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Every Time I Step Out Of The House At Night, I Am Constantly Haunted By This Fear

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By Navanita Das:

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Last year I got to know about a corporate fest. That made me excited. I was living under the impression that the fest I had attended two years back at college was the last one, until of course, I decided to go for a post-graduation and had a gala time there. This fest was to begin on a Friday evening and end on Sunday. I was especially keen on going on Friday as the first round of a singing competition was to be held and I wanted to evaluate my position among similar dilettantes. Unfortunately, my friends already had other plans.

Now, that was a problem. I have always been an ‘Ekla Cholo Re’ person so, it’s not the lack of company that troubled me. Rather, the thought of travelling alone at night. But I decided I’d go and see the fest, chanting Shri Ram’s name on the way. Reaching the venue wasn’t as much of a problem since it was not too late in the evening. But I still had my GPS on as a precaution and the auto driver sarcastically commented that “with the GPS most passengers now know where they are going.” I felt a little uncomfortable and was relieved only after I reached the venue.

I thought I’d call a cab around 9:30 p.m. and sat down for the performances. After half an hour I was struck by another disturbing thought. I remembered the Uber incident that had happened recently. “No, I must leave by 9 and I’ll take an auto,” I thought. After another 30 minutes, I remembered another scary experience I had had on a monsoon evening that year when I had left the office at 8:45 p.m. “You might not get lucky every time; even a cat’s got only nine lives,” I thought and got up immediately, hired an auto and felt relaxed when I reached the bustling familiar chowk.

This incident, among many others, brings back the recurring thought of living in a ‘civilised jungle’. A woman can possibly survive longer in the Amazon rainforest or the Sahara desert than the lanes of our ‘civilised’ cities, especially after dark. You have to be careful about not getting hunted down by, well, literally anybody. That reminds me of a colleague’s stance during a women’s safety session in the office that year. “Whenever I am out in the evening, I tell myself I am in constant danger and can be attacked so I’m always on guard.”

Is this normal? No matter how much we advocate the right to dress according to our will, we would still advise our dear ones to dress ‘modestly’ if alone, although being fully covered is still no guarantee of being spared. We are advised by family members not to go out in the night but for people who work even on weekends at times, do we really have an option? Or even if we go out for fun, do we not deserve even that little amount of pleasure in lieu of all the hard work we put in each day?

A woman is expected to dress in a certain manner, talk in a certain manner and must be approved by her family, friends, relatives. Everybody actually and, God forbid, if something wrong were to happen to her, she’s done for life. Even if everybody sympathises with her, she’s always going to be treated as a ‘victim’. She becomes somebody who will carry on her shoulders the crimes of someone else for her entire life. When somebody steals your money and gets caught, who is more embarrassed, you or the thief? But rape is by far the only crime where the ‘victim’ is made to feel shameful. The reason? Well, the ever pervading notion that ‘purity’ is the most precious asset of a woman.

I have a problem with the fact that it is the survivor who loses her ‘izzat’ (respect) when this crime is committed rather than the criminal losing his. Increasing the deployment of forces might help significantly in reducing the frequency of this crime but until the society, as a whole, begins to respect the independence of women and stops measuring their virtue with skewed notions of morality, we shall keep on depriving our women of their basic fundamental rights.

This adulterated freedom suffocates us. We are forced to change our needs, behaviour and attitude, and we even have to force our brains into thinking that this is the way by which we can live peacefully and with acceptance. We do want acceptance of the people around us, of the ones that we love but we want our share of freedom too. So, let us take a little breath of fresh air. Is that too much?

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  1. B

    It gets dangerous at night, for both men and women, everywhere in the world. Am I asking to be robbed, mugged or stabbed for my mobile or wallet when I am out alone at night. The obvious answer is no. However, as a precautionary measure, I can make sure I am home early, and do not venture out late at night. Even in the western world, many parents do not allow their daughters to wear revealing attire, and in many schools and colleges in the west, their are strict rules about what girls can and cannot wear. Also, many parents are more concerned about having their daughters cover up and not date rather than come home one day and tell their parents that they are pregnant. With the promotion of plunging necklines, tight leggings, spandex pants, short skirts, tight jeans, short shorts, tops so deep that when girls bend down accidentally they reveal a lot more than they intended, girls today are bent on showing the world their rights. Please tell me what message women are sending by wearing skimpy clothes? Women deliberately choose to wear revealing attire for attention, and are sexually aggressive, calculating, and predatory. Furthermore, what you wear defines you. If a woman walks in a maternity dress, people will think she is pregnant. If a woman roams around in a police uniform, people will assume she is a police officer. If a woman wears skimpy clothing, people will think she is a …. Also, why does no one talk about girls staring at boys. I get stared at all the time by girls, from weddings and functions to streets and market places. Is girls staring at boys okay but unacceptable the other way around?

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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.

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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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