There’s A Long Battle Ahead, But What A Beautiful Start!

It’s been a long journey. And, the sheer perseverance of ‘our freedom fighters’ – Yes, I’d call them freedom fighters for we’re been chained even we’re born in a free India – has led to the historical judgment by the Supreme Court of India which has read down Section 377.

The draconian law was created in the British Raj and it was actually decriminalised in 2009 but it was re-criminalised in the year 2013. And today, the SC has decriminalised homosexuality and rejected some parts of Section 377. However, it was the duty of the government to step in to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens but they shrugged off the matter saying, “It is left to the mettle and wisdom of the court to decide.” I’m glad that the honourable court took the statement to heart and demonstrated that wisdom which was expected of them.

There was a ray of hope when Justice Indu Malhotra shared her opinion about homosexuality in July this year:

“It is not human beings alone who indulge in homosexual acts, many animals also show homosexual behaviour; it is not an aberration but a variation.”

And today, statements like “LGBT community has same rights as that of any ordinary citizen,” and “Majoritarian opinions cannot dictate rights,” from today’s constitutional bench is an extremely welcoming move. And, in these statements, CJI Dipak Misra has rightly reflected the striking differences in which the community was viewed as opposed to heterosexual people: a non-citizen, a foreign idea, and an abnormal behaviour.

What were the demands?

The LGBTQIA+ community has fought for their rights for a long time and their relentless struggle has resulted in the striking down of the 158-year-old, Section 377. Here is a list of demands which were sought from the Government of India:

1. Section 377 should be read down. The law is archaic, and with changing times, the constitution should be amended like it always has been. It’s a living document, hence, it is necessary to make some changes to it as well so that each of the citizens of this country enjoys the rights offered in a free democracy. And, it was demanded that the section should be removed from our Constitution.

2. Homosexuality should be decriminalised. Consensual sex between same-sex individuals was (it feels so good to write it in past tense) a criminal offence. Love is love. Period. No one should command us whom to love. It’s natural to love anyone – be it of the same or other genders.

3. Homosexual marriages should be legalised. Two individuals of the same sex should be allowed to marry and the Union of India should recognise this marriage. There should be a legal affiliation of the same – bills of property etc. should be amended accordingly.

4. Equal rights to all, irrespective of gender identity sexual orientation

What has been granted?

All of us should be mindful that our rights have not been granted in toto. Only a part of the law has been struck down and that is only the ‘decriminalisation of homosexuality’. We’ve won a part of the battle. Not the whole. But we’re empowered to fight it more fiercely from here on. And, without any hesitation we should celebrate this – it’s no less an achievement. But here are a few challenges we should recognise, acknowledge, and address:

1. Workplace Discrimination: There’s no law which condemns discrimination which the queer (an umbrella term) community faces across the country – be it working professionals in the MNCs, or people working in smaller organisations or NGOs. They’re not safe, are often harassed, and are offered unequal opportunities.

2. Recognition of non-heterosexual marriages: The State should recognise the union or alliance of two non-heterosexual people.

3. Amendment in pro-heterosexual relationship laws: Commensurate with the identification of marriage of non-heterosexual people, there should be changes in all the laws – like property rights of individuals, an amendment in divorce laws etc.

4. Education: There is a need to educate our children about gender, sex, and sexual orientation. And this topic should be included in all the textbooks. There should be a note which shall be circulated in all the educational institutes by the Ministry of HRD, that it is mandatory to have a counsellor in the premises and it should be categorically stated that it [homosexuality, bisexuality, and feeling uneasy and in conflict with the body or gender assigned at birth] is not a ‘mental disorder’. And, students and/or teachers shouldn’t be bullied because of their sexual orientation.

The Way Forward 

We need to realise that we need to progress as a society which should have these characteristics: a just one, right to education for all, free from any discrimination based on sex, caste, religion, sexual orientation etc, equal citizenship rights to everyone, right to dignity, right to life, right to choose and marry their partner. Looks like the ideal society but that’s the way how it should be. Whatever rights we have, these are a result of constant negotiation with the State/Power/Authority and personally as well. And, Section 377 was a law which was robbing us from living freely and denying our right to live with dignity.

And, like always, we have definitely, by understanding the nuances of living in a modern society, have changed/amended rules and regulations time and again. Now that our love is recognised, we should celebrate it. But, as our first Prime Minister Pt. Nehru said in his famous speech at the stroke of the midnight hour on 15th August 1947, Tryst With Destiny: Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?

I guess we should reflect on the immensity of this statement. And, I believe that we will definitely grasp this opportunity and will get our acts together and move forward as a society.

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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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