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Sexual Assaults On Nuns, Film Actresses: When Will India Have Its #MeToo Movement?

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in the five-part series analysing why the rich, powerful men – from politicians to spiritual leaders – across the world are victimising themselves upon being accused of sexual harassment. 


Was one of the bishops to whom the Pope referred to in his sermon on sexual assault victims in September 2018 Bishop Franco Mulakkal? While the Catholic Church’s sex abuse drama plays out in America, the scandal surrounding Mulakkal is unraveling on the other side of the world. It stretches across the whole of India, from Kerala in the deep south to Punjab in the far north, and contains echoes of so many other abuses of power.

Mulakkal, who oversees the diocese of Jalandhar, Punjab, was accused in June of raping a nun in Kerala 13 times between 2014 and 2016. The bishop’s response was a page from Trump’s playbook. He cast himself as a martyr, declaring, “derogatory statements are being made against me…. Though I am an accused, but that does not give anyone the license to tarnish my character.” He spoke of his great pain, stating, “I suffered it silently. This is a time of crisis… I am going through painful agony.”

Flatly denying the allegations, he called them “baseless and concocted” and accused the nun of attempting to blackmail him for personal gain. Filing a case with the police days before the nun leveled charges against him, he accused her relatives of sending him death threats. One of the people investigated, however, told police that the bishop intimidated him into sending fake threats.

The Church closed ranks around the bishop. In July, the vicar-general of Jalandhar (the bishop’s deputy) stated, “It is all planned and timed to blackmail the bishop from taking punitive action against her.” In September, the nun’s congregation came out against her, arguing, “The victim was seen laughing with the bishop a day after when the rape was supposed to have happened.”

Undeterred, however, the victim continued her struggle. On September 8, in an open letter to the Vatican, she said, “They are arranging people to attack us, and Bishop Franco is using his political power and money to get higher authorities of the investigation and the government to bury legal proceedings that I have filed against him.” On the same day, a coalition of five nuns began an agitation in Kochi (Kerala’s most populous metropolis) to demand Mulakkal’s arrest. Every day since, they traveled to Kochi’s Vanchi Square to sit in silent protest.

One of the protesting nuns, Sister Ancita, spoke out at the home where she lives with the victim. “Our sister — we call her amma (mother) — isn’t safe here,” she said. “We can never be sure of what they might do. Our amma has taken on one of the most powerful people in the Church.”

The level of power Mulakkal possesses was illustrated when a Kerala state legislator leapt to his defence by viciously attacking the victim. “No one has a doubt that the nun is a prostitute,” said Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) PC George on September 9. “Twelve times she enjoyed it and the thirteenth time, it is rape? Why didn’t she complain the first time?” After his comments sparked outrage, he retracted the “prostitute” allegation, but simultaneously continued his attacks. “According to me, she isn’t a nun,” he said. “To refer to any woman as a prostitute is wrong. I shouldn’t have used that word. But I strongly stand by other statements that I made regarding that woman.”

George has a habit of assailing sexual abuse victims and siding with accused abusers. In 2017, a local actress was abducted by a gang, bundled into a car, and sexually assaulted for hours while her assailants filmed her abuse. As the police investigated, they concluded that Dileep, a well-known actor, may have organized the attack.

The MLA first denied the victim’s claims, asking, “where is proof that she was attacked?” Then leaping to the defence of the accused, he declared, “Superstar Dileep has been targeted and the case against him is fabricated.” Painting the actor as a martyr, he added, “Dileep is also a victim.” Arguing that the real victim was “men,” he stated, “This is not a case of harassment of a woman; this is the harassment of a man.” After the Kerala Women’s Commission denounced his comments, they reported that he responded by sending them threatening letters accompanied by packets of feces.

The victimized actress did not remain silent. Speaking out against the MLA, she demanded, “What do people like PC George think?” Speculating as to how he thinks she should have responded, she asked, “I should have committed suicide? Or should I have been dumped in a mental asylum? Or should I hide myself somewhere by not appearing in public? Can someone tell me what wrong I did?”

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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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