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#MeToo: In Solidarity With My University’s Survivors

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In light of the recent strong wave of #MeToo where women in Indian media and elsewhere are sharing their experiences of sexual harassment, I think it’s a good time to recall an episode of sexual harassment in 2016.

This was before the #MeToo movement, as we know it today. A brave young student from the college, from where I had graduated earlier that year, had decided to come forward with her story of sexual harassment in a submission she had authored for Youth Ki Awaaz – my then employer. I think it was July or August of 2016.

She knew the risk she was taking and decided to write it anonymously. I knew her before this, and I stand by her submission, till date. I expected a reaction to her article but I was not ready for the online onslaught once the piece came out. Trolls, apologists, slut-shamers, etc. came out in full swing. The worst was the chest-thumping college devotees including many of my friends – even a close one – entirely dismissed it. Ironically, many were students of journalism and apparently flagbearers of truth. Many of them, including juniors, I had adored were now personally rooting for the downfall of YKA, the survivor, as well as myself. Juniors – you know who you are. Of all the people, I thought journalism students would understand.

For them, it appeared as a big conspiracy against their beloved university. Let me make something very clear right now: I loved my university too. I had a great time there and graduated with good grades. But I also know that for many this was a place where dreams went to die. It didn’t for my group of friends and me, but that doesn’t mean that it was the case for all. People failed to realise that not everyone has the same experience in a given space.

Ironically, almost all students, especially in the humanities, rumoured and talked about an incident about a particular clergyman-professor (who also taught me and successive batches) and an incident of an alleged sexual assault he had committed years ago. There were also numerous theories about an alleged cover-up. The Ladies Finger had done a great detailed report on this in 2016.

My female friends and most in the deanery were wary and scared of him and would try to “dress modestly” to not “attract attention”. Male friends would accompany them, just in case. At one point, during a class, when he asked us to close our eyes to demonstrate something on sleep, many wouldn’t because who knows what this creep would be up to. He probably doesn’t teach there anymore because he fell out of favour.

Anyway, some people screamed “due process” then too. Our head counsellor was the administration’s “handler” or Hitler. She slut-shamed students, berated them over attendance, and even warned one of my close friends that she would “get raped” if she worked part-time at night. She did the complete opposite of what was expected of a counsellor. The human incarnation of internalised misogyny. So, not a safe space there.

Many teachers were on our side, but they were helpless. They sympathised with us but couldn’t do anything. They usually are met with strict consequences if they decide to stand up to the management – which is essentially an old-boys “so-called virgin” club. There are brothers (clergymen in training), who study in the nearby seminary, who are inserted in every class and serve as moles and snitches for the administration. No such thing as a safe space in your classroom.

Back to the timeline, my alma mater decided to get into damage control. They sent a legal notice to my employer to take down the article and banned me from campus. At that time I felt terrible, but let it go.

As much as I hate to say this, I am so glad the survivor didn’t name herself publicly. She was still studying there, and god knows what she would have faced had she revealed her identity.

To those people who vigorously defended the university and abused the survivor, I hope you have read and learnt something over the past two years of women publicly identifying themselves at great costs to out their abusers, only to see most of them go unpunished. I hope you are chest thumping university-level nationalism is over. Many of these same people today protest and complain against government fascism. You were the same people who acted as mercenaries for the so-called office of “student welfare” and did great PR for them without even them asking. At YKA, we even started receiving survivor-shaming articles.

I don’t have any pontificating words of advice on how to move on from this. I continue to stand with that survivor and all others today, tomorrow, forever. #TimesUp

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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