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UP BJP Ex-VP’s Offensive Remark Against Mayawati Reeks Of Casteism And Sexism

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By Rohini Banerjee:

Dayashankar Singh, the BJP’s Vice President in Uttar Pradesh, stirred up controversy on Wednesday (and was later sacked) after he used a derogatory term for ‘prostitute’ or ‘sex worker’ to refer to BSP chief Mayawati.

The comment was made when he went on a tirade accusing Mayawati of selling her party’s election tickets to the highest bidder, in which he compared these alleged actions to something a sex worker would do. His speech contained not just these horrifyingly sexist comments, but also included casteist barbs where he attacked Mayawati’s Dalit identity.

Hate Speech And Indian Politics

Disturbingly, this kind of hate-speech is nothing new in Indian politics and many (male) Indian politicians have used the ‘prostitute’ analogy again and again—and always in a derogatory sense.

“For the girls who are protesting in JNU, I only have one thing to say that prostitutes who sell their body are better than them because they at least don’t sell their country,” a Haryana-based politician had said a few months back, while talking about female protesters during the unrest at Jawaharlal Nehru University earlier this year. Not only was this a thoroughly offensive, insensitive, and misplaced comment, what was even more disturbing was how many people lauded him and agreed with him on comments sections. The word ‘prostitute’ has become such a common mode of insult in Indian politics that the word ‘presstitute’—a similarly derogatory (and sexist) term derived from ‘prostitute’—has become a commonly used slur against journalists. The word was first used by former Army Chief General V.K Singh, and is now common vocabulary for right-wing politicians and ‘bhakts’ alike.

Why It’s Messed Up

The first and foremost reason why such an analogy is deeply offensive is because of the assumption that sex work is something derogatory, or something degrading. Sex work is as legitimate a form of labour as any other profession is, and the very fact that it’s a stigma stems from our society’s systematic policing of female bodies and sexuality. Hence, the very concept of slut-shaming—using the word ‘prostitute’ as an insult—is absurd.

Sadly, we live in a society where women who take charge of their own sexuality are seen as ‘deviants’, or an aberration (take Qandeel Baloch for example), and hence, are referred to as ‘prostitutes’, ‘sluts’ and so on. But what’s most disturbing is how the woman’s sexuality is targeted first and foremost, and how their entire identity is reduced to that. If it was a male politician in the same situation, his sex life would never be brought up—even when it’s relevant.

A Dalit woman like Mayawati being attacked with a slur like this has a whole different cultural connotation altogether. Extreme caste-based exploitation in India causes thousands of lower caste women to be forced into prostitution against their consent; which even leads to them being continuously sexually abused and being forced to live in less-than-human conditions. Hence, for Dalit women, who often face the dark side of sex work, and continuous patriarchal and caste-based violence, this slur takes on a whole different meaning.

So, when our political leaders use such language—the very leaders who are meant to represent the people and govern the state—their supporters and followers are also encouraged to do so (and get away with it), without even realising the implications of what they’re saying.

This has been going for a while now—whether it be former BJP leader Pramod Mahajan comparing Sonia Gandhi to Monica Lewinsky (who, ironically, also had to face a fair share of slurs directed at her sexuality) and insinuating that she’s adulterous, or Mulayam Singh Yadav’s horrific statements justifying rape—and no one has really ever held these politicians accountable for spewing such sexist tripe.

Politicians in our country get away with the most horrific kind of hateful and divisive language—whether it be a slur about prostitution, or casteist remarks, inciting Islamophobic violence, and so on and so forth. But how long can this go on? A political leader or representative should not just be dignified, but also informed and unbiased. But sadly, that isn’t the case in India. Whether things will really change, and politicians will become aware of the implications of perpetuating the kind of hate that they do, only time will tell. But till then, all we can do is try and call their prejudiced and regressive thinking out as much as is possible.

Featured image credit: Mayawati: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images; Dayanand Shankar’s photo shared on Facebook.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, 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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