watching the same old men screaming and shouting on my television screen when discussions on India-Pakistan relations are aired after every flare-up between the subcontinental neighbours. Since 2012, when I first visited Pakistan and got involved in thinking seriously about peaceful relations between our countries, I have been hoping that some sensible TV channel would bring an all-women panel to share their perspectives and insights, or at least have more women on such panels instead of always bringing in some security analyst, former diplomat, or ex-army officer -- invariably men.

I am sure that discussions on the India-Pakistan conflict would be a lot more nuanced, intelligent and lively if they had some more women speaking up. Is this because men know nothing of peace, and women are born into the world as peacemakers? I have no such illusions. Arnab Goswami is not on Times Now any longer but his place has been taken by a woman who appears to be as virulent. However, it is true that some of the strongest advocates of peace that I know, or have met/read, are women. I have written about them earlier in an article titled 'Wash Off Each Molecule of Despair' for the Prajnya Peace Education Blog

I assume the ones I have mentioned are all cis-women, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I think they were assigned female at birth. I could be wrong because my psychic powers, if any, are quite limited. Therefore, I must apologize at the outset. Anyway, my point is that their biology has no bearing on how they inhabit the world. Their choice of peace over violent extremism is a result of careful thought.

In fact, Catia C. Confortini has written an excellent article titled 'Galtung, Violence, and Gender: The Case for a Peace Studies/Feminism Alliance' for the July 2006 issue (Vol. 31, No.3) of the journal Peace and Change, wherein she examines quite critically such simplistic inferences. She points out that some feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, who were drawing on a 19th and early 20th century tradition of feminism, did propose that "women were, by nature, upbringing, and/or by virtue of being mothers andcaretakers, morally superior to and more peaceful than men." Apparently, other feminists were not as convinced about such claims.

Confortini writes, "In particular, Jean Bethke Elshtain argued that claims of women’s natural or cultural superiority in matters of peace and war only serve to reproduce, if inverted, a world based on gendered dichotomies and power hierarchies." It would be wrong to say that men have not been part of the India-Pakistan peace process. Some of the names that immediately come to mind are Praful Bidwai, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jatin Desai, Raza Rumi, Harsh Kapoor, General Mahmud Durrani, Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, Mahesh Bhatt, Salman Ahmad, Anand Patwardhan, and Pervez Hoodbhoy.

Confortini goes on to say, "Ann Tickner observed that the association of femininity with peace lends support to an idealized masculinity that depends on constructing women as passive victims in need of protection. It also contributes to the claim that women are naïve in matters relating to international politics. An enriched, less militarized notion of citizenship cannot be built on such a weak foundation. These feminists found such associations disempowering for both women and peace."

It would be a terrible disservice to the wisdom, courage and compassion of peace-loving women if one thought of them as naïve. At least the ones I have interacted with have made well-informed choices, often at grave risk to their lives, health, relationships, and career prospects. It is only their passionate drive to create a more peaceful world that has kept them going on relentlessly despite all the naysayers.

The most concrete example is unfolding right in front of me. I am part of a small but strong private online group comprising Indians and Pakistanis, which has been working day and night on a peace resolution that has been endorsed by over 800 artists, filmmakers, musicians, historians, activists, educators, writers, students, former diplomats and former army and naval officers. The signatures were not collected through an impersonal online campaign but through the personal efforts of group members who got in touch with not only friends, family, colleagues but also with prominent citizens of great public repute in both countries and in the diaspora.

The resolution expresses concern over "the current rise in animosity and antagonism between India and Pakistan," and urges "both governments and their security establishments to take all steps possible towards improving relations." It records the loss of lives over the last 70 years, and the suffering of "ordinary people denied visas and those in the conflict zones, especially women and children as well as fishermen who get routinely rounded up and arrested for violating the maritime boundary."

The resolution emphasizes cultural exchanges, trade, people-to-people contact and visa-free travel between the two countries, as well as the creation of "an institutionalised framework to ensure that continuous and uninterrupted talks between India and Pakistan take place regularly, no matter what." It calls both sides to "renounce all forms of proxy wars, state-sponsored terrorism, human rights violations, cross-border terrorism, and subversive activities against each other, including through non-state actors or support of separatist movements in each other’s state."

Indians and Pakistanis who cherish the bonhomie that is born of personal interactions can sometimes forget that Kashmiris are suffering in the cross-fire, and that we need to speak up for them. Therefore, to me, the most important part of the resolution is that which asks both governments "to recognise that the Kashmir dispute, above all, concerns the lives and aspirations of the Kashmiri people, and work to resolve it through uninterrupted dialogue between all parties concerned." 

