By Kainat Sarfaraz:
When four undergraduate students of Jamia Millia Islamia decided to emulate artist Elonë Kastratia’s project Pads Against Sexism, little did they know that it would be a difficult terrain to tread on. The initiative began in Karlsruhe where Elonë took street art activism to a different level altogether. She decided to combat sexism using feminist messages inscribed on sanitary napkins.
Inspired by her, Mejaaz, Mohit, Sameera and Kaainat, decided to start the project on their own campus of Jamia Millia Islamia. But they were not applauded by the administration for their brave attempt. The sanitary pads were pulled down and the students were issued a show-cause notice. The university has sought an explanation for their actions by 31st March, 2015. If the authorities are not satisfied with their reasoning, a disciplinary committee will be set up and action will be taken against these four students.
According to the University officials, it is not the message that they object. It is the medium through which they chose to do this and also the fact that the students had not sought prior permission to put up the messages. Thus they had to be pulled down, just like the other posters that are put up without permission. When I asked them if I too could start this campaign after seeking permission, they answered in the affirmative. But would they grant permission for such an initiative? There is a process which will decide that, said an administrative official who did not want to be named. The Chief Proctor was unavailable for a comment.
Authorities at Jamia have said that students and faculty members have raised verbal objections on seeing sanitary napkins around the campus. In case you are wondering who in this day and age can voice complaints on seeing pads, you should follow this thread on Jamia Journal’s page and see for yourself. Comments like “Menstrual blood is pure. ‘Activists’ should begin by performing menstrual blood transfusion on themselves. Only that will show that they ACTUALLY believe in gender equality #fashionableActivism”, will make you sick in the gut.
And here is just another one – “Displaying it in campus and indirectly targeting boys of Jamia is something very disturbing and sad…You have to maintain the discipline of particular atmosphere and Jamia is not the place to hang out naked or to show how modern you are. There are some things in our society which should be hidden.” I could go on and on about the comments. But that would give these people the attention they don’t deserve.
These are the people who need a cloak of social media to vent their ‘opinions’. If someone actually wanted to understand this campaign or truly critique it rationally, they could easily contact the initiators of this project. In an interview with this gang of four, they told me that nobody had come up and shown objection to their campaign on their face. “Till now, it is just online hostility”, they say.
When asked about the reason why they decided to link sexism and rape with sanitary napkins, Sameera Mudgal explains, “At any point of time, if you are shunning a woman just because she is menstruating, which is a biological function, it suppresses a whole gender. And when you suppress a gender you give rise to something like rape culture because rape is not just sexuality, its dominance and power.” Thus, it becomes important to remove the taboo that is attached with menstruation and treat it as just another bodily function.
The campaign has now shifted from the campus to places like Hauz Khas. When I asked them if they had any plans on taking this initiative further, Mejaaz says “We’ve been brainstorming but there is nothing set in stone because of what recently happened with us. We are expecting a backlash. So we have to see how it goes on from here.”
Being a student of Jamia myself, I am quite proud of the fact that the University has been vocal about gender equity and empowerment of women to bring about equality. So why were the faculty members and students ‘repugnant’ on seeing a sanitary pad? Is this one of those examples where our thoughts and actions do not go hand in hand?
Pads Against Sexism that started in Jamia Milia Islamia University has found momentum in Jadavpur University and now in Delhi University – against rising sexism in our society. You can read more such stories from campuses across India at Campus Watch, and #RaiseYourVoice!