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The Intricacies of Gender Mores and Repression

Bundeley Harbolon key munh hamney suni kahani thi,
Khoob ladi mardani woh to Jhansi wali Rani thi.

No Indian is stranger to the legends of the brave Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and for good reason. The life and times of this strident warrior queen have fascinated historians for nearly 160 years, giving birth to the glorious accounts of her heroic tales that all of us are so familiar with. The aforementioned are perhaps the most quoted lines of the famed poem titled ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ that every Indian is bound to have read or heard at some point.

However, there is something in these lines that has bothered me since the day I was first introduced to this poem at school, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why no one else was irked similarly. The Rani of Jhansi, the staunch and steadfast warrior of congenital determination even in the face of great adversity, is described in the poem as someone who ‘fought bravely and relentlessly, like a man’.

She was a woman who refused to abide by the socially constructed mores of gender conventionality, continuing to wear jewellery and refusing to cut her hair after the passing of her husband, Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar. A queen in her own right, she would sit on her deceased husband’s throne daily and rule her land and people. She fought for her people, with her people, but not without summoning a meeting of representatives first, asking for their views on whether to march onto the battlefield or sue for peace, in truly democratic spirit.

Everything she stood for, everything her life bears testimony to, loses meaning once likened to the actions of another gender, for ostensibly, it was the only justification for her unconventional behaviour.

We live in a society wherein gender roles and prescribed norms are ingrained within us since long before we have even opened our eyes. We live in a society wherein words such as sportsmanship and mankind are used casually; a society wherein no one even thinks to pause their daily mundane activities and consider how morally, ethically and socially wrong it is to sort people into boxes, slapping barcodes onto them like items placed neatly on supermarket shelves, organised conveniently based on type, utility and worth.

By definition, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities; it is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” For a woman isn’t smarter, stronger, more compassionate or a better person than a man. She is human; and that doesn’t make her any less.

Why then, do we equate this word with misandry? Why then, does this word make us so uncomfortable?

It is so, because we, as a society are guilty. We are guilty of imprisoning ourselves within chains of what we have been told are fundamental policies of nature. We swallow this distorted image of ‘normal’ like obedient schoolchildren, not once stopping to question this ‘normal’ and its determinants. After all, the repressive practice of sati was considered ‘normal’ until roughly 200 years back when it was criminalised, only going to show how public initiative and legal sanctions in matters of socially constructed norms can help shape the ideologies and carve the mindsets of citizens.

Saying that nothing has changed over the past few years would be a grave disservice to those who have spent their entire lives fighting relentlessly for justice. But much is yet to be done. Creating an atmosphere of equity and justice is essential not only for the advancement of women, but for men to break free of the chains that confine them as well. I implore you to connect with your humanity, and urge you to reclaim the parts of yourself that have been held captive for so long.

Our lives and our society will go down in the pages of history. It is our beliefs and ideologies that will shape the legends of tomorrow. We possess the power to carve out the future, to shape the mindsets of our future generations, to teach them right from wrong, for we determine this ‘right’, and this ‘wrong’.  Let us build a world together in which the laudable actions of men and women are not compartmentalised the way the Rani of Jhansi’s were in the poem this piece began with. Let us build a world together that we can be proud of.

I realise this piece will inevitably be lost amongst piles of similar articles and fading screams heard around the corner, just out of earshot. I realise this piece is not dissimilar to the thousands of others that came before this. I only endeavour to include my voice to the now fading scream, and hope it is joined by many others, until we compose a battle cry.

So many brave women such as Rani Lakshmibai came before us. We stand on their shoulders as we continue to reach for the stars beyond the glass ceiling.


This article in no way attempts to demean the works of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan. Rather, it endeavours to highlight the little ways in which we facilitate these oppressive gender constructs, unbeknownst to us. This article is not critical of any section of society; it is critical of the warped lens through which we look to shape our understanding of the world around us.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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, 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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