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‘My Father Was Never My Superhero And He Never Will Be’

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It was a normal conversation with a friend which started with FIFA and ended on a very horrifying note. In India, domestic violence is one of the major evils that plague our society. Some cases surely reach courtrooms, but many are buried inside our homes. In this case, my friend has a similar story. Her father is suffering from a fatal illness, her mother is often beaten up, and the children are harassed by their own family members.

In the dictionary, harassment means, “illegal behaviour towards a person that causes mental or emotional suffering, which includes repeated unwanted contacts without a reasonable purpose, insults, threats, touching, or offensive language.”

Domestic violence
(also named domestic abuse or family violence) is violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. It may be termed intimate partner violence when committed by a spouse or partner in an intimate relationship against the other spouse or partner, and can take place in heterosexual or same-sex relationships, or between former spouses or partners. Domestic violence can also involve violence against children, parents, or the elderly. It takes a number of forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, economic, religious, reproductive, and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse such as choking, beating, female genital mutilation, and acid throwing that results in disfigurement or death. Domestic murders include stoning, bride burning, honour killings, and dowry deaths.”

These are theoretical definitions which you will find everywhere, but the reality is a bit different. Here are some questions I asked my friend who is going through a tough phase in her life:

When was the last time you talked with your father?

I really don’t remember when was the last time I had a conversation with my father. I just ask him about his meals and greet him every morning. It’s been more than five years that I had a healthy conversation with him. At times, it is really humiliating, and I just want to shout out of frustration.

What was the worst thing you’ve experienced within your family?

I was 15 years old, when I realised that I am not safe in my own house. My uncle tried to physically assault me. It was terrible, the feeling was horrible. At that age, I was not even able to react to the same. My uncle was almost 30 years old when this incident happened. I have tried to escape from that house, but the horrors are still alive in my mind.

Did you ever try to narrate this incident to any of your family members or friends? What was the reaction?

When I was 15, I was not able to express myself well. At the age of 19, I tried to tell my father about this horrible incident, but I became numb when he replied that “Jawani ke josh me ladkon se aisi galtiyan ho jati hai, inka issue nahi banana chahiye”. (Sometimes, in the rush of youth, boys make mistakes like these. We shouldn’t make an issue out of it.)

For a moment, I couldn’t believe that it was my own father who just said these words. It was a dreadful night for me. My father told me that it happens in mere excitement and one should not make it an issue. At that exact moment, I lost all respect and love for him.

Did your parents ever quarrel?

Quarrel is a very light word for the humiliation she faced in her marriage. I am extremely phobic to marriages. I have a fear of being beaten up like my mom. Actually, I would like to quote my father; “Agar ek mard apni biwi ko accha khila raha hain, acche kapde de raha hain, accha ghar de raha hain. Aur in sab ke badle, subah sham do thappad maar raha hain toh ismae badi baat kya hain?” (If a man is providing for his wife, buying her nice clothes to wear, giving her a good home to live in, then what is the big deal if he hits her every day?)

Why don’t you talk to your mother? Take some legal action against this aggression and violence?

I have tried to initiate a conversation with my mother many times, but she ignores my pleas every time. When I was 19, I spoke to her about it, and she said that she can’t possibly try for a divorce or take any legal action because of her children’s comfort. My father used to beat her up with a bat, belt and what not! She was humiliated in public, sometimes kicked off the stairs.

Do you still see him as your superhero? Are you worried about his treatment?

A superhero? Never. When he supported my uncle for that incident, I lost all my respect and love for him. How can a father cover up for some other man at the cost of his daughter’s dignity? At times when I used to save my mother form his aggression, he used to beat me or yell at me when I stood up for my mother he used to yell at me. Every daughter sees her father as a superhero, but my superhero was already lost.

What do you want to become? What are your dreams?

Currently, I just want to run away from this chaos, and by chaos, I mean this situation. I want to become a teacher. I am working on the same. If I don’t, then my father will marry me to someone who will treat me like he treats my mother. Once I am able to earn money and become a bit stable, I’ll help my mother out.

Yes, I have a younger brother. He is a stable and sane person, but because of the upbringing and the dominance of my father over my mother, my brother has grown up with the same thinking.

I will tell you about this one incident. It was a pleasant day, and I was wearing my pyjama and a t-shirt inside the house, and my brother taunted me by saying that my attire wasn’t decent enough for a girl. My brother is well educated, but what is the use of an education when you are making such remarks? Sometimes education is not enough to guarantee a person’s values and morals.

Why don’t you fight the violence and suppression?

Most victims of domestic violence end up living traumatic lives without knowing that there can be a way out. Even if your own father doesn’t believe you, that shouldn’t stop you from speaking up. More power to any person in such a situation. I wish you never lose hope.

These were only some of the questions I asked. My friend’s story aptly depicts the patriarchal nature of the Indian society. Just having laws won’t help. We also need to empower women instead of judging them and give them the confidence to fight for their rights and speak up against any act of violence.

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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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