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Porn To Patriarchy: Everything Studying English Literature Made Me Question

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Back in school every year they used to award students who had 100% attendance. I was never absent because I liked receiving awards that didn’t involve much hard work. The prize was a book that I knew I was never going to read, because I hated reading. Isn’t it a lot of mental work?

Choosing English Major as my undergraduate degree was an impulsive decision on my part. “Too many women,” I faintly remember my soliloquy when I first met my classmates.

Miranda House is like a feminist utopia where you will find incredibly talented people who are really passionate about their choices and dreams. It was intimidating to find people who were so clear about their life choices that you would want to punch them in the face right away out of sheer envy. These were students who had already read T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and knew what discourse as a literary term meant.

I remember our professor had asked everyone if English was their first preference and luckily I wasn’t the only one who said it wasn’t. My professor had said that, “most literature students fall in love with learning.” How idealistic.

‘Falling in love with learning.’ Well, that was a new concept for a CBSE student who sounded like the BYJUS app back then. I was, of course, a little ridiculed for being a CBSE student.

“So they taught you ONE CHAPTER from a Shakespearean tragedy?” said my ISC prodigy friend. In my defense, that dude’s language is super cryptic for a class ten student to understand. Everything had left a bad taste in my mouth except for the PAM cheeseburger, which by the way I’m pretty sure is one of the reasons behind Miranda House’s NIRF ranking.

The first time I thought maybe English literature wasn’t the worst decision was when we were discussing Zeus in our class. We went from Zeus to patriarchy and then to religion and then I lost where the professor went but I wished the lecture hadn’t ended. I realized the processes that my school had taught me had made me harbor a sense of aversion towards learning.

College was different, my professors didn’t care if I leaned on the bench or if I was eating in the classroom; the only thing that made them furious was a silent class, one of them had called us “dummies,” quite rude!

Engaging classrooms are a very challenging atmosphere, you are made to argue with a person who might be more well read than you and the fear of saying something stupid always got the better of me. But you can’t stay a dummy even if it involves appearing like a complete idiot in a class. Speak up because it’s empowering. One of the best things that my professor had told me was, “you know some things, they know some things.”

I remember the first time I did it. “Helen was the wife of Menelaus who later eloped with Paris,” I had replied to a fairly direct question and I knew I wasn’t wrong. My professor stared at me for two seconds and said, “So your idea of Helen’s identity only revolves around the men in her life.” This was the first time I realized the power of language.

I have now started analyzing things before saying them but trying to sound politically correct and not holding back my tongue is an art that I am yet to learn.

I was trying to make sense of the different ideas that were thrown at me after every next lecture when this incident took place. It was one of the introductory classes for the second semester and our professor read an excerpt from Tropic of Cancer. She was received by jaw dropping silence which was broken by my friend’s whisper, “Did she just read ‘bitch in heat’ out loud?”

My professor was making a point about male centered pornography. She then talked about incest which made most of us uncomfortable. She had sensed it, and she asked us why. Nobody wanted to answer that; nobody could rationally, anyway. She then said, “We have saved ourselves as human beings and damned ourselves as scholars.”

It’s debates like these sprinkled with unnerving silence, cringe worthy defenses and reaching the clichéd conclusion that ‘everything is a social construct’ that made attending most lectures worth it.

I owe a lot to this college and the people that I’ve met here. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for this experience. It hasn’t always been smooth – it’s challenging, the newness, the sleep deprivation, the awful food, the Delhi heat, the recurring existential crisis.

Yes, the existential crisis. Anita Desai’s ‘In Custody’ and Albert Camus’ ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ drove most of us to this plague that has affected half the millennial population. Michael J. Sandel once said, “self knowledge is like lost innocence, however unsettling, it can never be unseen.”

I have now started analyzing nuances I earlier ignored or took for granted. I question things in my head all the time and it is unsatisfying and exhausting, but I can’t stop myself. I think I have gone absolutely bonkers.

I can’t sum up my experience of a year in this smog filled city that I have started liking more than my hometown in a few words, but I can confidently assert one thing: had I not truly fallen in love with learning this one year would have been terrible mental hell.

From skipping Gulliver’s Travel in the sixth grade to choosing to read a book over watching a movie, I’ve come a long way. From knowing these three words individually – cultural material criticism – to understanding what they mean as a whole, I’ve come a long way. From taking impulsive decisions to respecting my impulsive decisions, I’ve come a long way.

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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.

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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.

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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