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The Questions We Need To Stop Asking When Someone Is Sexually Harassed

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By Rhea Mahanta:

A usual thing happened today. I got groped again while walking back home. It was drizzling and dusk had set in. A bunch of guys on a bike were speeding towards me from the opposite direction while I was struggling with my umbrella. My focus was on avoiding puddles and the muck from the tyres of speeding cars, not looking out for sexual predators.

Before I knew it, I felt a painful thud on my chest and more than a couple of hands grab my breasts and toss me on a puddle, all within seconds, before speeding away. I could hear them screaming with exhilarating laughter, championing the victorious war cry of ‘SCORE!’. Not far ahead, three young girls burst in amusement and tried to avoid eye contact with me, looking away with guilt and suppressing their laughter at the same time as they crossed my path.

My first instinct was to follow not one, but all the different pieces of advice that opinionated people usually have to offer. I wanted to run after the bike and beat them up. But that was my emotions talking. I wanted to do the intelligent thing and note down the bike’s number. But of course, it was too dark and there were no streetlights. Another voice in my head told me not to react and just keep walking like nothing had happened, to ‘maintain my dignity’.

The latter was the most pathetic of choices, and the actual one that I made. When I continued walking and my brain had the time to absorb what just happened, my mind was rushing with questions that I would have to answer once I told anybody about the incident.

“Where was your pepper spray?”
“You were even dressed decently!”
“You still haven’t ordered a taser gun?”
“You knew it was a bad area.”
“Why didn’t you run after them?”
“You shouldn’t run after them, these kind of boys are vengeful!”
“So you didn’t do anything?”

You see what happened here? Suddenly, I become answerable for the entire incident, whichever way it goes. I contemplated lying for a moment and saying that I tried to attack them with my umbrella. But the truth is, I did nothing. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I had no choice. The boys had sped away and the streets were too dark to take note of the vehicle number.

But you see, no one will tackle the real issues here, the external factors that contribute to such incidents (because the woman is inherently to blame). No one will address the municipal committee as to why the street lights weren’t working or why there were no CCTV cameras. No one will ask the witnesses in my lane (and there were plenty) why they just stood and watched, and did nothing to help.

No one’s raising the right questions because society is conditioned (by whom you ask? Oh, you know, Patriarchy!) to hold the ‘victim’ (as much as I despise the word) liable for what he or she did, and did not do. There doesn’t appear to be much serious discussion on developing means of catching offenders. These incidents continue to be on the rise only because getting away is the easiest thing for these culprits.

We have been dealing with sexual violence the same way we have been dealing with it for centuries. We focus on what the ‘victim’ should or should not have done or what a potential one can do to prevent the crime from happening to her/him, instead of focusing on eliminating the crime itself. This is essentially saying ‘save yourself, let someone else be the ‘victim’.

We as a society have been trying to control the symptom instead of curing the disease. Times have progressed but there appear to have been no solid steps discussed, let alone taken, to ensure that incidents like these do not happen. Little seems to have been done to target the ‘act’ of sexual violence itself. There are only measures for girls to alter their own actions so that the probability of them becoming a target lessens (meaning that someone else’s chances of becoming a target increase).

I thought a lot about whether or not I should publicise a personal experience. But the truth is, it is far from personal. As if the experience itself is not stressful enough, the anxiety of having to answer to family/society and the frustration of not addressing the core problem runs through the minds of millions of individuals who experience sexual violence. Not talking about it is no more different than suppressing the expression of our collective struggle.

We don’t just need to stop asking the wrong questions, we need to start raising the right ones. Imagine what that could do.

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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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