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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this, portions Section 377 – the draconian colonial-era law that criminalised same-sex relationships – have just been repealed.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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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.

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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.

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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.

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