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Behind The Mask Of Sanskaars: How The Internet Has Been Toxic To Women In 2017

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Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

The internet is a revolution that has given birth to various new ways of communication. It has changed the entire face of expressing, sharing and reacting to anything. It has given birth to citizen journalism and  has given a voice to millions. It seems like a good thing, it should have been a good thing. But, sadly, it has turned into something else – something ugly, and unfortunately something real. If you want to peep into the real faces of the ‘Indian society’, or should I say the ‘sanskaari Indian society’ – a clan of cultured (read orthodox) people who show off their ‘strong roots and noble virtues’ – just go to the comments section of any random video/post on social media.

When it comes to pouring outrage and hatred, we Indians find the most absurd places to vent our emotions out! Women getting raped, children getting slaughtered in schools, our national capital being a smog field, honor killing, absurdity in the name of religion, unemployment, declining economy, etc. are all a waste of time – right? Why invest time and research to do something about real issues when we can sit at home, enjoy anonymity and go on blabbering shit about whoever we want? Let us show these women that they are all whores and below us!

As if 5,000 years of patriarchal abuse was not enough, even social media seems to have become a new tool to look down upon women. Male celebrities can casually post shirtless photographs and what not, no one cares. But the moment a female celebrity decides to share something, netizens are ready with their nasty comments. From bikinis to saris and opinions to gestures – everything and anything can go wrong.

According to these people, sometimes women are too fat while sometimes they are just too thin. Sometimes they are overdressed and sometimes they are under-dressed. Sometimes they are too covered and sometimes they are ‘slutty’. Sometimes they are absolutely ‘un-ladylike’ while sometimes they are too lady like. Social media doesn’t seem to catch a break when it comes to hating female celebrities.
Only in the last one year, so many women celebrities were trolled for illogical reasons:

  • Priyanka Chopra was trolled for ‘showing too much leg’ while meeting Prime Minister Modi in Berlin.
  • Deepika Padukone was on the receiving end of public outrage for her photo shoot for Maxim magazine. She was trolled for everything – her attire, her complexion and her pose.
  • Zaira Wasim was first trolled over her meeting Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and recently for speaking up against a molester! She had to write an open letter apology for the former case!
  • Fatima Sana Shaikh was first trolled for posting a picture in a bikini during Ramzan and later she was trolled for a ‘shameless selfie’ in a sari
  • Esha Gupta faced social media bullying when she posted a picture of herself on Instagram. She was slut shamed several times for posting pictures from a photo shoot.
  • Malaika Arora was bullied when a photographer posted her picture appreciating her fashion sense. She was shamed for “divorcing rich guy and using the alimony to buy stuff.”
  • Kalki Koechlin was trolled for her nude photo, which went viral.
  • Richa Chadha was trolled for a statement made in favor of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan.
  • Ameesha Patel was slut shamed for posting selfies on social media.
  • Taapsee Pannu was trolled for wearing a ‘short dress’. “Due to such stuff male’s attract to seduce girl. And harassment,” a twitter user wrote.
  • Sonam Kapoor, Disha Patani and Mahira Khan were among other celebrities who got slut shamed for wearing ‘bold dresses’.

Where are we going as a nation? What has happened to us? Why do we have so much trouble with women being themselves around us? Where does all this negative energy come from? Don’t we have good things and happiness to share? Have we lessened to become a pit of nastiness and sick thoughts?

Imagine, if celebrities go through so much; what can happen to people like you and me? As a writer, I often try to discuss issues that matter and have been at the receiving end of a lot of hatred too. Healthy feedback and even criticism, for that matter, are more than welcome but when people stoop down to abuse and nastiness, I feel sad. I don’t feel sad for myself. I feel it for them. These people are in a state of pity and need help. They must understand that on the dotcom space or in the real world, there is no place for hate.

We need to grow above these narrow minded activities, and look at the bigger picture. Social media bullying affects people who have done nothing wrong, leads to depression and chronic anxiety. Let us take a resolution that we will leave all this negativity behind this year. Let 2018 be the start of a positive age, a space where everyone is loved. Let us join hands to fight against social media bullying.

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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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