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Threatened For Speaking Up For Minorities, How I Stood Up To Online Bullies

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Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

By Paroma Ray:

In March of 2015, my college had organised a talk by Ms Christine Lagarde, the then IMF Chief. As a student of political science, looking at things from a critical perspective becomes second nature, and it is exactly from this vantage point that I asked a question to Ms Lagarde at the end of her talk. My question was regarding the vulnerable position of minorities in the current politico-economic scenario. While I knew that it would get a mixed reception I was not prepared for what was in store for me.

Within hours of the live telecast, memes were being circulated with the hashtag “NDTVGIRL”. Vile comments were posted on social media, and my Facebook spam inbox was filled with messages ranging from people asking me “how much you charge per night for Muslim men” to “benevolent well-wishers” asking me not to “ask ignorant questions”. Rumours were being spread that my question was “planted” and that I was an anti-national element placed by a political party to humiliate the country in front of an international personality.

I initially chose not to react hoping that things would die down. But soon I found myself tagged in a status by an acquaintance who had asked me out earlier and whom I had politely turned down. He had this opportunity to seek revenge, and he publicly shamed me by exposing my profile to several angry haters. I couldn’t understand why a question that was so commonsensical to me and my peers in college, alienated and angered thousands of people. Staying silent was no longer an option so I penned down a status of my own, articulating my stand on the issue.

After posting the status, people on my friends’ list were largely supportive and commented to make their support known. Online newsgroups shared my status and I got extremely positive responses to those news pieces. This positive reception made me feel more grounded than ever in my beliefs, and I was able to recover quickly due to the constant support from friends, family and teachers.

I was touched, when a friend of mine joined a social media platform, just so that she could counter those who were targeting me online. My peers in college also wrote down long statuses in support of me.

These messages created a chain of positive support, and people I barely spoke to, began reaching out to me with encouraging words. I don’t think I have ever received such overwhelming wishes, not even on my birthday! My mother (who was deeply shaken by the sexually explicit threats that she had read about me) made sure to sound brave and strong over the phone while talking to me, and several of my teachers extended their support to me and made sure I knew that they would be there for me whenever I needed them.

Yet, despite all the support I received, I am well aware that certain parts of my identity carry with them markers of privilege, and to a large extent, those privileges protected me from greater harm. Had I been from a different community, perhaps the degree and kind of hate coming my way would be much sharper, and more vile. When a person sends you a message saying “you should be raped publicly in order to be taught not to embarrass your nation” he legitimately believes that sexual assault is a valid weapon to put diverging women in their place even though he might not actually carry out his threat. Such messages made me realise that online bullying isn’t just a virtual phenomenon; it’s a manifestation of a larger trend in our society.

For instance, a friend of mine was bullied recently for her skin tone. But a large number of us immediately jumped to her defence and the bullies were completely outnumbered and outwitted. They deleted their comments and one of them even apologised to my friend on private chat.

I think people realise that bullying isn’t humorous and more and more people are standing up for each other.

I would like to end with a little advice – for those who have never experienced online bullying before, be careful not to silence those who do speak out. Support them even if you have ideological differences. Most importantly, be willing to listen when someone does speak out.

As for those who have faced such harassment, things do get better. Even if you do not find support in your immediate surroundings, you will find a source of strength in the multitude of us living in different parts of the world because we are absolutely unequivocal on one thing – the rejection of all forms of bullying.

Paroma is pursuing her Master’s at a prominent university in New Delhi.

Featured Image Credit: Kaboompics/ Pixabay

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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.

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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 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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