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What Singing With Women From This Village In Rajasthan Made Me Realise About Patriarchy

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Every face told a story, every road spoke its tales, every quiet soul screamed out their heart in silence. Some heard, some understood, some just left behind unnoticed, but some touched my heart. Some widened my horizons, enriched my experiences, and left me to swim in the ocean of questions.

Every day was like reading a new page of a book, an unknown book. I had no idea what it had to offer, but I definitely enjoyed each page of it.

We went to different places, industries, tried our hands at block printing and realised it was so difficult, and then watched men and women do that for hours. We visited CBOs and government offices where we needed to show where we had come from, and they would brand us with some famous items like “Oh! Darjeeling tea”, or “Mumbai waley” or also “South India.”

We had to talk with etiquettes and manners in their well-furnished rooms with the cool breeze flowing from the air conditioner, but I always sensed a kind of hierarchy, and even in that cool room, we could not always be comfortable; there were politically correct conversations most of the times or they just talked about the things we had also seen or read on the internet.

Things were different in Chainpura, a village in Ramgad, a few hours away from the pink city of Jaipur. We reached around 10 am and the area looked to me like a deserted place, thorny plants almost everywhere, no sight of people or cars on the road. I rolled down the window, hoping to get some fresh breeze, but rather, received a blast of hot air and I immediately closed it. Rural Immersion – I said to myself.

We finally reached the village where we were welcomed in the house of Mr Jagdish Singh Gujjar, who greeted us and asked about our origins, and after that, told us that a bunch of women had been waiting for us inside.

Image provided by the author.

We enter and see shy women belonging to different age groups sit on the floor and talk in their mother tongue, two cradling their children, all wearing bright and colourful clothes and jewellery. They were so beautiful, yet their beauty was hidden under their ghoonghats (veils). The world did not see it.

Anita, the daughter-in-law of that house spoke fluent Hindi, which helped us converse, whereas the others spoke to us in their native Rajasthani. We sat down with them and begin our immersion process. We told them where we’ve come from, and they were blank. They didn’t know where Kerela or Kalimpong was; it was alien to them.

We asked them to talk about why they had gathered there, and they reluctantly started saying that they met officially once in a month, and it was some group formed by themselves where they collected an amount of ₹100 every month, and the one who was most in need took that amount, and sometimes it would be split among two or even three or four people.

Slowly, they started opening up to us, they talked about their problems, like the water crisis. Most of them talked about how they worked the whole day and had to go miles to sell the milk that their cows and buffaloes gave. So, we asked them why they were not opening a dairy in the village, and they too said that it was their dream to have a dairy in the village so that they would not have to walk for miles, but no one would help them.

They looked upon us with hope, they thought we would solve their problem, we would help them open a dairy. Their eyes spoke a million, what words could not deliver.

And, as the conversation continued, they spoke about many other things; how they thought daughters should get married between the age of 19-21. They did not discourage education though, they said everyone deserves an education, but marriage was important too.

Weddings in villages are beautiful and unique at my place, so I enquired about how it happened there, to which they said they sang and danced, and I quickly asked if they could sing a Rajasthani song for us, and they didn’t, at first!

They were giggling and hiding their faces behind the coloured dupattas (scarves), when one elderly woman started singing in a voice which was corse, heavy, and strong. Soon after, to our surprise, all of them joined and the entire place was filled with their voices; no guitar to give them rhythm, no drums to keep up the beat and no tambourine needed, just their voices, loud enough for the men sitting outside to notice.

Image provided by the author.

Their voices had variations, and sounded so natural,  like the wind at times, like the early morning birds, it sounded like a river cutting its way through the stones and rushing its way to find a path.

One woman got up and started to dance, and she looked like a kite flying in the sky, so free. They pulled us up and made us dance too, and for a moment, we all forgot our problems, the barriers of language, we forgot where we came from, we forgot where Kerela or Kalimpong was. We all danced and laughed and sang together.

Our voices echoed beyond our reach. Then, they asked us to sing a number for them, and we agreed and started to sing. The moment we did, tears rolled down my eyes, and I just couldn’t stop them. I was glad, for a moment, that Rajasthani women wore ghoonghats, as I did that too, for I did not want them to see me cry.

As we sang, I realised that they did look like kites in the sky, but also that the kite is never really free. It is always attached to its thread, and that’s what they were. No one would listen to them, no one was there who could solve their problems. No one to tell them about different countries and their songs, no one. My heart broke as we were also just there for a day and when we would leave, it would still be no one.

I wish kites flew in the sky all by themselves. I only wish!!

About the author: Prasanna Alamah Rai is a student of the current batch of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM. This story is from ‘Realizing India’, a component of the program where the students visit different districts to understand the ground realities of our country.

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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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