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Banaras Uni Student On The ‘Nauseating’ Condition Of Its Women’s College

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By Anand Singh:

You enter BHU through a gate that sits somewhat unperturbed by the strange dichotomy it creates. A hubbub of confusion to one side and a mirage of calm and relative ease to its opposite. Almost the first sight that catches one’s attention upon entering the majestic campus is a trifle-too-pale entry point to Mahila Mahavidyalaya (Women’s College), known colloquially as MMV.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

MMV was envisioned by its founder as a seat of higher learning for females within the University, where the girls could carry on with business as usual without preoccupying their minds with other mundane considerations, considerations that are so very symptomatic of the temple town. Perhaps their vision was slated to be doomed from the very beginning. Or worse, what is happening within the deeply fortified walls of MMV is representative of a greater malaise plaguing the entire varsity.

Consider this: There is only one professor in the political science department to look after the entire fleet of undergraduate students. While some are lucky enough to have a ‘darshan‘ of the esteemed faculty member during their three-year sojourn at the college, others have to content themselves with fledgling research scholars. Research scholars, who, in most of the cases, buckle under the pressure to engage the students in meaningful lectures while keeping abreast of their research. Too little to ask for, eh?

Aishwarya (surname has been deliberately omitted following her request), a final year undergraduate student of economics at MMV, laments “Strangely ironical is the fact that a university which boasts of one of the most extensive university library systems in Asia should have a constituent women’s college in which the library exists merely for the sake of formality. Seldom do we find a book while looking for it.” What she did not realize is that she was echoing the sentiments of hordes of similar such students who frustrate themselves routinely while searching for a book in BHU’s Central Library.

Furthermore, the girls are expected to comply with the rather infamous ‘8 p.m. dictum’ which says that the hostel inmates living within the MMV premises must not, in any case, breach the pre-ordained deadline. Before this whole narrative starts appearing clichéd, a few things need to be put straight. Not even in the rarest of circumstances (to hell with you if you have some academic business to attend to) permission is granted to stay outside after 8 in the night. Any breach is met with retribution, swift and uncompromising. A threat to cancel the hostel seat is a threat large enough to force the girls to fall in line.

Sir Valentine Chirol said, “All opposition, even in the shape of criticism, is distasteful to an autocracy and apt to be regarded as even pregnant with sedition.” When girls complain about the disgraceful hygienic conditions in the hostel lavatories and in the college, their complaints are countered using this hackneyed diatribe: “Yaha itni problem hai to apne sasural me kaise adjust karogi?” (If you have so many problems here, how are you going to make compromises once you’re married?) This is what the dictator does. Crushing the same fighting and questioning spirit which, it presumes, shall burgeon into a full-blown rebellion one day. And did not Anton Chekhov always maintain that bad habits should be nipped in the bud?

We once found our hostel staff (male) urinating in the bathrooms instead of the lavatories. We tried apprising the Principal of this blatant subversion of rules after our complaints fell on deaf ears in our hostel. We were refused an audience in the most dismissive manner“, recounted a B.Sc student who did not wish to be named. ‘Impregnable libertines’ are seen as a threat to the system. The girls had become precisely that.

Aishwarya recalls the nauseating, grisly scene in which used sanitary pads are frequently hauled up by stray and mangy dogs out of the litter bins. What follows thereafter is a complete travesty of the promise of a clean campus with which the varsity has drugged itself, oblivious of the seething reality.

Life within the towering walls of MMV begins to look appetizing when compared to the ordeals the girls are forced to go through once they venture out of it.

The MMV square is dubbed sardonically as ‘piya-milan chowraha.’ (a vantage point for couples). Girls find it very challenging to tour the campus without feeling grossly insecure. Lewd and bawdy comments coupled with inappropriate gestures stare them in the face at almost every point in the campus, in spite of the heavy security installation and the huge budget of the University’s proctorial board. Here again, my personal experience prepared me to reconcile myself with the actual reality. I was once privy to an incident wherein a proctorial board staff was admonishing a girl for singing out loudly while riding pillion on a motorbike. The incident took place at Vishwanath temple within the campus. Such cases of blatant patriarchy are not isolated. They only go unreported.

The last example to drive home my point. Every year during the University’s youth festival, the space earmarked as girl’s gallery witnesses a flood of inflated condoms, courtesy the boys underneath the glitzy marquee. The entire episode unfolds amidst the august presence of the entire administrative apparatus of the university. Another caveat, reminding us of how Asia’s largest residential varsity chooses to treat its women.

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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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