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Celebrate Love, Don’t Force It Into The Closet: Ruia College Students’ Crucial Message

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By Atharva Pandit

“Kya gay-giri chalu hai yaar! (What is this gay business!)”

“We are proud that our college is hosting an event as socially and politically important as it is culturally significant.” 

“I did not like the idea one bit. I think that gays are unnatural, and by promoting them, we are committing a crime.”

“Such a beautiful theme… to take an initiative as you guys have is absolutely commendable and noteworthy.”

ruia college rose day
Image source: Ruia College Camera Creatives – “In Fócus”/ Facebook

A cocktail of students’ and teachers’ views, these opinions (with the exception of the last one, which was expressed by Sushant Divgikar, who appeared as one of the guests) were shared a few days after the Ruia College Rose Day.

The college, known for its liberal arts and sciences faculty, has been making the rounds in media and academic circles lately – be it for its “College of Excellence” status or for the various government grants being awarded to the college on account of its academic merits. Be that as it may, however, most students and teachers, across Mumbai, have come to agree that one of its biggest achievements, perhaps in its entire history – since being in 1937 – was the hosting of this year’s Rose Day, centered around the theme of “Inclusiveness” which urged all those planning to come for the day to don any of the rainbow colours, and which sought to promote the LGBT rights.

“I was glad to see that the college took up a socially relevant issue, for once,” said Sahil. M. Parsekar, a second-year student and the Coordinator for Team Literary Arts, one of the 13 teams that organized the Rose Day, when asked about the theme. “I think it is absolutely essential for us to raise such topics time and again. As an institution that has certain regard, this not only creates awareness but it also sets a lasting example,” commented Gargi Kowli, another second year student.

The Rose Day, which was promoted across social media sites rigorously, was hosted on the 12th of September. The guests invited included Harish Iyer, an activist promoting awareness regarding the LGBT cause, and Sushant Divgikar, Mr. Gay India and a VJ, who were to judge the Rose King and Queen from among several participants.

“In a world ridden by bigotry, hatred and pain, a voice that screams for love and equality is a blessing that the world needs,” wrote Mr. Iyer in a Facebook post, adding that “sexual diversity” must be celebrated with “all the fervor.” 

ruia college rose day 1
The event was a hit, as can be guessed through the frenzy it created. However, there were some students who were not quite happy with the theme, and seemed largely opposed concept of same-sex love. I realized this when I went around asking students what they thought of the theme and the day, and, when asked whether I could perhaps quote them, some refused, and some demanded that their names be excluded.

“I did not like the idea one bit,” a student said, arguing that even his “parents think it’s unnatural.” This was, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, echoed by many students across the campus, some claiming that while they support the cause wholeheartedly, their parents don’t. “I tried explaining to them why it’s absolutely natural,” another student said, but her parents “are orthodox, and they just wouldn’t listen.” Another said that she couldn’t come for the Rose Day because her parents forbade her to, owing to the theme.

And some who did come began commenting. Some of the students standing behind me giggled and laughed. “Kya gay-giri chalu hai yaar, kya hai ye?” I turned around to answer, but by that time another volunteer had briskly walked across and confronted them. “You,” he said angrily pointing at them, “Are the very reason this event is being held. More of you people should attend it and understand why more of such events are necessary.” And then he asked them to leave, politely but firmly.

It was precisely because of this, most agreed, that the theme was necessary. When it was put forward, it created some debate, but refreshingly, nobody – including the professors and the management – denied it completely. It was discussed, however, that some organizations could object to it, considering that the college is known to be a bastion of the right-wing ABVP. But it was decided that more security shall be added if need be.

The theme, and its success, represent a slow, positive change in the cultural, social and political attitudes of the society in general; perhaps, then, other colleges could take a leaf out of this and create their own, unique ways to promote the rights of the LGBT community, and make their students aware about how beautiful love is, irrespective of gender.

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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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