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‘Guuurl, You Gotta Become A Fierce Indian Drag Queen!’

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Hello! My name is Prateek Sachdeva. I’m 24-years-old. I belong to a middle class family, and live with my parents and two dogs (who we treat like family, and sometimes more than that). I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management with the aspirations of becoming a chef, but when I enrolled in a dance class, I realised my true passion lay in the performing arts. And for the last six months, I’ve been practicing the beautiful art of Drag.

Image Credit: Harshita Nayyar.

What is Drag? There is no fixed text book definition of Drag, but the perception of this art form varies from different individuals who practice it and people who watch it.

Some people use the term “Drag queen” and “female impersonator” interchangeably. More controversially, people can mix up the terms, “drag queen”, “drag king”, “crossdresser”, “transvestite”, “transsexual” and “transgender”. Drag is not defined by any one of these in particular. Rather, it’s inclusive of all.

A female impersonator is an individual who dresses in women’s clothes on stage or on film as a part of a performance, who models themselves after women; this individual we might say is doing Drag. Drag Queens by contrast can do more, such as modelling themselves after other drag queens, fictional characters, celebrities or even make up their own characters, whether it’s for laughs or to achieve some sort of dramatic realism. A Drag Queen can be larger than life, can be spell-binding, and can command attention. The objective of a drag queen is not to blend into the crowd but to stand out. This is a very modern day description of drag, all of that jumbled up with arts, fashion, and performance.

Drag gave me the liberty to perform as anyone or anything and does not limit me to the basic role of a ‘male’ dancer, or even the fixed choreography of our society. It’s not just freedom of expression; Drag has pushed my confidence level to extreme.

Recently, I had the honour of speaking at an event at Hansraj College, Delhi University. It was organised by the Gender Equality Cell and the topic of discussion was Gender Fluidity. My statements revolved around how I still identify as male but at times my Drag Character Betta takes over my body when I apply makeup and put on my costume and then I am a female. In those ways I am Gender Fluid. The discussion was also about society’s norms and rules around gender roles and expectations, a conversation to which the college audience had a lot to contribute. All of this also helped me become more informed about what others go through and how they overcome obstacles.

Image Credit: Harshita Nayyar.

I came across Drag three years back through the famous reality show “Rupaul’s Drag Race”, and I have been hooked ever since. Watching all those beautiful artists showcasing their talents with such confidence and creativity gave me the boost I needed. I started copying their catch phrases and copying my favourite scenes. At that time I had no one to share my excitement with since no one in my circle had seen the show but I was still stuck to it. It was last year when I was in Melbourne, Australia where I actually saw my first drag show and had the opportunity to speak with one of the queens. Out of the long conversation I still have this one line stuck in my head: “Guurrl, you gotta take this to India and become a fierce Indian Drag Queen!”

I went shopping the next day and (taking the advantage of a Christmas sale) I bought tons of makeup up products, came back to India, and started experimenting behind doors when no one was home.

It wasn’t until I started my YouTube Channel when I first came out as a Drag queen. My first video was “How To Cover Your Eyebrows For Drag And Cosplay”.

I even uploaded a few of my drag looks. The response has been good which makes me believe I am playing my part in educating people about Drag.

Though India is still new to the Drag scene but there are lot of Drag friendly Clubs like Kitty Su, The Lalit Group of Hotels in New Delhi, Mumbai and Chandigarh and Kitty Ko, The Lalit Group of hotels in Bengaluru host drag events where they allow drag artists to take up the stage and showcase their talents.

Image Credit: Harshita Nayyar.

Other than breaking the shell I was in and giving me the encouragement I needed in life, Drag has given me a new identity. It’s like every time I am in Drag I am a different person. One night I am a High-school girl crushing over the jock, another night I am a woman who has been injured and is healing herself. At times I am an old school Jazz singer and at other times I am a burlesque dancer. It’s your choice who you want to be and it’s your choice how to be that person.

Just as there are no strict rules for drag, there shouldn’t be strict rules to being your true self.

All images courtesy of the author.
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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.

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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.

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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 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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