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Exclusive: Monica Dogra On Her Project For LGBT+, Intentions, And The Controversy That Followed

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By Kanika Katyal:

Singer-actor Monica Dogra, recently let out a ‘call-to-action’ for her new project, Shiver, which aims to appeal to “legislators all over the world to decriminalise all consensual acts of sex regardless of gender identification“. By means of a video and accompanying webpage, she explained that she was seeking to crowdsource funds for a project that will strike at the heart of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes homosexuality illegal in India.

Call it an ironic turn of events, if you may, that a campaign aimed at achieving solidarity, sparked off a controversy and was slammed on social media.

In an exclusive interview over email with Youth Ki Awaaz, she talks about her project, her intentions, the controversy that followed and more.


Kanika Katyal (KK): Tell us in detail about your new project “Shiver”. It has sparked off a controversy. Do you think it is justified?

Monica Dogra (MD): Shiver is a one of a kind music video art project, with expanding goals. It is meant to take on the double fold agenda of mainstreaming transgender representation in popular culture and collapse gender binaries that operate around us. Depending on the money we raise, we will either make just a music video, or it will expand to include an installation documentary art piece, or it will expand further to include live performances from the choreographer and dancers hired. The music video uses magic realism and mythical narrative around the divine feminine set in the desert landscapes in Rajasthan using a young boy as a protagonist.

The seeds for Shiver were first laid when I was part of a Live Art installation protesting gender violence alongside a fierce Trans activist Aher Abheena. The project was initiated by an organization called Engendered, a trans-national arts and human rights organization that uses culture to catalyze change. During this participation I saw the kind of disruptions that can be affected when traditional boundaries of art object and the commodity system within which it is circulated as currency are dissolved. Art can be significant in challenging and complicating the hierarchies that prevail in social spaces and are ingrained in culture. In simple words, I saw the effect of having a hijra person in a high fashion outfit lending dignity and elevating an art installation in a gallery situation where trans-visibility is almost nil. This further led up to a project where I recently acted in Rosie Haber’s short film “Relapse”, opposite queer rights activist Casey Legler playing a queer wife to Cole, a character who newly self defines as trans and decides to take hormones.

I assume that our campaign Shiver sparked off a controversy for various reasons. Firstly, perhaps there is an assumption that I am capitalising on a movement, having not engaged with the issues and communities that I am attempting to help/represent. Which is not true, because I’ve worked with the issue of gender my entire life through my art.

In my early concerts with Electro-Rock band Shaa’ir+Func, I have cross-dressed at shows in Mumbai where I have also crowd-surfed. As a South Asian immigrant I have grappled with the notion of being the ‘other’, all my life. If you observe, my lyrics have always dealt with issues of identity, of gender being a performance, of feminist discourse. In my journey of reverse migration to India as a performer, I have continued to think about ideas of belonging and marginalisation.

I have protested the objectification of women and gender violence by being part of a public art intervention by standing for hours on the lawns of the American Centre in Delhi along with sculptor Alex Davis’s STOP installation as part of WAR (Women Art and Resistance), a multidisciplinary arts project. I have seen the power of public art interventions first-hand, alongside other well-known performance artists like Maya Krishna Rao and queer artist Balbir Krishan which was very empowering and created a strong dialogue for change.

monica dogra art exhibition
Monica Dogra as part of Alex Davis’ STOP installation

My conversations with the trans-hijra community have continued over the years, and I was recently invited to speak at the National Hijra Habba organized by the HIV AIDS Alliance and Pehchaan, an organization that does grassroots campaigning with over 250 CBOs across the nation.

These are just some of my work and engagement with community and the issues.

Secondly, this issue of Rs. 50 lakh as budget for the video. There is an overall sentiment of that being an exorbitant amount of money. Anyone who works in mainstream entertainment production will testify that this is untrue. Especially given that we are talking about an international crew, with travel budgets and a high production value. Also, and more importantly, why is it okay to spend tens of crores on a Bollywood fantasy song and dance, but not okay to have a 50 lakh project for a music video on transgender visibility? And who sets this economic bar and value to how much TG representation should be worth? There has been a huge push from the TG – Hijra community for mainstreaming their visibility in media and the entertainment world. All the legislation, the academic discourse has not translated to any changes or shifts in societal attitudes for the Hijra communities in India. Their access to education, health benefits & jobs stay seriously limited. Even within the LGBT movement, there are huge class and economic divides that keep the TG/Hijra movement largely separate and invisibilised.

