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The Everydayness Of An Unpleasant Battle: Confronting The Normalisation Of ‘Rape Culture’

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By Jayanthi A. Pushkaran:

Danish women gang raped in Delhi at Connaught Place’ read the front page of my news paper. All the places in the article (Paharganj , Connaught Place and State entry road), seemed familiar as I had been there just a few days ago. As the TV and newspapers captured the highlights of this gang rape, the ritual seemed both banal and disturbing. Banal because ‘women ganraped’ as a headline is something that Delhi is used to and horrific because women, as individuals, were soon becoming merely a point of entry; a machine for appeasing animalistic desires of men, not even an individual but for a collective. This is unnerving for any women in India and more so because it was not catching up as a crime but as a trend across the country. Genocides, riots, caste based violence in rural areas and everyday life in urban spaces reeked of this new normalcy and tended to celebrate gang rapes.

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It could have been me” I warned myself. Why was I afraid? A girl child playing in a park, a young woman going to the office, an elderly tourist asking for directions, an adolescent travelling with her friends, the so called normal activities of everyday life has started to sound like frightening adventures in this city. The help lines launched by Delhi police, the renewed public sensibilities and a new anti-rape law, nothing offered me any assurance to deal with a situation like this. They all seemed futile to comprehend the challenge a woman faces in Delhi – her shrinking access to space, mobility, security and liberty. Cell phones ring desperately tracking the paths of returning daughters. One does not see many women outside after dark. The women here also become a reflection of the freedom, autonomy, choices and empowerment that a city, its economy and planning promote. Lack of essential services including walkable pavements, well lit streets, subways and other open spaces have repeatedly been cited as factors which make Delhi a risk factor for women. The studies conducted by the NGO Jagori have revealed that the urban infrastructure and public transport system, including government and private buses, auto-rickshaws, local trains, gramin seva and Rapid Transport Vehicle are extremely unsafe for women. While commuting or waiting, they have been victims of sexual harassment and violence. Over half of the women respondents in the Jagori’s survey concluded in 2009, reported public transport as being the most unsafe place for women. Over 40% said that waiting for public transport was equally risky. Similar responses were also obtained from men and common witnesses. Around 51.4% women reported that they faced harassment using public transport while 49% men and 41% common witnesses reported that they have witnessed women being harassed.

Our concerns often begin and end with the technicality and legality of the rapes and other sort of sexual violence against women. The types of explanation offer a window to explore the anatomy of normalcy that rapes have attained in Delhi. The victim is imagined as a cause and has to account for her presence, personality and behaviours while culprits become an invisible collective. Rapes appear as a predetermined template, a grid thrown across event instructing what to see and what to ignore. One hears the usual claims of invitation for violence such as ‘she was provocatively dressed’, ‘oh she was inebriated’, ‘she is just a little too modern and independent’ or ‘out of place in the city after eight o’clock’. This homemade social forecasting which often legitimises and sanitises sexual violence is exercised not only at household level but at police stations, government circles and policy level analysis. In doing so, a modern woman is translated as an untamed figure responsible for her predicament and men become the supposedly natural beings lusting at her. Sadly, it is her that we paint as a trouble threatening the moral ecology of a region. As a woman, I often wonder why when it comes to independent women, the Indian society, even the most educated lot, supplies freedom and respectability in a calibrated dropper.

Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan recently pointed out that an act of rape or a gang rape is an organised animality. The act and the public discourse around sexual violence inevitably command unwritten rules and prohibitions against woman. He argues that “woman as a victim is vandalised thrice- through rape, folk rationalization and administrative response”. One needs to break this pathology of locating the cause in women and smearing invisibility and inescapability to the real gender politics. One needs to challenge the urban planning of Delhi where rape and insecurity is becoming a daily event of city life.

Jayanthi A Pushkaran is a policy analyst at the organisation Delhi Greens, currently heading an initiative called ‘Women First’ focussing on gender and transport related issues in Delhi. She is also a researcher at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy. Follow her on twitter at https://twitter.com/apjayanthi

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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