Does The BJP Walk The Talk When It Comes To Gender Justice?

TW: Rape-mention

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party should be vilified for its inaction in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where two its ex-ministers have been accused of rape by two young women. Four-time MLA (member of legislative assembly) from Unnao district, Kuldeep Singh Sengar and MLA from Jaunpur as well as a former Union Minister of the third Vajpayee cabinet, Swami Chinmayanand have prima facie, indulged in gross abuse of power to prey on vulnerable, young women. The Yogi Adityanath government has been rightly receiving a lot of flak for its lackadaisical approach in dealing with these matters of grave importance. The chain of events that preceded these cases becoming a matter of public interest must be examined, to fully realise the horrifyingly malicious nature of these incidents.

Unnao Case Protests
NEW DELHI, INDIA – JULY 30: Women activists shout slogans during a protest demanding CBI to probe in Unnao rape survivor’s accident, outside Uttar Pradesh House on July 30, 2019 in New Delhi, India. The Uttar Pradesh government on Monday night recommended a CBI probe into a road accident in which the Unnao rape survivor and her lawyer were critically injured and her two aunts killed. The Uttar Pradesh police on Monday filed a murder case against BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar and nine others after the rape survivor’s family filed a complaint, alleging “conspiracy” behind the accident.(Photo by Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Unnao Case

Sengar asked the Unnao rape survivor to meet him under the pretext of offering her a job. He then allegedly proceeded to gang-rape her with his associates. The survivor’s father was beaten up in broad daylight by the MLA’s brother and his accomplices, after which both parties filed FIRs (first information report) against each other. However, only the survivor’s father was arrested and he met with an untimely death while in custody, purportedly due to police torture.

The survivor tried to immolate herself outside the UP CM’s residence, claiming police inaction drove her to this extreme measure. Has the law and order situation in the state deteriorated to such an extent that the survivor had to try to kill herself to be taken seriously? This step by the survivor prompted media houses to take cognizance of the matter. Sengar was arrested. The tragedy doesn’t end here though.

The survivor’s uncle was sentenced to 10 years in prison, after being convicted in a 19-year-old case. Fearing for their lives because of Sengar’s influence in the district, the survivor and her family penned a letter about the imminent danger to their lives to the Chief Justice of India (CJI). This was followed by an over-speeding truck ramming into a car in which the survivor, her advocate, and her aunts were traveling to visit her uncle in prison. The accident resulted in the death of both her aunts. It also critically injured the survivor and her advocate. The security personnel who were assigned to be with her at all times were missing. An FIR was registered against Sengar and some others in the road accident case.

The letter written by them came to light, following which the Supreme Court of India (SCI) ordered that all the cases related to the case be transferred to Delhi. This is a clear indicator that the SC recognised Sengar’s sway in the region. The SC also ordered the UP government to pay the survivor ₹25 lakh as interim compensation but isn’t this intervention too little, too late? No amount of money can make up for the physical and psychological hardships that the survivor and her family have had to endure.

The government in UP boasts of a “double engine sarkar as the BJP is the ruling party at the state and the center. The BJP is a party proud of its swift decision making, but it expelled Sengar from the party only two years after rape allegations against him first surfaced. Not only did the BJP dilly-dally with regards to Sengar’s membership, but Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP parliamentarian, met Sengar in jail. Maharaj told reporters that, “he is lodged in the jail for a long time. Sengar is one of the most popular lawmakers so I came to thank him after the elections.”

KOLKATA, INDIA – APRIL 17: People from different communities took to the streets to protest against the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl in Kathua and the rape of a 17-year-old girl in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao, on April 17, 2018 in Kolkata, India. (Photo by Samir Jana/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The Case Against Swami Chinmayanand 

In a just as eerie and similar incident, Chinmayanand was booked for kidnapping and criminal intimidation when a 23-year-old law student who accused him of physically exploiting her in a viral video, went missing. Questioned by the media, he feigned innocence and said that he was being falsely accused to defame the Yogi Adityanath government. “Earlier, Kuldeep Singh Sengar was being implicated and now I am being targeted,” he said.

Image Source: NDTVKhabar

Chinmayanand’s lawyer used a WhatsApp message blackmailing him to file a complaint with the UP police. The message was sent by someone who was demanding ₹5 crores if he wanted his and his ashram’s image among the public to remain intact.

A group of lawyers filed a plea in the SC, fearing another Unnao-esque escalation. They asked the CJI to take suo motu cognizance of media reports about the missing law student. Meanwhile, the law student was found in Rajasthan with a friend. Police claimed that she wasn’t kidnapped. The SC asked the police to produce her before the court, where there was a closed-door meeting between the law student and the judges of the SCI after which they directed that no one would be allowed to meet her till she meets her parents. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted to look into the matter.

The law student filed a rape complaint against Chinmayanad in Delhi and said that he raped her repeatedly for a year. She told the SIT that she had met him because she wanted a seat in his college. He helped her gain admission to his college, offered her a job in the library, and then asked her to move into the college hostel. She said that he used a video of her bathing to blackmail her to give in to his disgusting, carnal urges. She said that she had secretly filmed him using a spy camera in her spectacles, in an attempt to expose him.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the SIT arrested the law student in relation to the extortion case after gathering enough evidence against her and three of her friends. The SIT also arrested Chinmayanand for “misusing authority for sexual intercourse” or “sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape.” But he was also admitted to a hospital in Lucknow. BJP’s spokesperson denied that Chinmayanand was still a member of the party. Unlike in Sengar’s case, no BJP leader has publically extended their support to the disgraced Swami.

I think that BJP’s members’ unabashed flouting of the law is symptomatic of a much deeper problem in the party. It almost feels like it does not reprimand its members for their despicable behaviour because it wants to let them get away with it. The fact remains that even though the party has had some women leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman, women have had negligible representation in decision-making bodies, vis-à-vis men.

In the 2019 general elections, the BJP fielded only 53 women candidates. A report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW) showed that out of 1616 BJP MPs (Members of Parliament) and MLAs (Members of Legislative Assemblies), a mere 150 of them or 9% of them were women (so 91% were men). I believe that this skewed gender representation means that even though the BJP speaks of women empowerment, it hasn’t walked the talk. It hasn’t done enough, internally, to ensure that power is truly accessible to women. All its talk of gender justice hasn’t reflected in how it conducts itself as a party, because gender justice is apparently not a priority for the BJP.

Earlier in the year, BJP’s state secretary was a part of the protest march demanding the release of a Special Police Officer, accused of raping and killing an eight-year-old girl, in Jammu’s Kathua district. The BJP needs to practice a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women if it wants us to truly believe its adage of ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’. UP’s state machinery should have acted as a catalyst in the deliverance of speedy justice, instead of allowing its ex-members to run amok. In the face of such serious allegations against BJP’s ex-members, and a blatant violation of young women’s human rights, justice delayed is justice denied.

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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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