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From One ‘Deviant’ To Another: How Witchcraft Embraces Queerness In India

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Wicca chose me when I was 12 years old. I was born with the talent of healing, divination, and psychic instinct, and I learnt to make the whole of existence a celebration. Today, I am a Wiccan high priest, teaching students this ancient esoteric knowledge – of life, death, and life after death.

Wicca is a neo-Pagan religion which believes in the existence of the power to which many of us would call “Nature”. The name comes from the word “wic”, which means “the wise”, and we witches believe knowledge is power, but if only one has the wisdom to use it. We believe that this path is not our choice but one we are born into. But many myths about witches make us look evil and unacceptable in society. Not unlike another community of people who are seen as ‘deviant’ in India.

A Pagan altar to the Mother Goddess. Source: Pixabay.

People from the LGBTQ community have come to me for answers. Unfortunately, many who came were unhappy with who they were. Either they considered their life a cursed one or they hated the whole of existence. There were people who tried casting spells to cure themselves, some of them went to fraud magicians to change their sexuality, and many were considered to be possessed, and took it as a punishment of past lives.

No magickal spell can change a person’s gender or sexuality, for I believe this is most beautiful magick of nature. And yet, everything in our society takes a different approach. When I was in Class 8, a group of priests came to my Catholic school to deliver lecture on sex education. All day, they told us sex is a sin and homosexuality is the greatest sin of all.

I remember, a young man in his 20s came to me and asked what opinions I hold of the LGBTQ community. My reply surprised him. He told me that he had never received any positive views from spiritualists on different sexual orientations, as many viewed it as unnatural.

We should remember that the LGBTQ community is considered in many traditions. In Hindu Tantra, gender diversity and different sexual orientations were always the part of our culture. The word “kinnar” has beautiful meanings: “The one who is above nar (man)”, “the one who is whole”, “the one who is God as well as man”.

As a Witch, I have found that many religious texts have accepted, and, more significantly, praised the diversity and plurality of gender and sexuality. But today, people have categorised acts, things and habits into Right and Wrong, Good and Evil on that basis of what their minds accept and refuse and to accept.

Wicca does not bind us by rules, but allows us to be conscious enough for self-discipline to come from within. It gives us spiritual and mental liberty. Socrates – who I believe had a Wiccan Spark – spoke about the gender binary, saying: “I see no difference among men and women except one, the man begets and woman bears children.”

It is not a reality to be accepted that biologically men’s bodies possess a Masculine gender, or women possess a Feminine gender. Feminine and masculine natures are simply two phases of a soul and the whole existence. Yes, physical factors like body shape, pheromones, and personal taste matter to an extent. But Wiccans believe that it is not the female body that attracts men, it is the feminine aura.

We worship nature in its all its forms. For us, gender is not limited to ‘male’ and ‘female’. Neither is power. It is like the phases of the moon, which show completeness but also transformation. This is perfection.

Wicca itself has propagated inclusiveness. In the 1930s, Gerald Gardner made the world aware of Wicca through his books. He mentioned that a witch is a witch – male or female, it hardly matters.

Aleister Crowley.

Aleister Crowley, another great magician of 1900s, was bisexual. He wrote about homosexuality in his books, considering this phenomenon as normal as human existence. He openly talked about sexuality with his students and explained them the concepts to free their minds so that they could focus on their magick. But knowing that the world wasn’t ready to accept his reality, he began calling himself “The Great Beast 666”.

There is tradition in Wicca, that one comes to one’s altar every night, light the candles, ring the bells, feel the athame (ceremonial blade) or the wand (which represents power) and align the mind with the natural flow. I believe we all must follow this concept, every night to give ourselves time to think, and become aware of ourselves, our prejudices, our path and place in this universe.

I leave these few thoughts for my queer siblings: You have your own truth, your own opinions, your own likes, and your own sexual orientation. It was always within you, and does not come by any influence or curse. It is your own Journey and you have to walk it alone.

To all others, you too have a path before you – one of truth and acceptance. Will you choose to walk it?

Do not expect but accept.

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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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