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National Game or National Shame?

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By Radhika Naithani:

Reality always gives you a larger picture than fantasy. I like movies with happy endings especially the adrenaline pumping, heart beat raising, blood gushing sports movies, where the underdogs beat the champions and emerge victorious. I remember watching ‘Chak de’, first day first show with my friends. Boy! Now that’s what I call a good underdog movie. An Indian women’s hockey team fights against all odds and wins the world cup under the guidance of an inspiring coach! The movie buff that I am, I just loved it but the cynic in me found the whole idea to be a bit utopian in nature. And in the wake of the recent sex scandal that rocked the Nation, that cynic loudly screamed “I told you so!

Anyway, back to real life from the reel life. The Indian women’s hockey team was rocked by an anonymous letter sent to the ministry by a team’s member, alleging that the coach has been demanding sexual favours from the players during an overseas tour. If this revelation was not enough already, the Team’s videographer was caught on camera in compromising position with couple of call girls during overseas tours to China and Canada. Mr. Kaushik, quite obviously, denied all these allegations, with a vehemence not seen in most honest of individuals. On receiving the letter Hockey India immediately got into action and formed a four member inquiry panel.

Sexual harassment at work place is one of the major stumbling blocks that come in the way of women of the modern era. The recent hockey scandal is an example of such a stumbling block. What bothers me the most is the fact that the most deprived, the most neglected and the most discriminated sector of Indian sports has been hit by this scandal. The women’s hockey team was already suffering from poor funding, lack of infrastructure and low recognition, now they even have sexual harassment to deal with. However, according to me perhaps the place where a woman is most vulnerable is the sports sector. The hockey scandal happens to be just the tip of the iceberg. The infamous Ruchika Girhotra case reiterates this for us. A 14 years old, young Lawn tennis player is molested by the founding president of the Haryana Lawn tennis association in his office or the very recent Karnam malleswari case where the Arjuna award winner comes out from the closet and accuses Coach Ramesh Malhotra of sexual harassment. Last year a woman boxer in Hyderabad was driven to suicide by her coach who continuously harrased her. Then People ask, why do we have only one Saina Nehwal, one Sania Mirza and one PT Usha? The answer lies in the condition of the Women’s plight in the Sports Industry. Do you think that a father would allow his daughter to pursue Hockey as a career amidst the current scenario? Would you encourage your sister, daughter, wife to take up professional sports? The answer sadly would be in negative.

Playing Sports as a leisure activity is one thing but getting professional is another. There are very few women in our country who step out of their threshold and dare to represent our country in the global sports scenario. But how do we pay them for their bravado? They end up fighting for the respect & recognition they truly deserve and for their right to be treated equally with their male counterparts. However the discrimination does not end here. The inquiry panel formed to probe into the alleged sexual harassment is an all-men panel. This invited the wrath of the Delhi commission of women, as such an action on part of the ministry is not only wrong on ethical grounds but also on legal grounds. The constitution of an all male enquiry panel is in violation of the Supreme Court’s directives in setting up sexual harassment committees. According to DCW chairperson Barkha Singh “Ideally, the committee inquiring into sexual harassment ought to have a woman as a chairperson and 50% of its members as female and a NGO representative to ensure fairness and complete objectivity of the inquiry. The committee should therefore be constituted on these lines,” This whole issue has been handled by Hockey India in a very childish and reckless manner. The Commonwealth Games just a few weeks away, this will have a very negative impact on India’s reputation in the global sports scenario.

Though sexual harassment is a stark reality in almost all women’s sports in India, seldom has there been such an open admission of it. It is for this reason that many people branded this whole scandal as ‘A huge conspiracy’ against the coach and people like Sudharshan Pathak, a committee member, exclaimed that she is surprised that no allegations have previously been levelled against the coach. Just because a thing is not blatantly visible, it does not necessarily validate its absenteeism. According to former Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet, sexual harassment is deep rooted in almost all women’s sports but most of the time the women suffer in silence in fear of jeopardising their careers. To this point, I may also add that most of these players come from backward areas, poor households and most of them are illiterate. For them survival is all about endurance. Subservience is the price they have to pay to establish their place in this male dominated world of Indian sports. It won’t be harsh to call the Indian women’s team coach, a despot, considering the amount of absolute power he possesses. What chances do these poor and illiterate girls have against this tyrant? ZILCH! The only survival tactic left for them is to suffer in silence and to accustom themselves to the coach’s undue demands.

One of the solutions to this issue is appointment of a women coach and constitution of an impartial body to probe into such sexual harassment cases. Such a body should be free from any type of bureaucratic control and political interference. Effective redressal machinery is a need of the hour to tackle such sensitive issues. Keeping all this in mind one can conclude that there is no ‘chak de’ happening in the real world. A coach like Kabir Khan continues to be an illusion. How very unfortunate news that is for a country, whose crowning glory was hockey for the longest time possible. Way before MSD and his men were even born. ‘Chick De’ than ‘Chak De’ sounds more apt for now. Doesn’t it?

Photo shows M.K. Kaushik, the Indian Women’s Hockey coach, alleged with sleaze charges. Image source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/hockey/Womens-hockey-coach-resigns-after-sex-charges/articleshow/6197010.cms

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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