healthcare

In the news: PM announces aid to pregnant women, Karnataka rethinks chewing tobacco ban and more

A wrap of the week's health news

Government to directly transfer Rs 6,000 to pregnant women

In his address to the country on New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a number of welfare schemes including monetary assistance of Rs 6,000 for pregnant women who underwent institutional delivery and vaccinate their children.

The scheme aims to help reduce maternal mortality by ensuring better nutrition for the woman before and after delivery and improving the health of both mother and child. Modi said that pregnant women in 53 districts were already being given financial assistance of Rs 4,000 rupees, under a pilot project.

Although the Prime Minister described this as a “new scheme” in his speech, the National Food Security Act, which was passed in July 2013, provided a universal maternity benefit of Rs 6,000 but has not been implemented yet. States like Odisha and Tamil Nadu that operationalised the scheme have been using their own resources.

As per Saturday’s announcement, the financial assistance of Rs 6,000 will now be transferred directly into bank accounts of the scheme’s beneficiaries.

Karnataka to weaken its ban on chewing tobacco?

In a move that is worrying health activists, the Karnataka government is re-examining its recent ban on chewing tobacco, according to a report in The Hindu. The state has passed an order banning chewing tobacco that is sold in sachets as an alternative gutka earlier this year following Supreme Court directions.

In a November 24 circular, the State Food Safety Commissionarate had directed its officers to enforce the ban on flavoured chewing tobacco, and gutka and pan masala containing tobacco or nicotine. The review of this circular, The Hindu reports follows lobbying by manufacturers who hold that, under the law, chewing tobacco can be banned only if mixed with gutka or pan masala.

Karnataka Health Minister KR Ramesh Kumar told the newspaper that the health department has sought legal opinion on the issue and, while it will safeguard people’s, the department will correct the circular if needed.

Rourkela on high alert for bird flu

Bird flu of the H5N1 strain has been detected at Keranga village in Khurda district of Odisha, following which dead birds were found in the neighbouring Keonjhar and Rourkela industrial areas. The bird flu reports have triggered a high alert call, district officials said.

A team of experts has been called in to Rourkela from Bhubaneswar and a task force meeting among officials from the administration, health department, Rourkela Municipal Corporation and Rourkela Steel Plant has been held to assess the situation. The district administration has also shut down Indira Gandhi Park for an indefinite period as a precautionary measure.

In the past week, dead crows were found in Rourkela city’s Central Industrial Security Force colony. Three pelicans, two white ibis and one duck were found dead in quick succession after which samples were sent to a Bhopal laboratory that confirmed the presence of H5N1. The Odisha government had begun culling of chickens on December 28 to ensure that people are not affected by the outbreak.

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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.