The Pressure To ‘Look Married’ Didn’t Come From The In-Laws, It Came From Office

During my twenties in Indian Society, I traversed through various expectations that have been set as per specific age slots. These expectations, laughingly, vary with gender. Carrying the burden of being a single, independent young woman in her late twenties is far much more difficult than carrying a bra the whole day. In the process of being pursued for marriage in the 27th year of my life, my parents went through various stages of societal pressures. I followed the course and even after being adamant on my stance of staying single till my thirties, I bowed down to the pressure that was getting passed on to me through them and got married. It was a chosen marriage for me. I got married to the person I knew for years and am comfortable with. I fell into the trap of “this is it” after the D-Day. I thought this will end all the hullabaloo around my singleton unaware of the fact that I was stepping into another jinx. The jinx of looking married!

I am a misfit. A misfit as per the Indian standards. I don’t celebrate with screeching obviousness. I prefer staying low and enjoy the seclusion. I am the perfect introvert stuck in an absolutely loud, extrovert Indian framework. My husband loves that part of me because that makes me a “dude” in his words.

I love my pyjamas. It’s not that I am not dressy when required but that comes into play during my best mood days. I feel trapped in a dupatta while enjoy wearing no-nonsense kurtas and leggings. I detest bangles and anklets as they announce your arrival in the most obvious way possible. I hate wearing makeup as it stops me from drooling over food (my first love), lipsticks force me to speak as if I am paying tax for it. So what? My mom always laughed it away. I am now a “new bride”. All coy and sensitive. I am supposed to give a fresh, bloomy impression to everyone. I took a deep breath and decided to stay calm and make the most of this phase. I was sure that the bride parade will end within a month of the wedding and my life will be back to what it was, but the surprises come from sections least expected.

My second Mom (people call them mother in-law, I prefer not to) is a pro in making someone feel at ease. She did the same with me. I was warmly welcomed and accepted the way I am. My pyjama love came back and those sunny afternoons with a book in my hand were not a distant dream. She cherishes me. Where is the twist, you must be thinking. Ekta Kapoor has already told us that the creature called mother in-law is the only source of agony in a married girl’s life. I would make an exception to it. The real culture shock thundered when I joined back work after marriage. All the misogynistic, orthodox stares that Indians expect in the new household came back to me in the office washroom, lobby and cubicles. Surprisingly, most of these misogynistic stares come from women.

“You look so plain”, “You have not changed at all” – I took a three-week break to get married, not to go get plastic surgery.

“You are not wearing chooda“- what a shame, now I am expected to adopt other cultures too.

“Where is your vermillion (sindoor), don’t you love your husband?”, “Your henna got feeble so early, the love connection is not that strong”– I have been very serious about my daily ablutions woman, it’s just that I bathe and wash my hands properly.

“You still use your old second name? What is wrong with you?”, there is nothing wrong with me, I’m just not falling into the trap of changing my identity or adding another name to my name to make it sound like a postal address. Give me a break.

If a mother in-law is what Ekta Kapoor show in her serials, I would say I have a lot of them in my office and my surroundings but not at my home. The concern right now isn’t whether I am happy or content in a marriage but whether I look married. Hell no, I don’t look married and that does not define the love for my better half, my seriousness of coexisting in multiple new relations in my new home or my dedication toward making my people happy.

I would say that you are still trapped in age-old myths about how a woman is supposed to look in a marriage. With articles on ‘scientific reasons’ behind the marks of marriage that Indian women going viral, this vicious circle will only become more nasty and rigorous.

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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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