Hyderabad: Yet Another Horrific Case, Yet Another Time We Fail As A Country

This is not just the beginning of another week. Had it been one, Disha* of Hyderabad would now be on her way back home from her veterinary office. Which is exactly when she did in the evening on November 27, 2019.

Wrapping up her appointments for the day, she must have bid the rest of her colleagues and staff goodbye and wished them a happy weekend. She must have waited for the taxi which she had just booked to take her the toll plaza where she had parked her scooty and perhaps even called up the taxi driver and asked him to hurry, just like we do.

Sitting inside the cab, she must have called or texted her sister, informing her that she is now in the cab and will be home soon – a routine common amongst women, more so nowadays which feels more like a reflex action.

Reaching the toll plaza, she must have thanked the cab driver, paid her charge through an online medium and got out. Walking towards her scooty, she must have plugged in her earphones, listening to the latest song that just dropped from a new movie. She must have thought of a client who had bought their dog to the clinic, humming the same song earlier in the day. “Maybe my sister will like the song too,” Disha must have thought. All of this could have been a reality right now. But alas!

Neither is today just another weekday nor is Disha in this world.

Scenes from a protest outside Sardarjung Hospital in New Delhi, December 2012. (Photo: Ramesh Lalwani/Flickr)

The Cycle Of Grief

The point of this article is not to over emotionalise the story. I definitely do not know her personally and am not making assumptions about her daily life. But the fact that hits me the most is that she was close to my age and there was nothing, absolutely nothing that could have made her anticipate what happened to her.

When Nirbhaya passed away 7 years ago in this very same month, I was too young to aggrieve her death. Of course, I did understand the brutality of the crime but the sheer horror of it was too much for me to connect with it. Also, witnessing the anger of the country at that time, led me to believe that maybe finally the country has risen together against rape and will never tolerate it again.

But then, the Murthal incident happened. Then Kathua. Then Mandsaur, followed by several others whose memories have faded away with the passage of time.

But, the gang rape and death of Disha has struck a personal chord with me somewhere. Perhaps because I can relate so much more to her now, then a teenager me could have with a Nirbhaya.

I can put myself in Disha’s shoes as I too have gone through dire situations where I have trusted strangers for help. Being stranded in unknown roads and areas, in several of the cities I have resided, or travelled to, has not been an uncommon thing for me. But I was extremely lucky every time with good Samaritans coming to my rescue.

Disha was not.

The Road Ahead

But then again, we all know how this is going to go down, don’t we? The same candlelight vigils, screaming celebrities, political blame games, late judicial process and then… silence. The same thing will happen again, in another city, with another woman or girl child for the cycle to begin again.

So, what is the solution? The Rajya Sabha on Monday had all sorts of graphic ideas for deterring rape cases. From actress and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan demanding ‘mob lynching’ of rapists to DMK demanding chemical castration, the options presented by our esteemed Parliamentarians sounded more like an impromptu and childish jibe, rather than an actual deterrent.

The real win would be if this is a constant issue of debate between politicians and lawmakers and not just when rape is too brutal to make it to the headlines or when a government in power uses such cases to overshadow their certain shortcomings.

If for once, just for once, communal and national pride issues could take a backseat, and the basic topic of making the security of women a priority could be leveraged, that would be a real game-changer.

The politics of a country is only going to be as good as the public is. So the onus is on us to ask the leadership to take step towards putting rape cases on priority. I realise this is a very impractical aspiration to have. Saying “kuch nahi ho sakta” (nothing will change) is way easier than asking “kyun nahi ho sakta?” (why can’t we change); but, this is not an impossible dream to have, right?

Here’s hoping the next time we have this conversation it would be for a Disha who got rescued, and not because the country failed her.

*Name changed to protect the victim’s identity.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
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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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