While men in the group did help, the lead on this massive cross-border labour of love was taken almost entirely by some of the women in the group -- filmmaker and writer Beena Sarwar, peace activist Lalita Ramdas, poet and publisher Bina Sarkar Ellias, dancer Sheema Kermani, journalist Jyoti Malhotra, artist and educator Salima Hashmi, journalist Ammu Joseph, human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, as well as journalist Marvi Sirmed. Special salaams to each one of them. I hope that someday I have the opportunity and the resources to do an extensive study of women's role in the peace process between India and Pakistan from 1947 until today. These are only a few of the many celebrated and unsung women who have contributed to keep things sane and hopeful in a scenario that looks bleaks more often than not.

Chintan Girish Modi is involved in learning, researching, teaching and writing about peace. He is also the founder of Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, and has worked with the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development. He can be reached at

A Pirate's Life No More

By Siddharth Shiva
In a few weeks, there will be a new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie coming out. It will have Johnny Depp in it. Depp was one of my favorite actors up until he turned out to be a remorseless, wifebeating piece of shit. 

It pains me to say this, because Pirates Of The Caribbean is my second favorite movie franchise (after Lord Of The Rings, which will always rule them all), but I will not be seeing this movie in theaters. We have to stop turning a blind eye to the kind of crap that our heroes pull; otherwise we would be no different from the Vijay fans we love to mock, for swallowing creepy, stalkery plot lines. This is worse, maybe; because the stuff he did is real, and we cannot allow this industry, or any industry, to get away with allowing this kind of abuse.

It must have taken a ridiculous amount of courage for Amber Heard to have done what she did; she took a stand against one of Hollywood's most beloved and powerful actors. The backlash to her accusations were (and are) wild. When you're reading the following passages, imagine that Heard isn't a famous actress; instead, she's just an ordinary person. Imagine if somebody you knew were dragged through the court of public opinion the way she was. 

People first accused her of lying, and of faking her injuries. Then a video of what he was doing found its way online. 

People accused her of baiting him. How messed up is that? How is that a justification for violence (aside from the fact that she was doing nothing to bait him in the video)?

People brought up the fact that Heard herself had been arrested for Domestic Violence several years ago; but her then girlfriend (Heard is bisexual) dismissed that case as an instance of homophobia, and defended Heard's character. 

Then people accused her for doing it for the money and attention. She donated every single penny from the settlement to charity; and she waived spousal support from the divorce. The only attention she got? Victim-blaming nonsense.

Several times she released statements trying to protect Depp and his career from the fallout of the divorce and the abuse coming to light. Depp did absolutely nothing to clarify the victim blaming crap. To have to put out a joint statement like they did in the end is testament to the power that a person like Johnny Depp holds in the film industry. 

There's more to the story; it's a long and complicated one. But that doesn't matter, it has only one victim of violence. 

C'mon, Johnny. Get your shit together. I admired you for the longest time.  With your, going to children's hospitals as Jack, and slurring at Award speeches, and playing live with Marilyn Manson. That was all so cool. This shit is not. Seriously, get your shit together. You set an example to not just your children, but to a whole world of children. 

I really hope that Aquaman is a fantastic movie, and Heard is great as Mera, so that it can replace Pirates as my second favorite film franchise; and become my new favorite franchise that heavily involves the Ocean. 

I will not be watching Pirates (or any other Johnny Depp movie) in the theater. It would take Depp owning what he'd done, clearing Heard's name, and taking public action against domestic violence (raising awareness; contributing to charities in meaningful ways) for me to even consider sending any money his way. I urge anybody who feels strongly that abusive people shouldn’t get away with the stuff they pull, to not go and see this movie, or any of his movies in the theater. 

Inspiring Happiness

Vaani and AVIS. Image from here
What strikes you first about AVIS and Vaani is the vibe of calmness they bring into any space they become part of. Their effervescent smiles, kind disposition and simplicity is a product of life’s many experiences and the lessons life offered them at different points in time. Coping with bankruptcy, AVIS and Vaani found in themselves a sense of resilience that then shone the path on a greater purpose in life: “Inspiring Happiness.” Here is their story in their own words.

