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Are SC Verdicts On Gender And Sexuality Enough To Bring Desired Changes In Society?

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Last month, Supreme court of India delivered three mile-stone judgments which were widely applauded and rejoiced. These three historic verdicts are :

  • Decriminalization of same-sex intercourse;
  • Scraping of section 497, otherwise known as Adultery Law;
  • Allowing the entry for women of all ages in the Sabarimala Temple.

Across the country, people have rejoiced all these liberating and progressive decisions. What is more admirable here is the timing of these judgments, which happen to be exactly ahead of the upcoming general elections. This is not to kill the celebration or joy of these victories but to understand the deeper meaning of it.

In Indian society, discourses and perceptions around gender, sex and sexuality are very complex. They are often associated with taboos and orthodoxy.

The concern here is on the impact of these verdicts on the society in a longer run. The expectation, obviously, is to welcome them with open arms, if not immediately, then with an adequate course of time. But, is it possible to have this only with the Supreme Court delivering a verdict in a rhetoric language?

In a democracy like India, we have the power to choose our representatives, elect, and send them in the House to work for us. We choose leaders/politicians, not the judges. That also means the voices of the leaders are stronger than the words of judges when we are talking about transforming the social attitudes. Sadly, these voices are missing in these cases.

Let’s look at each of these cases individually:

Decriminalization Of Same-Sex

Firstly, we need to look at the difference between the term legalisation and decriminalisation. The prefix “de” of course makes it seem that an act is no longer illegal. However, in legal terminologies, “illegal” is different from “criminal”. That means you still need to hide while committing a decriminalised act because it doesn’t have a legal wall to support its back. Some might say that decriminalisation rejects the change in the social values of our society, and opens the possibilities of making it legalise after few years. The concern is, why not ask the lawmakers to initiate constituting the legal structure that can help the LGBTQ+ community enjoy the same liberty and security as the heterosexual couples.

If you are thinking why to be a killjoy by questing a good deed, then you need to look at the recent honour killing in Telangana. Occurrence of such cases have been on the rise reflecting on the tolerance level of our society towards change. That makes it even more necessary to have a foolproof law to protect the same-sex couples. It won’t be wrong to assume that the tolerance of the society towards change in social values has decreased lately.

Instead of merely promoting same-sex relationships, it is necessary to include lawmakers in this right away. Simply because people trust their leaders more. If they’ll stand-up and address the issue, then there are more chances of de-stigmatise the same-sex relationships in the society, and create a more livable habitat for all.

Scraping Of Section 497

Before talking about this, let’s detox us from everything that the media headlines had been feeding us and go back to the binaries. If the two (or maybe more) consenting adults consensually decide to have sex, then it can’t be treated as a crime, even if they are married to different partners. The extramarital relationship can be (or should be) a ground for divorce but not the jail term. Next, the Adultery Law or Section 497 demeans women by regarding them as mere property of their husbands. As per the Law, “A wife is the property of the husband and if any man took her without your consent, then as her master, i.e. husband can put the thief in jail for five years.” That, of course, means the similar privileges weren’t extended to the wife, in case the husband cheats on her.

This, clearly, means that the Supreme Court has not slashed the law to make adultery legal but to bring equal rights to both the partners in matrimony. Couples can still fight the adultery in civil courts and seek a divorce, and as long as we will consider marriage. As an institution with sanctity, the adultery will remain wrong for both the parties.

Allowing The Entry For Women Of all Ages In The Sabarimala Temple

Sabarimala, in Kerala, sees fervour pilgrimage, especially in the month of November-December. Before the Supreme Court’s verdict, women below ten years or above 50 years of age were only allowed to enter the temple.
The Apex Court scrapped these rules and allowed the entry of women of all ages. The Chief Justice of India said, “devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination, and patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion.” The lone dissenting and women Judge in the panel, Justice Indu Malhotra said, “issues of deep religious sentiments should not be ordinarily be interfered by the Court. The court should not interfere unless if there is any aggrieved person from that section or religion. The notion of rationality should not be seen in matters of religion.” (Reported Indian Express)

What she said were the true feelings of the religious people across the country when the verdict came, even though the taboo around the menstruation is apparently coming down in the society (or at least we like to believe it). People like Rahul Easwar openly called the verdict “unbalanced”, and none of the prominent leaders came forward to support the verdict. Then how many women will risk going to Sabarimala, as the verdict can’t change the priests and also the men in the family. Aren’t these the same people who said that the Kerala floods are the wrath of the Lord Ayyappa because of the same demand? So, if they think that messing with the so-called traditions can cause a natural disaster then how this verdict is going help change it.

Are these verdicts mere legal announcements and there are good chances of them not bringing the desired change in the society?  Don’t you think we need stronger legal structures and recourses more now than before, to eliminate the chances of collateral damage?

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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.

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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.

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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
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