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This Valentine’s Day, Let’s Look At Love That Goes Beyond Gender

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Who wouldn’t have experienced the unspoken beauty that the feeling of being in love brings with it? Sometimes, it is as strong as a storm and sometimes, as soothing as a breeze, and in each case, love is timeless and beyond the logic of right or wrong.

However, do all kinds of romantic relationships bring happiness only? Perhaps not, especially when there are unlimited social hurdles in the path of union of the soulmates. And, it turns even more painful when certain relationships are tagged as ‘against the law of nature’.

The question is, how can love be ‘against nature’, and who has set these rules? Representational image.

The question is, how can love be ‘against nature’, and who has set these rules? The logic is so obvious: just because two individuals belong to the same gender, they cannot be stopped from loving each other. For years, this was considered a legal offense in the USA until the historic decision of decriminalising same-sex marriages was passed on June 26, 2015, when Barack Obama was President. This was not an easy decision, considering how rampant homophobia is, but it had to happen someday.

Following their footsteps, on September 6, 2018, a historic judgment was made by India’s Apex Court, in which Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was decriminalised. The Supreme Court ruled that consensual sex between adults cannot be criminalised. This included the members of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community, who’ve been deemed as ‘taboo’ by society.

The verdict imbibed a sense of inclusiveness among members of the community who had been facing insecurity, seclusion and, to a certain extent, contempt and had been ‘living double lives’ by pretending to be heterosexual because of the constant fear of confrontation and discrimination.

We have a long way to go in order for same-sex relationships to obtain ‘social approval’. Image credit: Flicker.

Prior to this in 2014, the Supreme Court had passed the NALSA v. India judgment, according to which, transgender people should have legal recognition according to their gender identity and receive special benefits in the benefits education and employment.

Decriminalisation of the severe and toxic Section 377 of Indian Penal Code has marked an end of an era where this absurdly brutal law will no longer be able to violate human rights of a certain kind and will no longer foster and facilitate an atmosphere in which millions of people have faced discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Section 377, which had been a toxic part of British imperialistic legacy, reads, “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

However, has this entitlement to legal rights brought about any change in the outlook of the Indian society? Can we now expect people, in same-sex relationships, to have a fairy-tale-like love story, that concludes with a ‘happily-ever-after’?

Well, the truth is not so pleasant and simple. Despite getting legal ‘approval’, we have a long way to go in order for same-sex relationships to obtain ‘social approval’. And, in this case, their own families also represent the society, which considers the sexual orientation of a family member to be a matter of shame.

Supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community participate in a Gay Pride parade in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019.

Everywhere, people belonging to the LGBT community have been subject to brutal bullying and have even been attacked without any reason. In India, I think it is common to completely ‘ignore’ the existence of homosexuality and hence, acceptance is beyond question. The existence of homosexuality is simply not acknowledged. People tend to not understand homosexuality. This situation, I feel, has somewhat changed after many well-known people and celebrities came out of the veil of pretension.

One such person was famous Bengali director Rituparno Ghosh who initially kept everything concealed but then accepted his sexuality openly. Ghosh, despite being such a talented celebrity, had to bear the brunt of being open about sexual orientation.

It has also been said that Rituparno Ghosh was “paranoid and extremely cautious about his sexuality.” He was often afraid of reaching out to actors, especially in Bollywood who, he felt, would read a wrong signal.

Then it was ace athlete Dutee Chand who made the bold move of accepting her sexuality on national media, and, at the same time, expressed fear of intimidation by society and family. However, this step has encouraged sportspersons, and other prominent celebrities, to come up and speak out frankly on sexuality.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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