Six Years And Counting: A Letter To The Braveheart Of 16 December, 2012

Dear Sister,

I will not begin my letter by saying that hope you are in a better place, because a better place for you was supposed to be the place where you actually were six years ago, where you had infinite dreams of being the best you can, where you could lead a happy life with your family and your loved ones, where you were supposed to be equal, independent, free and secure far beyond the clutches of a patriarchal society and the perpetrators it daily gives birth to. I certainly don’t think that this was too much to ask for and if we as a society have failed you miserably, then I don’t have the right to comfort you and millions of daughters of India by saying that you are in a better place. We simply cannot hide behind our misogyny and sexism to sell a lie that the precious and brave daughters of India like you are going to heaven, an abode much better than the hell that we have created here.

It has been six years since that horrific December 16th night, a night that was brutal for you and for the millions of daughters of India, a night that reminded them that in a land where the theatrics of treating them as Goddesses unfold is the very same land where not a single one of them is truly secure and that all of them are treated as no more than just a piece of flesh to be pounced upon. I was just one of the many in the crowd back then who held a candle for you with the belief that justice will be done but little did I know that things would only get worse.

Not, a single day has passed since then without the mention of a brutal rape incident in India and Delhi has emerged as the ‘rape capital’ of India. The monsters who violated you have been dealt with by the law partially as even the apex court could not deliver the justice which your mother was looking for. The worst part is that there are still many more monsters who roam freely on the streets and their pathetic and patriarchal mindset makes life miserable for the daughters of India. They are in the family, in schools, on streets, in law and judiciary, in politics and most prominently in religion. They and their rapist mentality of victim blaming, rapist shielding and women bashing has reached alarming levels.

 

Today, I along with the youth of this country find myself fighting a misogynistic and disturbing trend, a trend of defending and shielding the rapists sometimes in the name of religion and on other occasions simply because they are too influential and have access to the corridors of power. In the year 2018 itself, an eight-year-old child Asifa was brutally raped in Kathua following which, the local politicians and muscle men batted for the accused and in the name of religion did everything in their power to influence fair investigation in the case. If this was not enough, then a father fighting for justice for her daughter in Unnao, a minor girl, who was raped and whose cry for justice fell on deaf ears for two long years was eventually murdered simply because the accused in this case was a BJP MLA, a muscle man from Unnao, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who later smiled at the media cameras because he knew that his political clout would shield him.

Brajesh Sharma, the owner of a shelter home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar where over 30 minor girls were repeatedly raped and tortured also just simply smiled at the camera and walked off with ease. Another shelter home in Deoira in Uttar Pradesh had its own gruesome tale to tell, where over twenty minor girls were raped night after night. The stark similarity which Deoria shared with the Muzaffarpur case was that both the shelter homes enjoyed government funding at one point of time highlighting the nexus of politicians and those who claim to be a part of the civil society but are only in it for money and exploitation of those whom they vouch to serve.

The general discourse in today’s times has been diverted from the increasing number of rape cases and the violence against women to the religion and caste of the rapists, leading to selective outrage after carefully examining the religions of the victim and the rapist. In this shielding of rapists, we are dealing with two very grave problems in our society; first being rape and violence against women which emanates from a highly patriarchal society like ours and is a social problem which can be only tackled by an overhaul of the social fabric of our country. However, the sad part is that currently we are moving in an exactly opposite direction with the communalization and politicization of rapes and violence against women, and therefore the problem has now soared to alarming levels.

The second big problem is the extreme power which politicians enjoy in our country which makes them believe that they are above the law and therefore they blatantly smile at the camera and challenge us to stop them if we can. They know that we shall not stand united for justice because they will simply say that rape occurred in a temple or in a mosque and in a minute we shall be divided, questioning everything that justice stands for.

Our society has forgotten that rapists, murderers and criminals have no religion and that there is no holy book which encourages such barbaric acts and if such a book does exist then it is an unholy book. I think the least we can do for justice for our daughters is to stop getting divided on communal lines and speak in one voice for all the daughters of India and their safety and only then this disturbing trend of rapists getting shielded in the name of religion, castes and politics will come to an end.

I would end my letter by apologizing to you. I am sorry that we had let you down six years back and I am equally sorry that we are letting you and millions of other women down even today. I am sorry that instead of changing for the better, we as a society have changed for the worse but I am hopeful and your courage gives me hope that the youth of this country shall unite and ensure that one day we shall no more let you down and we shall no more let the daughters of India down.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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