“Mardon ke liye shayad ye sirf ek zaroorat hai, par hum auraton ke liye ye zaroori hai”. (For men, it may be just a requirement, but for women, it is a necessity.)
With India’s independence came its family planning policy. It was the first nation on earth to establish a family planning program in 1950. Yet the 27th edition of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects (2022), predicts that by 2023, India will overtake China as the world’s most populated nation. As a result of its burgeoning population, India’s policies have sometimes been draconian and even outright coercive. The United Nations Population Report (2022), notes that there are around 121 million or 12.1 crore unwanted pregnancies globally, with India accounting for one in every seven of them.
Furthermore, 61% of unplanned pregnancies resulted in induced abortions, which are considered unsafe in 67% of cases. In the past few years, a surge in unintended pregnancies has resulted in about 15.6 million abortions that were conducted under very unsafe conditions. In India alone, 13 women died of abortion-related complications in 2018, and the number continued to rise as the COVID-19 pandemic loomed.
Since the emphasis has always been on birth control rather than planning, youth and young adults are entirely missing from the present dialogue on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Only 42.5% of women reported using contraception, even though 92.5% of women were aware of one or more methods.
In today’s society, concerns such as these make the film Janhit Mein Jaari, pertinent in highlighting the need to shift the emphasis from sterilisation to contraception. Every year, four million tubal ligations are carried out. Even though The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) needs to be at level 2.1, India’s population is gradually stabilising, with the total fertility rate (TFR) having decreased noticeably from 3.6 in 1991 to 2.4 in 2012.
In India, 13% of women seek to delay or avoid pregnancy but neither utilise nor have access to an effective method of contraception. In Bihar and Jharkhand, the unmet demand for contraception is as high as 24%. Governments in as many as eleven states are implementing a two-child policy despite opposition from the Ministry of Health and national legislation. This excessive focus on female sterilisation overlooks the growing need for contraceptive methods.
Currently, government initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Yojna, the country’s largest health insurance programme, claim to reach 50 crore Indians, 49.6 per cent of whom are women. The government also launched a new policy; temporary injectable contraception called Depo-Provera or DMPA.
In addition to the present choices of male and female sterilisation, condoms, tablets, and IUDs, the Indian government has now made DMPA available as a sixth publicly accessible form of contraception. Despite this, one must ask: Does this rhetoric fit reality in India? A sterilisation centre in Chhattisgarh saw over a dozen women’s deaths in 2014 as a consequence of tainted equipment.
India was obligated to review its policy and its long-standing reliance on sterilisation as a consequence of the uproar that followed and the unfavourable worldwide media attention. Due to its intensive promotion, the fact that many women are uninformed of other alternatives, and the fact that they are often compensated for doing the surgery, sterilisation has become the de facto choice for women all over the world.
The article, therefore, with these statistics and data, attempts to contextualise the movie Janhit Mein Jaari as a wake-up call for all Indian women to use contraceptives and for the government to ensure their rights to sexual and reproductive health are properly implemented.
With debutante Jai Basantu Singh directing and producer Raaj Shandilya producing, Janhit Mein Jaari delivers its preachy, social cause message with aplomb. The movie centres around Manokamna (Nushrratt Bharucha), a strong-willed girl stuck in a small hamlet who finds herself working in a condom factory, performing a stigmatised and mostly male-dominated occupation. The most recent entry into the genre of ‘unmentionables’ is this film, as it employs broad humour to convey moral lessons regarding forbidden topics (erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, fertility clinics in Khandaani Shafakhana).
It’s the transformation of Chanderi resident Manokamma into a local crusader that makes this film so compelling. Janhit Mein Jaari very explicitly states that contraception should not just be used for sexual pleasure; rather, it should be used to prevent unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and that sterilisation should be offered only as one of the options among other safe, non-hazardous, non-invasive, long-acting methods of contraception, through an improved basic primary health-care system.
In the face of repeated threats, Manokamna takes to selling condoms for “Little Umbrella”, the only job that was available to her and also paid her well. There is perhaps a connection between Manokamna’s growing comfort with her unusual choice and the affability of the company’s owner (Brijendra Kala). Her endorsing contraceptives seems to have been a matter of grave concern throughout the movie. What kind of Indian girl would do such ‘ganda kaam’ (dirty work)? Effectively leveraging humour to a certain extent, Janhit Mein Jaari transforms the overused joke that condoms are umbrellas into a lighthearted element that normalises discussing protection during sexual activity.
Knowing that Manokamma’s father-in-law, the stern Kewal Prajapati (Vijay Raaz), will go berserk when he discovers just how she earns her salary, Manorajan (Manokamna’s husband) pretends that she actually works for an umbrella company. Through Manokamna’s husband, the movie portrays the indifference of people who don’t care about anything until it affects them. Even though Manoranjan was a loving husband, he did not have the courage to stand by her. However, when she tells him that his own sister-in-law has undergone an abortion, he changes his mind and decides to support her regardless of what happens.
In an effort to mainstream Manokamna’s efforts, Janhit Mein Jaari makes a dubious comparison between condom usage and preventing abortion. The movie addresses the abortion issue through the character Puja, who was ordered by the Panchayat of her village to undergo an abortion as a consequence of her unmarried pregnancy, as that was the only retribution for her crime.
In order to avoid being an outcast, she underwent an abortion and, in the process, died. In the aftermath of this incident, she realised that the job whose only attraction was its high salary was now a responsibility, and she decided to help women understand their rights. This event also illustrated how, despite the fact that pregnancy takes two individuals, its ramifications are always played out in a woman’s body.
Puja lost her life, yet the boy received no consequences except making amends financially. Manokamna raised her voice against this inequality and stated that rather than abortion, contraception would have been a more helpful option; therefore, she supports Puja and states, “Nahin Puja, galti tum dono se hui hai to sirf term abortion Kyun, iski bhi nasbandi hone chahiye” (No puja, You both made a mistake, why should you get an abortion alone, he should get castrated too). As a result, Janhit Mein Jaari briefly states that abortions which women have to go through because men don’t take contraception, could have been more comfortably managed if the men took contraception and not only burden women with the repercussions.
However, for a film that is primarily explicit about addressing our social issues, it refuses to discuss the contribution of male child preference to the high birth rate, instead taking the convenient route of attributing all of society’s ills to our enormous population, which appears to exist solely because people are reluctant to use condoms.
The movie also falls short in its attempt to address the stigma or concerns associated with condom use. Sticking to the typical rhythms that often make up a tale like this, it presents the arc of everyone experiencing collective enlightenment in a fairly shallow way.
On the plus side, the film chose a female character to convey the tale of women’s struggles. The female lead comprehends many challenges a working woman faces, has the self-respect to refuse a low-paying job, and consumes beer without remorse.
But after a time, the movie starts to get so preoccupied with capturing people’s unexpected changes of heart that it forgets to offer us a closer look at the woman who caused these transformations. Yet the film successfully depicts how family planning should be considered in the larger context of choice, technology, and sexual and reproductive rights in light of changing times, technology, and needs.
Featured image source: YouT