This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by shivani makkar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Nepal To Legalise Same-Sex Marriages: When Will India Unshackle The Norms That Suffocate Us

More from shivani makkar

By Shivani Makkar:

A ‘heterosexual matrix’; that is how Judith Butler, a post-modern feminist scholar, describes the grid that is produced through the institutionalised practices and discourses in the society that affix human beings into a two-sex model, with each sex experiencing desire only for the opposite one. Breaking out of this grid, one can see that the human body and sexuality is fluid, and does not confine itself to one fixed sexual identity or orientation. This explains the language of bio-medical science that along with the larger society, undertakes constant ‘normalization’ of the human body through various treatments, paving the way for years of cultural ‘gender’ conditioning.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

In fact, as pointed out by Nivedita Menon, the strictly bipolar model of a man and a woman is characteristic only of modern Western civilization; even in Europe, till the Middle Ages, people’s sex was not necessarily fixed into a two-sex model. Sex, in the words of Anne Fausto-Sterling, is ‘a vast, infinitely malleable continuum’, and goes beyond all attempts to limit it into categories. Menon also highlights the pre-modern Indian culture that was much more accommodative of multiple sexual identities; the socially acknowledged position of eunuchs, and the rejection of the two-sex model by the Bhakti and Sufi traditions, is a good example of it.

The pioneer that is Nepal
A fledgling democracy sill finding its feet in the country since the end of the monarchical rule in 2006, Nepal has set the bar high when it comes to granting to all its citizens equal rights, regardless of their sexual orientation. It is not just ‘the rights of gays, but the right to be gay’. Recent reports suggest that a government committee in Nepal’s law ministry is working on a Bill to legalise homosexuality and allow same-sex marriage under the new Constitution, overturning the 2011 proposal against this step. The initiative in this direction was taken in 2007, when a Supreme Court judgement declared homosexuals as ‘natural persons’, and ordered the government to ensure that their rights are protected. It thereby became the only country in South Asia to recognise the legal rights of gays. Riding on the liberal wave that had swept the nation, Sunil Babu Pant, the founder of the Blue Diamond Society, became Nepal’s first openly gay Member of Parliament in 2008.

Moreover, in the 2011 Nepal census, the Central Bureau of Statistics officially recognized a third gender in addition to male and female. Recently, on the 11th of August, the Hindu festival of Gaijarta, the only occasion where it is socially acceptable to cross-dress without facing harassment, became a rally for same sex marriage. There is reason to hope among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) community, that their life will be easier and protection will be provided for all sexual minorities.

It must be kept in mind however, that changes in the law do not necessarily translate into acceptance by the society, although it is a much needed beginning. The age old traditions and the religious aspect that dictates the country’s social life, makes it difficult for the people to live their lives as themselves. The fear of social boycott and ostracism are much heavier incentives for the people to conform, and they continue to find it hard to come out to their families.

Where India went wrong: time for some self-reflection
“Women are to be respected, not to be used.” These are the emphatic words of the vivacious Vishita, an independent, working woman, who is all of 25, and has seen it all. Proudly calling herself a lesbian, she was in a loving relationship with a woman for 7 long years, and describes it as a delicate, gentle, and deeply emotional period of her life. “My parents are supportive of my life choices. Beyond that, I don’t think I should have to justify anything to anybody else.”

A country that prides itself on being the largest democracy, of having an ancient culture that boasts of acceptance and accommodation of diversity and, which itself has many recorded accounts of harbouring multiple sexualities, India proved to be a big disappointment to a large section of its population; namely the LGBT community. The 2013 Supreme Court judgement that overruled the 2009 High Court decision, and recriminalized homosexuality for being ‘against the order of the nature’, reinstating the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, is a badge of shame on the country’s history and its ‘forward looking’, progressive judiciary, and puts tens of millions of Indians under dire threat of persecution and terrorization. We have, in truth, simply brushed aside the cornerstone of our Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty, and equality, and which prohibits discrimination on any grounds.

So where did we go wrong?

…”I love this country. But I don’t like the mentality of the Indian people. I am just like anybody else, is it too much to ask to let me be who I am?’’ The question is left hanging in the air, and Vishita and I both pause to reflect. She then eagerly goes on with her story, starving to share things that people never took seriously enough. “The Indian government is only concerned about the societal values, but what about us individuals? We are not asking to create our own society; all I want is to be able to decide the course of my own life without harassment or becoming a laughing stock for the people”.

What it ultimately comes down to, I believe, are our prejudices, which must die. Criminalizing an act of love and a way of life, through engorged standards of morality, and safeguarding some vague idea of culture, chips away at basic human dignity. We are all precious human beings and nothing justifies the scarring and wounding and bruising and traumatising and stigmatising. Of anyone, on any grounds. What we have internalised through our socialization is reflected in our law books, our institutions and our structures of authority, and it must be challenged. There is nothing called ‘unnatural’, except maybe our regressive attitudes to love between free, consenting individuals, and denying them respect and opportunities based on their free choices.

We recently brought in a landmark change by recognising the third sex and the rights of hijras; legalising homosexuality, however, is another matter altogether. Our psyche does not permit it. A relationship without the deep rooted gender hierarchy and power relations is not acceptable to us. It cannot, conceptually, constitute a family. Because eunuchs have, sadly, been a community in themselves, it is easy to erase their existence from our minds. They do not interfere with our world; shifting and open sexuality, on the other hand, does.

It is only with a change in the mindset of the people that any fundamental transformation of the society can occur, and people like Vishita, and thousands of others, would not have to face blame and shame, or a life sentence in prison for making love to another human being. Maybe one day we will be able to look beyond the genitals as defining a person; to break down the categories of gender and its conditioning; to unshackle the norms that suffocate us; and march forward, with love in our hearts. With pride in our eyes.

You must be to comment.
  1. Veda Nadendla

    This is really a step forward. A recent democracy taking a major step toward a revolution which will change the face of society. Hopefully, India will follow suit in being inspired. Well written article, this was really informative. Thank you 🙂

    1. Shivani Makkar

      thanks 🙂 we have a long way to go and the fight starts from our own individual psyche.. we must change the outlook we have towards each other.

  2. Ria Singh

    Good Job really appreciate it ..!!!!!

    1. Shivani Makkar

      I am glad.. thank you so much! 🙂

More from shivani makkar

Similar Posts

By Raj Iyre

By Yash Johri

By Abhinandan Kaul

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below