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Women Students At Punjabi Uni. Patiala Refuse To Back Down, Will Only Settle For Freedom

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Punjabi University, Patiala has a culture of dialogue, protest and sensitization that has not only proven to be consistent in the past few days but also intelligent and innovative. Freedom of mobility, so integral and yet unavailable to women across universities in India, is symptomatic of institutional sexism, normalised and reinforced in such places that are often construed as strongholds of ideas of liberty and equality.

Students of Punjabi University launched a protest on September 18, 2018, with 13 demands, most significantly that curfew on campus be removed, hostels be open 24×7, along with more lighting on campus, improvement in infrastructure, food quality, transparency in hostel allocations and a host of other demands, a report released by DSO stated. However, it was during a night march on the same day that the protesting students of Democratic Students’ Organisation (DSO), majority of whom were girls, were allegedly harassed and beaten by members of the Students Association of Punjab (SAP) outside the vice-chancellor’s office. Five of the students and a female security guard got minor injuries. SAP activist Ravinderpreet Kaur alleged similar attacks by DSO students. Both sides filed complaints with the police, however, 13 students from the DSO have been booked on criminal charges so far.

On the flip side, DSO secretary Gagandeep Kaur said, “They [SAP members] were at least 50-60 in number and had come in four SUVs. We suspect that the assault was mooted in connivance with the university authorities. How else could they enter the university premises on SUVs despite a ban on the entry of four-wheelers here.” Consequent to the clash between the parties, the administration shut down the university for two days until Friday, September 21.

A student affiliated to DSO, Akash, told YKA that students from the university also began a chain hunger strike on October 1, where five students, three women and two men, sat on strike at a time for 24 hours. However, due to deteriorating health of students, it was called off on October 6, even though the usual protests have remained fierce and consistent. Hostel gates were broken during Thursday (October 4) night’s incident in which the girl students barged out of the Amrita Shergill hostel by breaking the main gate and hostel timings have been boycotted in fashion, with students refusing to let the gates of the hostels close in the past few days.

On October 9, as many as ten students, including four girls, were injured and hospitalised when clashes broke out between members of DSO and students of physical education. According to a report, the students of physical education attacked the protesters to “avenge” Dr Nishan Singh who was attacked by a mob on Sunday night (October 7) during a gherao in which protesters held the authorities, including the Vice-Chancellor, inside the university guesthouse till 2 am. The students held a sit-in after the university authorities called the parents of girl students, informing them that “they were roaming the campus with boys late into the night”. They had demanded an apology from V-C Prof BS Ghuman, who has refused to give in.

The University administration sees the demands related to poor facilities in hostels and delay in declaring examination results as reasonable but has shown disfavour and malignancy to the demand for round the clock entry to girls’ hostels. “We take girl students’ security seriously, and thus cannot allow round the clock entry to them into hostels. There are several other factors including social, law and order and administrative involved in the matter,” a university spokesperson said. The university has agreed to extend the hostel entry for girl students from 8 pm to 9 pm, but students are adamant over round-the-clock entry demand. The university has also suggested holding a dialogue between the student unions, officials and parents over the demand. However, the protestors have refused to include parents in the varsity affairs.

While the movement was spearheaded by the left-leaning Democratic Students’ Organisation (DSO), it now involves five other Left student bodies, including Punjab Students’ Union (PSU), PSU Lalkaar, All India Students Federation (AISF), Students Federation of India (SFI) and Punjab Radical Students Union (PRSU). Alongside, more than 17 teaching staff, non-teaching staff, farmers, advocates and democratic rights organisations have come forward to support the cause. Women from Pinjra Tod as well as the JNUSU President, N Sai Balaji also registered their support. On the other hand, the demand to relax hostel entry timings have been vigorously opposed by organisations such as the SAF (Students’ Association of Punjab), SYFI (Secular Youth Federation of India) and NSUI (National Students’ Union of India) and SOI (Students’ Organisation of India). It is perhaps this extreme polarization that has lent the Patiala students’ movement its dynamism.

Many archaic ‘rituals’ on campus have been quashed and introductions made to cultivate sensitivity, awareness and gender equality through the active involvement and mobilisation of students. demand for the implementation of guideline pertaining to GSCASH (Gender Sensitive Committee Against Sexual Harassment) in 2013, ban on four-wheelers on campus in 2015, extension of girls’ hostel timings from 6.30 pm to 8 pm in summers and 7.30 pm in winters in 2016 and Girls’ Hostel gates no longer remain closed on Holi.

As of October 10, 2018, the students of the university have already been on protest for 23 days. While it remains to be seen whether the demands of the students will be met, the student consciousness is a cause of celebration in itself.

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Image credit: Pinjra Tod/Facebook
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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.

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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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