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The Supreme Court Isn’t Meant To Protect Our False Sense Of Morality

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While many believe that the Supreme Court is setting us on a path that resembles a near linear social progression, it has also come under scrutiny for its last month’s radical and landmark verdicts concerning women, and dismantling toxic patriarchal social structures. In the last week of September, the Supreme Court repealed two sexist laws consecutively; this was preceded by the court’s decision to scrap Section 377, earlier the same month, legalising same-sex intercourse.

A few weeks after Section 377 verdict, the court repealed Section 497, which dealt with adultery, and the next day, in a 4-1 decision, decided to allow women entry into the Sabarimala temple of Kerala, after a 28-year-long ban.

India’s adultery law was exceedingly sexist towards women and was entirely rooted in patriarchy and the idea of a wife being the possession of her husband; with only married men whose wives would cheat – being the ones able to file a case under the adultery law against men their wives cheated with. Under this law, there was no provision to seek any legal remedy for married women whose husbands would cheat on them. The biggest problem with the law was that it treated a woman like possession of the man she was married to. The law was merely a method for men to assert ownership over their wives and seek legal remedy when they were ‘wronged’ by them, and their egos were shattered in the process.

The court’s decision to repeal the law instead of keeping it the way it is, or extending it to punish women, drew a lot of flak, mostly by people with a false sense of morality who claimed that – without a law in place, marriage would lose its sanctity. They argued that people would become morally corrupt – due to which the country would decline.

The Sabarimala verdict also amassed similar furore, with a lot of people arguing that the verdict is against Hinduism and that the court is attacking Hindus and their faith; mocking the country’s culture at the same time. In response to this, most campaigners of the #ReadyToWait campaign – a campaign by women who claim they will wait until menopause to visit the temple, which allegedly is the deity’s desire – said they would pursue the matter further.

Supreme Court’s decisions lately may not have been in line with the Indian culture, but the court doesn’t have any cultural obligations to adhere with. The apex court isn’t meant to protect the false sense of morality that we collectively hold, and it isn’t supposed to be giving in to our conservative ideas. The only obligations that the Supreme Court needs to keep in mind are – to uphold the rights of every citizen that is guaranteed to them by the Constitution and to protect their lives and the quality of their life by not allowing them to be subjected to discrimination or violence because of their differences. If in doing so the court hurts regressive cultural sentiments fuelled entirely by toxic ideas like sexism and homophobia taking root in patriarchy and other forms of toxicity that we perpetrate and perpetuate, then the Supreme Court is on the right course.

Our sentiments or beliefs do not come above the rights and lives of others. We have no right to assert the importance of our culture and punish every person who doesn’t fit into the mould we chalk up and give the seal of moral approval and cultural sanction. This systematic dismantling of the rights of those who embrace non-conformity, or of those that are considered individuals of lesser value – like women, has been ongoing for centuries, but with these landmark decisions, Supreme Court’s message was clear – a change is finally beginning to manifest.

The adultery and Sabarimala verdicts are of paramount importance to the cause of women; it allows them the autonomy they were denied for years. These verdicts challenge the prevalent and deeply entrenched patriarchal practice of disallowing women to take up public space, keeping it in its entirety for men, and pushing women to the sidelines. It is tragic but extremely unsurprising that these verdicts – that merely uphold the rights of women and assert their independence have caused such furore. We as a society have often regarded the rights and lives of women as having lesser value than our patriarchal notions, we have always executed sexist ideas at the cost of women.

We cannot strip people of their rights for the sake of our baseless beliefs. If our morality comes from dehumanising and shunning menstruating women, if our traditions can only remain intact by men owning their wives, if our culture promotes denying fundamental rights to women, then maybe it’s time we rid ourselves of such morality and traditions. If our culture thrives on shunning and silencing women, then this culture needs to be discarded, not embraced or protected. In these changing times, a change which has been set in motion by SC, our culture needs to evolve and be more accommodating, loving, just, and equal. Otherwise, it never will be worth protecting. The Supreme Court did fulfil its obligations, keeping in mind the principles of justice and equality, and not tradition, popular sentiment, patriarchal beliefs, or culture; because it has no cultural obligations, whatsoever – and due to this, there will be a better future.

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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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