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Kathua Case: I Feel Let Down

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She should be in school, studying, doing her homework, playing with her friends, bickering with her neighbours and living a joyful life. She loved horses. She loved to wander. She had that smile, those beautiful eyes. Her face continues to haunt me. She was just an eight-year-old. Just eight, who knew only love and joy.

As reported in the J&K police charge sheet“On 10-01-2018, the same Bakarwal girl met him in the forest area near a Bahari Balish tree and he asked her to accompany him on the assurance that he would help her in tracing out her missing horses.”

She believed them, thinking they were friendly until they became hostile.

“If you’ve succeeded in cheating someone, don’t think that the person is a fool! Do realise that you are the fool because that person trusted you much more than you deserve.”

I am from Kerala.

On April 14, we were supposed to celebrate Vishu, a very important festival here in Kerala. We celebrate with flowers and firecrackers. Personally, I have been working on a happiness project. I just didn’t feel like celebrating and couldn’t find the right motivation for the project in my current frame of mind. It has been the same for the last several days – since the details related to the horrific rape and murder which took place in Kathua came out. I have never been this angry.

I remember reading about this incident way back in February 2018. I had read about the Hindu Ekta Manch holding a protest march supporting the accused. News related to the flaring up of communal tensions came out. This was a massive ‘what the fuck’ moment for me. Since the Nirbhaya case happened, a lot of new regulations, laws and, promises were made. One of them is ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save a girl child, educate a girl child)’. Watching them protest made the phrase seem more like a warning than a slogan. The accused committed the crime to drive away the nomadic Muslims out of the area. I remember reading this news and wondering why no one was talking about this.

But then, the details from the charge sheet were reported and people came to know about the brutality of the case. The accused received the support of two BJP ministers – Chander Prakash Ganga and forest minister Lal Singh. Until the details from the charge sheet came to light, the nation had been silent. Why?

I hoped that people will eventually rally for the victim and it finally happened. By then, the incident had been reported in the New York Times. Then I witnessed the same process as usual – first, the journalists reacted, followed by activists and then celebrities. Finally, the case became a national outrage. People changed profile pictures, started sharing memes, sent angry notes to the politicians but we know it is just a matter of time before we no longer hear of this on social media.

Unlike the previous cases where the support was for the victim or the survivor, here we see a completely different scenario. People with the tricolour rallied for the accused and the protesting lawyers tried to shield the police officers from filing the charge sheet.

It made me feel sick to the stomach.

As a child, I was told that God loves children the most and that children could see and ‘touch’ God. The little girl, whose face haunts me, was kept in the home of God for days where she was tortured. Finally, she reached her ultimate fate. This was done by eight men in the name of nationalism and on behalf of the community they represent. These are the same people who go on and on about the ‘purity’ of women which is supposedly lost if a woman is raped. Well, menstruating women are not allowed in the temple due to this same reason but they had no second thoughts when it comes to violating a minor.

I hang my head in shame but the anger is still there.

I am angry over the fact that they did this in the name of a religion and using the flag as a shield. I am angry because they thought that rape is a tool that could be used to control and scare the vulnerable. I am angry that they used the very instrument between their legs that could give life to take away hers. I am pissed off because people used the flag – the very same flag we salute on Republic and Independence Day – to shield the accused. I am angry because two men – the ministers – who are supposed help people and represent them sided with wrongdoers. The media violated Sec 228A when they published the photos of the girl’s mutilated body.

As a citizen bound by the law, I am ashamed. As a Hindu, I am ashamed. As an Indian, I am ashamed.

Personally, I like to believe that the crime knows no religion, caste or gender. But we cannot rule out the communal aspect of this case as it is communal in itself. Ignoring is as bad as perpetuating it because silence is the worst form of violence in the eyes of humanity. And the shallow arguments, whataboutery and callousness will not help in bringing about a change to ensure that rape is never used as a weapon against the vulnerable. To ensure children’s safety, we have to tell those with power to never misuse the same. Prevention is better than cure but it can happen only if men can be convinced not to rape. If they realise that rape is a horrendous crime and not an act of bravery. That’s the only way to prevent it.

Before the departed soul and her grieving parents, I bow my head. This is an incident that has truly shamed India. But the hardhearted and inconsiderate reactions do not represent the India I believe in or want to be a part of. Despite all the insensitivity I witnessed from the authorities, I still have faith in the judicial system and hope that they will bring in the culprits by the book and fully denounce the intolerance and monstrosity behind this crime. Advocate Deepika Singh Rajawat and IPS officer R.K Jalla‘s dedication restores my faith. Also, if you truly believe that the right person is not representing you, if you feel threatened, remember the power is there at your fingertips.

We should strive as hard as we can for the best. We should be the change we wish to see. Maybe then, she could rest in peace.

#NotInMyName 

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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  1. Shahla Khan

    True, the little girls face will haunt not just you but the rest of the world I suppose. The tragedy is hard to forget.

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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.”

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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.

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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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