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According To Author Seema Anand, The World Desperately Needs The ‘Kama Sutra’. Here’s Why

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As adolescents, my friends and I referred to ‘sex’ as the ‘three-letter bad word’. In an all-girls missionary school, we learned about intercourse with a clinical precision. Our Biology teacher’s body language made it amply clear that questions were not welcome. Sex was, but a means to an end, even though (thanks to American rom-coms) teenage imaginations ran amuck with wild fascinations of our own.  

Almost a decade hence, when I look around me, matters of sex are still discussed in between hushed silences. While we have an erotic tradition of over a thousand years old, we currently also see the incessant proliferation of anti-Romeo squads, determined to curb healthy relationships between young men and women. There has been a huge spike in honour killings, there is no concept of sex education in our schools, and until very recently our film certification board was eager to shoot down almost any film where a woman is in control of her own sexuality.

Seema Anand, the author of the book The Arts of Seduction, says that this ‘bizarre’ shift in attitude is a ‘reaction to the emancipation of women’. Drawing from the Kama Sutra, Anand’s book is a guide to having great sex in the 21st century. She adds that India’s attitude towards sex changed from a joyous pleasurable experience to one of domination and repression a long time ago. As long as sex was the privilege and pleasure of the man it was fine. After all, ‘boys will be boys’. If it was violent (as in rape), then ‘she was asking for it’.

She describes how a woman’s narrative begins right at the top, as an all-powerful goddess. The fact that she can create life makes her godly and worthy of worship. But somewhere along the way, the narrative changes from one of power to disenfranchisement.

“And if you look carefully it is a very subtle little shift.  The role of the woman does not change, the nuance changes. She still creates life but no longer because she wishes to, rather because she is told to. She is told when and with who. Desire becomes a duty. It is no longer her power, it is now her job, it is what enslaves her.

So the one thing that changes is the woman’s right to her own body, her right to her own sexuality. And literally by taking away this one thing you have changed her status from ‘free human being’ to ‘possession’.”

The author feels, “The idea that desire could be reciprocal, however, that women may equally want to act on it – that is unacceptable. It is like opening up the gates to hell because that will once again lead to the toppling of power. With education and economic independence women are coming the realisation that their bodies belong to them and that their desires and pleasures are no less important – it is equally their right. And that, in turn, is leading to violent repercussions.”

When it comes to our attitude towards sex (as a society), Anand asserts that we’ve almost lost the idea of being human beings and turned into animals – “sex is justifiable violence, it is male privilege and female subjugation, even the language is one of misogyny and abuse.”

We do talk about sex constantly but mostly in the form of dirty jokes and innuendo. We think that telling crude jokes makes us ‘modern’, and coarse conversation can pass off for seduction, but the moment one tries to speak about desire or pleasure seriously, it becomes taboo.

The London-based mythologist and narrative practitioner informs, “And at the mere mention of the Kama Sutra we are ready to express shock, horror, consternation – the book that tried to introduce ultimate degrees of refinement and elegance to sexual pleasure, the book that sought to elevate seduction to unimaginable heights of beauty and subtlety, worthy of the one species that God created in his own image.”

Personally, the author is fascinated by the literary and cultural heritage of the Kama Sutra which is all but lost to us. This is the book that inspired 1,500 years of Sanskrit and Tamil classics, old paintings and sculptures. One that created the traditions and metaphors of sensuality and pleasure that went on to inform the vocabulary, arts and practices of ancient and medieval India. Here is a text where violence of any kind, even in extreme heights of passion, is unacceptable. She thinks the world desperately needs the Kama Sutra.

“Vatsyayan warns the men constantly against using too much force, telling them gory stories of how such-and-such hit out too hard during orgasm and killed his mistress or such-and-such was so rough he maimed his lover. He empowers the women not to accept this kind of behaviour. He says – if the love bite is too hard, tell your lover to stop, and if he still will not listen bite him back, twice as hard, till he does….

And the language – far from using abusive language the Kama Sutra describes even the genitalia in terms of exquisiteness – the vulva is the ‘chandan mahal’ or ‘fragrant palace’, the clitoris becomes the ‘madan chhatri’ or the ‘umbrella of the love god’. As Naomi Wolf says imagine a young girl growing up in a world where every slang word for her body “used metaphors of beauty and preciousness and every description of sex centred on her pleasure” – how differently she would think of herself, how differently would the act of sex be viewed and how different a world it would be.”   

Seema Anand

Anand says that culturally Kama Sutra was a book of enormous importance, the first text that acknowledged the right of women to be equal participants in the act of love and equal recipients of its pleasure. Unfortunately, there are a lot of translations (often terrible) which reduce it to a book of weird sexual positions and graphic paintings, none of which is its true identity.

“I wanted to unravel those metaphors, to dig up the ancient myths and stories, to unsilence the narratives that made sex such a poetic experience for Ancient India. I wanted to put the seduction back into sex and reclaim the refinement and joyousness of sexual pleasure for the human race.”

The author has tried to rewrite it so that there is something in here for everyone. In her book, Anand has discussed everything from how scratching plays a role in lovemaking to dildos, love bites to the way different phases of moon aid in harnessing one’s sexual energy. Every chapter has an advice section, which breaks down the formulaic structure of the ancient text into suggestions that can be easily followed – “whether your interest is purely academic and you want to explore the myths and stories or whether you want to spice up your sex life or whether you want a different narrative to pass on to your children – it’s up to you.”

In her words, “It’s time to change the story.”

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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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