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‘I Let Myself Be Exhausted One Day, And I Was Almost Raped’

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IJMEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #ViolenceNoMore, a campaign by International Justice Mission and Youth Ki Awaaz to fight against daily violence faced by marginalised communities. Speak out against systemic violence by publishing a story here.

Six years ago, an incident woke India up to the sudden realization of the never-ending violence and brutality against women. It was the 16th December gangrape which made the country erupt, evoking a sense of poignancy in one and all. As the immediate aftermath, India saw a marked rise in the reporting of sexual violence. Later on, bills were passed, aimed at lessening the loopholes through which predators escaped the system, or, more often than not, never actually entered.

But honestly, has anything changed? I don’t think so. Not really.

I wasn’t in Delhi when I heard about the Nirbhaya case, nor was I there when all the protests began, and the protesters were laathi-charged at. I was desperate to be a part of them, fight for women and survivors everywhere. But I was also highly triggered. Reading about Nirbhaya, seeing the outcry everywhere unblocked some memories of my own abuse. I remember sitting on a stairwell, crying because that was the moment I had realised that my ex wasn’t the only one who abused me sexually, that there were two other men too. I remember being almost catatonic for a few hours afterwards, trying to associate myself with the victim of gangrape. Even six years later, when I try to come to terms with the fact that I was gang-raped too, I start shaking. My fingers are trembling as I write this.

How many women across the country had a similar reaction? How many women went and hid the way I did, to make sure that no one saw how affected they were with the incident and the subsequent outrage? How many women channelled their terror to anger for the sake of Nirbhaya? The gangrape was about her, and I don’t want to take that away. But the aftermath of that heinous act, brought the country with it, the impact resounding everywhere. The country’s reaction was split between anger, triggered, defensiveness and ambivalence. What’s worse, I wonder: defensiveness or ambivalence? Do you know what’s one of the things I heard WAY TOO OFTEN after Nirbhaya died in the hospital? That it’s good she did not survive, because what life would she have had after being raped?

Amidst the outcry, there were also so many people saying the usual ‘boys will be boys’, and ‘why was she out late at night, especially with a boy’ and all those words we’ve heard all too often.  And I was triggered. All my other friends who are survivors were triggered too. Six years later, has anything changed? I really don’t think so.

Earlier this year, I realised that India does not give women the space to be vulnerable. Ever. Some of us are lucky enough to have safe spaces around our friends or family, but none of us can afford to feel completely safe in public and not have that moment taken advantage of. I’ve developed this resting bitch face in life, and when I walk in public spaces, my demeanour says, “I’ll get through whatever comes my way, but not change my gait”. I’ve never had another choice. I either walk by catcalls  (read: sexual harassment) without a glance or a couple of middle fingers. It helps that I’m not a short, petite woman. And honestly, I think all of that protects me on the streets because I look like I will fight to defend myself. But every time the guard has dropped, every single time, without fail, there would be a man or men who tried to molest, or follow or, on my lucky days, just cat-call me. I remember one time I was mind-numbingly exhausted as I was leaving a shady metro station, and I was too tired to even pretend to be vigilant. The next thing I know, I was dragged to a dark underpass by two men. It took me a moment to unfreeze, and in that moment, they had my sweater pulled up with their hands down my pants. I let myself be exhausted one day, and I was almost raped. Sure, I unfroze and screamed, fought and eventually scared them off saving myself, but what does that incident and the thousands of similar ones say about our city, our country? What about all the women who aren’t as lucky as I was that night? Six years later, can women be emotional or exhausted or anything but defensive on the streets? Six years later, do you think the mentality of the country has changed? Sometimes I think it has, but for the worse.

The 2012 gangrape incited unending discourse around women’s safety, some of which is still doing the rounds. I’ve had a chance to talk to a lot of men about violence against women in one of my jobs, and every single time I heard the same jargon around ‘western’ clothes, going out late at night, the terrible influence of the internet (mostly on women, though sometimes on men as well), the education system, and the failing law and order system we have. Yes, things like that are extremely commonly still said and worse, believed. Look at what is not mentioned– MEN and gender inequality.

