On Sisterhood And Solidarity In Context Of The ‘MeToo’ Movement In India: Part II

It is both interesting and saddening to note that the List of Sexual Harassers in Academia (LoSHA) didn’t get the attention it deserved, probably because the list was published by an individual who is neither upper-caste nor heterosexual. Also, it didn’t receive the backing it deserved from the larger feminist circles.

One of the possible reasons for this could be that a lot of the survivors who chose to speak up in the second wave of the ‘MeToo’ movement didn’t do so anonymously and they recounted details of their experiences. These factors must have contributed to the consolidation of their general perception as trustworthy individuals. Since students on LoSHA who outed their professors as abusers remained anonymous and in many cases, the column under ‘description of complaint’ in the list remained blank, public opinion didn’t have voyeuristic details to latch on to.

But a whole movement can’t be dismissed on these grounds. We need to acknowledge the bravery of the women who mustered the nerve to publicly speak up and therefore relive odious incidents at the grave cost of losing their jobs and social capital, compromising on their mental health, and antagonising some very powerful individuals.

An unidentified woman, who was a junior court assistant wrote a letter to twenty-two judges of the Supreme Court of India spelling out how the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, had sexually harassed her. According to her, when she tried to resist his advances, it led to her being fired, and a criminal case being registered against her family members under false pretence. An in-house panel gave Gogoi a clean chit. The committee found “no substance” in the accusations which were listed by the survivor against the Chief Justice. In this act of gross injustice, the committee which was made up entirely of Supreme Court judges and didn’t have a single external member, refused to appoint an amicus curiae, or allow the survivor to have a lawyer present and didn’t share a copy of the report with her. The survivor refused to participate in the proceedings of the committee owing to its unfair composition and conduct. “I am on the verge of losing faith in the idea of justice,” she said. Here was a woman who was willing to follow due process and she knocked the doors of the highest court in the country with the hope of a fair and free inquiry into the alleged, despicable behaviour of the Chief Justice. “With great power there must also come — great responsibility.” (The irony of the fact that the writer of this quote, Stan Lee, has also been accused of sexual misconduct by several women hasn’t escaped my attention). Alas, the Supreme Court didn’t follow its own guidelines.

The ‘MeToo’ movement has impacted the society in a robust (even if limited) manner, where powerful men in important positions had to face real consequences for their actions. For instance, ‘All India Bakchod‘, arguably India’s most popular comedy collective, had to dissolve after allegations surfaced against two of its four founding members being complicit in instances of sexual harassment, directly or indirectly. Lucrative deals worth crores of rupees with big companies such as Hotstar, Amazon didn’t materialise because some women had the courage to call them out on their reprehensible, sexist behaviour.

One should also credit the movement for starting a conversation about consent, the blurring of boundaries, our complicity in the system of toxic behaviour, accountability, desires, and ethical workplace behaviour. It has allowed (a certain section of) women to come together and establish solidarity with each other against a common oppressor, which is no mean task.

The Indian ‘MeToo’ movement is not sufficient to root out the evil of sexual harassment at the workplace. Decades of activism and the strength of women from productive castes such as Bhanwari Devi has led to legislations like the landmark Vishakha guidelines, which was then superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013.

The movement is at a fledgling stage and needs to become broader to tap into the collective consciousness of the Indian masses. Other movements of sisterhood establishing solidarity need to emerge from it. Take, for instance, the 2017 ‘Women’s March‘ or the ‘March for Life’ in the United States of America. These were marches involving mass mobilisation, with intersectional goals, cutting across the lines of colour, class, and genders. Sister movements and protest marches are examples of what is lacking and required in India to draw more attention to women’s issues and to advocate for the implementation of legislation which has been put in place to protect them, to push for implementation in spirit and not just in letter.

India has a stifling atmosphere of sex-negativity. We think it’s shameful to talk about anything remotely sexual despite having one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. There is a lot of stigma associated with even consensual sexual behaviour, unless it is within the confines of marriage and the privacy of one’s bedroom. Oddly enough, married women in India don’t have the right to say no to their husbands because marital rape is not a crime here. Even after numerous attempts by activists to get marital rape legally recognised, successive governments have helped men hold on to this misogynistic privilege. The Modi government said it could “destabilize the institution of marriage.” The same government which speaks about ‘beti bachao beti padhao‘ (save the girl child, educate the girl child) refuses to recognise a woman’s right to bodily autonomy and her reproductive rights. We need to combat this hypocritical attitude by creating room for positive dialogue around sexual engagement between consenting adults.

I have heard a lot of men say how they are now afraid to freely interact with women because of the ‘MeToo’ movement, how they’re forced to think about every single move of theirs in the fear that it might get misconstrued. I have also become more mindful of how my actions and words can affect people. I have reflected on my own conduct and am conscious of the fact that I have overstepped boundaries too. But I aim to do better. That’s how it should be. We should be aware of the impact of our behaviour on others, especially when there is a power imbalance inherent to that interaction.
Readers Can Access Part I Here 

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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.

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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