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The Unquestionables In India: Has Our Tolerance Gone To The Dogs?

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By Shubhra Kukreti:

Be it the act of exiling M.F. Hussain, house arresting Taslima Nasreen, silencing Salman Rushdie in Jaipur Literature festival, 2012 and now, banning Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam, we have left no stone unturned to show that we are the most ‘tolerant’ nation in the world. We are accustomed to tolerating every nuisance on the planet- we have no issues dumping our garbage in front of the neighbour’s door, we must park our car in the ‘No Parking Zone’ and we make a point to spit in the ‘No Spitting area’. We have changed the Indian Standard Time to the Indian Stretchable Time, we do not mind ‘Bhai bhateejawaad‘, and we suffer absolutely no qualms of conscience in burning our wives for dowry. But, yes there is a limit to our tolerance as well, our anger knows no bounds when it comes to the ‘holy cow‘ issues. After all, we are also mere Homo sapiens.


Following are the issues which if we question; we would be qualified as the ultimate ‘badtammez’. We in India are not to snap back to our elders. Teachers are the ultimate connoisseurs on any given topic. For us, it is the ‘Guru Bhrama, Guru Vishnu, Guru devo Maheshwara’. Sex and anything remotely connected to it is a taboo. And, religion, it is all about Gods, isn’t it? Who are we lesser mortals to discuss It? These topics enjoy the status of the ‘unquestionable’, it is considered wrong to go against the norm regarding any of these topics. We are told to follow certain rules without questioning them, and the lawmakers, never make an effort to explain the logic behind them. It is, as if, we are still stuck in the period of Classicism.

But, is it not natural for human beings to get more curious about anything that is hidden or kept away from them? The more you oppose it, the more determined we get to do it. For instance, a few days back, a Pakistani play ‘Kaun hai ye gustakh‘ was refused by the National School of Drama (NSD) the permission to be staged at the 15th Bharatrang Mahotsav. As a result, the popular interest was fuelled further, all thanks to the ban, and therefore, the play was eventually staged twice in the capital to cater to huge demand. More than thousand people were cramped in the auditorium and all of them stayed till the end of the play, hoping for the allegedly controversial stuff to happen because of which the play had to be banned. Alas, they were disappointed. The play bore no ‘masala’. In a way, NSD did well to the Ajhoka theatre group by giving them free popularity.

It is important to understand that whatever rules were once formulated would have been legitimate in the then society. For example, Prophet Mohammad had allowed a Muslim man to keep four wives. That is because, at that time, many women were widowed due to the ongoing war and the population of women outnumbered that of men. The Prophet preached polygamy for the social security of every woman. Again, certain sections of the Hindu Dharma Shastras, or law books, banned taking a voyage by sea or visiting the lands beyond India. The lawmakers must have reasoned that travellers would be polluted by the influence of foreign culture, especially by their non vegetarian cuisine. Yet, these days when overseas journeys have become so safe and the so called foreign culture is nothing but the international culture, it would be really stupid to even take this law into consideration. Similarly, a few decades back, people used to get married at an early age and we appreciated the concept of sex after marriage. However, now when the average life expectancy has doubled and along with it have doubled our expectations from life, we wish to get married only after acquiring our own, and not daddy’s gifted, ‘bangla aur gaadi’. It is quite obvious that not everyone can practice abstinence till their 30s. But when the society asserts you to remain ‘pure’, either you get frustrated, or you end up getting ‘dirtier’. I wonder, would the perversive incidents decline if we adopt a liberal attitude regarding sex?

Being the guardian of traditions is not wrong but “The important thing is“, as Albert Einstein says, “not to stop questioning“. Accept your ‘samskaras’ only when you understand their sense. They are programmed in our minds by our parents, but the why and how of them has to be determined by us. Unfortunately, this understanding is something not easy to acquire. Learning, through books and voyages, is one way of achieving it and it obviously takes time. Of course, before the required level of understanding seeps in, we ought to cling to the words of our elders. If I am confusing you, may be Aaron Swartz’s words can be your guiding light. He said, “Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence boils down to curiosity.” The best way to pay him homage would be to implement his words in our day to day actions.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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