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‘Main Uski Patni Hu, Mujh Par Hak Banta Hai Unka’ Women In Rural Kanpur On Marital Rape

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

How do you discuss consent with girls, who, as a part of their ‘sex talk’, were instructed to allow their husbands to do whatever they wanted? How do you explain consent to men who have grown up believing that women are brought home (or not) for pleasure and convenience? Both the parties hardly see consent!

Silence is abetting the culture of sexual violence. Lack of conversations around sex is leaving behind indelible scars in us and in our social psyche. Over the years, I have realised that silence is the most prominent aspect of all sexual accidents in our society. Our parents or teachers don’t broach the topic and hence, we never fully understand sexuality. We never learn about contraception. We don’t become comfortable seeing ourselves as someone with sexual needs, that are only natural. This discomfort results in hiding feelings and incidents in closets. That’s how we start keeping secrets.

Our culture systematically represses our sexuality and as a natural consequence, every sexual crime, as a first reaction, is suppressed. This manifests in our attire, behaviour, perceptions, literature, scriptures, religion and gender roles. It is evident in our social ways of eve-teasing, restricted mobility of women, molestation and rape. Thinking about sexuality within these dimensions made me recall the ways in which I had internalised this repression, despite my liberal urban upbringing. As a girl, I was taught to “behave” on multiple instances, be it sitting with legs pressed together, or hiding my bra-strap/underwear. Our literature is replete with stories of virtuous women who obey their husbands and fathers.

We celebrate chastity in wives and purity in potential wives. Docility and domesticity are the highest ambitions that women are instructed to have.

Our honour is derived and protected by men in the form of brothers, fathers, husbands while a woman’s name is forgotten in her household as she becomes a wife and/or a mother.“Maa-behen” and such expletives are directed towards men who instantly get inflamed by these insults. Bare legs are so provocative that our morality is being decided by the length of our skirts.

Coming back to the silence around sexual violence, we at Waqt ki Awaaz, recently conducted focus group discussions separately with women and men in rural areas of Kanpur Dehat. The topic was marital rape and hence, our conversations revolved around sex and consent too. We later used these stories and conversations to make a radio series. Men in our team failed miserably in their attempt to stir this discussion with men, both because of their own inhibitions and that of their intended audience. A colleague, Radha ji and I formulated a strategy to start by talking to women about menopause. From there, we talked about biological changes in women and then safely diverted it to sex, consent and marital rape.

Sitting in a circle on the floor, the women were vivid as they talked. They recounted their memories expressively, recalled their first time remembering how terrified or violated they felt to be naked, touched by a strange man in his home. Some women still feel ashamed and humiliated in bed with their husbands. They questioned the need for sex among men in their mid-forties and asked when would it end, expecting an answer from me.

A common response was, “Main uski patni hu, mujh par toh hak banta hai unka (I’m his wife, he owns me).” It drove home the realisation that these women do not think of themselves as individuals. Their identities have always been and will be tied to that of their husbands and fathers. Strikingly, they never used the word “sex” or “sambhog” in the conversations. Instead, they would use phrases like “Apna kaam karke (After doing our job)”, “Unka ho jaane ke baad (After they were done)”.

Wedding as a social event automatically switches the consent setting to ‘yes’ as default for the rest of a woman’s life. Hence, ‘no’ is not a familiar word. Marriage, to them, means their body belongs to their husband, for life. No wonder, many of them described sex with their husbands as if they were recounting the details of living in hell. What else is it, if not hell, to be so helpless and to be subjected to touches that are dirty, wrong and immoral. Patriarchal ideology is reflected when they say, “Pati ki baat maanni chahiye (We should listen to our husbands)”, “Unhone zor zabardasti kar di toh kaun si badi baat hai, thoda toh chalta hai (If he forced himself, it’s not a big deal, this happens)”. They believed that it is their duty to be submissive towards their husbands and that sex can only be initiated by men. They would laugh out loud with a twinkle in their eyes if I provokingly asked, “Can’t women start?”

Silence from men is also illuminating because it impacts the way they interact with women. It creates a divide that gets harder to bridge. It stereotypes men as hyper-sexual lecherous devils who only use women to satiate their lust. They never achieve healthy relationships with their significant other, due to cultural norms.

While my own interactions were limited to women, I believe this is an important reason that they are unable to talk about consent and acknowledge sex as a natural desire for both men and women. As a society, we can unlearn the immorality that’s attached to sex and talk more on the subject.

Rashmi Singh, the author of this post, is an India Fellow of 2017 cohort. She is working with Waqt ki Awaaz in Kanpur Dehat, Uttar Pradesh, supporting the functioning of a community radio station, which helps bring the voice of local people and spread awareness in the community.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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