Our consumption patterns of the media influence and bolster the biases that we hold. These biases, in turn, have micro and macro implications from our everyday interactions to policy-making. Period. End Of Sentence. is a movie that tackles the important issue of menstrual stigma and access to sanitary products in India. However, the global recognition and celebration of the movie follow in the footsteps of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Megan Mylan’s Smile Pinki, and Leslie Udwin’s India’s Daughter.
Beloved by the global community at large, these movies present diluted versions of complex Indian problems that confirm the western gaze of India while simultaneously reinforcing the western saviour trope. This creates a dual challenge – it suggests that our problems are not worth caring about unless there is a westernised narrative of it and leads to impractical solutions that are removed from the ground reality.
There is a privileging of narratives of the Global South that are often owned, produced and crafted by those who belong in the West. This is additionally compounded by and inextricably tied to the West’s long history of Orientalism. Narratives of poverty, violence against women, and caste inequality in India only seem to occupy the collective global consciousness when the creators belong to the West. Reflecting global power dynamics, the international value of our stories seems to be contingent on western consumption and validation.
Those involved in the film may have been influenced by oriental notions themselves, by rushing to include statistics that only confirm their biases.
Scores of Indian filmmakers, activists and advocates work tirelessly to bring awareness to the inequalities that exist in Indian social realities. Yet, this is often ignored by the international community. Instead of using their privilege to make space for Indian narratives, western creators often centre themselves. They profit off the system, usually by creating reputational value for themselves, while the real subjects serve as ‘props’. The strongest evidence for this lies in the fact that not a single Indian woman occupied the Oscar stage when receiving the award.
Another problem with the global fixation on westernised narratives of India is that they tend to be Orientalist. They do not present the social issues that they champion in a holistic manner. Anna MM Vetticad, in a critical evaluation of the film, said “Could it be that poor village women in the far off ‘Orient’ who have zero awareness about sanitary napkins are more exotic and therefore make for more colourful cinema than poor village women in the far off ‘Orient’ who already use sanitary napkins and only need to be convinced to switch from one brand to another?” She argues that some women in the film were already using sanitary products, just not the specific type and brand advocated by the film.
As experts have also pointed out, the statistics quoted in the film are misrepresented. According to the NFHS (National Family Health Survey) 2015-16, 48.5% women in rural areas use sanitary products, 77.5% in urban and 57.6% in total. Those involved in the film may have been influenced by oriental notions themselves, by rushing to include statistics that only confirm their biases.
Representation of Indian issues on a global platform is important, but it is equally important to interrogate the nature of that representation and the politics embedded in it.
Further, organisations such as Mythri Speaks, Jatan Sansthan, Thoo(i)mai, and Eco Femme work with communities to de-stigmatise menstruation. They do this by working with menstrual hygiene techniques that women in those communities already practice, such as free bleeding and cloth pads. These organisations argue that DSN (Disposable Sanitary Napkin) techniques are unsustainable.
This is a microcosm of a larger issue with the international community. William Easterly and other critics of the IMF and World Bank have identified similar problems with international bodies that work in developing countries. Often, the solutions proposed by these bodies further exacerbate the very problem that they are trying to solve. These bodies have a top-down approach that is not fully grounded in the grassroots reality of the situation. Though Period. End of Sentence attempts to look at ground realities, it fails to do so in a manner that is free of a western interventionist framework.
Representation of Indian issues on a global platform is important, but it is equally important to interrogate the nature of that representation and the politics embedded in it. I am not suggesting that scholars, activists or filmmakers from the West disengage with the Global South. The reality is that western voices and perspectives hold a lot more privilege and weight within the global media. However, they must use their privilege in a way that centres and profits the people that they are attempting to draw attention to. Considering the inherent power dynamics that exist, they must strive to present accurate and ethical
Featured Image Source: The Wire