Because the video is cause-oriented it somehow plays into people’s perceptions that I am privileged and taking advantage of that. But that is not the case, I’m just one of the voices in this global movement for a much needed fight for equality. Yes, I was born in America. But, I have lived in India for nearly 10 years. In America, I endured a fair amount of racism for being Indian. I look Indian, I was raised culturally very Indian. If there are activists and organisations who want to start fundraising campaigns on this issue I am more than happy to support them. As an artist I am open to constructive criticism which helps me improve my work.

KK: Your project aims to act as a catalyst for the LGBTQI+ rights in India. So why not collaborate with Indian artists?

MD: How has this assumption been made that I am not collaborating with Indian artists? The entire casting for dancers, performers, stylists, technicians, light crew etc are Indian. It just so happens that my DOP and choreographer are not. But we are increasingly living in a global world where these distinctions and boxes for nationalist identities are fast dissolving. At least I am part of that tribe.

Ryan Heffington’s choreography is provocative, soul-stirring, and communicates beyond class, race, or demographic. I find him to be one of the most incredible modern choreographers alive today. Carolina Costa, our DOP, has a film at Cannes, and there is no mistake why, she is technically a supreme architect behind the camera. Rosie Haber, as a director, has the ability to make paintings frame by frame, with a languid, melancholic, dripping ache that I find to be so sensitive and exciting. I see no reason not to make quality art with people who are leaders in their field of expertise just because they are not Indian. And our allies and partners are from various communities and organisations. For example: Engendered, The Transnational Arts and Human Rights Organization, which has a history of cultural production work around gender and sexuality in both the US as well as India. Also the Godrej Culture Lab that is a fluid experimental space that cross-pollinates ideas and people to explore what it means to be modern and Indian.

KK: Critics found your language problematic. The whole idea of “fine art” was seen as elitist. But this again leads to the larger debate, according to which art that is not directly occupied at the grass-root level is seen as bourgeois and hence lacking any ‘real’ sentiments. What do you think of the politics of that? Do you think that the avant-garde nature of your project, somewhere threatens to overshadow the cause?

MD: This is the part I understand. I am an artist. I am not an activist in the ways that many people reading and dissecting this project may be. In order to become an activist I have much to learn. We lacked understanding of how careful language must be on issue based crowdfunding campaigns, how delicate with context, and how extremely precise. This is no excuse; language is now being carefully selected and clarified with support from our partners and friends from the LGBT movement. Every true remark questioning the project and asking for clarification is being addressed. I don’t feel the need to completely be transparent with the nature of the project, just because some people are up in arms about the amount of money we are asking for.

Please note, none of the funds are being pocketed by me or the team, in fact, I am fronting funds. I am hoping this doesn’t detract from the only important thing in all of this, which is the issue. At the recent Hijra Habba, I sat on live panels with the Minister of Social Justice and some incredible trans activists from various states. I heard and participated in intense discussions from these very lawmakers, and legislation writers about the importance of the transgender community to be mainstreamed. Though bills have been passed, and there are court dates in place, there are no plans for implementation of these laws. The social stigma around the TG/Hijra community is still too deep and unless we translate the issue into popular culture and conversation, no law can actually become effective.

3rd National Transgender Hijra Habba
3rd National Transgender Hijra Habba

KK: How would you describe the activism in your art?

MD: I touched upon this earlier but, feminist themes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I play with gender, sexual agency; discuss objectification, love, society, and truth through the lyrics of my songs. I stake claim on my own freedom of expression through my music videos, the production of my live performances, and the conceptualising of my album artworks. I believe that self-loving and respecting one’s self is the most radical thing a human being can do, and struggle with it myself, every day. I’m definitely struggling with it right now.

People who have come to my shows and have met me post, know that I look people in the eyes, soul to soul, and that my desire to build community and build empathy is real. It always has been. I have always tried to use my lyrics as a way to create change and I learn every day. Through this project with the support from various people I want to take a step further.

