OLD WOUNDS

Show us the money, sex workers tell NACO chief

At an event to discuss new measures to help sex workers, they asked for old policies to first be implemented properly.

On Wednesday, National AIDS Control Programme director general Navpreet Kang attempted to tell sex workers how the government could help to remove their marginal status. His audience in Delhi had other ideas.

Kang was addressing a meeting organised by the Centre for Advocacy and Research, which works with people living with HIV. The event was held to discuss their pilot programme in four states that established a link between the sex workers community and the government, by providing legal documents and entitlements.

However, the sex workers wanted to discuss funding problems and the discrimination they faced at anti-retroviral centres that provide treatment for HIV patients. The reduction on allocations has hurt the treatment programmes run by community-based organisations, and also the supply of anti-HIV drugs.

In 2016, the Union Budget cut the allocation to the department of AIDS control by 22% to Rs 1,397 crores from Rs 1,785 crores the year before. Though the amount has been raised ton Rs 1,700 crores this year, systemic problems remain in how the money is disbursed.

So when the floor was left open to questions, many hands shot up.

Kang calmly took note of their problems in his notepad.

“I understand that for the past two years, we have had an issue with payments," he said. "The money has been going to the state treasury and was then sent to the societies [State Aids Control Societies]. That was clogging all the payments. Now we can give it directly to the Societies. It will take another six months for all these issues to clear."

In Solapur, Maharashtra, Kranti Jadhav, president of Kranti Mahila Sangh, complained that sex workers faced discrimination in hospitals.

“If our sisters go to the civil hospital for a HIV test, they ask for a Aadhar card," said Jadhav. "One woman who was in her 50s was asked why she is doing dhandha [sex work] at this age. In this situation how do we get women to go for a test, Sir?”

Kang faced bitter criticism from Vijaylaxmi from Telangana about the discrimination in public hospitals. The activists spoke of clinics that had shut down in their localities, and how the money crunch is affecting them

Kusum from All India Network of Sex Workers, in Delhi wanted to talk. Kang laughed and told her that he meets her often, she need not speak in this forum.

“If I do not talk now, I would let down all my sisters," she said. "The National Aids Control Programme four has failed if it has not addressed these issues of discrimination. Why are these people not trained enough to be sensitive to us? If something like this happened in an Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre, I would protest and get it to shut down.”

Kang broke into a smile and said that she should consider whether closing down a centre was a good idea. The session ended with that statement.

All the women rushed to Kang. They wanted to take selfies with him.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.