The journey
Avis: Back in 1996, we set up a consulting firm with the intention of making it global. The firm had a mandate from an MNC that was unethical, as we were to discover later. For ethical reasons, we decided to close down that association. We had a 60% revenue exposure from that one customer. When we separated from them, we had to bring in debt to pay salaries, capital, operating costs and office rents. We expected business to pick up in the time that the debt would be brought in and sustained, for some time at least. But that didn’t happen for about 3 or 4 years. The debt had ballooned and began to create its own problems, because when you carry debt in any form, you are paying interest. So there is a principal amount and interest. For a whole year, all that we were doing was to struggle to meet capital needs.
In this time, we had remodeled ourselves. Our business model had undergone a change and we had separated from some customers. That put pressure on the business. We had also laid off some people towards the end of 2005, because we felt we were not doing the kind of business that could support these people. We were in the process of reinventing ourselves. It was cathartic, but it was going in the right direction. In 2006, we actually got three new customers which meant that our new business model was good and profitable. Soon, we hoped, our debt would be cleared if this positive trend continued.
It looked like things were going on track, which is when 2007 hit us. It was a particularly devastating year. We went through a whole calendar year without a single client, so we didn’t have a billing on all 365 days of 2007. When a consulting firm goes without revenue for a year, it is like an aircraft flying empty or a hotel running with empty rooms – it’s like dead inventory. That year, all I personally did was to borrow from Peter to pay Paul because the loans simply had to be paid off. But that only increased our debt burden. Chennai is a small market for borrowing and doing business in comparison with other places, so word got round quickly. The lending market got to know that we were running a firm and had run into trouble because of over-leveraging ourselves in the market. Soon, the lending stopped, too. We couldn’t bring in more funds. What seemed like a house of cards then came crashing.
Vaani: Though AVIS has a way of saying that his decisions led to the problems, the fact is that I was also a part of the company. I was a director on the Board with the company. Initially, for the sake of the children, I stayed at home. I was into some freelance writing. Being a home office, I got into the company. When we registered, I was a director and was involved in running the company, and in the decision making process. Right from the beginning, we had our tasks pretty neatly cut out based on our choices. Anything to do with work would be AVIS’ domain. If there was anything to do with family, I was in charge. Accordingly, we handled the crises that arose in each side. It was very difficult at home and at the workplace when we were facing the financial crunch. Some people have a rough time at work and have home to seek solace at, and vice versa. But for us, we were facing flak on both sides. It was a difficult thing!

Facing a tough reality
Avis: On December 31, 2007, we were left with Rs. 2000, and were left with a debt pile of about Rs. 5 crores – which amounted to a million dollars at that time. 179 people had to be repaid. We didn’t know what to do, because we were in a situation where we had no business, we had this debt, we had children who were growing up. Aashirwad, my son, was 17 and getting ready to go to college. Aanchal was 13. We had no money. All our bank accounts ran on a deficit. Our credit cards were blocked. All the insurance policies that we leveraged closed. There was no health insurance to fall back on. There was a lot of fear, insecurity, anger, denial and grief. It was a very dark time.
Vaani: It was a difficult thing to face. There are some people who go through cathartic situations – but at least the spouse is working elsewhere, so there is financial stability for the family. But in our case, because we were both in the company, we faced it entirely. We did try for jobs but that didn’t happen.
Avis: We met our lawyer, Mr Vijayaraghavan, who was a very good friend, as well. We had known him for about twenty years already, at that time. It never occurred to me personally that I should go to him. This is what happen when you are in the throes of a problem – you don’t think you need help.  I went through that phase, and the next morning, when we saw we had Rs. 2000 – not that we didn’t know we had no money, but the physicality of being left with that much stared us in the face. When we went to Vijayaraghavan that day, he said we were bankrupt. That was the first time I applied that word in my context. He told us we had to go to court and deal with police complaints and such – things we didn’t want to deal with. He told us it was going to be part of our everyday lives. He told us that we had to be strong. If we could promise him we would be strong, he said he would protect us legally to the best of his ability. He told us we didn’t have to pay him right away. It was difficult to internalize what he was saying, and to digest it. We were in a dark place – and he wasn’t telling us that it would disappear, though he assured us he would be there.