You just have to step outside your door to understand that the overall culture of our country towards marginalised communities is one of intolerance. With my team and campaign backers, we want to amplify the cause via mainstream. The project features members of the trans community with equal roles, getting paid ethically through this work, collaborating as creative partners.

KK: You’ve always identified yourself as a queer ideal. What does the project hold for you on a personal level?

MD: I see my sexuality as fluid. I sit with myself, and wonder how many of my choices are rooted in truth, and how many are perhaps subconsciously driven by a desire to assimilate, be loved, and fit in. I believe that a society that is inclusive and celebratory of difference is one that I would like my children to live in. Wikipedia says that “Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or cisgender.” I don’t relate to the gender experience of many of my hetero sisters. I don’t relate to the confines of sexual orientation labels, therefore I identify as queer.

KK: Sisterhood is an important theme of Shiver. How important is its relevance in the current scenario of feminist discourses in India and worldwide?

MD: I can only speak on what I know. “Sisterhood”, is taken from a lyric of the song… which says,
The sisterhood of the alone-ones,
the ones who know what it means
to create the loneliness that you dream to be free of,
because it offers you control.

When I write, I often just open the tap and let it all pour out. I remember what I was feeling at the time of writing this. Often, we find women targeting women in cruel and misogynistic ways worse than even a man could/would. There is a legacy, world-wide, of the admonishment of the feminine. Men are encouraged to ignore their inner feminine. There are many layers to this. Marginalised groups, in order to survive, become insular, protective, and are slow to integrate, fearing misunderstanding, fearing being hurt. That is why, the independent scene in India is very slow to acknowledge something positive in Bollywood.

Through Shiver we’d like to highlight the experience of the feminine, not the external forms. I still hold this to be self-evident, that we are all human, we all want love, we all want a place in society, we all want dignity, we all want self-respect, and all of these things are our birth rights. How this plays out in feminist discourse world-wide, I simply do not know. I’m an artist. I go about making art. I am much simpler than many think.

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  1. Rahul Ramesh

    Her explanations offer nothing new, merely the same gibberish paraphrased. So many contradictions. I mean look at this example :

    “Especially given that we are talking about an international crew, with travel budgets and a high production value.”

    “The entire casting for dancers, performers, stylists, technicians, light crew etc are Indian. It just so happens that my DOP and choreographer are not.”

    I think she missed the director there. So 3 people who don’t actually care for this issue, and will take fat pay cheques home, are working on this. If you truly claim to support the LGBT community, make everyone donate their paycheck to the cause and just fund the production cost. I can assure you it will be within 10 lakhs at max. Give 40 Lakhs to the organizations who can actually make an on ground difference to the hijras. I mean can you imagine the amount of begging hijras who will benefit from 40 effin lakh?!

    And I’d just like to say that the Bollywood analogy doesn’t work or justify anything. Bollywood is a commercial industry with a revenue model. You are doing a CHARITABLE video. Big difference. People pay to watch bollywood and this video will just have some Youtube hits. Even if you get a billion hits on the video, who takes home all that money?! No clear answers.

    If you assume that an average hijra needs 8000 a month to get by without begging. With 50L, you can support 52 Hijras a year, giving them a respectable life. Do that and get a couple of amateurs to make a video of that pro bono. Heck, make a video of that with your cellphone Monica, and you’ll get infinitely more credibility and reach that you will with a hipster music video. 99% of the hijras in India don’t know high art and couldn’t care less about it. If you tell them about it, they’ll probably just say “Aye Dena!” clapping there hands. You need help change that. Not make a video which will get rave reviews from the so called ‘high-art’ connoisseurs, everyone will say “Oh my god wow loved the arty shot background makeup your dance skillz b mad bruh you da next John McCartnery” and then go on with their lives.

    1. Victor Sangale

      Hahahaha nailed it!! Brilliant!

  2. Anonymous

    Oh Lord! No No stop please! Ask her to stop! Stupidity has no limit and hers is infinite. She’s comparing Bollywood to her project?! Seriously. Pls stop Monica!

  3. Minal Hajratwala

    I hope Youth Ki Awaaz plans to interview an actual transgender person about their views, rather than just allowing this heterosexual woman to babble on. The whole first paragraph of this interview is completely different from what is proposed on the fundraiser page. She is constantly changing her story to dodge criticism.

