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Why I Refuse To Be Silent On Everyday Instances Of Abuse That Are Considered ‘Normal’

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It was 2013 when I first came into close contact with the term feminism. Unable to comprehend the depth and vastness of the same, I researched more about it. I wanted to call myself a feminist purely because how could I not? Being a woman, how could I not want equality? Such was the limitation of  my understanding, however naive.

The age came when everybody had their own politics. I too wanted a politics of my own. Belonging to an upper caste and upper class household, I had never really had the chance to explore my sexuality because of limited mobility and access to freedom. Thus, I fell back on the only thing I could associate to – being a feminist.

I wasn’t fully aware of the implications of my ideology. “The personal is political,” they said. I never quite understood that until very recently.

I took admission into Tata Institute of Social Sciences for it seemed like a safe space. I was exposed to various shades of politics and took my time to understand what I had never experienced before. What I had probably never anticipated was the deconstruction of my own life. I was always a feminist, but mostly for other people. When the time came to point the term at my own self and life, I felt unease. I felt uncomfortable, and most of all, probably for the very first time in my life, I felt unsafe.

Don’t get me wrong. Living in Delhi meant ‘safety’ was a term my family had already familiarised me with. But there comes a point when the everyday happenings become such a mundane part of your life that you do not stop to think twice and question them. The few times we do question, we are asked to shut up. So, we let it go.

I studied in an air force school. Discipline was looked on in high esteem. For me, the most vivid memory of mine has to be when my male teachers would favour me for no reason over others. They would appreciate my hair openly and proclaim their love for the same in front of my entire class during a poetry session. Yes, this has happened. My female teachers hated me for they believed I used my hair to seduce my male teachers, another thing that was proclaimed openly in front of my entire class.

Image Credit: Yashvika Ghai

Once I passed out of school, I started dancing. I was told by my mentors to dress better and to open my hair and dance. They told me how in order to attract students to come to class, I had to look and talk a certain way. I was told to lose weight and get ‘sexier’. To be a good dancer was one thing, but to be a good dancer who looked a certain way – that was what got you fame.

I once dated a guy. After about three months of being with him, I realised how he displayed traits of possessive behavior. He wouldn’t let me talk to another guy, he wouldn’t let me go out, he wouldn’t let me sleep without talking to me. I wanted to break up. However, I was gaslit into believing that it was all very normal for a guy to be possessive about his girl. It just showed that he loved me. Quite honestly, I was scared. There were moments when his anger scared me so that I would just do whatever he asked me. All because it was deemed normal.

Just like any other girl in Delhi, I have traveled extensively in public transport. Someone pinching or groping my butt or falling into my breasts were mundane things. Slapping a guy or screaming at him helplessly as other people just watched you was also a regular mood spoiler but something I would get over in 10 minutes. For it was a part of the routine.

I fancied myself on my confidence. I would wear anything I wanted to and carry it off with confidence. Except for, of course, at nights and especially when I had to travel alone. I might forget my wallet at home but never have I forgotten my jacket or scarf to hide the most intimate parts of myself from the glaring eyes of the vicious passersby.

All of this, in its own right, seems so normal to most of us living in urban spaces deemed ‘unsafe’. All of this, in its own right, seems so normal to most of us girls who have grown up in this country. Most of this transcends class and caste. As a member of the ‘upper echelons’ of society, I have lived a far more privileged life than those who have been pushed down and walked upon. I do believe that collectively, women have deemed a lot of things as ‘normal’ in their lives in order to not be disturbed and traumatised over and over again.

It’s time to unpack the normal.

It was not okay for me to have been sexualised at the age of 14. It was not okay for me to have spent most of my adolescent days in fear of being abducted or raped. It was not okay that it was my mobility that got restricted after dark instead of the people who were out there preying on women. It is not okay that every rape that happens becomes news that carries a momentary sense of despair but then is soon forgotten. It is not okay that my friend is being forced to marry someone she absolutely detests – and for her, this is ‘normal’. It is not okay how eve teasing is just a part of our lives. It is not okay that before wearing something, I have to think twice but not the men whose fear I live in.

Unpacking the normal was probably one of the most difficult thing I’ve done in life. It was also one of the most liberating things that I did. The everyday normal that we women live with is problematic to say the least. It’s harmful. It triggers a domino effect on our future, where we keep normalising abusive behavior in the quest of finding a safe space inside our mind. My mind is turbulent. I am furious. The normal agitates me and questions run wild in my head. I oppose it everyday in my life and its the most difficult battle for most of the time, your opponents are the ones you love. A lot of times, it’s you yourself.

To see yourself as a problem in the bigger framework is the most difficult thing to do. To be able to look at one’s own personal relations and experiences and understand how wrong or right they have been is traumatising to say the least. It took me months to come to terms with the fact that my parents were in an abusive relationship where my mother had over a period of time, normalised my father’s anger as his way of life. It took me months to understand and accept that the fear of my father’s anger which had silenced me for a large part of my life was wrong. But it was necessary. I forgave them for they were a part of society that made them believe what they were doing was okay. But with forgiveness also comes the responsibility of calling them out on their shit. These battles I fight everyday and each day is a step closer to where I want to be.

I understand how this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like I said, I understand my privileges. It’s baffling to see the normal vary from degree to degree and oppressing women collectively. Not everything is tradition, not every tradition is right.

In our own lives, we need to call out abusive behavior for what it is we need to shut it down. Don’t let the normal intimidate you. It’s difficult to fight back. But the personal is political. It’s only now that I’ve come to realise what that means. Unpack your own lives. Unpack your ‘normal’.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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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