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Why Did Delhi Cops Attack My Two Queer Friends And Call Me A ‘Nigerian Hooker’?

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On the June 7, 2018 in the heart of New Delhi, a friend of mine was attacked by a group of cops for being an openly gay man hugging his friend, a trans woman. As I stood there fighting and standing up for him, I was referred to as a “Nigerian menace” who is in India to corrupt it with “prostitution”, all because of the colour of my skin and inability to converse in Hindi. I am a Tamil woman, and I carry my culture and skin color with utmost pride.

Following the incident, we went on a social media rampage against the Delhi Police and the issue went viral. We were summoned by the Additional DCP of Police two days later and our grievances were addressed. In addition, my friend and I have been invited to deliver a class to our harassers in order to “sensitize” them. But what we went through was an ordeal we won’t forget.

Since the incident, my mind had no dearth of reasons to go on an overthinking spree. As I was invited to deliver a sensitisation lecture to our harassers, my first instinctual reaction was that I felt humbled and honoured. Call it the ramifications of an overthinking mind, but over the course of the next few hours my mind transcended from an instinctual cloud and reached a visceral clearing.

During one of the past few days, I woke up with a jolt suddenly remembering something. It was a remark that my mother made about a domestic helper who was working at my uncle’s house in the United States. Before you start wondering why anyone would have such a redundant conversation, you need to understand that such conversations are the only common ground between my mother and I. My mum is fully aware of her “radical, non-monogamous, heretic of a daughter who is also a self-professed atheist and an anti-national” and therefore she avoids all liberal conversations “like the plague”. After relentless debates which would always end in resentment, I too decided to avoid  than to salvage and rather let her revel in her own “cocoon of self-denial”. Anyway getting back on track, while retelling some bland gossip, she referred to the domestic helper as a “Negro”. I was appalled, not at the casual use of the slur, but because I knew that that was not the intent. Rather, it was the ignorance that outraged me.

As a matter of fact, my mum never anticipated that two days after she referred to a Black woman as a “Negro”, her daughter would be labeled a “Nigerian hooker”. And honest to my soul, that profiling and labeling did not offend me even minutely as I do not fathom why a “Nigerian hooker” would be denied basic human rights. But when I can give my educated, well-travelled mother the benefit of doubt for being a victim of blatant ignorance, why can’t I give the perpetually overworked, underpaid, and clearly ignorant cop a chance? But then I realized that one cannot stretch the fabric of the benefit-of-doubt paradigm to the point of ripping apart human dignity. The world is becoming an increasingly compact entity with every passing day, and it is of great impetus for all human beings to undergo a “liberal intervention”.

On the night of the incident, I recall a friend saying that constables in India are not privileged enough to be liberal. It was then that I started to ponder if the so-called privileged people are actually “privileged enough” to be liberal. But what is the context of the word “privilege” here? The privilege of knowledge? The privilege of accessing the internet? The privilege of being an alumnus of a reputed educational institution? No. To address fellow human beings with love and respect does not require any of these “privileges” . It only needs the “willingness” to be a better human being. I think the question of privilege holds no water, rather it is the ignorance that has manifested in its most vicious form in the human mind, that needs to be questioned. I believe that ignorance is the worst form of an excuse as it plummets not just you but the people around you into an abyss of apathy as a result of its implications.

Today, we are witnessing the fourth wave of feminism and its resurgence has shaken the world from all quarters—from fashion to economics to religion to politics. But, I feel (with all due respect) that we should all be liberalists before being feminists, as the need for the latter would cease to exist if the former is firmly anchored in the minds of people as a natural consequence. In a hypothetical (and stereotypical) situation, a majority population which labels (read: confines) itself to heteronormativity may still be a minority population elsewhere in the world susceptible to hate crimes. Take the case of an Indian techie who was shot dead in the USA. In this country he ideally would be the last person for a cop (or anyone for that matter) to unfairly target (unless he is inebriated) because he has conformed himself to the societal norms. He does not look “different” or express himself “differently”. However, this same man was the victim of a hate crime in the USA. This goes on to prove that no matter where you go, hatred persists and as civilized human beings, we need to root out the hatred rather than victim-bashing.

Nigerian novelist and feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Finally, I’ll end with a quote by Chimamanda Adichie, the woman credited with coining the phrase “We should all be feminists”, that was also reprised a countless number of times from the Dior runways to US presidential elections. She says:

Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower and humanize. Stories can break the dignity of people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.

I believe that this would be one such story. A story of dignity—lost, found, fought for, and restored.

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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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