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Have You Explored Your Dark Side?

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By Manki:

I would like to divulge a little secret about myself if you can loan me your ears and mind momentarily. There is something I keep hidden in the darkest and deepest corners of my home. If curiosity gets the better of you and you happen to wander down to that deep, dark corner in spite of all the warnings and obstacles, you might unravel the mystery. It is the source behind the faint sporadic sounds of lament and ululations you hear in the silence of the nights. Looking down into its deep brown eyes, it will arouse feelings of sympathy; but believe it not, for it is a master of treachery. It will cajole and compel the human in you to set it free, but only I have the ability to give it real freedom, the kind which it craves. In order to spot this recluse, you do not have to spend much currency to come visit my museum, it can also be seen in your neighborhood, home, school or, work. It can appear plural in crowds, or singular hiding in the shadows of the small alleys.

the devil within

I will not cut to chase and disclose its exact location as it will spoil the fun of discovery. But tell me, have you ever felt the urge to steal when no one is looking or maybe torture an animal only to set it free later? And if we add some libido, alcohol and weed to the mix, does it not take euphoria to a whole new definition of excitement? Do you experience moments of adrenaline rush which give you a feeling of invincible power and pleasure? Those nodding in affirmation with lips curled in a sneer, YOU exactly know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I know you fear God, but you are not really dying tomorrow, are you? This is the first hint that the creature lurks close. When there exists a feeling of invulnerability and omnipotence, I suggest you keep your mind alert and eyes open.

Let’s leave these questions hanging on a cloth line for now and digress a little. How many of you stood to protest and support the right to ‘freedom without fear’ for women in our country during the recent demonstrations? The news reports lead me to believe a whole lot of you showed up in huge numbers and displayed a lot of vigor and valor in front of strong reinforcements. Vents such as these reduce the burden of silence on our conscience, allowing repressed anger to surface. You see, unless it involves us directly, we often blind ourselves to crimes such as road rage, child abuse, domestic rape and, sexual assault even in its most heinous and brutal form. The creature brings with it this slyness; it can do no wrong for it is always a victim of its surroundings and never an orchestrator. So we gladly pin the real responsibility in the lapse of law and order on the existing poverty, lack of prevalent education, our country’s unresponsive governing body and the slow, laborious justice system, merely letting the responsibility slip and miss our own frail shoulders.

I pray that you never have to encounter this despicable creature in its full regalia. For in its best form, it is capable of skinning a man alive and then devouring him piece by piece or in a crowd it can rape a woman and literally spew her guts out. It has no brothers, sisters, mothers, sons or daughters. The fact that it resides in your homes, away from any watchful eye makes it most vicious and unforgiving. Sometimes in its lesser evil form, you can spot it lurking in the background when an employer kicks or beats a maid or in damnation of women for being women or often when you choose to walk away from a person in need of help. Very few of you have actually been able to disassociate and capture this fugitive, unfit even to reside in a zoo.

Let me tell you a story of a man named “Ahimsaka”, who tried to destroy the creature by stabbing it repeatedly in the chest with a blunt, overused sickle. He was a highway man and a murderer who meticulously decapitated any person travelling through the forest and mutilated their bodies before letting the wild animals feed on them. Ahimsaka’s reason for this barbarism was just as cold and horrifying as his method to kill. He never killed in rage or under the influence of intoxication, his intent was not to rob money or seek vengeance, he killed for the sole pleasure of killing.

Ahimsaka kept all his victims’ fingers for himself, as trophies beaded in a necklace around his neck. I will spare you the torture of reading the special treatment he reserved for women, as it will wrench your gut, make you queasy and give you nightmares. He was always boastful in his approach, so he kept a count of his victims. By the time he reached victim 999, he was most dreaded in the region with a respectable award on his head. Ahimsaka was eager to make his 1000th kill, and so one day as he waited in ambush for a prey to arrive, he saw his mother walking through the forest towards him. She feared for his life and wanted to warn him of the bounty. Seeing that no other prey would come his way, he decided to kill his mother and make her his 1000th victim. Just before she could reach him, Ahimsaka spotted another man in orange robes walking towards him. On seeing the monk approach, Ahimsaka decided to kill him instead and wondered whether the monk was actually mad or fearless, who in spite of the danger had decided to venture into the forest. For the first time the ruthless killer felt reluctant to kill someone so eager to die. When Ahimsaka raised his sickle to cut the monk’s head, the monk made a request that Ahimsaka grant him one final wish, as was customary by tradition. The killer agreed and asked the monk to state his final wish. The monk said, “It is a very small request. Cut off a branch of the tree under which you stand.” Ahimsaka looked puzzled and amused at the foolish monk but he obliged nonetheless and cut off a branch from the tree. The monk then calmly said “Now, put it back. Let it be part of the tree again. Let it blossom.” Seeing Ahimsaka’s inability to complete the task, the monk spoke again “You can cut my head off, but you cannot manage to give me life again. If you cannot create life, what right do you have to destroy it?” These words transformed Ahimsaka, and he decided to make the creature within him his 1000th victim. So he stabbed the creature over and over again, only to realize that what existed within him could only die with him. That day forth, Ahimsaka denied the creature its freedom, entrapped it in a cage forever and spent the remaining years in search of salvation.

However, salvation and resurrection only exist for a penitent person, someone who has truly managed to expunge the creature and purify themselves of it. Real catharsis does not exist for those of us who allow the creature to persist within to the extent of killing all trace of humanity. In those cases, there should be no filing of mercy pleas and no delays in hanging the creature until death.

Now I might have cheated by not fully disclosing the real purpose of this article. One was of course, to arm you with the necessary information to help you spot the creature in its most natural habitat. Two, was to make an appeal to those of you bordering between humanity and monstrosity. Regardless of your circumstances and past experiences, it is in your power to deny the creature the freedom it craves to make you an instrument of its evil. I know there are some shortcomings to this approach because through this I can only appeal to a rational mind and a rational mind is normally strong and well-guarded against infestation by parasites. But a rational mind often falls prey to escapism, harmful silences and criminal rationalizations. So I will take my leave hoping that if ever any of you happen to spot a four year old getting assaulted by an instructor in the school or any such devious acts in your home, neighborhood or street, you will not keep mum.

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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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