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What Does DUSU Do For The Queer Community? Hear It From Them

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Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) election in its depressing dichotomy is a showcase and a tantrum. Those who contest elections orchestrate a drama – using pamphlets, slogans and token representation for props – rife with underpinnings of money, muscle, falsity and repetition while the electorate watches on. Then, there is the perennial tantrum of the electorate – the thematic homogeneity of the drama and its evident ruse, bad actors and their annual play titled ‘development’ but is really about ‘funds’.

Every year, the drama rages on, sometimes reaching a crescendo when candidates wearing marigold garlands around their necks storm into classrooms, scream “Jai Bheem” to establish backward-caste solidarity, but it hasn’t yet gone far enough to extend its tokenism to the LGBTQIA+ community. A systematic silence has remained most prudent, at least for the twin protagonists, the hegemonic twins, ABVP and NSUI. Ankiv Baisoya, the Presidential candidate for ABVP this year, on being asked how he planned to make DU more inclusive for the queer community in an interview by Newslaundry remained at a loss. It seemed as if he had only really confronted the existence of the community when “Supreme Court ka order aaya” (regarding the scrapping of section 377).

AISA’s Abhigyan, on the other hand, appeared aware and supportive, recognising the need for sensitisation on campus even though Section 377 had been legally thrown into the bin. Meghna Mehra, a student of DU, affiliated to AISA and in her own words, “the first asexual student leader of India” says that her coming out to AISA was a kind of litmus test that the party passed. “It is kind of obvious that AISA is supportive, considering it is a communist and progressive organisation”, she said. Mehra went on to evoke Asmita Sarkar, a bisexual woman who contested elections at Jadavpur University from AISA and said many “gender non-conforming, bisexual (and so on) individuals” are affiliated to AISA and are open about their gender and sexuality within the organisation, if not outside of it.

However, the larger mass of the community remains disillusioned and indifferent to DUSU. Raabiya, a trans woman studying in DU was asked how DUSU and the queer community intersect. In response, she said, “For the most part, the relation between the LGBT community and DUSU elections is far farced. Just a few days ago, I was travelling near-by college when a group of candidates called me over. When I did not pay attention, they said, “Arrey yeh toh woh haen”, clearly hinting at the fact that I happen to be a trans woman. Their rather derogatory way to say this was unexpected from someone who pledges to be at the rescue for everyone. Also, since many LGBTQ people choose to stay in the closet due to such instances, there’s no way an informal contact between the DUSU and the community can be established.”

Another student, Hritvika Lakhera, who identifies as a lesbian and is part of the MHQC (Miranda House Queer Collective) replied to the same question saying, “I don’t think I can tell you anything about DUSU’s involvement with the queer community since they do nothing for us.”

Many in the community don’t even vote during the election. Raabiya said, “I did vote last time after hours of standing in a queue. But, this time I have lost hope and won’t be.” However, the community has for calling its own queer collectives within some colleges like Miranda and the more consolidated and centralised Delhi University Queer Collective (DUQC) that function like support and discussion groups, interactive forums and the like. Last year, in a progressive effort, the NSUI-led DUSU inaugurated the DU Gender Cell but it is yet to see proaction. Meghna also talked affectionately about Pinjra Tod, an autonomous collective that does not contest elections but has long remained supportive of the LGBTQIA+. According to her, the queer community rejects mainstream politics and finds the idea of having a single leader as its symbol and face problematic. Instead, they place their faith in collectives and support groups.

But a “premier” university campus like Delhi University remains largely homophobic and transphobic and ignorant of gender fluidity, the spectrum of sexuality, and so on. What are the immediate institutional and infrastructural requirements? Besides, inclusivity is not parallel to the scrapping of archaic and regressive laws. It is more social and psychological and needs protean effort. Hritvika from Miranda had many suggestions, given that so much remains to be done. “For one thing, we need support from student unions and administration to establish queer collectives in every college, just like there are women’s development cells in every college. Miranda House already has one but even that is not yet sanctioned by the authorities which hinders a lot of the work. Once these collectives are set up, sensitisation programmes are important. Another thing is having cishet students interact with queer students and realise that we’re not all that different from them. There must be proper redressal system under the anti-harassment policies for students who are bullied or harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gender inclusive language in official documents and unisex washrooms in colleges are also important installations.”

Students from the queer community are demanding representation, sensitisation and inclusion on campus, only the elaborate drama of DUSU shies away.

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Image used for representation.
Image source: Projekt – Film and Photography Society of LSR/Facebook
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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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