On a positive note, my job also allowed me to help change some mindsets, and I did see some men consider that maybe, just maybe, it was time to look at the commonality of perpetrators, rather than that of victims and survivors. I even saw some of them change not just their beliefs, but also their actions. So maybe a teeny tiny number of people are ready to change. I interacted with hundreds of men, most of whom had extremely limited education and financial resources. These are the men which those with privilege would believe are the most resistant to change, most defensive about their position, and the most to blame for the circumstances. And some of them definitely were defensive and resistant. However, most of the men I spoke to were willing to consider different points of views, happy to be educated about something which could improve the lives of everyone, including them. I can’t say the same about the privileged men I’ve spoken to about similar topics. The problem is that I got to speak to them for a few hours of their lives. I challenged their thoughts for a few hours and then they went back to a lifetime of societal norms and gendered ideas. Maybe for a few weeks or months, they thought about what I had said. But they aren’t social justice warriors. Could I even expect a few hours to turn them into that, and have them argue with every single person who told them to marry their daughter off? To let their daughter be out till whatever time they let their son be out? Could I ask them to be change agents when they are still a minority even willing to consider it? And six years later, is a few hours of gender education enough to tackle the issues which have plagued our society for centuries? Or are we just looking at raindrops and deluding ourselves to believe that they are diamonds?

I’ve also seen governments pointedly ignore violence against women, especially against those who belong to the minority groups. I’ve seen men accused of rape and other gender-based violence take high positions of power in the country, and I’ve heard other men look up to those men as idols, which says a lot about their behaviour. As far as I know, there hasn’t been an obvious support for perpetrators from the ruling government, but the air has changed and the momentum which the country had gained after Nirbhaya is certainly lost. It’s more than clear how little ruling parties care about women, especially survivors. They’re not going to advocate for us, or change things to make our lives slightly less horrifying. And honestly, the movement to make India safer for women has reduced, partially because there are so many issues to raise with these political ‘leaders’.

So six years later, has anything really changed for the better? I’m going with a resounding NOPE. What about six years from now? Six years from now, would we be able to find just one woman in our lives who doesn’t bear the scars of harassment? Six years from now, would it be possible for women to have a moment of vulnerability on the street and not have men look at her as their chance to exert their power? Honestly, I’m not optimistic!

Yet there are some groups, people and organizations across the country which give me a sliver of hope. The momentum from the outcry after 2012 led to multiple gender-sensitisation programs being instituted across the country, and though the government may have stalled that momentum, the youth have kept it up. The last six years have seen a marked rise in projects, and organisations working towards women’s safety and gender equality. I have seen a lot more people, those who I knew as ambivalent before, wake up and try to see how they could be involved. I’ve seen more people apply for gender studies programs and psychology programs than ever before.

Ultimately, the only thing which I see as having long-term impact is gender sensitisation and comprehensive sexual education starting in schools. India doesn’t talk about sex and it doesn’t consider gender. Also, it is legitimately shocking how few of us have any idea about sexual health, consent, safe sex and so forth. It’s so easy for us to be ambivalent and oblivious. What needs to change is that ignorance and it needs to start from children. Schools need to be fighting against the taboo. I understand that expecting sex education might be asking too much of India as it is right now, but we need to start talking about gender with children at the earliest possible ages. I have had many privileges, starting with being exposed to gender conversations at a very early age, and a great education, some of which was international. We’ve brought it back home and engaged our parents, and other relatives in discussions, challenged some of their norms and I can say, without a shred of doubt, that they have all grown because of it. The best part? They’d agree with me too. This is what we need. We need to educate our children to know better so that that seeps into families and societies. Screw the top down approach; we need bottoms up.

What policy reforms do you think would help eliminate instances of daily violence and improve access to justice in India? Send us your suggestions and we’ll take a manifesto to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Let’s spark the change together!

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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