“Periods are not some great secret. Both boys and girls should know about them,” says Sneha Suryavanshi towards the beginning of an Ankahee Baatein episode titled ‘Periods or Pabandi’. Sneha, a 16 year old student from Navi Mumbai, is adamant about finding out all she can about, and advocating for, the rights of citizens, including sexual and reproductive health rights. She is one of the hosts of the audio and video series Ankahee Baatein on Pluc.tv, led by youngsters who lend their voices to the cause of rights around sexual and reproductive health. Sneha’s co-hosts are Pinki Kumari (19) and Rinku Kumari, (18) sisters from Kushinagar, Gorakhpur, who believe in creating videos for social change and hope that, one day, every girl in their village is educated and has access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. Also, 19 year old Kirti Gaikwad (from Navi Mumbai) who wants adolescents to be educated about their bodies. For Kirti, creating a podcast on consent education (Ankahee Baatein has an episode on this) has made her dream come true.
Part of the ‘Ankahee Baatein community’ of People Powered Digital Narratives (a collaborative effort to help adolescents learn about issues ranging from girl capital to air quality and express their opinion using innovative storytelling and digital media), these children have been trained in mobile storytelling and in using social media to tell their stories. Boldly stepping out of their comfort zones, they have picked up their phones to record information that can help other adolescents.
A study on menstrual health, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, revealed that 71% of adolescent girls in India were unaware of menstruation until they got it themselves. This is especially disturbing when you consider that, according to UNICEF, India has the highest adolescent population in the world (253 million— every fifth Indian is aged between 10 and 19 years). This is also why, even though the world’s menstrual hygiene day has passed us by, it is important to take note of efforts like Ankahee Baatein which reach out to Indian teenagers dealing with stigma and an alarming lack of information around their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“What are periods? How does one handle peer pressure? Where do babies come from? Such simple questions related to sexual health and well-being remain unanswered for many adolescents,” says Pluc.tv’s CEO and founder Tamseel Hussain. “For Ankahee Baatein we trained adolescents on how to tell audio and video stories which answer these questions using a course that was specifically designed for this purpose.”
From making reusable sanitary napkins in their village to teaching adolescents about healthy relationships with your body, these girls have documented the questions that often don’t find space in our living rooms. The series has now crossed 5 million views and listens across platforms like Sharechat, Public and Twitter, as well as podcasting platforms including Anchor and Spotify.
Ankahee Baatein has so far had episodes on a gamut of pressing issues: child marriage, early pregnancies, health centre for adolescent girls, consent, peer pressure, making the internet safer and women’s right to access clean toilets. Sneha, Pinki, Rinku and Kirti often engage other adolescents from the states of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand in discussion. Like the hosts themselves, these voices too are in no way isolated from the harsh realities of India but, rather, immersed in them. This is possibly why the series has seen such a pickup on Pluc.tv, a start-to-finish creator economy platform (‘Pluc’ is short for ‘People like us create’) where people can learn, produce, market and monetize stories early.
“Future episodes of this series will continue documenting the different barriers that adolescents, especially adolescent girls, face early on in their lives,” says Hussain. “Our inspiring hosts will continue to talk to teenagers throughout the country to examine gender stereotypes, stigma, myth and what it means to be an adolescent in India.”
Or, as Sneha, Pinki, Rinku and Kirti put it in the introductory episode of the series, proclaiming robustly in one voice: “Sharmaao nahin, humein apni ankahee baatein bataao. (Don’t hesitate. Tell us what you want to say but feel you can’t).”