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No Means No, Unless You Are An Indian Woman

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Editor's note: This post is a part of #BHL, a campaign by BBC Media Action and Youth Ki Awaaz to redefine and own the label of what a 'bigda hua ladka or ladki' really is. If you believe in making your own choices and smashing this stereotype, share your story.

In legal proceedings, the onus of proof lies on the prosecution. The accused is deemed innocent until proven guilty. Property is not sold unless signed on paper.  You can not take a bite of my sandwich unless I ask you to. Until I say yes, no is assumed. Unless it is a woman’s body.

In that case, it is okay to use it to your choice unless the woman conveys a loud NO to you. Seriously, you could try earbuds in case she is too loud, or an eye patch just in case she tries to drop any visual cues. The HC verdict sets a precedent that consent is assumed for sex until explicitly denied.

What does it mean?

Does it not follow, that every man on Earth has consent for having sex with all women? What do we need to do now to avoid being raped by all the men on the planet? Yell NO at the top of our voices over Skype? WhatsApp them NO 10 times? Or do we need to file an affidavit to the magistrate? And how do we express denial to rapist husbands? Oh no wait, that is against the Indian marriage system anyways.

Over the past weekend, young women started a fight for dignity, against the great patriarchs of Banaras Hindu University. But the society was quick in diverting their struggle into whatever floated everyone’s boat. The absolutely inane ones accused the women of being politically motivated liars. The self-absorbed anti-establishment men, who also think they are feminist, transformed this into a mere protest against the right-wing ruling party. As if all this hardship was temporary, a symptom of only the current regime, as if only this party denies justice to women.

Let’s face it, their outrage was possible only because they have a common enemy as the girls. If the same young women were to bring this quest for freedom further, out into the real world, these men would be jumping off the feminism boat in no time. They have quickly remodelled the anti-patriarchy struggle into an anti-party fight. The Hindu right-wingers who were overjoyed with SC’s ruling on triple talaq, are now busy victim blaming.The currently outraged ones will take a back seat, the moment a woman asks for equal pay or to not be sexualized. “Feminazi,” they will cry.

Why am I asking men to stop cribbing and to not hijack our conversation? I must be a Jew-hunting Nazi.

The world of men, the justice systems put in place by patriarchs, have been choking women’s lives since god knows how long.

They created democracies, but only for men. They enslaved us inside homes, treated us like sex dolls and baby machines, and raped us, for centuries. All our achievements and works were either plagiarised or erased from history. Women had to struggle for decades, even die, just to have suffrage – the biggest achievement of the patriarchal society.

Today, things have not really changed much when it comes to women’s rights, despite society moving forward in other aspects.

Slavery has become illegal, the caste system is being deconstructed, reservations and other affirmative action policies are in place to protect the rights of the minorities around the world. Even Muslims have been able to establish themselves as victims of the Western world. But women, we are still trapped, in a cage.

Of course, the cages have gotten bigger and a little more comfortable, but we are still fighting. Still trying to convince the world that we too are human beings with emotions, feelings, rights and libidos. The world of men can understand evolution and quantum physics, but somehow gender equality is too complicated an issue.

Black women are still among the most downtrodden group in the West. Muslim women are still living with a shame for their bodies, taking pride in covering up their insignificant blobs of flesh. It is still the men who take most advantages of the caste-based reservations in India.

Some upper-caste households breed a few educated slaves in their female members, and those who try to break free of it are readily termed as characterless. No prizes for guessing what makes a woman so, and why no man is ever given that adjective. They are not at the receiving end of any privilege that the upper rungs of the caste ladder bring, except that they are fed on richer leftovers and live in a slightly bigger cage.

When these women struggle for their rights and bring out the outlandish atrocities inflicted on them by men from all the steps of the caste ladder, the upper caste men call them characterless and lower caste men accuse them of being casteist.

When a lower caste woman is oppressed, by men of either caste, once again the blame falls on women who had the bigger cage for not being sisterly and feminist enough. The perpetrator meanwhile is absolved for the act.

Whichever way the wind blows, it brings the blame back to a woman.

Today, in a new breakthrough for patriarchy, all women can be raped unless they are able to express NO to their rapists.

To any potential rapists reading this, here is NO from me.

Don’t Rape me.

There I said it.

I’ll carry a speaker with NO blaring from it the next time I have to be around men.

I don’t really think it is going to help though.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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