This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Pamela Eapen. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How I Unlearned Things Like ‘Being Gay Is A Sin’ And Accepted People For Who They Are

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The world would have us believe that everything is divided into black and white. Right and wrong. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” they say.

There’s just one problem with this concept – it leaves no room for the natural process of change which is, by definition, a grey area.

Learning To Judge, Condemn And Vilify

These are the three fundamentals of being an extreme conservative Indian. I lived a significant portion of my life believing that everything was black and white. Growing up in a conservative South Indian Christian family, my views on what was black and what was white were very specific. Homosexuality was against the Bible, dating before marriage was against our culture, sexuality was a shameful topic and girls were to dress modestly and be submissive.

However, my environment being that of the far more liberal South Africa, television was rife with gay people, dating Indians, sex education programming. And any time girls in skimpy outfits came onscreen, one of my parents would inevitably make the irony-drenched remark of “Poor girl, did they forget to put clothes on her?” It was confusing, being surrounded by the seemingly overly-tolerant culture of the society I was growing up in, and yet being told to conform to the restrictive traditions of another entirely.

Learning To Unlearn Hatred: It’s Harder Than You’d Think

As a result, by the time I reached adolescence, my views had evolved. But much in the way a broken bone heals incorrectly if set badly, these views had all the wrong undertones: Gay people could do what they liked – as long as they didn’t do it in front of me. Dating before marriage was fine – as long as both parties were of the same religion and meant to get married someday. Being open with your sexuality was fine – as long as you didn’t complain about being called a slut for it.

I had just dipped my toes into the pool of grey area – that scary no-man’s-land between black and white – and I was finding myself intimidated by the vastness of its indefinability. I tried to cling to “right” and “wrong” as infallible concepts, but the more I tried to tell myself to “hate the sin, not the sinner“, the more I found myself questioning the rationality behind what I had been told all my life. If being gay was a sinful choice, why would so many people choose to be gay when they know they would be mercilessly persecuted for it? What was the difference between the girl in a crop top, and the aunty in a sari with half her belly showing?

Learning To Love (Or Simply Not Care Either Way)

Slowly, I began to temper my blind faith in convention with doses of logic, the opinions of my peers, and reality checks. After ignoring everything that didn’t fit my taught ideals for the better part of a decade, I finally started opening my mind properly to other possibilities – to the shades of grey.

Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community attend a Rainbow Pride Walk in Kolkata on December 13, 2015. Marching in solidarity and in celebration of their diversity, the LGBT community demanded equal legal, social and medical rights.
Photo credits: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

I discovered people who could be both morally sound and fully aware of their sexuality. I met gay and straight couples alike, and realised that nothing about a person’s orientation affected me (and that being present for PDA made me uncomfortable regardless of the couple’s orientation). People expanded beyond my 2D vision of their morality, and one day I found that I could no longer see in black and white.

My family began to see that I had grown completely apart from the ideas we had all once shared. The “Poor girl, did they forget to put clothes on her?”comment was abruptly parried with “What’s wrong with her clothes? It’s her body, she can dress however she wants.” I found myself in a two-hour long debate with relatives as to why I didn’t believe being gay was a choice or a sin. It was a far cry from the condemnatory attitude I had once aped.

Learning To Progress: It’s An Ongoing Process

It’s been a long and confusing journey, and it is nowhere near done confusing me. I am constantly surprised by new kinds of people, unexplored concepts and foreign ideals. But the world looks so much better when you’re not judging everybody around you for their very identities. This new state of mind would be unavailable to me if I had not been, at whatever point in my life, willing to open my mind to the possibility of an opinion other than my own. The fact of the matter is that change – growth – is only possible when you enter the grey.

In a nutshell, growing up strictly conservative is like sitting inside an open cage with a cloth over it. People tell you that the cage is all you’ll ever need, and that everything beyond the cloth is bad – and for a long time you let yourself believe them. But for those of you peeking out from under the cloth, trying to catch a glimpse: it’s scary, but it’s okay. It’ll be slow, and baffling, and sometimes you’ll feel ignorant; but I can promise that it’ll all be worth it in the end to look around at the world and realise that there is far more worth loving than hating. Let yourself explore concepts beyond the familiar. Allow new ideas and mind-sets to challenge and change you. You’ll thank yourself for it one day.

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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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