Moving on
Avis: We came out of that meeting, when a friend asked me what we were doing for New Year’s Eve, since it was December 31. I asked if he was crazy, asking me this when he knew what my situation was.  He told me that it was all the more necessary at this time. I told him that he could come over with his family if he wanted, but we weren’t going out anywhere. That evening, when he came over, we spent time together, talking, singing a few songs, even. But my mind wasn’t in it. When they went away, I locked the front door and went to the bedroom. I found Vaani there, and I told her, “I am sorry, Mom, that all this happened. In a way I am responsible for this. I am sorry for the choices I made, which brought us here. I don’t know how long this is going to take and how far we have to go. But, I know for sure that if you are with me, I will be very grateful.” She said, “I’ve been with you all along. However long this takes, I will be there with you.” It was very beautiful, because it was more powerful than the moment I proposed to her and she accepted. It was more meaningful here. We were in a very real situation where nothing was perfect. In a moment, it appeared like all our problems could be dealt with. There was strength, courage, romance and a sense of invincibility at that moment.  But the next morning, when I woke up, and when we looked at our situation again, it felt like we had no idea what to do. We stumbled through 2007 to 2012. Primarily, we dealt with many constituencies – fear, led by some real action against us. Court cases and police complaints, menacing creditors with collection agents of an unsavoury kind and unorganized lenders and people who use underhand methods to recover money. Fear was a dominating theme. We didn’t know where we were stepping. Every direction we stepped in felt like a landmine. We tread each day as it came – and that taught us to live in the moment.
Vaani: We had this unwritten rule in place and followed it pretty much. There were a lot of times when we discussed and agreed – sometimes didn’t agree. And it was okay. When things went terribly wrong, we ensured that we could get through by talking to each other a lot. Conversations helped amply. If you don’t talk, however bad it is, if you don’t talk about whatever it is that is on your mind, it can give rise to a lot of misunderstandings. Talking about it is very, very important. We had a lot of conversations – and sometimes, we wouldn’t, too, and that was perfectly okay. The discussions we had, led us to understanding what happiness and success mean. 

The Ripple Effect and a Treasure Chest of Miracles
Avis: In this time, the other constituency was Aashirwad and his graduation. We let him go to University of Chicago – without a thought, honestly. People from different walks of life, rank strangers included, came many times and bailed us out with regard to his education. The third constituency was business. We needed much more than came in, and something was coming in – so we struggled and stumbled. Somehow, Aashirwad graduated, and we also went, miraculously, to witness his graduation. It was completely incredible. The outside world didn’t take it kindly – even as the miracles continued to happen. Witnessing his graduation was a big turning point for us. We discovered that while battling our issues, we had completely let go when it came to Aashirwad. We sent him, and decided, “Let anything happen.” On many occasions, he came close to being thrown out of his dorm room, or his swipe card wouldn’t work. And out of nowhere, some bounteous individual came in to bail us out. So when we saw the theme of letting go truly play out, we learned a lot. We learned that we could make our efforts, and then trust the process of life.
Even as we set out to employ the theme, life turned very dramatically. Whatever little income or projects came in, stopped for 30 months between June 2012 and December 2014. In 2007, we went through 12 months. In this period, from 2012 to 2014, we went through 30 months of not a rupee coming in. We were dealing with eviction proceedings on one side, with execution proceedings on the other side, and complaints in other states – some of our creditors wanted to pressurize us by going to another state since recovery was easier there. That’s when Vaani’s sister saw a bunch of cops come home one day, and she freaked out. We were staying at a friend’s apartment since we were going to be evicted from the apartment we were living in, earlier. Vaani’s sister told us to move into her flat. We navigated those 30 months with a roof over our head and little miracles in the form of friends helping out – every gadget in the house is a gift, be it the microwave, the television, the phones we use, the washing machine - you name it. We struggled a lot.

Picking up Strings
Avis: There was a lot of pain. But there was a difference between 2007, and 2012 to 2014. There was pain in both places. There was suffering in 2007, but in 2012-2014, there was absolutely no suffering. There was complete equanimity. The power of reflection really helped.  I did an hour of mouna (silence) every day. Vaani comes from a more spiritually evolved background thanks to her education at J Krishnamurthy’s Rishi Valley. I learned it fast, and realized that there was no point fighting this. You do your duty – and that is where the art of happiness is about letting go, about doing your bit and not worrying about the results. Non-suffering was key – we stopped asking why, and led everyday as it came. It was a beautiful process of dealing with catharsis and pain.
In 2015, we got a small project which barely covered some parts of our living expenses. There was something meaningful. That project ended that year. In 2016, we struggled, and 2017 has been no different. Creditors ask me for a repayment plan, but I tell them that I can pay them only when I have enough to pay my rent and living expenses. I don’t even have that much, yet.

Vaani: The definition of success in the world is very different. People think that success is some kind of a destination – owning a car, owning a three BHK or an x salary figure. If you don’t get these goals you set out for yourself, in their books, you are not successful. Those kinds of happiness that are related to achieving things are good – but, you have to understand, that sometimes, life has a mind of its own. Two plus two is never equal to four. There are sometimes no answers to questions in life. That’s when you get frustrated, because you are trying to find an answer. There is no answer – that is just how it is meant to be. You can’t define why some things are the way they are. So then, instead of asking why, even in this happiness thing we talk about, we suggest, we can accept.

