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‘Not A Day Has Passed When We Don’t Discuss Which Boy Is Harassing Us’

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As told to Amnesty International India:

Does sexual violence affect all women and men in the same way? Where are the commonalities and differences? Where is the stigma located? We took these questions to six different individuals from various backgrounds, as part of our campaign ‘Erase The Shame’, to break the silence around sexual violence.

In an interview with Amnesty India, Bindiya, a law student from Bangalore, shares her own experience on the stigma and silence around sexual violence, and what it takes to speak out about it.

Read on for excerpts from the interview.

Q: As a woman, can you share some of your experiences from campus?

A: In our campus, from the parking lot to the canteen, one feels a sense of insecurity – What you’re wearing, who is looking at you – a type of fear lingers, when you leave the house, where is it you’re going and what kind of clothes should you wear. Being a woman, there is always a hesitation.

In our society, the way we are brought up, the way our surroundings are, there’s always a pressure on women on how they present themselves. This doesn’t apply to other genders. Women are told to be responsible, careful to avoid and prevent anything that could go wrong.

Q: Can you share any experience, yours or anybody else’s on sexual violence?

A: I drive a scooty. We have to park it in the parking lot. One can notice that there is a group of boys in the parking lot – which includes students and outsiders. These people often pass lewd comments, making you feel odd. The way vehicles are parked in the parking lot, I often need help in taking my scooty out. These boys will offer to help, but to them it is just an opportunity. Helping is not their aim, their aim is to talk to us. They don’t understand if you clearly indicate you don’t like it. It doesn’t matter to them if it is making you uncomfortable. They somehow want you to acknowledge their existence, your disinterest doesn’t deter them. They enjoy it. It’s happened many times to me.

Even around the college, there will be some boys who will comment on your clothes, body shame you if you’re fat or thin. It doesn’t mean that they’re doing this because they like you and want to talk to you. It’s because they want to bother you or humiliate you in public, because they know you won’t answer back to them. And it happens in a lot of colleges. Another incident is that of my friend. There is a boy in my college, who is not even a student but hangs around our college. He stalks my friend to her hostel, and then back to college. He follows her everywhere. He found out her phone number. Then they would send texts and calls to bother you. I’ve spent five years in college now and not a day has passed when we girls don’t discuss about which boy is harassing us. It’s like a daily routine now.

Q: Why do you think people don’t talk about such issues more? When we talk about shame, especially relating to incidents of sexual violence, why don’t people discuss this?

A: According to me, for people, discussing such issues is a taboo. For example, men don’t feel shame in urinating publicly on roadside. But a girl reporting sexual violence is a matter of shame. If something happens to a girl, it’s her own fault. Then why would you talk about your own fault? Because people will assume if you raise your voice against sexual harassment, you are to be questioned and blamed. And who wants to be blamed for something that isn’t your fault. And who will you share it with. Your parents? They will say you should have dressed properly, you should not have gone out late. You should ignore it, be quiet and keep walking. Eventually it will stop. But this is wrong. Till the time you don’t report it, till there is no action against such people, there won’t be a fear that this is wrong and must be stopped.

Next is the police. They often would not take you seriously if you report against sexual harassment. For them it is not a big deal. They will say if something very serious happens then we will take action. And what will you report – somebody passed a lewd comment about you? It made you feel bad or uncomfortable? That is not enough. Nobody in our society will encourage you to take action. Till you don’t get that push and encouragement around you, taking action alone is very difficult. Even you begin to feel, if this happens daily, if it is happening to others too it must be normal. You get immune. You tend to accept it. People begin to treat such incidents as a piece of gossip that they will discuss and then forget. They know, even if you do report it, in return no action will be taken. That is why I think most people don’t report sexual violence.

Q: How can we reduce this feeling of shame and stigma related to sexual violence? Like you said, there are many problems, what can be the solution?

A: To deal with this first thing is the individualistic approach. You should feel something wrong has happened to you and it must be reported. Whether somebody takes action or it or not is another thing, you should raise it at least. I want to share a similar experience. I used to take driving lessons. My instructor was very touchy – I told him, “Please don’t touch me, just tell me and I will understand. Do not put your hand on my thigh to teach me.” But he probably thought I wasn’t serious or was just being shy. But it made me feel uncomfortable. When I shared it with my mother and she said, “OK then you should discontinue your driving classes.” But this is not a solution. Your parents should encourage you to pursue it and report. Eventually with my mother’s support I filed a non-cognizable complaint against the instructor, as a result of which I stopped the classes and he was ordered to relocate. You sometimes get help, but you have to be strong as well. Talk about it, the taboo has to be erased. You have to talk about it and do your bit.

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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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