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Why Were 51 Queer Youth Charged With Sedition At Mumbai Pride?

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There is a deliberate rift being created within the queer community in India,” says Rachana, a founding member of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Trans Samiti (THITS). She shares a panel with four other trans and gender non-conforming persons, addressing a gathering of journalists at the Press Club of India in New Delhi. Rachana is referring to a disturbing situation that unfolded after Mumbai’s Queer Azadi March on February 1.

(L-R) Law student Ray, Rachana of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Trans Samiti, and Hasratein’s Kaushal, addressing the incident at Mumbai Pride.

Fifty-one attendees were picked up by the police and charged with sedition, for ‘raising anti-national slogans’. This was after BJP leader Kirit Somaiya submitted a video of people at Pride protesting the Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizens. Their placards and slogans were nothing out of the ordinary. For weeks, Indians in various cities have been protesting the blatantly anti-Muslim and anti-Constitution triad of CAA-NPR-NRC. But to file sedition charges against 51 people is truly a feat.

It was because “other queer people threw them under the bus”, says Ray, a law student, also on the panel. And this is perhaps the most disturbing part of the whole episode.

A community that unanimously raged against a colonial-era law like Section 377 now appears to be divided over Section 124A, sedition, equally oppressive and colonial. There is one camp that believes in the right to protest against an oppressive State, and the other camp has aligned itself with the State. What we are witnessing is the rise of homonationalism, as queer people link their rights to nationalist ideology. For the homonationalists, ‘India’, a unidimensional identity that necessarily excludes persons, takes precedence over everything.

Activist and former TISS student Vihaan reads out the sequence of events that unfolded in Mumbai.

So why is this happening? Kaushal, of the Hasratein queer collective in Delhi, argues that some people are now invested in being ‘The Good Queer’, to meet the expectations of Hindutva forces, and reap the benefits. As for ‘The Bad Queer’? The queer who calls out casteism, who calls out ableism, who stands in solidarity with the women of Shaheen Bagh, Jamia, and Aligarh Muslim University? There’s a target on their backs.

When channels of solidarity and resistance between queer Indians are being torn apart, the implications are severe. Mumbai Pride itself is an example. Not only were many of the detained charged with sedition, but they were forcefully outed in public. Outings have cost queer people their homes, their families, and even their lives. On the panel at Press Club, activist Vihaan says, “These were 21- and 22-year-olds who were just beginning to be confident about who they are, and who thought Mumbai Pride was a safe space.” He was sad to see that Queer Azadi March representatives didn’t protect the young people at Azad Maidan.

Karthik Bittu at the press conference in Press Club of India.

The homonationalists’ defence of the Citizenship Act, at the expense of trans youth, sets another dangerous precedent. Karthik Bittu, also a founding member THITS, sees it as another tool of harassment. “If someone doesn’t want a trans person in their neighbourhood, they can raise questions about their citizenship to the local registrar of citizens. This is another route by which trans people can get sent to detention camps.

Shockingly, this doesn’t seem to be a rallying point for all of India’s queer groups. It has been said elsewhere that “homonationalists are pawns of their own erasure.” But looking at Mumbai, things much more sinister than erasure are at work.

In the queer community, marginalisation runs deeper than just gender and sexuality. There are queer people who are Dalit, Muslim, disabled, adivasi people, people who come from low-income families, people who do not have access to education and health care, people who are not a part of the Kitty Su-going elite. And the CAA-NPR-NRC will affect them in ways that homonationalists refuse to acknowledge.

It is for those people that 51 Pride attendees expressed solidarity. And for that, they were accused of being anti-India.

Images courtesy of the author.
Featured Image source: Richa Vashista/Facebook.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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