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The Age Of Pseudo-Liberalism: Are You A Liberal With Boundaries?

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By Siddhartha Roy:

Do you have a moral compass? An inner pulse of sorts that discerns right versus wrong; distinguishes black from white and is able to wade through the greys in between.

There could be simple questions: Is it okay to make fun of someone’s weight or complexion? Or if it is okay to cheat in one’s finals? (Most of today’s junta isn’t exactly sure about answering the first but almost wholeheartedly supports the second)

Or the questions could be really tough: Do you support one-night stands? Or who all in a family have the right to decide if a woman should abort her child? Would you ‘really’ be fine if a gay couple moved in next door?

Let’s discuss our disorderly society and the dilemmas we encounter. The truths we cannot come to face or are too afraid to accept. And, yet, as I see people like you and me coming together in big numbers — to support causes, to fight battles, to make a change in society and their own lives — I see how these questions against this inner Judge are sometimes the most difficult to come to terms to. Because gulping down the truth is the most testing task of all.

I enjoy calling myself a ‘Liberal’. We are this new breed who support abortions, gay marriages, abhor age-old practices and superstitions, fight the bureaucracy, experiment in sexuality and uphold the rights of others to follow their beliefs — and don’t go down without a good argument. Religious, atheist or agnostic? Live-in relationship or Married life? I will try to wage a battle against my own beliefs and show you how twisted things do become when you move beyond superficiality and really read between the fine lines.

I was talking to my mami — who is a doctor — discussing childbirth and she mentioned this case where a woman aborted two of her four kids — because having four children is very risky —both for the mother and the young ones — especially in India. Hence, to ensure a healthy pregnancy, the doctor advised this. From a health perspective, this sounds like quality advice and essential for the family.

But step back for a second. Were two kids killed? I am not bringing in religion or the concept of souls. That would take the discussion to a whole new level. But, if I support the decision of an unmarried girl to abort her child owing to age, society or simply her choice, do I agree to the concept of abortion everywhere?

Does, say, a High Court judge have the right to decide this? Or is the doctor or the family involved? What would you have replied if you were asked this?

People from the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) community (and, when I say ‘community’, I am not being discriminatory) celebrated when the Delhi High Court decriminalized gay sex in 2009. It struck down Section 377 of the IPC that states homosexuality and ‘unnatural’ sex is a criminal act. Sex between consenting adults was made legal and the purview of the law was limited to rape by a homosexual and paedophilia. This decriminalization would also help monitor and check HIV and other STDs amongst the gay community.

But two weeks ago when a lawyer representing the Home Ministry’s counsel declared in Supreme Court that “gay sex is highly immoral and against social order”, it seemed that the Government took a U-turn. Whatever stands you see, the Government or the pro- or anti- NGOs taking, what do you really believe? Do you think if two men or two women want to spend the rest of their lives together (including sex) move in next to you, you would be okay? What if they adopt kids? Neil Patrick Harris, most popular from his ‘Barney Stinson’ womanizer act in ‘How I Met Your Mother’, is gay. He and his partner have twins. And even from a distance, you can be a liberal and stand in support of the movement.

But how about this: Has a gay man ever made a pass at you? Yes, I am talking to the guys. Anybody? I’d be the first to raise my hand. How would you respond? Well, I, for one, was very angry. Especially, if physical innuendos are involved. Excessive feminine attributes are sometimes mocked at in men and even made a laughing stock of. In all good humour and friendly banter and especially no maleficence, I do support it. But does that make me anti-gay?

Not really. I am fine with gay activities from a distance. I would support their right to indulge in and satisfy their sexual needs, build a house, get married, buy health insurance and raise a family. I am not gay but I support your right to be gay. I don’t have any gay friends personally but I wouldn’t mind that at all. I am liberal. But I am not fine with being made a pass at. It makes me uncomfortable. And, for a moment, even makes me wonder about the countless passes women face while and especially after growing up.

And while we are discussing (to quote from ‘The Big Bang Theory’) ‘coitus’, let us take up the ‘supposedly normal’ way as well. Sunny Leone came to India. So, what does she do? She has intercourse and gets filmed doing it for a living. So, why such a hue and cry over her participating in an Indian reality TV show? Her character is degrading. Really? Post the advent of mobile camera phones and limitless broadband services, pornography reaches every adult, every teenager. It is fine if you enjoy watching a three-some with Sunny Leone in it but you are against her coming to your country. What hypocrisy!

But, if you are liberal, would you date a pornstar (male or female)? It is just a question. Would you be able to come to terms with the ‘experience’ and the life they have led? They aren’t ashamed of it, if that is what you are thinking. Many weren’t even forced or got into the profession to support a family. They just chose to do it. A choice is worth respecting but is ‘that’ choice worth your respect?

Maybe this argument was too extreme. Let us take it several notches down.

We live in a fast-paced world of instant gratifications and nano-second frequency text messages. Video-chat on 3G and live our lives on Facebook. And, often, we are more connected. More together! But is this sometimes too much?

I see guys/girls getting insecure over their love interests. Infidelity/divorces are extreme examples. But fights/quibbles over his or her friends/work/time and, most importantly, exes are walking on a razor’s edge. Would you really have time to appreciate and love the person if all you do is count and scrutinize the list of guys/girls your current has had sex with? Or was in love with?

But you are going to encounter such situations. Adulthood isn’t all about the fun (read: one night stands; though it is very much prevalent and even accepted. Ask me. I support it.) but also about growing up. The decisions and value systems and choices are our own. You will meet people who don’t agree with your viewpoint.

Genuine relationships — the ones with the potential to become ‘happily ever afters’ — fizz out and it is saddening to see a steep rise in the ‘breaking up’ trends. As a liberal, I’d support one’s decision to stick by or leave. It is a personal choice. Whether you want to be friends with benefits or mutually exclusive lovers — it all is a personal choice. But you will only understand your ‘real’ views when you see it face to face — in your lives, in your family or friend circles. Not what you have learnt from television and the silver screen.

There are countless instances and numerous questions. The idea isn’t to consider hypothetical situations in advance and decide our viewpoints. That isn’t being liberal because that isn’t realistic. It is when you are personally impacted or really think deeply, that you realize your ‘liberal’ core.

So, are we pseudo—liberals? I think we all are liberals with boundaries. We still have a value system which we modify and enhance with experience. Surrounded by hypocrites doesn’t make it easier. But we are an enthused force who seek the truth and also know ourselves inside out.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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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