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This Is How Brutal 2016 Was For LGBTQ South Asians

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While 2016 has been a year full of turmoil in terms of world politics, it has also been a year where the LGBTQ community has had to face numerous atrocities in the form of outright hate crimes, or emotional and verbal abuse. This was the year when the shooting at Orlando’s ‘Pulse’ gay club claimed multiple queer victims and left the whole world shaken, but closer home, in South Asia, things were equally disconcerting, and violence and discriminatory practices against our LGBTQ population ran rife.

Here are some of the events that shocked us, terrified us, and made us ponder the future of LGBTQ rights in our part of the world:

The Murder of LGBTQ Activists In Bangladesh

In the past year, Bangladesh has suffered a major blow to free speech as cases of extremist violence against writers and journalists have been on the rise. One of the most horrific attacks, however, was on Bangladeshi LGBTQ rights activist Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s first queer magazine “Roopbaan”, and Tonoy Mojumdar, another fellow activist and writer. Both were hacked to death in late April. Being LGBTQ in Bangladesh is precarious, and, due to a law that criminalizes homosexuality, the community functions largely underground. Manan and Mojumdar’s brutal murder is further evidence of the atmosphere of fear and danger that constantly shrouds people of alternate sexualities within the country.

The Pakistani Trans Activist Who Was Shot, Then Neglected Medically

Pakistan’s transgender community is extremely vulnerable at the moment, as several cases of hate crimes against them have emerged all through the year. However, the most shocking instance of all was when trans activist Alisha was shot multiple times in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and then, when rushed to a nearby hospital, lost her life due to the discrimination and negligence shown by medical staff. According to reports, the reason there was a significant delay in getting Alisha the treatment she needed was because the hospital staff couldn’t decide whether to put her in the ‘male’ or ‘female’ ward. Even apart from that, she was taunted and severely mistreated by medical officials because of her gender identity, and was denied proper care, which ultimately proved fatal.

The Lesbian Couple Who Attempted Suicide In Mumbai

While this was a case of self-inflicted violence, it was still a direct result of the emotional and physical trauma caused by the internalized homophobia in Indian society. A lesbian couple from Mumbai attempted suicide as their relationship became significantly threatened when they were outed against their consent. Though both women survived, the incident cruelly exposed how dangerous the stigma against homosexuality can be.

When A Talk Show Host Verbally Harassed A Queer Couple On TV

In a truly shocking show of transphobia and homophobia, the host of Telugu talk show “Bathuku Jataka Bandiharassed two of her guests on air because they were a queer couple. The episode in question revolved around the host constantly shaming a 20-year-old woman and 23-year-old trans man who wanted to get married to each other, and included her saying things like: “Aren’t you ashamed for staying with another girl? I will thrash you and break your legs for doing this.” 

Not only did she threaten them with physical violence, but also asked invasive questions about their sex life, exposing our society’s horrifyingly regressive attitudes to queerness.

The Death Of Trans Activist Tara

This is the hate crime that proved to be a wake-up call for the entire nation, as various LGBTQ groups, individuals, community-based organizations (and so on) rallied to demand #JusticeForTara – the trans activist who was burnt alive in Chennai on November 9. Tara, who was an outreach worker in Kerala, had reportedly gone to recharge her phone near Pondy Bazaar police station when she was accosted by the police, accused of soliciting, and then taken into custody. Tara had managed to call two of her friends for help, but when they arrived, she was found lying dead outside with significant burns on her body. The circumstances surrounding her death became cause for suspicion and led to nationwide protests, and a petition demanding justice.

When Trans Women Were Harassed At ATM Queues

Demonetisation has proven a significant blow to the Indian trans community because of the cash crisis, but it has become further cause for violence and harassment against trans people. 23-year old transwoman Khushi was heckled and met with transphobic taunts when she was at an ATM queue, while Ritika, another transwoman, was sexually harassed. Neither woman received any help or intervention from authorities, and instead, were met with further transphobia.

It’s scary that instances such as these continue to take place, as most South Asian countries continue to criminalize and stigmatize alternate sexualities. Perhaps there is no overarching solution other than spreading awareness about LGBTQ issues and giving LGBTQ identities the visibility and acceptance they deserve. Till then, all we can hope for is that these events spur us to do better in 2017.

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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 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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