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Laying It Out: Strong Language

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By Antara Telang:

Panel A: Photograph of the author, Antara, surrounded by a cartoon frame, with devil’s horns and a moustache doodled on her face. Text reads: Hi. I’m Antara. I’m 25 years old. When I was 18, I had an accident that turned me from non-disabled to disabled overnight. Panel B: Illustration of a prosthetic leg. Text reads: I have an amputation now, and I wear a prosthetic leg. Yes, I have, in fact, been called a cyborg on multiple occasions. Panel C: Illustration of two similar looking people. One is smiling while the other looks sad. Text reads: Like me, many people with disabilities have experienced that casual language used to describe us can be painful, to say the least. Take my friend Dev.

Panel A: Illustration of two legs with rolled up jeans. One foot is straight, the other is dropped at a slight angle. Text reads: Dev had a neurological disease called GBS (Guillain Barrie Syndrome) when he was 13, leaving him with a foot drop even as an adult. Panel B: Illustration of the torso of a bald, middle-aged man with devil’s horns and trident. Text reads: His professor, to his face, called him a ‘langda ladka’ (a ‘lame boy’). Dev was hurt beyond belief when he was referred to this way by someone he respected. Panel C: Illustration of a young man who is sweating and looks worn out. Text reads: He worked himself to the bone so that he’d be known by his name and not as ‘langda’. He shouldn’t have to do that. Most of us don’t.

Panel A: Photograph of Antara in the cartoon frame again, except this time there are tears doodled over her face which form waves of water below. Text reads: I know what it feels like. Things that people have said in passing have ended up affecting my self-esteem for years. Panel B: Illustration of a woman wearing a short dress that reveals one prosthetic leg. She is smiling and has her hands on her hips. Text reads: Heli, who also has an amputation, was once wearing a knee-length dress. A stranger gave her some unwanted advice: ‘These things are not meant to be shown off.’ Panel C: Illustration of a young woman smiling slightly and looking to one side. She is showing the middle finger. Text reads: As women with disabilities, we hear shit like that all the time. So we usually either ignore it or ask people to mind their own business.

Panel A: Illustration of a pair of jeans with a sad face. It has a thought bubble of a short skirt. Text reads: But sometimes, it can play on our minds for a long time, and maybe the next time, we wear jeans instead of that skirt. Panel B: Illustration of a graduation cap that’s placed on top of a paper that has the words ‘Certificate of Sensitivity’ written on it.Text reads: Heli chooses to educate people who make ignorant comments like that, so that they (hopefully) don’t do it again. Panel C: Photograph of Antara with doodled steam coming out of her ears, an angry expression, fangs, and the word ‘WTF!’ on one side. Text reads: Personally, I snap and end up sulking through that day. I don’t think it’s my job to tell someone to behave with respect. I am not sure there’s a right answer here.

Panel A: Illustration of the Tinder flame logo and the text ‘You have five new matches!’ above it. Text reads: In my personal experience, most people assume I’m single. Because who’d want to be with me? As it turns out, quite a number of people. Panel B: Illustration of a diamond ring with a shocked expression and both hands on its cheeks. Text reads: Savitri has a disability too. She got married recently, and found several guests at the wedding openly expressing their surprise. Panel C: Illustration of two faces looking at each other. There are hearts between them, and both are smiling broadly. Text reads: Not because she was getting married. But utter shock that her husband was ‘young, good looking and non-disabled’. We’re not reject products, guys!

Panel A: Illustration of a man smiling and speaking. He has a speech bubble which has no words inside it, only a drawing of a garbage can. Text reads: A lot of times, when we joke, we tend to say ableist stuff. It’s so deeply embedded in language that, yes, people with disabilities do it too. Panel B: Illustration of the same man as the above panel — he is laughing so much that tears are coming out of his eyes. The words ‘HAHA!’ and ‘ROFL!’ are written around him.Text reads: ‘That joke is so lame!’ ‘Are you retarded?’ ‘He won’t understand, he’s dumb.’ Panel C: Photograph of Antara looking directly at the viewer. For the first time, there is nothing doodled on her face. Text reads: Take a step back. You may say something in passing, but it contributes to an ableist culture & to the lowered self-esteem of people with disabilities everywhere.

Disclaimer: Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy.


Antara is a Content Director at LaughGuru, an e-learning platform for kids. In her spare time, she backpacks, illustrates, and leaves feminist comments on Facebook posts.

This post was originally published on Skin Stories.

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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 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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