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Dear Online Bully, Your Rape Threats Cannot Silence The Activist Within Me

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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.

I am a social activist by profession and my job is to help uplift the lives of acid attack survivors. Through our Facebook community “Make Love Not Scars” we have been able to raise much awareness around the issue. However, it was our campaign #SkillsNotScars, which proved to be a game changer of sorts.

Our aim was to help find employment for acid attack survivors based on their skills and interests, rather than their scars. So, we posted a series of video CVs on Facebook, featuring nine young acid attack survivors speaking about their interests and skills, and their hopes for a bright future. This online beauty tutorial by survivor Reshma was viewed over 16,000 times!

Ria Sharma (centre), with community members of Make Love Not Scars. Posted on Facebook.

So compelling were the videos that for each survivor we received not less than 1,500 employers showing an interest in hiring the young women. Needless to say, the campaign was hit, and I rest assured that each of these young women shall have a bright future.

You would have thought that such good work would only have brought on praise and support. But no. My bubble of positivity was recently shattered so violently that I’m still picking up the pieces.

In the past, I have received both marriage proposals and sexually explicit and abusive messages, online. I have even received death threats, and for the last few years have been bullied by this guy whose messages are abusive, threatening (largely sexual threats) and question everything from my work and integrity to my character. I thought I had seen everything and could not be shaken up, considering that I deal with trauma on a daily basis. But when I was in New York for a fashion show with one of the survivors I work with, my bully thought it was important to point out that the purpose of my visit was to be “with other men”, and his message addressed me as “the girl who deserved to be raped”. Through this single message of typically chauvinistic character assassination, he reduced my hard work to nothing. The experience shouldn’t have got to me, but unfortunately, it did. How could someone sitting on the outside make me feel so low about myself?

I realise that this was something I should not have taken sitting down. But the truth is, I haven’t done anything about being bullied online. Until now, that is. Now, I’m choosing to use this platform to address my bully, and write an open letter to the man who thinks it is his birthright to be able to harass me, day in and day out. So, here goes…

Sir,

I do not know you, I have never met you and you do not intimidate me. I deal with the repercussions of people with the same mindset as you – who believe they will only “respect women if they respect us” – every single day. I see firsthand, what men like you do to women like me, if we dare to ignore you even though we don’t know you. I mean how dare I have the audacity to ignore you? You are a man, I must obey and I must reply even though I don’t know otherwise I am automatically branded as a man hating feminist because I chose to exercise my right to say no. I am sorry it couldn’t work between us, I have been with someone for the past six years and leaving him for someone that abuses me would be pretty silly but here’s the thing; even if I wasn’t with him I wouldn’t be with you. There’s nothing you can do to force me to reply to you; that is my choice and what you choose to call me after that is completely your own problem.

I am not an object. I am not someone who’s profile picture becomes your new obsession, and the end of my life. I have a life, a life that you have nothing to do with and the fact that you think that you can belittle me in this manner makes me only feel bad for the women around you. Is this the mindset your mother brought you up with? That if a woman does not wish to respond to you, you should abuse her? That you should force yourself into her world, force yourself down all her friends, and send her threatening messages to prove your manhood? Damn, the woman that ends up with you is going to be a lucky one (look up “sarcasm” on Google).

Sir, I feel bad for you and that’s the honest truth. You find an obsession online, and I become the sole object of all your affection and aggression? You must indeed have the lack of a life to be so obsessed. Your profile pictures shows photos of you at school, it shows what school you go to as well and where you live and that’s not a smart move now is it since you choose to send me such messages? I chose to write this article to tell you that I have reported you to the cyber crime branch. It was a daunting process but I’m sure I’ll see you soon. I hope you didn’t take my silence for weakness and even if you did I hope you now can finally tell me in person all the things that you wanted to do to me and don’t worry, I’ll call the media this time and you can tell them all about my “loose” character. I could have just inboxed you and told you this but it didn’t seem right. Since you only respect girls that respect you, I thought you would appreciate the fact that I respect you so much that I want the whole world to know what a strong and assertive man you truly are.

Warm regards,
The girl “that deserves to be raped”

Bullies don’t think twice about the consequences of their messages. However, not speaking up about it is not helping either. I urge all those who have been bullied to speak out against this act, and do your bit to fight the hate. I have taken the first step. Maybe you can, too.

Ria Sharma is the Founder of Make Love Not Scars, an organisation dedicated to providing acid attack survivors opportunity to regain life on their own terms through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration.

Featured Images Credit: Posted By Ria Sharma On Facebook.
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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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