  4. Radha

    I’ve worked with the issue of gender my entire life through my art. In my early concerts with Electro-Rock band Shaa’ir+Func,
    I have cross-dressed at shows in Mumbai where I have also crowd-surfed.” CROWD SURFED!

    These sentences pretty much sum up the many many problems with the Project and her views at large.

  5. Niharika

    This was more vapid than I thought it would be. She really hasn’t said anything new here. Plus, I really want to know – what in blazes is high art?

  6. Rashmi

    This looks like a completely staged interview. No one can answer all of the given questions in a “chat”. it looks like Youth Ki Awaaz has given her the questions and someone else has written them! With citations of earlier work and all!! What a farce. Do you really think we are that stupid YkA?!

  7. JH

    What is most confusing to me is how caught up you all are on details of the money. Friends, this is called PHILANTHROPY. Monica is NOT asking the public to “foot the bill” for the production of video art, she is asking us to INVEST in social change. Philanthropy is about loving humanity and achieving systemic change. Social activists and artistic visionaries like Monica seek to push our society to a place where Hijras and LGBT people can live openly and thrive the way we are able to – as accountants, clerks, nannies, lawyers, bus drivers – without stigma! Rahul, don’t you think it would be more impactful for us to invest a bit towards a project that will stir and inspire people not only in India, but all over the globe, so that a wave of change is created? Financially supporting Hijras, as you mention, only puts out small fires. It would not solve the problem. This is the difference between philanthropy and charity. People like Monica are trying to inspire our world to upend the status quo and propel our views toward acceptance and love. Why do you all respond with so much hate?

    1. Rahul Ramesh

      First off, there’s no hate mail in message. Kindly re-read. No personal attacks against Monica. Facts are facts and if they sound harsh..well the truth is always harsh.

      If you are looking to do philanthropy, especially to the tune of 50 Lakhs or roughly $78k, you better have an extremely clear plan of action. A credible background wouldn’t hurt either.

      I can make a small list of things, not exhaustive mind you, that she could have done to garner support and funds –

      – Simplify language. I’m afraid using jargon commonly found in, well the so called “hipster” lingual spectrum doesn’t help. It just flies over the average guys head.
      – Be transparent about where the funds are going. We’re talking 50L here. At least give SOME indication on where the hell is this 50L going? It takes about 10 minutes to make a pie chart, if you don’t wanna give specifics.
      – Instead of shooting the pledge video against random backgrounds(an old worn out bike? how is that relevant to this cause?), it would have helped if she went and shot it with the Hijras. Showed their plight in the video. Call to action will be accomplished if you emotionally engage the viewer. What the heck am I gonna do looking at a bike?
      – The video is more focussed on the credibility of its international crew and other unnecessary details. I mean, give stats and facts about the transgenders suffering from discrimination. What the heck do I care about how many views your choreographer has?
      – I do think the rewards are completely futile and almost and insult to the project and its motives.
      – About Monica Dogra is a nice illustrative list of her musical achievements. If she has been so actively involved in LGBT rights, where’s the info? Why should I trust you with my money and not an organization directly?
      – Not a single photo of transgenders or anything LGBT related on her page. Just some random photoshoots of her.
      – Also, just my opinion, but what are those lyrics?!

      Invest in social change goes way beyond suddenly coming out of the blue and trying to make a music video. Someone had rightly pointed out – if everyone donated 15k, it’d mean one full year of shopping for her before she can even get around to working on this.

      And lastly, my point about giving that money to the small number of hijras had an agenda. Make a video of that. Show the world that if they give money to a cause like this, there are human beings who live with dignity and will be grateful to their help. That will truly be investing in equality and change. I’m sorry, but if you think this will not help the problem, a 50 Lakh music video with an arty ambiguous indirect screenplay definitely won’t. I’m afraid to say that the only people who’d actually be understanding it would be the “high” art people. If you know what I mean.

      What’s truly dissappointing is that because of her celeb status, there are people who are blindly agreeing to everything and refuse to accept any critique of what she’s doing. And it’s quite obvious that some of her friends who are writers for zines, are putting out articles talking about how she’s being victimized. Sure some of the language used against her has been incorrect. But not one such article seems to point out the large gaping holes in this project itself, which is what has caused those reactions.

