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As #MeToo Expands, 5 Queer Indians Share Their Harrowing Stories

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TRIGGER WARNING

A few days back I read somewhere about how social media amplifies the voices of oppressed people and helps create a revolution. The true power of social media is to influence. It provides an avenue for people to navigate their thoughts and feelings. As social media outgrows traditional media, people are choosing online platforms to share their experiences. I am astonished by the whole (deserved) attention the #MeToo movement has received. but at the same time, I am disappointed with the poor participation of the queer community in the movement. The failure to create a non-judgmental online space for LGBTQI+ people is evident.

MeToo, Social cause
MeToo

I have been a part of an online private Facebook support group, Yaariyan, for a while. It aims to create a safe and inclusive space for young Indian queer individuals. Here, the community can speak, crib, connect, and express themselves without any apprehension, or fear of judgment and discrimination. A space which feels like their own. With #MeToo hitting mainstream media, some people took to Yaariyan as a space where they could freely talk about their experiences of sexual abuse and harassment. The more I read these accounts, the more my anguish and anger grew. All these experiences are equally bona fide, deserve attention, and need to be heard.

With the consent of the members of the group here, I am sharing some of those stories:

‘I came to know later that she does that to every inebriated gay guy she can get along with.’

Kanishka Choudhry:

When people say that the #MeToo campaign is for women, I think they are mistaken. What started as a campaign for women has now crossed the gender and sexuality divide. The sheer magnitude of it is mind boggling and sad.

I remember being molested by a girl at a friend’s place. I was sloshed; she was playing the damsel in distress (“it’s late, how will I go home alone?”), hinting that one of us drops her off. I passed out on the couch, waking up to the sensation of her hand in my pants. She was a big woman and it was difficult to get her off me. Thankfully my friend saw that and helped me out. She did all this even after being fully aware of my sexuality. In fact, I came to know later that she does that to every inebriated gay guy she can get along with. I bumped into her again in a social event and she tried to first forcefully kiss me and when I resisted, turned her attention to my friend. It was a horrible experience. It disgusted me and I am lucky to have been saved in the nick of time. There are millions of others who have not been that lucky.

‘I hid in the washroom and to my surprise he followed me there also, groped me from the back, and tried to touch my private body parts.’

Anonymous:

When I was in 7th Standard I went to a mall to attend a conference with my dad. His office was behind the mall and he told me to wait there for about an hour till he comes back. While I was standing there a guy was continually staring at me and suddenly came near and stood beside me. He started talking to me and suddenly he tried to show me something on his phone. It was porn. He started talking about porn. I got scared and ran away from there but he followed me everywhere. I hid in the washroom, and, to my surprise, he followed me there also, groped me from the back, tried to touch my private body parts. Fortunately, somebody came and he left. I locked myself in the bathroom until my father came.

I was traumatised, shaken, and tears were rolling out of my eyes, but I couldn’t share the incident with my dad. I got sick for a week. Still today I haven’t told my parents about the incident but with the onset of the #MeToo movement, I finally gathered the courage to share it.

‘For two years he molested me; he made it a daily routine.’

Rahul Sahay:

I had left home for my higher studies, and started living in the hostel. Fortunately, I got never subjected to ragging or bullying; the first year went really smooth apart from missing home badly. In my second year, a senior suddenly shifted to my room, but I never anticipated anything bad. One morning I had a high fever with severe shivering. The senior locked the door, came inside my blanket and raped me. I was screaming out of pain but that hardly bothered him. Since everybody was in class nobody was there to help me. I was left alone bleeding in my room. For two years he molested me; he made it a daily routine. My friends left me as they thought I was acting weird. I could never talk about it to anyone because my sexuality was anyway always a subject of ridicule and mockery. I knew people would blame me for everything.

Today, even after being sexually harassed for two years I am standing strong. I don’t think people realise how much strength it takes to pull your own self out from a poisonous situation, so if you have done that today or any day be proud of yourself.

‘Whatever I could gather, they were planning on sending me to someone in the Middle East.’

Anonymous:

The year 2005.

I was 23. Social media was barely there. Met a man who introduced himself as A. Khanna on the internet. We got talking. I started calling him ‘Dadai’ (exactly what my younger brother calls me, an extended adorable version of Dada/Elder brother).

I was stupid enough to leave my job, take whatever savings I had and fly away to Mumbai with my parents’ permission, who trusted him just as much as I did.

For representation only.

I met Dadai at the airport who looked way different from the picture of him that he earlier sent me. Almost 20 years older. Still didn’t strike odd (yes I was that naive).

We drove down to POPCO Colony on Yari Road in Versova, and he took me to an apartment there.

I went in, and he left the house saying “I’ll be back in some time, there’s food in the fridge, have it.” Strangely enough, he locked the main door from the outside and left, only to return past midnight, heavily intoxicated.

The apartment was tiny, messed up, and dirty. I somehow cleaned a mattress and slept on that on the floor only to be woken up by someone biting into my neck.

To my horror, it was ‘Dadai’. I pushed him aside and jumped up. He stumbled and gathered himself and said sorry to me and went and slept off in the other room.

I was too shaken up to sleep, but may be too tired too and I dozed off. Next morning he woke up and left again leaving me locked up. When I told him I need to call my parents he said: “Tonight, once I’m back”.

That night he didn’t return until midnight and I fell asleep, this time around I made sure I bolted the latch from inside.

It was around 2:45 am when I woke up to use the restroom and heard faint voices and suppressed laughter from the room across the tiny dining area.

I stealthily walked across the room and to my horror saw a few cops and Dadai all indulging in food, booze, drugs, smoke etc. One of them asked “Chikna kidhar hain? (Where’s the twink?)”, to which Dadai replied, “Next room. Tomorrow we’ll end his story for good.” Also by whatever I could gather, they were planning on sending me to someone in the Middle East.

I was standing there peeping in, my legs quivering, sweating, crying quietly, remembering my friends and family in Kolkata, and telling myself, “My parents and I trusted him so much, and this is what we get in return?”

I was wearing a pair of boxers and a vest. The door was locked, and the keys were with them.

I had to leave to live! Anyhow.

Taking advantage of their inebriated condition, I slowly slid open the window in the dining room and with the help of a strong tree and close to 40 bruises, I climbed down from the first floor and ran for my life.

I will be ever grateful to the security guard that night who was kind enough to let me flee without getting caught.

The rest, as they say, is history. That incident has left a scar on me, so deep that one lifetime might not be enough to get rid of it.

Lesson learned: never trust a complete stranger unless you know him well enough.

‘May I say #MeToo or it was my wish?’

Anonymous:

May I say #MeToo
or it was my wish?
Then I was a child
didn’t know what it is

He hugged me from back
He held me tight
He shushed me always
And I kept quiet

He told the others
what we did that night
others too shushed me
and I remain quiet

Unknowingly I attempted
to shushed someone
I am wasn’t aware
It will harm them enough

Those people caged me
that you did wrong
but they continued to shush me until they found a girl

I have a filth I did something wrong
I am stuck in the line am I a victim or not
I don’t know can I say
#MeToo or not?

You may now hate me
or say bad words
But I was a child to
I faced enough

I raise my voice to know enough
it wasn’t my mistake
it was you who shushed me first.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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