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Our Sportspersons Deserve Better Fans

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Watching your favourite sports team lose a crucial match can feel like the worst kind of betrayal. Understandably, you’ll experience feelings of intense grief. In fact, in many ways, the grieving process is quite similar to that of a breakup – you might go through feelings of shock, denial, grief, anger, and maybe a little bit of resentment as well. And due to this, you may seek closure in different ways, whether it’s by convincing yourself (and others around you) that the match was rigged or by binge-eating your favourite comfort food. But there are also those who seek closure in the most unusual and ridiculous ways – like breaking their TV sets, burning down posters of sports players, and taking to the streets to chant angry slogans, much like these Indians did after Pakistan defeated India in the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.

What people tend to forget is that sports players, although playing in the name of and for the country, do not owe us anything. If you’re an athlete yourself, you might know that there are both good and bad days. And while these players might be some of the best in the world, they’re not perfect. Making mistakes is part of human nature, so it would be illogical to assume that this rule doesn’t apply to athletes as well.

Unfortunately, for many prominent sports players around the world, losing a match means not only dealing with the heartache that ensues, but also the dread of going back to their country. They have to deal with heavy media scrutiny, social media abuse in the form of nasty trolling and sometimes even racism, angry mobs outside their family homes burning posters and effigies, and possible death threats.

Recently, when Colombia was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup after losing to England, two Colombian players Mateus Uribe and Carlos Bacca received death threats on social media. The posts, which were aimed at both players for missing penalties, warned the players that they were ‘dead’, urged them to kill themselves, and told them not to return to the country.

Shockingly, this came a day after Colombian player Andres Escobar’s 24th death anniversary, who was shot dead by gang members 15 days after he scored an own goal, which was blamed for sending Colombia home in the 1994 World Cup. In fact, Andres’ brother had even expressed his fears for the Colombian football players one day prior to the match against England. He said that in case the team loses, he hopes that “the tragedy that happened to his brother doesn’t repeat itself” and emphasized, “Football should be a vehicle of peace and social transformation, as at the end of the day, it’s just a game.”

One week before the Colombian team’s loss, Swedish player Jimmy Durmaz was subjected to online abuse and racism for giving away a free kick during stoppage-time to Toni Kroos, which lead to Sweden’s 2-1 defeat to Germany. Durmaz, who is of Assyrian descent – his father emigrated from Turkey – was born and brought up in Sweden. However, after his blunder in the match against Germany, Durmaz was branded as a “f****** immigrant” and a “suicide bomber” by his own fans, and even received death threats not only aimed at him but at his family as well.

Closer to home, even we’re guilty of subjecting our players to such revolting behaviour. Back in 2003, when India lost to Australia in the Cricket World Cup in South Africa, Mohammad Kaif’s house in Allahabad was defaced with motor oil and black paint. In 2009 during the T20 World Cup, when India failed to defend the title they had won in 2007 after a three-run defeat against England, irate fans in agitated mobs burnt MS Dhoni’s effigy in his hometown. In 2014, when India suffered a disappointing six-wicket defeat to Sri Lanka in the ICC World T20, Yuvraj Singh’s house in Chandigarh was pelted with stones because he only managed to score 11 runs off 21 balls. And when India lost to Australia in the 2015 semi-final, effigies and posters were burnt. Along with that, Anushka Sharma was abused, threatened and disrespected, with fans claiming that she was the reason that Virat Kohli ‘lost focus’.

Never mind that in the 2003 World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar scored the most runs (673) and was named the player of the series. Never mind that in 2011, Yuvraj had simultaneously battled cancer and won the World Cup for us. Never mind that Dhoni had sacrificed being present for the birth of his first child in order to stay with the team in 2015. We choose to look at the negatives. We choose to crucify our own players, looking past everything they’ve done to make us and our country proud over the years. We’ve let them down, and we still continue to do so.

It’s fine to feel angry and frustrated after a loss. However, expressing that anger and frustration in inhumane ways is not. Let’s stop being fickle minded, and learn to love our players not only at their prime, but at their lowest as well. I’m pretty sure that for every time they’ve slipped up, there are many more times they’ve given us immense happiness and made us proud. No team can have a 100% success rate, and winning or losing is part of the journey. When they’re out there, battling some of the best players in the world for us, the least we can do is give them the surety that we’ll stand by them no matter what, even when they’re not at their best. And remember – at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

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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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