India is full of paradoxes, always has been. We take two steps ahead and one step backward. While women of menstruating age are still banned from entering the Sabrimala temple, the year so far has seen many landmark developments that point in the direction of a progressive nation. On Independence Day, take a look at the best things to have happened so far.
For the first time, Bollywood took on the taboo topic of menstruation in a big way. Akshay Kumar's movie Padman was inspired by Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social activist from Tamil Nadu who launched low-cost sanitary pads. The movie led to a wide discussion around period hygiene and women's health. Before Padman's release, many leading Bollywood celebs like Aamir Khan and Alia Bhatt posed with a sanitary napkin on social media, adding to the conversation.
2) Appeal against Section 377
The Supreme Court's pending decision regarding Section 377 (which criminalises homosexuality), has given fresh hope to the LGBTQ community, thanks to the positive initial comments emanating from the concerned parties. This is the closest we've come to scrapping the archaic law. The verdict is expected to be pronounced before October 2. Here's hoping we put Section 377 in the past, where it belongs.
3) Lust Stories
This compilation of four short films narrated stories of modern relationships from a female perspective. While Kiara Advani's masturbation scene made headlines, the feature is noteworthy for honestly exploring the complicated lives of women in modern relationships, cutting across class, age and background. The protagonists are unapologetic and bold in their life choices.
4) Grihalakshmi's breastfeeding cover
When Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi featured a breastfeeding model on its cover, some people thought the very fabric of our society's morals was under threat. A court case was filed against the magazine. The Kerala High Court ultimately ruled that "obscenity lies in the eyes of the beholder". We couldn't agree more.
5) No GST on sanitary pads
The year-long campaigning of various feminist activists and public outcry (remember #LahuKaLagaan?) against taxing sanitary napkins at 12% as a 'luxury product' bore fruit. Goods and Service Tax (GST) was scrapped in a move to encourage more girls to attend school and boost job prospects.
6) Hima Das's win
Athlete Hima Das created history by becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal in a track event at the World Junior Athletics Championships. Born to a family of farmers in Kandhulimari village (Assam), she grew up playing football in rice fields with the neighbourhood boys. At one point, state level coaches spent out of their own pockets as there was barely any budget for her diet or training. Everyone from top politicians to Bollywood personalities tweeted their praise and we hope her achievements encourage more women in sports.
7) Indian Psychiatric Society's statement
For the first time, a psychiatric body in India came out with a statement that declared homosexuality as a "sexual variation" and not a "mental illness", as is widely believed even today. This is a step forward towards erasing the stigma and misconceptions surrounding homosexuality.
8) Bhopal's Happy Nari
Bhopal became the first railway station in India to install a sanitary napkin vending machine and termed it Happy Nari. You can avail two pads at a low cost of Rs 5. Access to proper sanitation and hygiene facilities is a significant problem in India, and this is sure to ease the travels of women passengers.
In the Rajnikant movie, women break stereotypes of religion, class, caste and gender roles. A Muslim woman talks about kissing, a widow is shown with a bindi and the women in the film have a strong opinion on various issues that affect them.
10) Hadiya's verdict
Kerala-based medical student Hadiya converted to Islam and married a Muslim man of her choice, Shafin Jehan. Her family alleged she was brainwashed into doing so and a subsequent court case soon acquired the angle of 'love jihad'. After fighting for over a year, Hadiya's basics rights as an adult were recognised and the Supreme Court criticised the Kerala High Court for intervening in the relationship of two consenting adults.
11) Sunny Leone's biopic
The controversial adult film star turned Bollywood actor took control over the narrative of her life story by acting in a biopic (Karenjit) about her journey. Sunny has consistently marched to her own tune, not caring whether she fits into any societal or gender roles. She's been unapologetic about her past choices, explored her entrepreneurial side by launching a perfume line and has also adopted children.
12) Park for differently-abled
The country's first park for the differently-abled was launched in Hyderabad, complete with an amphitheatre, a sensory theatre and counselling centre. Speech therapists and vocational training instructors are also present. More of such parks across the country, please.
13) Kerala and transgender rights
Kerala has time and again led the way for human rights in India. This year, it has announced free sex change operations, reservation in higher educational institutes and shelter homes for transgenders. Now, if only other states take a cue.
14) Mumbai's women police offers
Mumbai became the first city in the country to have as many as eight women police station in-charges. These badass fighters hope more women feel comfortable in reporting crimes at police stations.
15) Reservation in RPF
The government just announced 50% reservation for women in the recruitment of jawans in the Railway Protection Force (RPF). This will create more employment opportunities for women. The security force RPF looks after the safety of railway passengers and railway properties.