The Valentine I Lost Because Of A Run-in With My RWA

I was speaking to my father the day after Valentine’s Day. Since I am single, the conversation was about St Valentine. The man apparently went against church orders and married soldiers who were forbidden from entering into wedlock. He was then executed on command of the emperor of Rome, Claudius II, for his beliefs and actions, by getting publicly beaten to death at the Piazza del Popolo on the 14th of February 269 AD.

I never understood saints, and this whole passion for belief that they espouse. It is not easy for a child (or even a young man) to come to terms with this. I suppose, in Asian countries with a lingering culture of tightly-knit joint families, obedience is something that is instilled in us at an early age. As is propriety, in public affairs as well as in our private lives.

I grew up like this. I remember coming across pornography for the first time in middle school, when I was around 14 years old. Pornography, along with Hollywood movies, was the only domain till then that exposed me to pleasurable and intimate relations between people in private spaces.

This is not to say that I didn’t have friends who were girls while growing up. I was lucky to know a few, but I guess puberty, as it is imagined today, was a phenomenon that an average Indian middle class child growing up in the ’90s, such as myself, was exposed to via very select media and domains.

“Pornography, along with Hollywood movies, was the only domain till then that exposed me to pleasurable and intimate relations between people in private spaces.”

To be explicit, selection according to secondary sexual characteristics was a terrain that didn’t appear to me until television and AXN. The first language I spoke growing up is Hindi. But the language I matured into is English. And Hollywood as well as thriller novels by Ken Follet and Dan Brown probably have a lot to do with this.

It is no secret that the RSS in particular and the Sangh parivar in general have a problem with the public celebration of erotic love. And Valentine’s day is seen as another means through which the perverted influence of the West creeps into the religious spirituality of India. Every year, squads of goons are formed to act as moral police who curtail public expression of love, the latest of them being this.

The harassing of couples and the burning of Valentine’s Day cards and flowers has unfortunately become the ritual with which this day in honoured in this part of the world.

This is not to suggest that there hasn’t been resistance. Much in the same spirit as St. Valentine himself, who died for his practice and belief in declaring forbidden marriages as a sacrament – the Thanthai Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam (TPDK) performed inter-caste marriages on 14th February 2013. In the same year, the Democratic Youth Federation felicitated those entering into inter-caste marriages.

This, I believe, is an effective institutional response to the street thuggery employed by Hindutva mobs. A radical progressive may say that this still enshrines the institution of marriage itself, and that one should be able to step out and to take their significant other on a comfortable evening out on Valentine’s Day – a position I completely endorse. I would, yet, maintain that in regions affected by the politics of caste, celebrating nuptials between such stratification ought to be upheld as a good example.

In such debates, it is easy to get sucked into pure ideological shit-slinging, and forget the circumstances that facilitate a culture of dating. For a lad to take a lady out, he’d need to have some disposable income. A day off from work that is shared with the significant other would also facilitate such endeavors. No one needs reminders that such forms of consumption are, in fact, good for the business of culinary establishments competing for a share of the pie.

The other, warmer, and cosier option of inviting a date home involves all the careful treading around parents or landlords, as it is rare for a young person to own their own home. In fact, the average age of first time homebuyers in India is between 37-38 years, according to the CEO of HDFC bank ( an institution who would certainly know a thing or two about handing out home loans).

I personally, for example, have had run-ins with resident welfare associations in Delhi for bringing a date home while I was living in Kamala Nagar in the North Campus of Delhi University. And granted, while it may not all be because of the logistics, it certainly does make any sort of chemistry easier.

So, what are the ways around such predicaments?

Well, the digital age and social media have certainly helped bring people closer together, though, I confess, I have personally not utilised it to the most of its capabilities. WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are remarkable mediums to keep in touch and stay abreast of the times. The feature of video calling allows the comfort of face-to-face interactions, which were not possible earlier. And yet, despite all of these things working for us, for two people to come together – the oldest mystery and quest of mankind – doesn’t seem to have gotten easier.

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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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