    2. Mogra

      “Facebook is a place that is often used by others to clean up their dirty laundry. One such incident happened recently, when Myna Mukherjee used my FB page to campaign for Monica Dogra and her controversial music video Shiver where she was asking for 50 lakhs for a music video in which she said she would feature Trans people. I was uncomfortable about the post but Myna insisted that this was the only way she could tag people and she got on to my face book and began posting and arguing with my friends who did not agree on the very premise of this video. Right now, I feel used and exploited and violated beyond words! Not only that, Myna also got me to ‘help her draft’ the answers for Monica promising to pay me. Now that the article is out and their purpose is served Myna is refusing to ensure that i get paid instead she sends me messages everyday to pay her back the advance money. Which by the way is a measly Rs 2600/- Such are the practices of people rolling in money with visions of 50 lakh music videos. It is true they are nothing but a bunch of greedy privileged brats with no empathy for anyone but themselves and their fat bank accounts! ” GM

    3. Zishaan

      GM (Georgina Maddox) as clarified this morning. It seems as if you’ve made an attempt to slander this campaign and Myna with false accusations and extremely unrealistic expectations of getting paid in less than 24 hours. See attached post below. , how unprofessional.
      I’m sure the campaign has a legal team who is going to get to the bottom of your accusations and contact you very soon.

    4. Kiz

      EXACTLY! Who are you ? I want you to run for president because you clearly get it. I’m seeing our fellow Indians unable to understand how art can create change, and how it is in fact a strong form of activism. Open some minds through something emotive and beautiful – I can’t wait to see the video and how far it can reach.

  8. mogra

    Minal Hajratwala · FOUNDING POET at The ‘Great’ Indian Poetry Collective · 467
    This project does not speak for or benefit the LGBT community in India, and I urge people NOT to fund it until/unless the artist addresses the community concerns about (mis)representation. There are much better ways to support revolutionary trans art in India.
    One such project is
    (I’m not affiliated with them, just want to share; there are
    many others as well).

    Aarthi Parthasarathy · Following · Co-Founder, Filmmaker, Writer at Falana Dimka

    Hello Monica,
    While I am respectful of your decision to engage with LGBT rights in India, which is a divisive issue to broach as an artist, here is my critique of your project and proposal in its current form –
    – The rewards are really frivolous. They literally frame the whole project as shallow
    and superficial. And this is something that has already gone out and has become a
    very primary factor by which people judge the project.
    – ‘High art project with a visually astounding music video’, this phrasing in the
    proposal worries me, because it is potentially unaware of the caste and class issues that are intrinsically tied to transgender issues in India – which is very, very contentious, and is what the deep problem has been in countless such projects before this. One needs to guard against glamorisation of this set of issues,…

    Sabelo Narasimhan · Online Campaigner at ACLU Nationwide
    I find your language extremely problematic and revealing a lack of understanding of trans communities, the very communities you claim you are trying to support with this video.
    “Biological and non-biological females can interact and engage in a discourse that sheds light on the feminine experience, not limited to gender.” First of all the use of biology here is deeply flawed, as i’m sure any ‘trans 101’ guide online will point out – and then you continue to divide with saying ‘not limited to gender’ as if trans women and cis women are in different gender categories?!

    When you say “this is a watershed moment for transgender rights in India and a
    crucial time where we need solidarity from our Global allies” by ‘we’ do you include yourself as a part of trans communities? Because trans communities and individuals are the ones that need solidarity, so… As a queer and trans person myself, I feel like this project reeks of exploitation, cultural appropriation, colonial missionary zeal, and the ‘white savior complex’ or perhaps in this case, ‘the straight/cis savior complex.’ I wish you had truly been invested in and spent time being an ally to trans communities before launching this project – it would have informed your rhetoric, ideology, and content greatly. And your project would have benefited from that influence. Also you could use your project to actually benefit the trans communities you say you support – and donate funds from the video, rather than raising funds on the backs of people that you don’t represent. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but the annals of history are littered with the ‘best intentions’ of well meaning people trying to help/save/’support’ the poor downtrodden – rather than noticing that we’re quite capable of supporting ourselves, expressing ourselves, and articulating what kinds of help we seek. Just ask, just listen.