Avis: We are still struggling, we stumble and we go on – but we are not suffering. We totally believe that things will turn around. This is my ten year old story – with absolutely no end in sight. Our vision is to be zero debt and to repay all 179 creditors. We don’t have a deadline, because we have not even gotten enough to cover our living expenses in these ten years. If I have three months of consistent income, in the fourth month, I can say I can start repaying. But that hasn’t happened so far. For 42 months out of 120 months, we had zero income. Recently, someone asked me if there was anything I regretted about my life so far. I reflected on the question and said that I wished all of this had happened sooner in my life, so that I would have had a longer time to spend with the lessons and enlightenment that the experience gave me.  So many more years of life would have been lived happily without worry and frustration. Pain is inevitable, but suffering isn’t. It would have been beautiful had it happened earlier.

Vaani: Depression and frustration set in because you think you control life. The point though, is that you are not in control. A lot of equanimity settles in the minute you realize this, and you stop asking the debilitating question of “Why” in situations beyond our control. Life is not a straight line. You start with the goal of studying well. Why? To go to the next class. Why? To go to grade 12. Why? To get into a good college. Why? To get a good job. Why? To earn a good salary. Why? To get married and to run a family. Why? To have kids. And then, there, you teach your kids to do the same thing – which means that the cycle continues, continues and continues. It is not meant to be a straight line. It is a circle. What goes up comes down, what goes down, comes up.
Avis: Many creditors have been taking necessary steps legally and otherwise. I think it is also very gracious of them to recognize that the two of us are genuinely trapped in a situation and whatever they say or do, they have to say or do in a real world. If money was not an object, they wouldn’t do these things. But because money exists, they are doing what they are doing. Barring ten or twenty, all the creditors have been gracious and understanding, and have been very patient. We have a reason to wake up every morning and work harder at all that we try to do, so that we live up to that faith and trust.

Vaani: It is quite easy – because you don’t have to worry about anything when you surrender and stop asking why. It is not you - it is just that things are happening and you happen to be there.
Avis: I don’t think we can every repay anyone with the gratitude we have. That is one point I would like to amplify. This is also the phase where we understood that success is very relative. To us and to the real world, one definition of success is that anyone must achieve a target. In our case, the target is about becoming zero debt. When that is elusive and not happening ,frustration and depression can set in. It is a natural response. We question that response. We ask why we are depressed. If we are depressed or frustrated, we are not trusting the process of life. We decided to be useful. What makes us useful is the understanding that facing life itself is success. There is a situation, but that situation is not you. And that you face it, with all your courage and strength, in itself, is success.
We are bankrupt. But only financially. We are not bankrupt spiritually, physically or mentally. So, we can be useful. Success is really, then, about facing life.

Dear Me and Dear You. Dear Girl.

By Anonymous 

Dear Girl,

I had barely put down my bag when you knocked on my door. I was sleepy and covered in a fine coat of grime from the Indian Railways, and my breath was an awful mix of stale toothpaste, haggling with auto drivers, and the night air heavy with co-passenger snores. All I wanted to do was plant myself under a shower and recuperate, reorient myself. Instead, I had barely put down my bag when you knocked on my door.

Your eyes were teary and I felt my stomach drop. The last time you had sought refuge in my room, you had told me about familial feuds and domestic conflict, and I had told you that adult problems were not in your control and that none of it was your fault. Today, you opened conversation with a confession that “he is asking me to sleep with him,” and my heart did a double-flip. I asked you to tell me more. Were you sure of what you were saying? Were the alien details of a foreign tongue confusing usage between ‘sleep near’ and ‘sleep with’? What did you mean?

That day, we had a conversation, my grime-coated “adult” hand covering your freshly-bathed one, your well-oiled, combed hair pressed against my dusty shoulder, your tears forming stain marks on an already battered kurti. I told you no one had access to your body unless you gave it to them. I told you none of it was your fault. I told you nothing had to “happen” for it to be wrong. I told you that just because you were an “unprotected” girl without a father figure, it did not make you fair prey. I told you it would be okay, and that you were safe now. I taught you the words to tell your story. I told you I was listening. And as I was telling you, I was actually telling myself.

I was thirteen. India was playing the finals of a World Cup, and the T20 craze was just catching on. Dhoni would finish the match with what would become his characteristic aplomb but I did not see any of it. It was September, I was away from home on vacation, and I was thirteen.

