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The Reality Of The Struggles Of LGBT+ People In India Left Me Stunned When I Found Out

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By Tina Acharya:

A still from ‘The Visit’. Source: YouTube.

Last year there was a YouTube advertisement depicting lesbians that created ripples in social media with three millions hits. The ad was produced by an apparel company Anouk for their ethnic wear collection with the punch line ‘Bold Is Beautiful’.

I must admit, I was not one among those first three million YouTube visitors who watched India’s first lesbian advertisement The Visit and made it go viral. I didn’t watch it, not because I wasn’t aware of it but, because I have never been interested in issues concerning the LGBT community. To be honest, I was one those people who treat issues related to the LGBT as taboo. So, I hardly ever read anything about them, other than for general knowledge when ‘Section 377’ hit the headlines.

Even Manabi Bandopadhyay, India’s first transgender college principal, didn’t interest me enough. One can say that I was quite indifferent, if not insensitive, about them, their problems and struggles. In fact, things wouldn’t have changed had a friend of mine not suggested that I explore further about the community. I would never have known about their struggles and their reality. That is until I saw The Visit.

As I explored (a bit unwillingly), I was stunned to discover the reality. The advertisement, The Visit, actually made me re-visit my biased perceptions.

Homosexuality – how uncommon it is, you may say – is a reality that has existed on earth since time immemorial. Our scriptures have prominent characters who were homosexual. The character of Shikhandi in the Mahabharata is a famous example. One can find enough evidence of it in the rock paintings of Ajanta and Elora as well.

However, I really wonder why such famous characters are never found in modern history. For example, we never get to hear the story of a lesbian or gay freedom fighter. Why? Did they not exist? Or were they never recorded, or were they edited out? Why have their achievements (I don’t feel that there are none) never been made a part of our collective memory?

In fact, it is a mystery as to why and when the LGBT community became unacceptable in our social life when ancient scriptures and art forms clearly have depictions of them? I didn’t find any time-line of our changing perceptions of them. They are present outside of our temple sculptures and ancient, and not-so ancient, scriptures as well. You know it, I know it and everybody else knows it. But the very mention of this subject is treated as a crime. It is taboo and cannot be discussed among family members, let alone accepting someone from amongst us who is gay or lesbian. The taunts and ridicule are unbearable.

It is really appalling that our society and culture doesn’t accept these individuals as regular human beings. Some cultures treat them as unnatural aberrations while others consider them to be diseased. Some homosexual persons are ‘treated’ with something called ‘corrective rape‘, often perpetrated by family members, to change their sexual orientation. How terrible this is! Further, they struggle in society to find a source of livelihood to support themselves, to find an accommodation and even to feel accepted at social gatherings or functions. All this, while fighting the perennial problems of hate, suspicion and the mocking glances of people.

As we know, like any other living beings, humans too, have the natural urge for sex that is vital to their well being. It is unfair and insensitive to discriminate against people just for having a different sexual orientation. It doesn’t make them any less human, does it? It is insanely inhuman to judge them unfairly because their sexual orientation is not in line with social ‘norms’. Every individual has a legitimate right to choose the kind of sex they want. Whether it is moral or immoral should be left to the individual’s wisdom.

Section 377 (I don’t know why it was drafted at all) is inhuman as it prohibits a sizeable community of people from leading a normal life. It’s time now to scrap it immediately and to recognise their identity as human beings. For the LGBT community, it will be a start. But they would still have a long way to go before they are accepted by the majority.

The society needs to revisit some uncomfortable realities instead of being so rigid and imposing the majority’s opinion. We must understand that our opinion about them is not their reality, but our opinion certainly affects their reality.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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