    Sabelo Narasimhan · Online Campaigner at ACLU Nationwide

    Lakshmi Shubha · University of Stuttgart

    Here is my 2 paisa – I have heard of Monice Lewinsky.. And I have heard of the song – Monica O my Darling from Caravan film. Never heard of Monica Dogra. This is some shameless attempt at exploiting a good cause to make a super flop video. Lets be clear if Dogra is such an awesome artist – she will not need to pander money for a music video that has zilch to do with LGBT rights. What is her contribution in the LGBT movement? Would advice you to work at grass roots before you claim to venture into this con job.

    Lakshmi Shubha · University of Stuttgart
    I hear Monica is calling everyone 1-1… Waiting for my phone call too so I can
    understand what this high art or high fart is?
    Also, Can someone please educate Ms Dogra that section 377 is still in place and not overturned as she says in her (edited) video (watch at 57secs). Erm I can feel yet another edit and new version of the video coming up at ketto so, Hold off all ye philanthropists and activists before you decide to save the palace on wheels! Rubbish with complete lack of research that gets posted these days… Kuch bhi yaar?

    Priyanka Chhabra · New Delhi, India
    The campaign note leaves me thoroughly confused – is it about the LGBT
    community, the Kochi Beinnale or high art? Or support from the West for issues in India? I think you need to clarify where the project seeks to stand and for whom. Could you please shed some light on what is this “very ancient and integrated in Indian culture legend?? that you want to make” in the form of a music video” that will speak “to all of these communities” with it’s ultimate aim being to find “it’s way into the Fine Art World globally”. There is not one voice in the campaign note from the community you seek to represent, not one person form the community visible in the community you seek to represent, not one person form the community visible in the video note – why are you pegging this on shoulders of the social justice movement in India without even the slightest mention of the work that has gone into making this into a movement [you could have at least linked to a more informed and detailed article about the movement]. Oh let me guess this is a rescue operation.

    Subha Wijesiriwardena · Bangalore, India

    Hello Monica,
    I already left a comment here and I now realise that it could be read as vitriolic and abrasive, which is non-constructive. Which is not what I want. Being non-constructive is of no use to anyone. So let me take another shot at this.
    I think you’ve already read / heard a number of concerns, almost all of which I share. I think perhaps maybe my two cents will be to raise some concerns, which I suppose you could say, are of a feminist nature and some of an ethical nature. I think what I find problematic is that with this Ketto campaign, you are asking us to take you seriously as an ‘activist’ that cares about gender and gender-related identity issues. In that scenario, the image you’ve constructed as an artist poses a problem — ofcourse you are beautiful, of course you are sexy, you don’t have to apologize for …

    Maitreyee Manglurkar · · Top commenter · Mumbai,
    Maharashtra, India

    Subha , I appreciate your composure in handling this matter and the fact
    that you took out time to genuinely explain the scenario. Thank you, for
    Reply · Like · · 29 June at 20:48
    Subha Wijesiriwardena · Bangalore, India

    Reply · Like · 29 June at 22:26

    Anneke Sterling
    i’m very confused as to why you are stating that the US is leading the way in terms of LGBT rights and in particular transgender rights. i find this very problematic. transwomen of color birthed the lgbt rights movement, are experiencing increasing levels of violence and just couple days ago, obama threw a trans women of color out of his “house” to a full room of applause (by her supposed community) for speaking up about it. let that resonate for a minute. queer and trans women of color in particular are experiencing increasing levels of violence. you seem to not only want to ignore
    this but export this model to india, a nation “in need” ? i get that your production
    team is foreign and internationally recognized, but how will funneling a fair amount of the 50 lakhs to them help queer and trans people in india? in what way is this not self promotion? what makes the US a model of success and india a country “in need” according to you? who exactly are you purporting to represent? speak for? is voiceless and in “desperate need of your help”? who benefits from “marriage equality”? i wish these were some of the things you addressed as opposed to how many hits your choreographer has on his youtube video.
    Reply · Unlike · 13 · Follow Post · Edited · 26 June at 23:13

    Pramada Menon
    Thanks for wanting to support, but would be fabulous if the money you were raising was actually being used by the community for something they needed rather than a music video! I am glad you are an ally, but as an ally maybe some more in depth conversation with the people you want to support. There are trans bands and trans singers, maybe you could work with them. Albums have been brought out by them

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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.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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