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What Does Radhika Piramal’s And Tim Cook’s Coming Out Mean For Us?

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When Tim Cook succeeded the late Steve Jobs as Apple’s CEO, he also declared that he was “proud to be gay.”

Cook wasn’t in the closet all these years. He had simply managed to strike a balance between his work and his personal life which includes his sexuality. In deference to Martin Luther King’s famous question, “What are you doing for others?“, Cook described his “trade-off with [his] own privacy” as potentially helpful to young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality. And now, the managing director of VIP Industries, Asia’s biggest luggage maker, has come out about her sexuality.

Source: CNBC TV-18/YouTube

Radhika Piramal, who married her partner in London in 2011, made the bold decision to talk about her sexuality at an event organized by Godrej India Culture Lab. Like Cook, Piramal was also extremely cautious about her private life, but feels publicly embracing her identity would help counter “an atmosphere of fear and intimidation” at home and the workplace for many LGBTQ persons in India.

While Tim Cook’s coming out was followed closely by the SCOTUS ruling in favour of marriage equality, its Indian counterpart has failed Radhika Piramal and other ‘out’ or closeted individuals by staying section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. Which is why queer visibility in the Indian context becomes all the more important when challenging regressive and outmoded laws and attitudes that deny citizens a right to their own bodies and sexual expression. When a high-profile business-person like Piramal comes out, the first wall of silence is broken down. The blinders are removed. A conversation can begin – not just about LGBTQ sensitive company policies but also about demanding that the state uphold equal rights for every citizen.

For many in India, being closeted is akin to self-preservation. Without downplaying how difficult coming out must have been for both Pirmal and Cook, not everyone has the privileges they do. What’s important is that they’re using their privilege to talk about the existence and rights of people of alternate sexualities.

The dominant view of queer people typecasts them as sexual deviants, suffering some kind of mental and physical illness, and in dire need of medical intervention. But queer people have always been about more than their bodies, and the attempt to compress them into just their sexuality is a ridiculous one. Certainly, one has to be careful of falling into the trap of justifying queer existence only through their economic output and value, but seeing queer people in positions of authority and success can be extremely empowering for the community at large, which is essentially Cook’s earlier argument. One of America’s big radio satellite services was founded by Martine Rothblatt, America’s highest paid transgender CEO. Imagine what that can do for young trans teens’ confidence and self-acceptance!

In some ways, business is becoming the great leveller for many minority groups. Organizations like the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is “expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people” in the US, something which could be excellent if it existed in South Asian countries.

At the same time, intolerant and downright hateful attitudes pollute all aspects of life, including commerce. An article by the BBC suggested that there are ‘commercial concerns’ for ‘out’ corporate figures, or corporations supportive of LGBTQ individuals. The anti-queer rage-fest that flared up when Oreo or Doritos so much as sported rainbow colours is indicative of how far behind the general populace of the world seems to be when it comes to equal rights. Given this attitude, having public figures like Piramal or Cook come out of the closet could be bad for business. But one likes to think that the world is moving towards a place of compassion and intelligence, and that the views of the small minded should no longer fetter us.

Radhika Piramal’s decision to declare her sexuality marks another important phase of India’s ongoing LGBTQ history. Her actions may give more people the strength to claim who they are, and, even better, more people the understanding to accept them as they are.

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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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