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Rape Culture Or Online Trolling: Why Should We Live With Either?

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We come across the word ‘culture’ in the Indian family value system very often. In fact, it forms a part of our everyday life. As a matter of interest when I read about culture and society for the first time three years ago, the simple definition of culture meant a ‘way of life’. The definition was simple and very easy to understand. ‘Culture’ comes with many layers be it in terms of food, language, clothing, ethnicity or religion. It is cross cutting. There are events which promote ‘culture’. As a school girl, I happened to come across the ‘Indo-Japan cultural exchange program’. I was unable to participate in it due to the cut-throat competition and every year some 72 students were sent from India to the land of Nippon!

Later around 2007, I got the chance to represent my school for a national level quiz competition at DPS Vasant Kunj New Delhi, where I met Russian girls my age as part of the ‘cultural exchange’ program. Why is there so much of emphasis on cultural exchange? So that we can empathize with one another, may be learn a language if lucky. In short, we make ourselves more aware and more learned in this era of consumerism and globalization. So, why did I use the word ‘culture’ so many times?

In the past few days, a video has gone viral wherein a woman has become famous – for all the wrong reasons. First of all, kudos to all the girls who came out and called this woman out. I could only empathise and feel how obnoxious it would have been. Believe me, when one is at the receiving end of such statements, it is very natural to feel traumatized. Secondly, I have chosen to use this platform to pour out my feelings on this trend of defiling of women by other women and men who are upholders of everyday sexism, misogyny and patriarchy.

Patriarchy, as I see it, is a disease! I came across many news pieces, opinions on the digital space which came out right after this incident. Most of them were titled in terms of how ‘rape culture’ gets promoted and it is a deeply disturbing trend. The opening paragraph of my article highlights ‘culture’. The two words—rape and culture don’t go together nor should it go or be promoted. Refer to the first few lines on why rape and culture shouldn’t be placed alongside each other. Should we be really okay with it ‘as a way of life’? The very thought of it is abhorrent.

Unfortunately, just a few days back the former CJI said that, “marital rape shouldn’t be registered as an offence in India because it will create absolute anarchy in families and our country is sustaining itself because of the family platform which upholds family values.” Now the question of ‘culture’ is thrown back at us. Do we really want to see people in such high positions of power talking this way? As this surely wasn’t a slip of tongue!

According to the girls, the woman in the video had allegedly said that the ‘girls deserved to be raped’. As disturbing as the statement is, equally disturbing is this trend of shaming people for their choices and the baggage of moral policing. Rewind to some two years earlier, I was at a student corner in Karol Bagh, where a friend told me about an acquaintance who had to go to the police to report a guy who had been stalking her for quite some time, and had had the audacity to walk up to her and say right on her face, “I want to rape you”! I was baffled and it left a deep impact on me and many others who were a witness to that incident. It creates a ‘culture of fear’ which in turn perpetuates a ‘culture of silence’. And nobody wants to live in fear – because it stops us from voicing our opinions and choices.

On the other hand, it was equally disheartening to see the troll army spamming the Facebook wall of that woman’s husband, with what can only be described as disgusting comments. This is a new kind of ‘culture’ that we have been promoting and it needs to be handled well. Undoubtedly, the woman’s behaviour was unwarranted, but to be fair, her husband possibly didn’t deserve to be at the receiving end of such hatred! The idea should not be to demonise anyone, but to collectively make the accused realise that such behaviour is unacceptable! To conclude, nobody deserves to be raped and this spectrum of ‘nobody’ includes everyone, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation.

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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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