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Lessons From MJ Akbar’s Life And His Transgressions

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I wasn’t expecting M J Akbar to go down without a fight. His stoic silence, while he was abroad, was a clear indicator. Now that he has chosen to take his victims to court, we need to break it down and understand why his brazenness continues to exist unabated.

There are no clear lines and definitions for what counts as sexually inappropriate or sexual innuendoes. Perversion is a part of our society. Passing lewd remarks and groping is acceptable behaviour. Girls from the onset of their teens are made to undergo these in public transport and other public places. They suffer silently, shrug it off and continue their lives because the society has made sex itself a taboo and it’s too shameful to talk about perversion. Add to it the fact that if they complain and make a noise – their families will readily ask them to sit at home and get them married as soon as they are old enough. What choice do women really have?

Now Akbar claims he hasn’t done anything to his accusers. He claims he didn’t rape anyone, and he would have never because there was too much for him to lose in the society and professionally by crossing that line. All his victims had alleged that his transgressions took place either inside his office room or hotel rooms when there was no third person. Looks like he was smart enough to make it into a “his word against theirs” – in case anyone tried to complain against him. And what would have been his line of reasoning? Because of his enormous position and power in journalism women were trying to exploit him with false accusations. In the statement he has given out, he is substantiating his claim that he has done nothing to women with the argument that his victims continued working with him after the alleged incidents happened.

The corporate was a very different world until about 10-15 years back. There was no internet and social media. Opportunities were far and few in every field. Associating with established and influential people in the respective fields was the norm to kickstart careers. Interning is the new age word for apprenticing. Women apprentices were far and few at the turn of the 20th century. Male apprentices were made to slog it out before an opportunity opened out before them. It is into this world that women came in aspiring for careers and equal status of men.

So when someone of the stature of Akbar, instead of being an astute mentor became an unabashed abuser, what could have the poor girls done? How they chose to live through each day expecting anything to happen to them and within reach of his predatory hands and lust is commendable beyond words. Along with abusing women, he was abusing his own authority, and most importantly he helped create a system where the abuse could continue without being questioned.

Akbar has tried to trigger a political storm by claiming that these accusations rearing their head just before the 2019 elections are nothing but a political conspiracy. It flies right back on his face. A conspiracy would have been if ALL the women who had worked with him were accusing him. It’s obvious that he did not fancy every woman who worked with him. Some might have even given in to his perverted sexual needs. The ones who chose to not lay down their dignity at his feet were the ones who got harassed and abused, and those are the women who have raised their voice against him.

It comes as no surprise that the government has chosen to protect him. If he had used his power and influence in the workplace to abuse his colleagues, the government he is part of has been abusing their power by promoting and bringing rapists and criminals into their fold. His personality and behaviour is a reflection of the autocratic mindset of the BJP leadership. It was Rajiv Gandhi who had brought him under the political umbrella thereby giving him immeasurable influence and power. This is another reason why his victims had no choice but to bury their shame and live in quiet despair for so long. He became a turncoat and jumped ship to BJP after 2014 elections to continue wielding power and influence he had. So the Congress party will never make accusations against him because it will all boomerang on them.

Akbar has to realise that life catches up with everyone at some point in time of our lives. Even a battery of 97 lawyers at his disposal is not going to be enough to pull him out of this hole. The women who have complained against him are all established and seasoned professionals now. They have nothing to gain by tarnishing his name. He may not be eventually prosecuted by law, but his political career and his standing in the society is ruined and shamed forever. Abusers like him in the future may even get called with contempt as “Akbar” or “Akbar ka beta (son)” or “Akbar ka potha (grandson)”. These accusations must have made a normal life in the society untenable for his immediate and extended families. There would be no greater punishment than having to live out his old age in such shame and indignity.

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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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