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Why Did A College In Kerala Expel Students For Living Together? Because, ‘Sanskar’!

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By Karthik Shankar:

If anyone wanted more evidence that the Indian state has comfortably plonked itself in our bedrooms, the recent Kerala High Court judgement upholding the rustication of two students for living together is another in a long line of ‘Sanskari’ court rulings. The students, both second year English literature students from Mar Thoma College of Science and Technology, were apprehended by the police on the complaints of their parents. The college then constituted a five-member disciplinary committee, made up completely of senior faculty members, which made the decision of expelling the two students.

At this juncture when the woman filed a petition against the expulsion, the Kerala High Court could have stepped in and reiterated that two consenting adults having a sexual relation and cohabiting is a fundamental right. Instead, the entire judgement reeks of puritanism, is worded regressively and sides with the management of the college.
With regards to the students having cohabiting, the judgement reads, “This is not a mere case of falling in love; but two students taking the drastic step of eloping and living together without even contracting a marriage.” Apparently, the only way young people should act on their sexual impulses in this country is through the benign confines of marriage.

Yet the judgement also notes that the boy was not of marriageable age. In other words, the boy was over 18 but not 21. India is one of the few countries in the world which continues to have a discriminatory policy with different marriageable ages for men and women. Despite 18 being the age of majority in the country, the only rights adults can exercise apparently are voting and picking up arms to defend the country. Obscene acts such as drinking and premarital sex are not part of this bundle of rights. Moreover, what if the man had been of legal marriageable age, would the court have respected his decision to be part of a relationship without a marriage certificate?

The judgement also has the temerity to refer to the college management’s benevolence as they agreed to issue the transfer certificates to the students without referring to the ‘misconduct’. It also ominously reads, “when taking such drastic step for the sake of love, as adults, they should also be ready to face the consequences.”

The Kerala High Court ruling is not surprising. Our courts have often taken a very parochial and patriarchal view of relationships. Last year the Supreme Court ruled that live in relationships subject to certain conditions (which included the woman performing ‘housewife’ chores) will be considered marriage under law. We seem to have an inability to even understand relationships that are not sanctified by religious ceremonies or a piece of government paper.

The judgement also engages in some good old-fashioned castigation of the woman’s choices by pinning the blame of the ‘drastic consequences’ on her ‘impulsive act’. Why does our political and legal machinery act with this nanny state mentality, particularly when it comes to women? Clearly the right of women to live their lives as they see fit is invalidated when it clashes with the wishes of their family members or college administrations.

This curtailment of our bodily integrity happens over and over. It’s justified under various guises. Culture. Honour. Discipline, in this case. The judgement says that “[t]he Management’s concern of setting an example to the other students and ensuring maintenance of discipline in the educational institution cannot be easily brushed aside.” Clearly enforcing a set of dubious behavioural standards takes precedence over the rights of the couple.

At a time when Qandeel Baloch‘s honour killing is sending shockwaves through the subcontinent, we all the more need to fight to create an environment that protects and nurtures those who step outside the rigid dictates of our conservative cultural codes. Given that Kerala is the state where the Kiss of Love protests originated, I can only hope that this becomes another cause célèbre among its youth.

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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.

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Read more about the campaign here.

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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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