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Do Indian Men Not Understand Consent?

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By Josephine Das:

People have different explanations for the word consent and it is often brought up, and rightly so, in talks about abuse, sexual harassment and rape. Consent is not restrictive of gender roles. But, men often get the rap for not clearly understanding what can be termed as consensual and what cannot. We asked a few men for their thoughts on the definition of the word and how it relates to their lives. Here’s what they say.

It’s either yes, or no. There are no in-betweens

Consent should be the cornerstone of any interaction, sexual or otherwise. You can’t get consent from someone who’s not capable of giving it, that’s basically rape. You shouldn’t try to obtain the consent of someone who is incapacitated due to drink/sleepiness/any other reason and cannot make rational decisions. The idea that No could also mean Yes is toxic and is nothing short of rape culture. It’s either yes or no. There are no in-betweens.

Febin Mathew, 27, assistant manager, Mumbai

It’s imperative to any relationship

To me, the whole endeavour of a relationship is to get consent, without it, a relationship just ceases to exist or can take an ugly turn. It is what separates a person from a pervert. It is alright to have fantasies, even if they are ridiculous. And if the other person is into it, then there’s no harm. Consent has to be omnipresent throughout the span of a relationship, whether you are dating or married or anything else. You can’t force yourself on someone nor let anyone else force themselves upon you.

Zenil Asher, 28, copywriter, Mumbai

It’s all about boundaries, and not crossing them

When I was 22 I had my first kiss. It happened at a movie theatre while on my first date. We sat there watching a movie. He looked at me, leaned forward and kissed me. I was too shocked to move. I was on a date with this boy, but why did I feel like this was wrong? I had not consented to kiss. I wasn’t ready. I have since then come to talk about boundaries very openly, as if it were a right – on the bed, and outside the bed, professionally and personally too.

Lennard D’Mello, 32, communications consultant, Mumbai*

Lack of consent is a variation to theft

This brings back a vivid memory. I was 7 and in a crowded market in my hometown. While my mother was haggling with a shopkeeper, I lifted a single peanut from a nearby handcart. When she was done bargaining, I offered her the peanut while proudly telling her how I acquired it. I still remember the resounding slap and the ensuing words, ‘don’t you ever take anything from anyone without permission’. For me, these two admonitions serve as my guide map for all matters, including sexual. Consent for me is morally the self-evident line in the sand between empathy and psychopathy.

Piyush Tainguriya, 31, stand-up comic, Mumbai

It’s a misunderstood concept

Consent is a highly misunderstood concept, mostly by men. Most men feel they are entitled to what they want. We come from women and they must be respected. The way a woman dresses does not reflect her consent, what she has to say does. Let’s all grow up to accept that.

Devansh J, 31, chef, Mumbai

There are many types

According to me, there are various types of consents. Real consent is where there is no problem at all. Temporary consent is where someone can go back on their word if things get messy later on. Spontaneous consent is when initially, there’s no intention of giving it but things start getting tempting and then one agrees. Forceful consent is the worst kind, where a person performs an act without the approval of the other.

Yogesh Chatterjee, 53, health trainer, Mumbai*

It’s a fine line

The problem with a no means no is that the assumption that everything besides an outright no can be taken as a yes. It is this confusion that I often fight with. If I am out on a date with a woman and she is giving me signals, should I take that as an invitation? I think that asking someone to kiss them doesn’t always sound very spontaneous or romantic. I’ve had women kiss me without asking my consent but that’s because I am indicated that I like them and have shown interest. If I think a woman is showing interest, I will make a move. If she says no after that, I will back off. It is a fine line though because I have often misread signals, although there was no ‘no’ involved.

Noorul Khanna, 38, curator, Ahmedabad*    

*Names changed.

Have you ever thought about consent in your relationship? Share your thoughts with Love Matters in the comment section of this page or on our Facebook page. If you have a specific question, please visit our discussion forum – Let’s Talk

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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, 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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