As Dhoni belted his sixes all over the stadium and friends cheered him on in a mad frenzy that only characterises cricket in India, I was in the next room. I don’t remember why I had gotten up; maybe it was to quickly take a bathroom break before the last few balls or grab a drink of water. Maybe someone had asked for something and everyone else was too rivetted to get up. Whatever it was, I was on my feet and in the next room. It was just me and a family friend, the host to us all that evening. I was thirteen. He was over ten years older than me.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into the room looking for something and not finding it, turned around to leave. He grabbed a hold of my hand and pulled me towards him. I don’t remember the sequence of events too clearly so many years later, but I remember being pinned against the wall. He was roughly my height and not too strongly built but he had the advantage of surprise. I remember being pinned against the wall. I remember him kissing me, softly at first and then with a little more urgency. I remember feeling his tongue in my mouth as he pressed against me. I remember feeling dizzy, disoriented, light-headed. I remember concentrating on the cheering that I could hear from the TV screen, the hooting and clapping and urging proving the blanket of white noise I needed to just last those few minutes through. I remember focusing intently on the thwack of ball on bat, the yells to ‘catch itttt’ and finally, the overwhelming raucous cheering as national heroes lifted the cup on homeground. I never saw the helicopter shot that day. I was busy wedged between a wall and a man almost double my age at the time. I was thirteen.

It was very many years later that I learnt to associate ‘child sexual abuse’ with myself. I was in college and writing an article on the subject when too much of the research hit close to home. I put my laptop aside and wept in the recognition, not of victimhood or weakness but of the experience itself. It really had happened to me and it was not okay.

This journey of it being ‘not okay’ was long and arduous to say the least, much like most self-exploratory experiences with abuse. A few years after said man had ruined a cricket final for me, another man known to the family had decided to truly milk the hospitality of a dinner party at my house. I was helping Ma clear the dishes from the terrace where we had hosted guests and bring all the pots and pans downstairs when a voice from the shadows asked me to stop. It was a voice I recognised, one I had heard since I was a child, and I did. I remember what I was wearing that day, an almost costume-party-esque half-sari following some event that I had been to earlier in the day. He was sitting on the floor of the terrace, back against a wall, and asked me to join him. When I did, he leaned in to kiss me and I could feel tongue again. Luckily for me, I knew what was happening this time around. I clenched my teeth together, and fled even as I could hear my mother call for me to help wash the dishes. He acted like nothing had happened as I shook and quivered in the bathroom. I was fifteen.

Today, many years later, I look back at these men and I remind myself every day that what they did was not okay. I tell myself that placating me with reassurances of love and affection and deep care does not make it okay. I kid myself into believing that they were “good people” who did “bad things,” not just horrible human beings. Today, many years later, I still freeze when I find myself in a secluded space with a man much older than me, bracing myself for the move that my body has internalised as inevitable.

Dear Girl, when you told me about the man who was making a pass at you, I thought of my men. When you told me he was an uncle twice-removed, I thought of all the men I grew up calling Uncle. When you told me everyone loved him, I thought of the many civil social interactions I have had with them in the years that followed.

Dear Girl, if I were to give you advice today, it would be this.

Veiled compliments are more veil than compliment. For all the men who tell you that you are pretty and talented and intelligent, do not let their apparent admiration dull the atrocity of their action. For all the men who say you are “just something else” or there is “something about you,” do not let their vague vocabulary and placating condescension define how you see yourself. You are something else. There is something about you. You are pretty and talented and intelligent. But none of that is because of those men. None of that is for those men. None of that is the ‘because’ of why they touch you. Be strong.

Let yourself grieve. Cry. Yell. Fume. There was a point in my late adolescence that idle teenage fantasising about the First Kiss would cause panic attacks and uncontrollable tears. As friends sat around a bowl of chips and dreamt of Prince Charming and more, I could hear Dhoni’s thwack from the next room, a strong hand on my own, and a foreign object in my mouth. Every time friends laughed at “the weird ones” having “a thing” for me, even today I see a motley collage of men of all shapes and sizes, whispering sweet nothings of talent and beauty into my ears as a monstrous tongue snakes its way towards me. Do not be afraid to rage. Rage for what was. Rage for what could have been. Rage for what never will be. Rage for yourself, the You of Then and the You of Now. But do not rage at yourself. This is not on you.

Put the pieces together. The strokes of your painting have changed a little and the edges of the jigsaw may seem like they don’t quite fit, but it still makes a picture, and it is still yours. Put the pieces back together. Surround yourself by people you trust and love and one day, when you are ready, tell them your story. Draw your strength from the world around you and the goodness that exists. Remind yourself that that man on that day in that moment did not redefine the world in monochrome. Instead, paint your own picture around the dots, over the scars. Put the pieces together and tell your own tale. Sure, it may be flecked with grey or black or red, but it will be splashed, nay, drowned, with orange and purple and the pink of beachside cotton candy. It will be beautiful because you are beautiful.
Dear Girl, when you told me your story, I lived through mine. When I repeated words of quiet reassurance to soothe your fears, I called up the shadows that lurked within me and calmed them too.When I held your hand and whispered words of confidence into your soul, I reached out to another fifteen-year-old at another time and another place, and told her too.

