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4 Ways In Which Online Dating Can Challenge Rigid And Orthodox Mindsets In India

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By Apoorv Pathak:

girl using computerIndia is a fast-changing society. A young nation (which is not a prisoner of past certainties) embracing change, the advent of technology and increased interconnectedness making borders irrelevant to the spread of ideas are factors that facilitate this change.

An important but less noticed change taking place in India is the advent of dating websites. In the past few years, more and more people are logging on to dating sites to find partners for flings, casual sex and even long term commitments.

This unnoticed profusion of dating sites can change Indian society in profound ways. To begin with, it can do for relationships what Facebook and other social media did for friendship, i.e., it can make starting new relationships a more casual, easier and trivial affair. This is because, our social norms, especially in the hinterland, are largely averse to relationships that do not lead to marriage. Getting into a relationship on one’s own, therefore, is not such an easy thing for the average person.

Those who engage in such affairs often do it by hiding it from their parents and relatives and yet such affairs are the subject of gossip. What is worse, in certain instances vigilante groups take it upon themselves to teach ‘morality lessons’ to love birds (like the beating couples receive from Vishwa Hindu Parishad and their ilk on Valentine’s Day). To cut a long story short, currently, the space to engage in relationships is very small despite a demand for such a space. This is the gap dating sites fill and this is the reason they’ve caught the imagination of many.

Dating sites provide a safe, private (free from the prying, judging eyes on the street) space where there is a mutual coincidence of want. This last bit is an essential advantage that dating sites provide. For all these reasons, dating sites can give a fillip to relationships, thereby leading to deep societal transformations that are talked about below:

Rise Of Love Marriages Over Arranged Marriages

Since Indians get fewer opportunities to get into relationships, they, on average, get into a lesser number of relationships than their brothers and sisters in other more open and liberal societies. Thus, they are less likely to find a life partner on their own. So, on reaching the age of marriage, arranged marriage becomes the normal choice.

But with advent of dating sites, this is set to change. With more people getting into relationships and finding their life partners through them, gradually, love marriages will grow relative to arranged marriages.

This will also change the nature of marriage, with marriage becoming more about affection for each other among couples than about raising a family. This will also make marriages less permanent as love marriages don’t carry with them the attendant family pressure to remain together despite a waning interest of the couple in each other.

Break Barriers Of Identity And Open Society

Marriages in India, being predominantly arranged, take place within one’s identity group. This is the most important reason why a mixed society has not developed in India. With an increase in love marriages, this would change.

Love marriages have a greater probability of transcending identity barriers, this will weaken the role of identities such as caste and religion as the next generation would have more diverse identity backgrounds. This can integrate Indian society stratified along caste and religious divisions much more effectively. The ideal of fraternity too will strengthen.

Liberate Women

The worst victims of the prohibition on engaging in relationships are women. They are denied their freedom to dress as they wish or to go out and meet people due to the aversion of ‘traditional’ parents to allow their girl child to get into a relationship. This reflects a possessiveness (where women are considered to be the family’s property; a thing to be safeguarded) arising from a patriarchal mindset. A mature adult not being able to get into perfectly healthy relationships (even one of casual sex) and then being denied basic freedoms is a travesty.

But with dating sites, which the parents can’t monitor or regulate in the same way as they can their child’s activities in the physical world, Indian females can be significantly empowered in their ability to get into consenting relationships. This will liberate women sexually.

As females getting into relationships becomes more common and the society realises its helplessness to swim against the tide, there will be a gradual acceptance of the new reality. This will then translate into an easing of other restrictions as well (like those on dress etc).

Weaken Gatekeepers Of Fake Morality

The outdated notions about sexuality and getting into relationships will weaken once more and more people violate it in practice. Those who consider themselves the gatekeepers of morality, especially with respect to sexuality, will gradually find themselves isolated as their moral code is accepted by less and less people. Also, the power of these vigilante groups to decide what is good for other people will reduce as technology will a provide a space free from their hooliganism. Thus, many of these self-proclaimed guardians of morality will find themselves unemployed. That is one joblessness India wouldn’t regret!

Thus, something as inane as a dating site holds tremendous potential to bring profound changes in society. But with this power comes responsibility. They must ensure that their platform maintains the privacy of its users and is safe from sexual offenders and other impostors who can trick people into abusive relations. But one is not inordinately worried on this count since these dating sites operate in a free market. Therefore, only those who fulfill these necessary conditions will thrive. Those who don’t will fall by the wayside. In this process, the success stories would have not just created great enterprises employing people and paying taxes but would also play an instrumental role in creating a new India. One which is more open, where identities are less rigid, women are liberated and people are not slaves to others’ morality.

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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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