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‘Sex Hungry, Prostitute, Escort’: Labels This Woman Got When She Called Out Sexual Abuse

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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.

Alka Dixit’s (name changed) first encounter with cyber-bullying happened in the October of 2007, when news publication Mumbai Mirror published a story about a case of sexual harassment Alka had filed against a senior colleague in KPMG. The story disclosed Alka’s identity, with her full name and photograph, exposing her to the wrath of public opinion. The online version of the article was followed by a stream of comments that attempted to shame and disgrace her.

Alka was already fighting a difficult battle before this incident. The accused was an influential man, who had KPMG’s full weight thrown behind him. With the publishing of the article, she had to also deal with public humiliation, loss of reputation and invasion of privacy now. “The time when I had a successful career, a cushy office cabin that overlooked the Arabian sea became a distant memory. I was being drowned by allegations of invoking 498a to extract money from my husband, being a prostitute, a dance bar girl and an escort. It affected me so deeply that, I’d google my name everyday to see what people were saying. The top result would surprise you. It was -Alka Dixit is a prostitute,” recalls Alka. With a marred reputation, prospects for the future looked bleak.

Alka’s family was also adversely impacted too by this. Being a single mother with a 12 year old son, she recalls just how badly her son was affected due to the public shaming.“His peers would question him about what was being written and it led him to withdraw from social life. He barely talked to anyone and lost interest in school activities,” she told YKA, recalling that period from her life.

Alka knew she had to do something against cyber bullying and she started by writing a couple of letters to Jigna Vora, the journalist who wrote the article, highlighting the damage the comments had caused and requesting the newspaper to delete them. But, nothing changed.

Despite having a comment moderation policy, the newspaper allowed the abusive comments to stay. “The humiliation hit harder when I noticed that many comments were by people who claimed to be ex-colleagues and people from my neighbourhood. But on confronting them, I found they were actually being impersonated,” says Alka. One of them even issued a notice to Mumbai Mirror.

Mumbai Mirror did delete the article, five years later, by which time the damage had already been done and the hate targeting Alka had already spread to other platforms. There was a time when things got so bad that a reputation management system was suggested to her. “It promised to push back search results connected to my name to latter pages on Google, but the guarantee would last only 6 months. After this, there was a chance the results would bounce back to the top. Even for this, I’d have to pay a handsome sum.” So, the bullying continued and she remained helpless.

In 2014, Alka began receiving unsolicited marriage proposals through a fake profile created in her name. In 2015, someone had impersonated her on Facebook, using her gmail ID. She reported the issue multiple times on Facebook and even approached the police. Finally, one small-town shopkeeper in Rajasthan was arrested for the crime, who, in Alka’s opinion, is a possible scapegoat. As recently as December 2017, her email ID was used again to create another fake Facebook account. To her, these aren’t just “random acts of bullying” but attempts to distract her from the sexual harassment case she is still fighting.

Having reported every single instance of cyber abuse she faced, Alka’s case is also a good example just how inefficient our system is when it comes to helping those facing cyber abuse.“My multiple visits usually bear no fruit because of the police’s lackadaisical approach. Many times I have taken up an investigation myself and I’ve found gaping holes in the police’s investigation.

With the advent of social media, the weapons in the hands of her bullies have become more powerful. While she continues to fight back, she wonders if the current state of affairs bode well for a generation that depends heavily on social media for its news, entertainment and day-to-day interaction. During a TEDtalk, Monica Lewinsky said, “Everyday online, people, especially young people, who aren’t mentally equipped to handle this, are so abused and humiliated that they can’t imagine living to the next day, and some tragically don’t. There’s nothing virtual about that.

In India, these dangers are only too real, and the truth is, we are ill-equipped to combat it. “While several laws, such as the Right to Privacy and the IT Act, are in place, they are handicapped by poor implementation,” observes Alka. A case in point is Maharashtra, where, between 2012 and 2017, as many as 10,000 cybercrime cases were reported, but only 184 trials were completed and a measly 34 convictions that actually happened.

In Alka’s decade long fight, she has seen technology grow and evolve, and with it various forms of bullying. The internet is only going to continue penetrating deeper into our lives, but we need to catch up and build necessary ways to protect ourselves. While the technological aspects of combating bullying are important and needed, we need what Monica Lewinsky calls a “cultural revolution” to change mindsets. We need to transform the culture of humiliation to that of compassion and empathy. The road before is long and rife with obstacles, but it is one worth treading.

Featured image for representational purposes only.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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