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Mocked, Harassed, Disowned: Proof That We Live In A Society Incapable Of “Basic” Human Feelings

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By Devika Mittal:

“Tu zeher kha ke mar ja, tujhe jeene ka koi haq nai hai” (Have poison, you have no right to live.)

Transgenders

These lines were said to someone who is a transgender female. I was stunned when I heard this line during my fieldwork. I was attending a meeting of people with diverse sexualities where they discussed about their experiences, the usual behaviour that is meted out to them by their own family, at workplace or when they are walking down the streets.

This statement and the other things that I heard on that day disturbed me a lot. They keep coming back to me and even as I write this, the discussion is being re-played in my mind reminding me of their tones and expressions as they shared the horrific truth of this society. The person who had faced this suggestion to take her own life was very disturbed and kept demanding for a solution. She narrated how once someone at her workplace got to know that she is not a male- the teasing, the verbal abuse and harassment had started. I noticed the way she was trying to give out the details, she felt uncomfortable, with a sense of humiliation and disgust and it reminded me of my own self when I would try to confide details of any eve-teasing or harassment incident that I had faced.

I kept staring at her for some time. I felt disgusted with my own self because I am myself a part of the society that has discriminated them and yes, I have also supported the discrimination.

There was another person who talked about the problems that she was facing in her family. It would involve verbal abuse, words or expressions of disgust and physical harassment. There was again a sense of humiliation that she was undergoing, yet I also felt that it was something that was very usual for her.

This discussion was mainly centred on the problems of these two people and other people were trying to give suggestions based on their own experiences. Some asked them to compromise with their identity and behave like “men”. To which one person lashed back, “Agar mujhe female ki tarah dress karna hai, toh kisi ko kya problem hai?” (If I want to dress up as a female, what is anyone’s problem?) As she said it, I was reminded of the innumerable times that I say it myself. There was the same pride in her voice.

I wonder, how are we different from each other? We both looked the same; she looked much more “feminine” than I did, with the dupatta and make-up. I was dressed in what is considered a “unisexual” attire. But we are different. And I had restored the difference once I had stepped out of the building. Outside that building, it was “us” and “them” again. I had stepped out in the world where I have more rights and privileges than her and where I can proudly present my identity as a woman whereas she will have to hide her identity, the dupatta, the make-up will be done away with and she will step-out as a “man”.

They all discussed their own stories, day-to-day experiences and I was surprised that as they narrated, they would never glance at me. They were not conscious at all. And it was because it was nothing “extraordinary” for them. Even as they sometimes mocked each other, I did not try to join in their laughs as I was too conscious that maybe my laugh would be taken in a negative sense. I was too conscious and perhaps also guilty.

I felt guilty of my own identity. I forgot the struggles that a woman faces and thought about them. Yes, I was also their culprit. I belonged to the society that mocked them and thought they were “weird”, had “unnatural” preferences. At the back of my mind, I also know that they will talk about me and probably think that I also came to check on “their” community. They have little hopes from me, I know. They would also think that probably I will also never understand their position, their situation and would pity them.

It is true that maybe I can never completely understand them. I will never understand what it feels to be constantly stared at, to face rejection or criticism from one’s own kin, to be dishonoured, to be felt pity for. Maybe I can never understand them and I feel pity but for my own self, for my own society and for the closed mindsets.

We think they are “different”. But are they? The difference lies in their sexuality, their self-perception and preference. But is it really about their preference or the way “they” perceive themselves? Are the genders and sexes really two? Is that the biological reality? Have we assumed heterosexuality?

A fact of nature tells us that homosexuality, hermaphrodites and other forms of alternate sexuality exist in animal species as well. Male bats have a huge tendency for homosexuality. A more known fact is about hydra which is clearly hermaphrodite. So how is it unnatural as many have claimed? Works of social scientists have shown alternate sexuality to have been deeply woven into the political, social and economic fabric of societies across the world. But even if we do not get into the social and science part of the debate, let’s think from a human perspective.

They may have “different” preferences but aren’t they still human beings? Do we have any right to humiliate them? They do not harm us in any way so why does their existence cripple our minds so much? They are not “cursed” or “sick” or anything. They are as much as a creation of the God as we are. Why does their private life matter so much to us?

I watched them as they sang and danced and I saw that as they danced, they did not care about anyone. They did not look at anyone but just danced. The movements were very free, there were no boundaries. And I felt the power of dance. How symbolic it can be…

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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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