Documentary channel

Kali for Women gets its own history in the documentary ‘The Books We Made’

Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku trace the history of the feminist publishing house that was set up by Ritu Menon and Urvashi Butalia.

Feminist movements are bold, multi-hued manifestations of activism and are extremely tricky to define. Regardless how these campaigns are described, strands of their origins can be traced back to feisty feminist publications. The Books We Made, by Anupama Chandra and Uma Tanuku, documents the work of Kali for Women, one of the feminist publishing houses in India, founded by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon.

The Public Service Broadcasting Trust production traces the history of Kali for Women, from its inception in 1984 to its eventual dissolution in 2003 into two separate publishing houses, Butalia’s Zubaan and Menon’s Women Unlimited. The film, which is part of the annual Open Frame festival, outlines the evolution and growth of the women associated with the publishing house – founders and authors alike. The Books We Made brings together stories of women from different backgrounds, touched by a beautiful range of experiences, who contributed to the success of Kali for Women.

Chandra and Tanuku allow authors and translators to narrate their stories with as little or as much emotion as they please and therefore wind up with nostalgic accounts that are as vivid and varied as the movement itself. This sense of wistful looking back is pervasive, reinforced by black and white photographs and footage, and contemplative female voices.

Play
‘The Books We Made’.

Books occupy centrestage in the narrative, swallowing up the screen in their many incarnations. They appear laid about in a cluttered room with erudite carelessness, neatly arranged on shelves in book fairs, lovingly paged through by women who wrote them and with their pages magnified so each word can be easily read.

There’s something deliciously rebellious about reading the pages of books on a screen that is not traditionally meant for them. This rule-bending works well for the documentary because it emphasises the subversive roots of Kali for Women, which was formed during the women’s rights movements of the 1980s, and bolsters the idea that the publishing house rode on the waves of important campaigns and created waves of its own. Founders speak about the powerful books they published, such as Shareer Ki Jaankari, a frank account of female bodily processes written by a community of 75 village women, and the iconic anthology Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History, edited by Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid.

The 75 authors of ‘Shareer Ki Jaankari’.
The 75 authors of ‘Shareer Ki Jaankari’.

The documentary gets too preoccupied with nostalgia, and meanders before it hits its stride. But its biggest achievement is arguably its unadorned and matter-of-fact treatment of authorship coupled with the premise that important stories can be told sensitively through all-female voices. Experiences with feminist authors like Nivedita Menon, Qurratulian Haider, Shaheen Akhtar and Baby Halder are narrated with equal gravity and nuance.

This egalitarianism reflects in the visuals, which feature women engaged in a host of different activities, ranging from washing cookers to proofreading copy. Women also appear in different milieus – homes, kitchens, workspaces and conferences.

The film largely eschews music in favor of female voices raised in rhythmic slogans and the hum of printing presses till the last few minutes. The final moments illustrate the deceptive simplicity of Kali for Women’s enormous achievements and the sense of solidarity it espouses in countless women.

Butalia and Menon became Padma Shri awardees in 2011 for their achievements, but their struggles and experiences never ceased to be relatable. In the film, Butalia remarks that several people viewed Kali for Women with a sense of possessiveness that gratified and humbled its founders. Chanda and Tanuku gently but consistently elucidate this sense of collective effort and ownership associated with the books Kali made.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

Play

During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.