Breaking down myths, One Episode at a time –The case of #SexKiAdalat in India
What is your perception of culture in India? Think for a minute. If your perception is that of a country where women are shamed for not bearing a boy child; where parents can´t talk about sex openly with their children; where masturbation is shameful and makes one´s body, soul and character impure; where loss of virginity in women before marriage equals loss of dignity; or where menstruating women are regarded as impure or too unclean to even come close to the kitchen and to their children, then watching Sex Ki Adalat (Court of sex) will change your perceptions. It will be like witnessing a huge tidal wave of social change.
(with ) grace, accuracy… emotions…vyang (humor and parody) (Sex ki Adalat, makes ) “ the unspeakable not just talkable, but also seriously (laughable)
– Dr. Arvind Singhal
With boldness, determination and a solid base of scientific, biological and medical evidence, this entertaining, five- episode web series carries it´s audience through reflection, challenge and breakdown of tradition, customs, myths, misconceptions and beliefs surrounding five themes: menstruation, masturbation, virginity, pornography and having a male child. The program is produced as an initiative by Population Foundation of India (PFI), aimed at teaching communities about sexual and reproductive health issues affecting youth and adolescents, thus demystifying them.
Sex Ki Adalat, is a courtroom web drama series with short episodes each averaging 8 minutes long. The series is in local language and has English subtitles. On each episode, one theme, is discussed. Apart from the courtroom audience, each series is made up of an expertly selected six character cast- two lawyers with their two clients, a presiding judge and a doctor /medical expert. In each discussion, one client and lawyer represent the view with entrenched norms, beliefs, rituals, traditions or in short the oppressive views that the series stands to challenge, I will call this, the side of “myth”. The other client and lawyer take the task of challenging and disregarding these views, accusing them of being oppressive, baseless, unreasonable, unjustified, inhumane, illegal, unequal, unjust and wrong, I will call this, the side of “truth”. In each case, the doctor is called upon to give expert medical and scientific explanation/testimony on how these sexual and reproductive health issues function as well as the biological processes taking place for example in masturbation, virginity, menstruation, sex-selection during fertilization and the socio-psychological issues related to pornography.
The role of the judge is that of an important authority who is neutral to beliefs and is steered by the law and the constitution, validating issues like for example equality before the law and what is considered illegal or not. The judge also seals the verdict, making it officially accepted as the new standard of behaviour. What I would consider the mantle-piece of the series is the fact that during each episode, the characters on the side of “myth”, go through a visible transformation in their views, perspectives and understanding once they have been enlightened by the doctor´s explanation /testimony. Consequently, after they themselves volunteer to give the final verdict, they testify having gone through a social transformation/change and a new realisation of their mistakes and misconceptions, subsequently, they embrace the new awareness and new knowledge and integrate it into their existence, thus resolving the conflict. This is meant of course to be a motivation and inspiration for like-minded viewers to do the same.
Since these programs are, in essence, far from funny, but are actually treating very sensitive socio-cultural issues, (in a space of 8 minutes or so), it is likely to leave a dense air of outrage, anger and dissatisfaction especially from those siding with the “myth”. To lighted the mood, every episode ends with the “ever objecting lawyer” on the side of “myth”, asking for one thing, “ a group selfie”, and they all comically huddle together in a funny selfie moment.
Blending education and entertainment is commonly referred to as edutainment. Singhal and Rodgers (1999) in Manyozo (2012:84) define it as, “a process of deliberately designing, producing and implementing media messages in ways that entertain and educate […] to increase knowledge gain among targeted demographic groups, sow favourable attitudes and change overt behaviour in relation to a development issue”. Both programs employ Singhal´s approach called, Positive Deviance, which functions by identifying positive behaviour of individuals within the community and aims to amplify it as though those positive behaviours are no longer the exception, but rather a norm for all to adopt.
