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For The Many Fights Yet To Be Won: Let Us Celebrate With Caution

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As I sit down to write this, portions Section 377 – the draconian colonial-era law that criminalised same-sex relationships – have just been repealed. There are widespread celebrations on my Facebook feed, from queer people who are jubilant at this victory and also by liberals, progressives and leftists of various stripes. There is indeed much to be celebrated. Any judgement that reduces the carceral power of the State is something to be happy about. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel cautious. For one, legislation alone is not enough to prevent violence from being meted out to queer people. It’s not like a queerphobe will think, “Oops, gay sex is now legal so I must stop hating on the gays.” In a country where lynching has become almost a weekly spectacle, things are hardly as simple.

As a queer person myself, I’ve been ruminating over what the repealing of this law means in practical terms. It’s not going to make it any easier to be visibly trans. It’s not going to affect the number of trans people who are rendered homeless because they are disowned by their families. It’s not going to affect the psychiatric gatekeeping many trans people are subjected to. It’s not going to make the lives of queer sex workers any easier. There is no mechanism in our country to keep track of the violence meted out to queer people who are poor and live on the margins. There are some who are celebrating that they are no longer going to be seen as “criminals” in the eyes of the state but should we, as queers, set the state’s recognition and approval as our political horizon?

Personally, I have nothing but disdain for the State and its values. I see it has homogenising differences, as offering “freedom” but only when that freedom is defined according to the State’s own terms and conditions. Gender and sexuality are those biopolitical pillars of our heteronormative society which need to be regulated and made to conform to a certain model so as to make sure that the same society, with its laws, mores and customs, is eternally reproduced – such a society may be heterogeneous in terms of content (gay marriage instead of straight marriage) but it retains the exact same form (the legitimacy of marriage itself is not questioned).

Thus, it is not surprising today to see right-wing hacks whose political masters were only yesterday denouncing homosexuality as “unnatural” and a “mental illness” suddenly championing this judgement as something that has been secured by the present government. Anybody with common sense would see through this bullshit façade but one shouldn’t underestimate the assimilating power of the state and capital which helps produce specimen like Milo Yiannopoulos. If you think that Milo is an exception and there aren’t queers who are sympathetic to fascism, think again. Take the case of Ashok Row Kavi, one of India’s oldest gay rights activist who also happens to be an ardent supporter of Modi and also harbours Islamophobic views.

Undoubtedly, there are many upper class and upper caste LGBT people who would like to have the politics of queerness separated from their identity. These would be the same people who look down upon sex workers, who do not want to associate themselves with Hijras, who want society’s acceptance on heteronormative terms, who want to prove that they are just as “normal” as the average cisgender heterosexual person and not weird like those really bad queers who are castigated to live on society’s margins.

Today’s victory does not belong to these people. Today’s victory belongs to activists who have agitated for years sacrificing their blood, sweat and grit. Today’s victory belongs to all those people whose already precarious existence was made much more difficult by the existence of this law – queer people living outside of cities and trans sex workers. Today’s victory also belongs to those who made alternatives modes of living possible for poor and homeless trans people who had been rejected by the state and the society.

So let us celebrate but at the same time, let us also make a sober assessment and take stock of the situation. Let us not take this victory for granted – let us not see it as something granted to us by the State’s “benevolence” but remember the long and hard fight that went into achieving it. And let us also realise that the fight is far from over for many, many queer people in the country who still need to have their voices heard. Let our political horizons not be limited to only seeking the rights of the most privileged among us. So let us celebrate while remembering that our political horizon must be queer liberation and not rainbow capitalism.

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    Leaving a comment to let you know that this article has been nominated for a Women’s Web Orange Flower Award under the category of ‘Writing on LGBT+ issues’. Here is the link to the nomination: https://woobox.com/pinkcf/gallery/GATT-Fnc5fM

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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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