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Despite Initiatives To Normalise Queerness, Why Is It Still A Taboo?

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It is a chilly evening in the suburbs of Bengaluru, and Ravi strolls with me in a heavily crowded street wearing a blue cardigan along with a raffish scarf. On chatting with him for a bit I come to know that Ravi, like most young urban Indians, loves Harry Potter and Lady Gaga, can name New York’s landmarks and aspires to go to college abroad. Yet Ravi, a smart, tall man with soft features, lives a secret life that isn’t ‘normal’ for most Indians.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, deems any sexual intercourse, other than the conformist ‘straight’ procreation as being against the order of nature and makes it punishable by life imprisonment. As a result, most people who identify as queer live ‘in the closet’, a condition that is described by leading psychologists as being “an extremely unpleasant position that leads to individuals feeling isolated, frustrated and consistently angry”. Despite of a plethora of initiatives and efforts to normalise queerness in India, any concrete progress in this direction is yet to be made as fluid sexuality continues to be taboo in our country, even on the most progressive media outlets like Facebook, which recently received flak from the global LGBTQ community for not releasing its Pride Reacts to countries lacking LGBTQ security.

Treesa, student of Christ University, Bannerghatta Road campus, who’s an openly queer individual, says that despite college being a “comforting” space, the fact “that outside college, the situation isn’t as accepting  and that you may be killed on the street for being openly queer and your murderers will probably get away with it because of the religious institutions that back them” terrifies her.

Treesa’s fears are not unfounded as globally, hate crimes against LGBTQ people have increased tremendously, especially in the past year. Chechnya’s autocratic leader got nothing from global leaders but a rap on the knuckle for rounding up, torturing and possibly killing LGBTQ people in Nazi-like detention camps. A 29-year-old radical security guard in the United States, took the lives of 49 people in Orlando, in one of the US’s most gruesome act of terrorism against the LGBTQ community.

One might ask oneself what is going wrong for the LGBTQ people of India. The answer to that very important question is that despite umpteenth Pride Parades happening in almost every metropolitan of the nation, they fail to garner mass visibility and are now considered routine and not viewed as liberating celebrations of an oppressed people.

The problem doesn’t limit to lack of representation but also pans out to a huge amount of gross misrepresentation. An example of this is the common Indian belief that queer men are supposed to be feminine and queer women supposed to be butch, an idea that has been ingrained by years of homophobic misrepresentation in Bollywood cinema.

In addition to this, there is a complete lack of legislation or even parliamentary discourse on the issues surrounding LGBTQ rights, transgender discussions being a pertinent exception. All this has resulted in the formation of a pseudo-progressive society that claims to be avant-garde but still recoils a bit at the knowledge or sight of a queer person.

We, the youth, can spearhead the inclusion of the members of the LGBTQ community into our society. For this, we need to make sure we do not trivialise sexuality. It’s no more taboo than issues like pregnancy or love marriage which were “hush hush” in the past but are not so now.

Try creating a safe space around you so that people who might be closeted may gain the confidence of speaking up to you and coming out. If they do come out, be supportive and accepting. Don’t sympathise or feel unsure of their relationship with you. If you’re the same sex as them, do not assume that they might be attracted to you just because they are queer. Understand that queer persons are no more susceptible to lascivious acts or desires than straight persons.

Sexuality is not a trivial subject. It defines a person on multiple levels. Sexual rights are human rights as well. Just like we fight against child marriage, rape, the selling away of daughters, slavery and polygamy, all for the people’s right to live the way they want, we have to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Love is love and we do not have any legitimate basis to look down upon let alone compare the special bond shared by two people, not only irrespective of their caste and class but also irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender

This Pride month, try and invoke pride, not shame.

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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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