Using edutainment and positive deviance, Sex Ki Adalat strives to educate, inform and build awareness among its audience and cause healthy discussions on social media platforms, concerning the issues presented in the episodes. Discussions have indeed been hot on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube , with the majority of audiences welcoming the initiative and speaking very positively about the series as a much-awaited agent of social and behavioural change against long-standing patriarchal, baseless beliefs, myths and misconceptions prevalent in Indian society.
…the ubiquity of information, its digital-sharing across platforms, ease of storage and the possibility of communicating at very low cost with wide audiences across borders are redesigning the scope and patterns of social interactions… – (Archeti 2011: 182)
To challenge norms, customs, myths and values that have stood for generations, negative as they might be, is one of the hardest but sometimes necessary actions that a lot of cultures face, in this day and age. Through folding the fabric of space and time, globalization and digitalization have projected our awareness of similarities and differences between cultures, much more vividly. Consequently, it has become possible for different cultural traits and perspectives to be shared between cultures and for a people to question and criticize traits seen as negative in their own culture, while adopting new traits considered more appropriate with the times, thus, creating a vibrant culture crossroads. Siding with, Stade (2016), it is tragic to view culture as, what he calls, ´the illusion of cultures in the plural ́, where each culture is presented as a closed circuit that cannot be altered, thus justifying coining some cultures as, ́development resistant cultures ́. This can lead to far-reaching impacts like, for example, creating national stereotypes about different nationalities
By sensitively–through back and forth carefully-crafted, engagingly animated dialogue—Sex ki Adalat brings out unspoken topics like masturbation and menstruation in the public sphere, and by questioning deep-seated norms about virginity and male child, the dark ignorance and societal arrogance with respect to sexuality is laid bare.
– Dr. Arvind Singhal
Sex ki Adalat is more youth adapted and inspired by another successful PFI production, a soap called, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH) – I, A Woman, Can Achieve Anything, launched in 2014. Broadcasted via TV, radio, Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) and social media, MKBKSH, has two seasons running (131 episodes) and over 400 million viewers. The soap “promotes gender equality, the empowerment of women and improved health-seeking behaviours within families, communities and the health system”. MKBKSH also conducts on-ground activities to enhance knowledge, change perceptions and shift attitudes in communities on these issues. (Ramasubban 2016)
Both Sex Ki Adalat and MKBKSH, are good examples of ICT4D. They capture the intricacies of using information, media and communication as tools for achieving community social development, behavioural and social change. The initiative is characterised by participation of the locals in the acting, production of the films and discussions emanating from them. Through uploading the episodes on social media and facilitating radio call-in sessions, a public sphere is created, where further discussion occurs and the general public are given an opportunity to participate through posting their views and continuing with the discussions. This, creates some form of transparency and inclusion since the communication is not just one way, from broadcasters to the viewers, but an interaction instead, where the audience has a platform to give feedback, to respond and express their opinions on the issues in focus. The audience has a voice and an opportunity to raise it. This also creates local ownership of the program as well as a sense of involvement among those who are able to comment, share their views and be heard. Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments and even examples of similar cases of ICT4D in use, especially through edutainment.
Archetti, C. 2012: The Impact of New Media on Diplomatic Practice:An Evolutionary Model of Change, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 7: 181-206.
Ramasubban, R. (2016) Shifting Deeply Rooted Gender Norms Using An Entertainment-Education Transmedia Initiative-A case study of MKBKSH
Manyozo, Linje (2012) Media, Communication and Development: Three Approaches.
New Delhi: Sage
Ronald Stade (2016) Lecture: “Culture as an analytical concept in development”- Comdev – Paris seminar.
References from Social media and the web
Sex Ki Adalat on Twitter https://twitter.com/hashtag/SexKiAdalat?src=hash
MKBKSH website : http://mkbksh.com
MKBKSH on Twitter https://twitter.com/MKBKSH_
MKBKSH on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mainkuchbhikarsaktihoon/
MKBKSH on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/user/mkbksh
PFI ( Youth ki Awaaz website-Watch the 5 episodes here) https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/author/pfi/