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Being Queer In A Delhi Campus: Plenty Pride Marches But Not Enough Mechanism To Sustain It

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September 6 marks an important day in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement in India. On this day, in 2018, Section 377 was decriminalised by the Supreme Court of India, and the queer community which had long sought this legislation took to the streets and painted the town rainbow. Although significant, this was merely a battle in the larger struggle for equality. The war continues as queer collectives, LGBTQ support groups, and college students across the country rally for safer, more inclusive educational institutions.

In light of the NALSA Judgment (2014) which recognised transgender individuals as equal citizens, the need for policy change in order to ensure the safety of all students on campus has gained traction. The University Grants Commission, in its Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions Regulations (2015), identified transgender students as vulnerable to harassment and discrimination in educational institutions.

In January 2018, Delhi University Students Union instituted a Gender Sensitisation Cell to “create a healthy and safe atmosphere in the university for people of all genders, especially women and transgenders.” These are a few of the many policy changes in the last few years, and yet there persists a dearth of administratively sanctioned mechanisms that would effect change on the ground level.

Students at IP College For Women, DU, celebrate the abolishing of Section 377. (Photo: Women’s Development Cell, IP College For Women, Delhi University/Facebook)

For instance, while most colleges in Delhi University have an elected Women’s Development Cell, they are not explicitly required to cater to concerns of the LGBTQ youth.

“The major problem that a lot of students feel with the WDC is that there is an interview process to get into the cell. How can something such as the WDC be an exclusive organisation?” says an undergraduate student at Hindu College.

“The ICC (Internal Complaints Committee) is trying its best to function, but the problem is that a lot of students are still unaware of it. Moreover, if a strong figure like a professor harasses, it becomes very difficult for the victim to gather the courage to even approach these bodies.”

In the absence of autonomous organisations exclusively for the protection of LGBTQ students in Hindu College, the WDC and the ICC are the only platforms available to those seeking redressal for discrimination or harassment.

In some colleges, WDCs have taken the initiative to include within them and formalise preexisting Queer Collective groups. The Queer Collective of Indraprastha College for Women was initially a support group that aimed to bring together queer and queer-friendly students and to raise awareness amongst the student body about gender and sexuality.

As of last year, it is an official part of the WDC and is currently in the developmental stage. While the administration has been largely supportive and inclusive in the past, Laxita, the current President of the cell, believes there exists prejudice against the LGBTQ community on different levels.

Informal student groups have gained prominence in Delhi University too. Nazariya, which was originally intended to be an organisation at Kamala Nehru College, broke away as an independent association due to administrative disapproval. Nazariya has extensively worked for raising awareness and sensitising the youth towards the LGBTQ community and their needs.

However, there are currently no such bodies within Kamala Nehru College and no avenues that students may approach in cases of transphobic or homophobic harassment or discrimination. Damini, a student at KNC and an ex-member of Nazariya, says, “Informal groups are essential to create a sense of community and belongingness for students who have been alienated and otherized due to their gender identities or sexual orientations.”

She added, “However, in order to actively address safety concerns of the LGBTQ youth on campus, administrative facilitation of such groups and the acknowledgement of their existence and struggle are crucial.”

Scenes from a talk held by transgender activist Jessica Lynn at National Law University, Delhi, titled ‘TransParent.’ (Photo: Queer Collective, NLUD/Facebook)

Another campus which presently lacks a stringent, administratively sanctioned and recognised body solely for the needs of the LGBTQ students is Jawaharlal Nehru University. While the Equal Opportunity Cell and the ICC exist for the benefit of the students, they primarily deal with cases of sexual harassment.

After the disintegration of Dhanak, a major Queer Collective on JNU campus, Hasratein has now become a significant solidarity and support group which aims to sensitise the masses by organising public talks and workshops.

Shreyosi, an elected councillor and an ex-Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment representative at JNU, commented on the need for an immediate institutional redressal channel that is inclusive and queer-friendly. She went on to remark on the inability of the student body to build pressure on the administration for the same. She says, “This is due to ignorance, insensitivity and often apathy towards queer issues.”

On political visibility of the LGBTQ community in JNU elections, Shreyosi says, “Though some organisations from the Left have been more proactive in carving out electoral space as well, most organisations aren’t much interested in this issue.” In order for any students group for the LGBTQ community to successfully work alongside the administration, Shreyosi believes, sensitisation workshops and familiarisation with newer terminology for the administration and staff themselves must be mandated.

As an independent and unregistered collective in the college, the Queer Collective at National Law University Delhi serves as a vital support structure for LGBTQ students who might be facing bullying or discrimination at home or in college. A fifth-year student and a member of the QC at NLUD believes the problem of bullying of LGBTQ students on campus must be prioritised. “It’s not readily apparent, but there is no mechanism for protecting a student against homophobic or transphobic bullying,” he says.

Although informal, the QC has administrative support for organising events, talks and awareness sessions on campus. However, this support is limited insofar as not being inclusive of explicitly pro-LGBTQ policies on campus. In cases of discrimination or bullying, students can file a ragging complaint, but no alternative avenues that recognise the uniqueness of queer needs exist.

The QC at NLUD hopes to one day establish gender-neutral hostels and washrooms in the college. To that end, lack of organisation in the student body and inefficacy of the administration regarding policy change are major obstacles in their path.

In September 2018, the Queer Collective of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, proudly announced the establishment of gender-neutral hostels on campus – the first ever in India. More recently, Ashoka University declared the opening of their first gender-neutral washrooms due to the efforts of the Feminist Collective and other queer-friendly bodies.

Administrative support, while absolutely necessary to bring about these changes, is therefore secondary to a shared consciousness in any student body – one which recognises and appreciates the history of strife and struggle attached to new rights and freedoms. Although victories for the queer community may have been few and far apart, now more than ever before this consciousness has grown and brought these revolutionary legal changes into effect.

Featured image source: Nazariya: A Grassroots LGBT-Straight Alliance/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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