Dear Me and Dear You. Dear Girl.

Be Strong. This is not on you. You are beautiful.

The Story Teller

Madhureeta Anand   
Madhureeta Anand is an extremely prolific, independent filmmaker. She has directed two feature films, written five feature films, directed many documentary films and series, spanning an array of genres. Many of her films have won national and international awards. She also writes for various websites and magazines and has been featured in various books and other publications. She is also an activist for women’s rights and rights of other minorities. She has consistently used her films and influence to support the causes of ending violence against women and children.

1.Tell us about your childhood, growing years, education and family.
My father was in the army and my mother was a trained Kathak dancer. Both my parents loved to dance and my father was an intellectual, he was very well read. The environment I grew up in was creative and intellectual on the one hand and was also full of abuse and isolation. A family member had huge rage issues and so, I got beaten up a lot. This was combined with sexual abuse from the staff that worked in our house. It was just terrible.  But the stories in my head saved me. I remember being encased in stories. I was just never there in my family, home or the life I was leading then, I was floating in an imaginary world full of lovely stories where anything was possible and where people were gentle saviors. It was very amusing for those around me that I had all these imaginary people in my life - but it's these "imaginary" people who became my bedrocks of sanity and who rescued me. Looking back I guess that's where I became a storyteller. I was always writing, first in my mind and then on paper. 

When I was seven, my father died.  He was lovely man and my hero. It was the final catastrophe - it is then that my life turned for the second time. We moved to my  maternal grandmother's home - she was a gentle, loving woman with a great sense of humor. While the death of my father was traumatic for all of us - i.e., my sister, mother and I - for me it had a positive impact because the abuse ended. I think just the fact that my grandmother was in the house was a big help. That's when I started making friends and became a happier person. At this time in my life, my aunts, i.e., my mother's sisters, also got quite involved in my life - and I learnt a lot from them - one of them taught me to stitch, another read my writings with great seriousness and encouraged me and so on.
When I was 11 my mother re-married and I went to boarding school. This was a stroke of luck and it helped shape me in the most positive way. Here, I met the people who would be my friends for life, my support structure. Boarding school was the best time in my childhood. This is why I am generally fearless and feel protected, because no matter what happened in life, a force, a very creative force has always been there to make things better, to change and transform and I'm eternally grateful for that.

What got you into writing and directing? 
I was always a writer. I actually can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't writing.  But I came to direction quite intuitively.  One doesn't really know what direction involves before one starts studying it or working as a director.  I remember when I came to film school - it was such a marvel for me that the stories/concerns in my mind could be transferred onto screen for all to see. I could share the deepest parts of me and my imagination and was given so many tools to do it - I took to direction like a fish takes to water. I love making films, I love writing, I love directing. There's no other way to say it.

Let's talk about Kajarya. What inspired it? 
It was the birth of my daughter 19 years ago that seeded this story. Until one has a daughter one does not realize just how bad the gender bias is. It started with one regressive in-law telling me that "I shouldn't lose heart." I couldn't even understand what she was referring to because I was over the moon with her birth. I thought I'd given birth to the most beautiful creature in the universe! Following this, there were many such incidents, including the fact that no other girls were born in the nursing home in the ten days that i was there. It was a pretty upscale nursing home. I was told by the nurse that this was because of sex-selective abortions. The final dynamic of the Kajarya story came from an article I read where an insensitive journalist was questioning a mid-wife who was accused of killing new born baby girls. The line of questioning was condemning the woman but not the society that gave birth to a heinous custom like this.  It was the last line that the mid-wife said that really gave birth to Kajarya, she said "I'm just the hang man, someone else sentenced these girls." And then it took me years and years to first convince myself and then others that this was a film that needed to be made.  It's really quite crazy!

Could you tell us a little about the journey of filming it and any memorable incidents from the sets?
Kajarya's subject and tenor was very serious but the filming was easy and so wonderful. Everyone worked cohesively and was committed to the making of this film. A memorable incident?  Kuldeep Ruhil the "bad guy" in the film is really the nicest man in real life. There is a scene where he physically abuses Kajarya and then rapes her. It was a hard scene to shoot.  Both for us, Kuldeep and for Meenu Hooda was was playing Kajarya. But I recall how after each take, Kuldeep would rush to Meenu apologize and hold her. It was  a sweet thing to do. 

The film had a resounding impact that drew plenty of awards. Would you like to talk a bit about the positive impact of the film on people - were there any turnarounds / mindset changes?
One makes films not fully knowing what they will do for mindsets and thought processes. But no matter how many times we screened it - there was always overwhelmed crowds.There was silence and then I could see it touched something within people.  We never actually measured how it changed mindsets but I'm sure it did....and the fact that we were able to use it as a tool for activism was just absolutely great. It's really what I wanted from the film. For me that's it's resounding success.

