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Why We Need To Question Our Own Prejudices And Break Free From This Social Conditioning

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By Pranjal Rawat:

Each of us comes from a different universe of thoughts, culture and aspirations. We, each, have an entirely different story to tell. Darwinian evolution presents us as common species wherein we share similar reproductive, social and individualist characteristics. However, our minds, paying due respect to the science of neurology, are capable of branching out far from the common minimums given to us by nature. These give rise to ideologies and philosophies that differ, almost radically. We have difference in opinion over what is beautiful and what is not. If we are pluralistic enough, we entertain differences, if not, we reject the understanding of the opposing voice. If we are crude, we beat them mercilessly till either they are dead or the voice has stopped. If we are intelligent, we place this difference onto insufficient comprehension of the other. If both voices seem to come from educated and informed sources, we cry ‘faulty logic’. All of this is incredibly normal, and the language of reason dictates that consistent ideologies cut inconsistent ones like a hot knife on butter.

Picture Credits: Alice Popkorn
Picture Credits: Alice Popkorn

What is then apparent is an easy enough victory. But withdrawing oneself back from the personal level and taking oneself to the universal is the only way to fully refute or demolish a narrative. It then becomes a challenge for the self to embark on a journey of self discovery, not of the kind sold by mainstream media, but one where ideological disparities in oneself are revealed. With these narratives exposed, it becomes easier for us to incorporate ourselves into a grander picture, a world view and a super ideology. This is important on both the micro/personal level because for the uninformed and dogmatic it becomes a means to inform oneself and to subscribe to the tried and tested philosophies of empiricism and rationalism. On the macro level, one where I choose to think of the masses as one large collective organism, it is important because large scale subjugation to mob mentality and ideological waves flooring across the minds of men, like the hindu maha-rahshtra, are unearthed.

The moment we begin to question each action and emotion that our biological being experiences, we reveal to ourselves our rationality, and more importantly, the glaring super-narratives. I wrote this note in English, while Hindi is/was my mother tongue, i.e the language I grew up with, because over time, I have had little chance to discourse or communicate in Hindi (even at home). This is a personal discovery. If taken on a macro level, with similar urban elite students like myself trying to understand this phenomenon, it will reveal the imposition of the English culture upon the student population (in various exam like the UPSC, and the western hegemony of the internet). The point I’m trying to make is not that this narrative exists, but that some super social design is influencing and causing this note to be read and shared in English. This discovery might be too obvious you say, let me unearth another one, the caste influences of the Presidency University general elections – out of the 12-13 people who stood for the panel election, only 1 or 2 were from a lower caste (disproportionately to the population). This may be a lucky correlation or a submissive causation, I do not know; but we need to ponder why this is so. This may be simply out of chance, or that caste is of no consideration in our election and that is was equally likely that converse may have happened, but this introspection is in the need of the hour.

Patriarchal and racial bias are revealed when one introspects on the social interaction between friends, lovers and strangers. Religious dogma being more blunt, may be more obvious than the rest. The language that we use limits our communication, and is riddled with influences of the victorian age (possibly?), patriarchy, racism, prejudice and bias. Words are guilty of narrative. We need to be conscious of how we communicate even in the most humdrum of discussions. As I write this, I am conscious of two things, how little this text is able to communicate to you what I truly feel about this and how much I really want to expose this to the world. The speed in which I type is limiting the thinking process, fracturing it at places where it should not be fractured. Glaring inconsistencies in our character, yelling slogans for women’s rights and at the same time objectifying them subconsciously, are revealed when we observe the motion of our eyes and scan the process of thinking and the different directions it turns to during the time we are awake.

The color of your shirt, the brushing of your teeth every night (is it a propaganda by toothpaste corporates?), the salient characteristics of patriarchy in your family, how your mother lovingly feeds you (is it the only way she can express her love now that you live away?) and the attention span of our minds (rising at award shows, and falling during a documentary); these are influenced by larger narratives and super-ideologies, cinematically and metaphorically, running through the air. Liberate yourself from the clutches of your influences, your bubbles so that you may dissent with your conformity. We conform so heavily, so saliently and so subconsciously. Let reality be exposed through a series of revolutions and colors of red, that inspire a violent change in thinking, almost forcibly. The revolution of the mind, exploding our senses and bursting the bubbles that we live in. Connecting the fragmented blips of sense you observe in this world of noise (chatter, babble, radio, laughter), will allow us to force the narrative of self into exposing itself. Your attention span has now long ended, that being my greatest limitation; I leave you with a plea – to reveal to yourself, yourself, however much of a contradiction that may sound to be. Pardon me, if this was a little new to yourself.

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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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