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Memories From Delhi Queer Pride 2016: A Sense Of Revolt But Not Aggression

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Protests are a hallmark of an active democracy, of all democracies actually. But something that can be unique to India is a celebration of its diversity. This is what I witnessed last Sunday at the Delhi Queer Pride Parade. It was a gathering of a large group of people with a common cause: to fight discrimination. But it wasn’t a protest; it was a celebration.

Queer pride parades happen all over the world, but what was unique about this was the coming together of people from many other walks of life; the Dalits, the Adivasis, women, and persons with disabilities, among other groups. It was a beginning at that, and even though people from other groups or their supporters didn’t make it in the numbers, one would have liked, the challenges they face had a voice. This needs to be allowed to grow and become something that can absorb the many voices being raised against the growing forms of oppression in our country.

It was a casual Sunday and life was moving along at a sluggish pace. Actually, I was sleeping when suddenly I learned that because of my sheer stupidity and laziness, I had missed attending a talk by Ravish Kumar at the Times Lit Fest. Out of desperate unwillingness to let a Sunday go waste, frantic Facebook event searches followed. I learned about the Queer Pride Parade and was like, “Let’s do this”. But then ‘introvert’s block’ kicked in, and I went looking for all possible reasons to not do something alone.

After failed attempts to get tickets for ‘Dear Zindagi’, and thanks to a thousand tantrums my friends threw, in my frustration, I found the determination to catch a metro to Barakhamba and be a part of something amazing.

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What was very unique about the whole setting was that even though there was a sense of revolt, there weren’t any signs of aggression or frustration; it was a very happy occasion and could easily have been mistaken for an Indian ‘baraat‘ (wedding procession). There was a dhol, and people were singing and dancing around it. Someone even brought a hula hoop.

There were many moments that would remain unforgettable. I finally got to say, ‘Azaadi’ in the ‘Azaadi slogan’ made famous by the JNU movement. “Sex karne ki azaadi. Sex na karne ki azaadi” (freedom to have sex, freedom to not have sex). Besides voicing support for LGBT freedom, it also brought into focus issues like marital rape and highlighted the importance of consent. Many other versions focused on a spectrum of issues faced by the various minority groups. I witnessed first hand the true power of this chant; its fluidity. To be able to get absorbed into any protest, irrespective of its nature, and to turn it into the voice that seeks freedom from the oppression. This makes its appeal universal and its effect unifying.

The amalgamation of all these issues of national importance into the LGBT pride parade is what I find uniquely Indian. I am not aware of something similar happening in other countries. People need to unite and support each other if any meaningful movement against the hateful campaigns of right-wing organisations is to be realised.

The cheeky placards with quirky messages added a unique voice to the parade. “Baagon me bahaar hai?” was something I chased down, to click a picture of. “Baagon me bahaar hai, humko tumse pyaar hai!” was something I missed. I guess, I did find a bit of Ravish Kumar after all. The fact that these messages have found a place on placards is a good sign. It shows that people are coming together in questioning the government and are shunning its various agents that try to suppress its criticism. But by far, my favourite message on a placard was the one about Fawad Khan and Ramdev which was put together by Japleen Pasricha as I later found out through Facebook.

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Lending support to the march were many little kids riding on the shoulders of their parents or siblings. Such experiences go a long way in nurturing a sense of acceptance, love and respect, and ought to leave a lasting impression. What was even wonderful was to spot a mother, in her sixties maybe, who was accompanying her twenty-something son. She seemed a little overwhelmed by everything but the fact that parents are making an effort to understand their children, in ways they probably never imagined, is something encouraging to find. There were also a couple of e-rickshaws for persons with disabilities, to ensure that no one felt left out and could march along.

This is something I have learned about introverts; they like being alone a lot, away from people, but when they are among them, they get really uneasy if they find themselves alone. Maybe this is just true for me, but I would have run away had I not found some company. I started talking to a girl from Miranda House, who studied literature there and was a very wonderful person to talk to. She helped me survive the whole event, to help me focus on the things around me and not feel awkward all the time. When I told her that my name is Gaurav, she pointed out the poetic significance of its Hindi meaning and of my presence at a pride parade (Gaurav translates to pride); something I assume comes naturally to a literature student.

I was also approached by a guy who wished me ‘Happy Pride’ and told me that his guy friend found me attractive. I am not even sure how I reacted, but I think I wished him back, thanked him and told him that I am not gay. I will try to do better the next time; maybe I will go up to the guy and say the same, shake hands but also wish him a good life. If anyone reading this can recommend a better way to act in such a situation, do share.

The march ended at Jantar Mantar, where a few performances had been organised. For me, Jantar Mantar has outgrown its significance as a historical monument and has now become a place where history is made. It is the centre of public protests in the capital. As it was getting late and it was my first time there, I wanted to soak in as much as I could. I decided to break away from the crowd and walk around a bit.

There were about a dozen camps, each put up for a different cause. It was already dark, and most of the tents stood empty. But it was easy to make out from the many posters and banners there, what it would have looked like during the day. There were camps set up in protest against the government of Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu and Kashmir, to demand rights for the lesser privileged and minority groups, and to demand justice for rape survivors and murder victims. There were camps set up by ex-servicemen regarding OROP and army pension schemes. BJP supporters who have been dragging the army into senseless parallels to validate their hateful arguments would do well to visit these. The variety of protests, the kind of voices that were present, and the space different opinions enjoy here represents the true spirit of democracy.

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The whole experience took me back to my childhood, when we learned about ‘Unity in diversity’. I wonder if after writing really long answers in our examination, on this ‘important’ topic, did we really learn how to give space to diverse opinions and lifestyles, did we really build upon it?

We learned about it quite early on, but it was something that was never built on. Traditionally, the entire concept was unevenly skewed towards ‘diversity’ while falling short in its focus on ‘unity’. The language was designed to overwhelm us with numbers; hundreds of languages, a thousand religions, we were told, and as a result, the human lives behind the numbers got overlooked. We were too engrossed in the specifics that its spirit escaped us. Our textbooks were focussed on engineering a sense of pride towards our country’s unity. We were effectively blindfolded to the challenges it faces and were never motivated to resolve these issues. While various diverse groups were mentioned in our books, their unique problems were not. We grew up feeling proud of our legacy but were never in a position to strengthen or sustain it. Unity and diversity effectively remained two separate concepts for us, and we never learned how to create an effective synergy between them. Maybe our education wasn’t complete in this sense, and we still have unfinished homework at hand.

We were never told about the LGBT community at school. Maybe children are now. We never developed an understanding of their lives and the challenges they face. We weren’t told anything. Yet, if one truly strived to uphold our country’s central character, its ‘Unity in diversity’, this understanding would come naturally.

I find it to be democracy’s defeat when it is reduced to be a reflection of the majority voice. Its true ideal is to be a reflection of every voice. And its true achievement when the majority voice has space for the various minority voices. When everyone speaks up for everyone. That is what we must strive for. If you wondered whether I am either L or G or B or T to be writing about LGBT issues, this is not happening. Everyone should be raising these issues.

“Of the people, by the people, for the people is meaningless if it’s not about all the people.” – Anex Stormrider

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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