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This Is Why Our Response To Rape Matters

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By Pritika Gupta:

It is not hard to imagine that every socially conscious Indian has had a conversation that included at least one of the following words and if not, was at least based on a similar vein of thought:
“Hopeless…Unfair”
“Kya karoon?”
“Aisa Hota hai”
“Incorrigible”
“Politicians are like that only”

As a sexual assault survivor, I frequently engaged in conversations on rape and molestation with a spectrum of people. For the sake of my privacy, I usually never preface conversations by revealing this fact about myself, but then again, I have never been questioned about my own experiences in order to be honest about my past. From what I have seen, there is a degree of difference in the candor of people’s responses when they know that the other person is a survivor. A few years ago, people, or rather the older demographic, would respond to my story with a bit of shock (in all likelihood aimed at the fact that I was open about it). As the years progressed, my story was met with empathy and more importantly, with strength and solidarity through a story of their own. It is a well-known fact that objectivity is the most vital trait of every issue-based conversation and something worth preserving in light of very sensitive matters. But the issues of rape, molestation and sexual assault are simply not objective anymore and nor should they be treated as such.

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I want to preface the rest of this article by stating that I am entirely cognizant of efforts made by a select few to rise above the atrocities and create a better environment, but I am skeptical of the potential for social change in India, given certain actions and comments that have been previously made. Arguments and debates on rape and women’s safety reach the height of their fervor until we all back down because we either cool off a little, run out of time or more frequently because we realize one basic unfortunate truth: Improving women’s safety in India will be a product of a more hands on, top-down approach. It will most likely be the helm of a government that sees the need to prioritize the safety of their women in a nation that was described by a Thompson Reuters poll as the “fourth most dangerous place for women.” The United Nations Development Fund for Women estimates that 1 out of every 3 women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner during her lifetime. These statistics illustrate the painful truth we already recognize- Our government and our leaders have failed, and we, as Indian society, must redeem that failure immediately.

Unfortunately, given the recent comments made by multiple politicians such as a Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh Naresh Agarwal; Chhattisgarh’s Home Minister Ramsevak Paitra; Madhya Pradesh’s Home minister Babulal Gaur; the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and some other members of the RSS, it seems as if our expectations for stronger actions for women’s safety might have to be put on hold.

Last week, Naresh Agarwal touted the very existence of gang rape by comparing women to animals and expounding that “even animals cannot be dragged away.” Earlier this month Mr. Paitra flippantly stated,“Rape happens by mistake.” What these leaders fail to realize is that indifferent comments about sensitive matters decrease people’s resolve to create any social change. India’s response to the sexual assault of women today will determine the safety of tomorrow. Our government is meant to be a catalyst in this process but unfortunately their apathy is reducing any fervor to change mindsets and bring about more awareness. Social issues require a level of engagement between citizens and governments. In the face of the indifference that we’ve witnessed, any scope for said action and progress does not seem likely.

Limp responses to rape through demeaning comments belittle the victim’s experiences and decry the incident as a whole. How could women possibly expect justice (with visible results) when the very people likely to legislate change are the ones demeaning the gravity of the case? It is not outrageous for the women of India to demand a safer life; rather, it is ludicrous for our leaders to assume that there is no basis for this demand. In a world where we are all entitled to our own opinions, our leaders forget that by the very nature of their candidacy for office, they affirm that they will be held to the highest standard of moral and ethical sensitivity and action. Perhaps the worst result of these comments made by our elected members of parliament is that our quest for any immediate or even long-term change seems highly improbable and often unattainable. In fact, there is no worse society than one that has unequivocally given up on the biggest problem plaguing women today.

Occasionally I’m a little taken aback when people tell me about their own stories of sexual assault because we have been accustomed to hiding the details of our own. The general advice for this reason is in order for people to not look at survivors differently, take pity on them, or worse inquire about the details of the incident. But times have changed. Today, society’s real concern is the people in any sort of authority who don’t blink an eye (and instead make demeaning comments) and don’t take a stand when they are faced with the sheer mass of women who share my story, or perhaps an even worse version of it.Over the years it has been cathartic to realize that every woman that I have spoken to, whether they were survivors or not, has had the same angst, the same intolerance and more importantly, the same disgust at the state of women’s affairs in India. I think it is this shared frustration that will push for greater social changes in India. Maybe in ten years from now, I will raise my own daughters and sons in India. By then, I sincerely hope that what they read of women’s safety from these years will simply be literature that is comparable to nothing of their times.

You must be to comment.
  1. Gaurav

    – this issue is reaching critical mass and till date I have not seen an objective analysis of this issue. let me help you to put things in perspective.
    – violence against women is part of violence, you need to make sure you take steps against violence in general if you want the scourge of violence to go away.
    – political patronage is surely one of the issues but it cannot be tacked by individuals, you need to reach out to opposition parties to be effective.
    – corruption in lower level judiciary and police is a major stumbling block. this unfortunately cannot be sorted out in short term.
    – our politicians are illiterate and do not know what to say when they encounter an issue. forget them and focus on how to resolve the issues at hand.
    – identify the organisations who understand the criticality and choose those who have a good track record of making a dent in this setup.
    – identify the lawyer groups who have successfully fought and got convictions and engage them.
    – identify the reasons for this behaviour. this is a long battle and there are variables which quite frankly are out of control but criticising the patriarchy is not going to take us anywhere.

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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