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I Didn’t Know What To Do When My Friend Molested Me In A Movie Theatre

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Since the country is swept by the Me Too wave, I feel encouraged to narrate my #MeToo moment.

I was 17 when it happened. It was my first semester at Delhi University. Everything was new and amazing and DUSU elections are a crazy time, so naturally, I was excited. A day before the elections, we planned to go for a movie. It was a big group of 10-15 people and as we all were new it was a time of budding friendships. I knew most of the people in that group but none of them were actually close to me, except a guy who I had recently started commuting with and I was comfortable with him. Although he was a self-declared playboy (read molester), I couldn’t care less since I knew him. So when he asked me to sit next to him, I didn’t hesitate.

With the movie, began the ordeal. He inclined towards me as soon as the lights were dimmed, making me feel uncomfortable. Suddenly he started touching my breasts and kissing me. He then slid his hands inside my t-shirt. By that time, I was in complete shock. I was numb and couldn’t speak up. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me. It was my first sexual encounter and I was completely clueless about how to deal with it. I was feeling embarrassed and ashamed to speak up, thinking that I will be mocked if I get up in the middle of the movie. So, I sat there letting him play with my body. And, he continued moving his hands down into my jeans. I let out a feeble ‘NO’ but I was not sure if even I heard my voice. I pretended to act normal and watch the screen, trying my best to hide from my classmates sitting next to us. Little did I know that they were part of it, that there was no man sitting there who could even dare to stop the show. I was shivering inside and just wanted to get over with this. I sat there, ignoring his act, lewd comments and praying that it stops soon. But it didn’t, he took my hand and asked me to feel him getting hard. This was the last blow, I pulled my hand and finally asked him to stop. Luckily, it was interval time and I zipped up and left to sit with the other girls.

He later complained that I ruined his fun by not letting him finish post interval. I came out from that movie hall with a high fever that went on for next one week and later on for two months. I did not tell my parents since I came from an orthodox family where girls weren’t allowed to talk to boys, so if something happens, it’s on the girl (Yes, it happened in the 21st Century only).

After this incident, I found out that during his drunken conversations he boasted about what he did to me. Possibly every guy from my class knew about this. Yet, I did nothing. Although I told a few of my friends, no one encouraged me to act upon it. I became the subject of mockery for a few people. Still, I pretended as if nothing happened and graduated without acknowledging the fact that my friend sexually harassed me. I, once, confronted him when the realisation dawn upon me. He responded that I never said No and I was enjoying it too. I was speechless. All this time I kept thinking it was my fault that I did not stop him. This incident left a scar on my soul which I never tended to. How do I know? Because even after living in denial all this time, I cried in real for the first time thinking about it.

But whose fault was it? Why did I not stop him?

I shared my story to throw light on a few subjects that are frowned upon in our country and culture.

First is sex education. I was never taught in my life what is sexual harassment neither by my family nor school. Whatever sexual knowledge I gained, it was through watching porn, which is unarguably the worst mode of sex education for any kid. I did not know the austerity of my own body, I did not know what is wrong or right and neither did I know that I have a right to stop someone. Some will say it is common sense. Maybe I lacked it, but I could have been made aware of it by educating me. Instead, I learned it the hard way and understanding of the ‘worth’ of my own body came even years later. Every child should be given sex education from a young age, especially when we live among sexual predators and paedophiles. So parents, if you shy away from teaching your kid, the world will teach them and not in a good way. Teach them not to be ashamed of it but to raise the alarm and fight it off and most importantly, listen to them.

Second is consent. Surely, nowadays there’s a lot of debate on ‘consent’ but how many of us understand it. I came across a few sexual encounters where the man could not comprehend that just because the woman is not saying ‘no’, or not doesn’t mean she is ready. Not true. Sometimes, a woman might not be able to know how to react. So, please make sure she is comfortable before doing anything if you don’t want to scar her soul. Surely, such men are not intentionally assaulting women, but men need to be taught the real meaning of consent. It’s not just limited to plain YES or NO. It means to comprehend that she is in a state of understanding what she is doing and she is comfortable.

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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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