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Sept 1 Bhubaneswar Pride Parade Becomes Last One With ‘Scrap 377’ Posters

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Merely raising a ruckus is not my intention
I do this, for things must change

If not in my bosom, then in yours
Wherever it does, the fire must burn

 -Dushyant Kumar

On September 1 2018, hundreds of youngsters poured out of their houses and claimed the streets, voicing their support for LGBTQIA+ rights. They were the gays and lesbians, the bisexuals and asexual, the trans community and intersex individuals, who were thought to be non-existent in the small sleepy towns of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, till they could be seen in solidarity, draped in rainbow flags and capes, standing together for the first time as a community which was invisible for ages. As an organizer, I was overwhelmed to finally see my efforts turning into reality. While the celebration lasted for only three hours, the work for the same had been building up since a year. Little did we know that we were only 5 days away, from winning the battle against sexual apartheid which we were fighting against for 157 years now.

 When I resolved to work for LGBTQ+ rights in my town, the biggest challenge I faced was, the absence of a community for the LGBTQ itself. They were never under one umbrella, because they were closeted and completely invisible. Too many people in Odisha suffer from mental health issues, bad marriages and stressful relationships with family members or workplace colleagues because of the burden of being a closeted individual. They are often isolated for being what they are, more prone to depression and sexual harassment, disowned by their families or discriminated at their workplaces and take years to convince themselves that it is a “phase” that will pass, or a disease, or something that needs meditation or medication. But by building a community, you facilitate that these people meet others like them and understand they are not alone; they have others who understand their tragedies and struggles because they have similar stories. Community gives an individual a power to feel at home. After months of building up discreet networking to connect them to each other, which finally led to the creation of a collective for the individuals who identified as LGBTQ, there was the second obstacle that many people who identified as LGBTQ were not ready to accept it because it was shameful for them. Social education of the community itself was the first priority. We made our Pre-Pride events the primary mode of social education. Sessions in school on gender and sexuality, film screenings, poetry and story telling, literature readings and open forum discussions were scheduled over a span of one month, to increase social education about the community among both, the community members and those who identified as straight.

Movements like these in Tier II cities face another unique challenge; the majority do not find it necessary. They question – why do we need to talk about sexuality when we have poverty and unemployment yet unresolved. The answer from my side was simple, the straight community can talk about poverty and not sexuality, because in the latter they never had to face a problem. They can afford to not talk about sexuality, because the rights and acceptance for it came naturally to them and they have never had to fight for it. In the societies we live in, heterosexuality is also, a certain form of privilege.

Even in LGBTQIA+ community, the layers are multiple. The trans do not share the problems of the LGBQ; while the former is outcasted since an early age from the family for being what they are, the revelation of the latter is not so obvious and they might go on for ages in their masks and dual lives, often ending up in bad marriages before even coming out of the closet. The trans have an organized community in Odisha, state funded in skill training and education programs(which obviously work only as efficiently as all the other government programs we know of). But when they discover themselves, they know where to go. They know people in the media or regional social activism who work for them and hence find solidarity easily, even if no acceptance. But for the LGBQ, its completely a personal struggle. The visibility of a community or a gay rights activist is uncommon, the religious beliefs and the government’s stand makes it worse for them to even identify their own selves, let alone going to the extent of looking for acceptance from others.Being a sex-positive heterosexual woman itself is considered an aberration even now, then how do we imagine the same society accepting a homosexual woman?

Bhubaneswar Pride was finally put together by The Parichay Collective (LGBQ Community of Odisha), Meera Parida’s NGO Sakha(an indigenous trans community which has been supported by the State government since a few years) and SAATHII NGO(working for the cause of HIV-AIDS since over a decade in the state). Its focus was not just LGBTQIA rights but also, intersectionality and inclusion. Odisha is not a state where the majority is upper class. We are made up of the tribals, the construction workers who keep migrating, the displaced villages where industrialists have build their enterprises and the street vendors. For a state like this, LGBTQIA movements cannot exist in isolation, without being intersectional. We were addressing not only LGBTQIA specific problems in the Pride, but the general social constructs of “Shame”, “untouchability”, the majority deciding what is best for the minorities, class bias and sex discrimination within and outside the community, and the general idea about the freedom of love. Our trans community is constituted by a range of people in different disciplines- hard working sex workers and individuals who have made it to authoritative positions in academic institutes and administrative services of the State. Pride was just a stepping stone for our far-fetched dream of equality in every aspect. As of now, I can say that the start has been encouraging and affirmative.

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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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