What challenges / resistance did you face while releasing / after releasing Kajarya? 
Well we are a film without stars and a "non commercial" story-line. So it was really tough. But we got it done. Frankly being a woman filmmaker in India, one is so used to resistance and it is taken for granted. It becomes part of one's load. I don't feel it anymore. It's just there - it's a reality that's getting sharper  in the current political environment - where being a creative person and added to that a woman will bring challenges and resistance.

Let's talk about Know Your Porn. Could you tell us a bit about it, and maybe talk about the CrowdFunding campaign?
Know Your Porn is a very important campaign to me. There is just so much porn circulating in India, and as the digital/internet presence grows so will the use of porn. But there is no information or discussion about it.  Let me clarify that we are not campaigning to ban it - we are making films and a campaign to create awareness and help people to discuss their concerns around it. For example the use of children in Porn in India has gone up 142 percent. But those watching these films do not know how highly illegall they are. Plus there is incidences of porn addiction and people do not know.....there many such issues. 
When the films are made we want the films to be sent out far and wide and for free. We think that this issue belongs to everyone and so it should be crowdfunded. Those who contribute to the campaign will  have access to the films first and are free to send it to others in their network. I think it's a socially responsible way of doing things.

The CBFC's ban on Lipstick Under the Burkha has been ridiculous to say the least. Any reactions you'd like to share? Any thoughts on what the CBFC may react like, to Know Your Porn?
The censor board is a joke we cannot ignore because it has actual ramifications on the future of our films.  Some of the things that they say are just ludicrous. But the fact is in the current political climate we will have more and more of it. We will have censorship at all sorts of levels because the political forces and law enforcers don't actually think we deserve any freedom. The idea of creativity is already too threatening for them, and then if it's women talking about sexuality I think it blows there narrow moral fuse. I frankly don't care what they think, there's the internet and we will do as we like. The only way to stand up to these forces is to not allow them to censor you in any way.  Speak even louder and be as lewd as you can be.

With such a move, do you feel like your freedom of expression and freedom of work is under threat?
They can try to threaten, but who cares about the threats of people who are powered by narrow bigotry.  They don't deserve the respect of even being recognized - they can go to hell.

What, in your opinion, is the reason for this toxic patriarchy that keeps reinforcing itself? What needs fixing before things change? 
It's the turn of the many more men now to recognize how toxic patriarchy is. They have to step out of their fears and take the baton -. as feminists we have carried it long enough and will continue to do so till they show up. I think that turn is around the corner - just somewhere after all the right forces commit hara-kiri with their own false promises. One can hope right? :-)

Purple Bag of Power

It looks like a gym bag and rests in the back of the coat closet. Maybe it is the forgotten back of laundry that contains the missing socks. To anyone running across it in a hurry, this purple sack is just another item cluttering up a home.  For a woman on the verge of collapsing under domestic abuse, this bag is spells Freedom. 
Meet Beverly Gooden, the founder of the Bolt Bag Project and a survivor of an abusive marriage. She knows from her own painful experience that most domestic abuse victims, men and women, stay in violent homes because it is so difficult to leave. Often the victims under go not only physical abuse, but verbal and financial abuse as well. 
Did You Know? Women between the ages of 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.
A domestic abuse survivor responding to a short video  about the Bolt Bag project mentions how she escaped with the clothes on her back, her kids and a little under $40.  
Did You Know? 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. 
The Bolt Bag contains: mini shampoo and conditioner , mini deodorant, tampons, maxi pads, toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, brush/comb, soap or mini body wash, lotion, wet wipes, mini first aid kit.
Did You Know? 1/4 of women worldwide will experience domestic/dating violence in their lifetime.
What makes Gooden's project especially effective is her sensitivity to the plight of an individual trapped in an abusive situation. The Bolt Bag can be requested online or via a toll-free helpline on the basis of complete anonymity. Her foundation's services include trained advocates who provide guidance and support over the phone, without taking names or making judgements, 24/7.  
Did You Know? Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
They also provide support in finding resources for the victims in their own communities, like shelters and temp jobs, to ensure a complete transition to a normal life. 
Localising the Bolt Bag
Looking at the Bolt Bag project from a South Asian perspective, I would add in the following items:  a pre-paid calling card, a list of shelters and half-way homes, and a pre-paid bus token. 
Gooden's Bolt Bag project is truly inspirational as it provides an actionable solution to one of the biggest elephants in the room, Domestic Abuse and Violence.

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