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Silent Miscommunication!

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By Shruthi Venukumar:

Heavy fringes overhung my forehead. Clouds overhung my head.

“I want to sit down,” Eva said.

“I want to stand here,” I thundered like a prelude to the overcast sky’s downpour.

Down at the fountain, a young girl was stroking her lover’s face with a yellow rose. My face fell like the wilted rose as I saw Eva walking to the grassy patch to have her wish of sitting down. It sat there welcoming her in drooling wetness.

She is doing this to irk me. Who would sit on such wet grass?
“Come here. It’s wet there,” I called out. She turned with a stale expression.

“Who’s going there anyway? I’m walking straight out.” There in the middle of the amphitheatre at Central Park, New Delhi, my expression turned stony like the ground beneath me. “Go then,” I retorted. She did not as much as shrug before turning on her heel.

“Come back here,” I yanked her hand evincing a sneer from her. I pulled her to the railing of the tiny bridge we stood at the edge of. She did not resist.

“Look at all these couples here. Do you think they are really in love? Seems candyfloss to me,” I declared. No response. “Are you listening?”

I veered my eyes and found her humming a tune with her headphones on. My face felt a sudden sting of shame.
“You aren’t even listening to me.” My hand darted to pull the ear bud nearer to me out of her ear. As my hand strained to go round to dislodge the other ear bud, her hand lazed towards it.

Good! I thought. She’s taking it off herself. She does not absolutely disrespect me. I smugly turned away. “Yeah … look at these couples he…” And I turned to her again for a shocker. Her headphones were back on. “Get lost,” I spilled in no uncertain lip movements.

Five minutes later and five fake hugs to five different people later, we were seated in a group of friends. I snatched a moment to whisper to Eva, all troubles forgotten for a moment, “I suddenly have a lot of respect for you.”

“I know why you say that,” she said with what I suspected was a cynical smile. Maybe it was the lighting.

At 19, six of us in the assembled group were together in mass media class, here to cobble up the an A1 ad as part of our group project. Part of our job involved bearing with each other with tact and diplomacy no matter what we thought of each other otherwise. Eva was my accompaniment today. On good days, best friend. She lived in a hostel with the usual strict rules on deadlines and in-timings. The Cinderella hour was 6:45 P.M. It was 6:30 P.M on my watch. She was on a night out today. Today, through the weekend – four sumptuous days – she was living outside her hostel. Not with me. With Sheena who was, to Eva’s amusement, a Capricorn like me. Capricious I thought. She is always out on night outs with her. I wonder how it is that when she’s over at my place she always has to leave early while with Sheena it’s days together. That Eva had cited  (on her permit card at her hostel) my place as her place of stay for the four upcoming nights at Sheena’s place was not helping matters with me.

The meeting over, Eva and I walked out of the park.
“Hey, come to my place tonight,” I insisted.
She smiled a despicable smile.
“I’m serious.”
“I can’t. I promised to be with her today.”

“How is it that all she has to do is say it while I have to haggle with you to make you come to my place?”
“She lives alone. I’ve spent more nights out with you than with her anyway.”

“Maybe that’s because she was your roommate till very recently. It was her choice to live alone to be able to take up more modelling assignments. She’s not a victim in a big bad city,” I lashed. “And my parents are out on business eternally. I live alone too remember?” I thundered, with restrain in my voice.
“Be reasonable.”

My coldness froze my reply in the throat. As if sensing it, she said, “You know how emotional she is. You are sensible. I have to go.”

“Ok,” I said.

The Metro was just across the road before the park. I cringed at the sight of the speeding vehicles that separated us from it. Eva held out her hand. I withheld mine. We walked across. Gate No: 8.

“Shruthi,” she called out. I kept walking. Down the stairs. “Shruthi!” She called out again. There was silence then. I could no longer make out her footsteps from the scores of others’. Then came a frenzied deluge of her footsteps. My arm was yanked.

“Can’t you hear? When someone calls your name, you are supposed to stop,” her eyes were wide like they became when she stressed a point.

“My ears are open,” I wisecracked.
“Look … I really got to go.”
I shrugged. “Am I stopping you?”

Her eyes narrowed. She turned and fleeted away. I regretted not walking off before her.
The Metro ride back home was hot. Not because the December evening had decided to yield or because of the jam-packed trains. My ears burned. She sticks with Sheena because of her upcoming model status. Hanger on. I thought. But was she?

Eva had a track record as a genuine friend. She had held my hand in hostile situations, hit back at dangerous-looking men’s catcalls with me, lent an ear to my dreams and sorrows and been a vent to my relationship woes … though now in the bewilderment, it struck me how she always took his side in a love tiff. Even in that anger, ending our relationship did not strike me once. 

She did make time to come along with me for the meeting to this far-flung place. But then the gesture was negated by all the faces that she pulled on the way and the absolute unwillingness to talk with a straight face. Her relationship with Rohit had hit a rough patch. Maybe that’s the reason behind her moodiness. How come she expects me to act all mature while acting like a child herself? Maybe I was a little unreasonable (read: insecure). But is emotional security nothing in a relationship? Should one gracefully step aside while one’s best friend reaches out to her emotionally volatile friends? I quite like Sheena myself. Despite having won beauty contest titles and walked the ramp for famous designers at such a young age, she hardly has a blot of airs about her. What is making me act this way? Possessive jealousy?

I punched in a message to Eva as soon as I was out at the exit gates. “I’m sorry for acting immature. But you are no saint either. If you were emotionally charged there are better ways to tell me than making faces and making me feel as if you did a favour by coming with me.” Sent.

I lifted my eyes beyond me, the stress of sewn-together brows gone … And there she stood! At the gates.
Her cellphone interface lit up in her hand. She took a look and smiles. “I haven’t read your message but your face says we are alright now,” Eva smiled, walking closer.

I smiled back. “Right. Now jump into the next train. You better be there at Sheena’s before she comes back in tears.”
“I knew you would understand,” she gave a dazzling smile, squeezed my hand and dashed to the ticket counter.
She didn’t even hug me or spare a moment. Acid thoughts again began permeating my mind. But hey! That’s the last almost empty train she can catch to Sheena’s anyway. I smiled, my head already throbbing thinking of the next days expected squabbles.

A relationship might be just right. The feelings might be very genuine. But sometimes, a little gesture and reaffirmation of love is necessary to keep the fire burning. We are communicative animals. Sometimes silence can become miscommunication between loved ones.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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