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I Feel Rage And Grief That The Trauma Of Colonisation Erased The Queerness In Our History

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Today, I woke up feeling angry about the colonialization of my country. I woke up feeling the burden of all that we lost; some we know about, so much more we don’t even realize. I woke up feeling my generational trauma triggered. Weirdly, I’ve felt this loss of culture, loss of history so much more when I left India.

I think about that a lot. The distance gave me clarity, allowed for emotions to come out which didn’t seem to have space there. Or maybe I had felt them so much in India, felt everyone else feeling them too, that after a while, it became white noise in the back of my head.

Being Queer And Trans Is Being Indian

I did a presentation recently about decolonizing gender binaries and the representation of it in the way South Asia treats hijras. I looked for research and anecdotal articles. I didn’t want to take anything written by white people for it, or by anyone who wasn’t South Asian. I didn’t want to hear colonizers talk in covert ways about the impact of their actions on my country, without acknowledging to the slightest, what they did. It hit me hard how little research had south Asian people on it. I would have liked to be surprised by the lack of hijra or other TGNC people on those researches, but that level of idealism died a long time ago. So, I dove deep into Alok Vaid Menon’s articles and interviews. If you don’t know about Alok Vaid Menon, read about them and follow them. Now.

One of the many many reasons I love Alok Vaid Menon is that they are so unapologetically Indian, that they remind me what “Indian” is supposed to be…was supposed to be before the British came and destroyed that. I hope India would look to them, look to Vikramaditya Sahai, and other incredible queer and non-binary activists and friends, who are trying hard to remind the world what India is under the layers of forced white assimilation; trying to remind India.

It’s especially important now, especially with a government which touts philosophy akin to “make India great again” but seems to have no clue about what made India great in the first place. A government which claims to be following norms set in Hinduism, but is only remembering what serves its agenda, forgetting all the other parts of the religion which were so much more diverse and inclusive.

Transness, queerness…these are as Indian as chaat and pakoras. Hell, they probably predate most of what we associate with “Indian” today (or even what we associate with “Hindu”). It hurts that that’s something that seems to be forgotten. That it took so long to get a colonial-era law (article 377) repealed and there was so much pushback. That even in the most educated of families, my family, my friends’ families, queerness and transness is just not something which is easily accepted, let alone understood.

My friends who do identify on the queer or trans spectrum in India, find themselves wondering if they would be able to live in India as who they are openly, and be safe and happy, or are their true choices to either hide or to move to the West. The irony of the countries of colonizers, who destroyed our culture of acceptance and inclusion, being considered as closer to safe havens, enrages me. There is this idea that queerness and transness are “western” or “white-people” things. “Yeh sab yahaan nahin hota” (all this doesn’t happen here), “kuch zyaada hee amrikan tv dekh liya isne” (they’ve seen too much American tv) or “videsh jaakar videshi ho gaye” (they left India and are no longer Indian) are very common one-liner thrown at those who may be queer or trans.

How Whites Pseudo ‘Rescued’ Indian History And Culture

Bengaluru, India/ Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

When one thinks of Indian sexuality, the Kamasutra is probably on the top of what comes to mind. The next thing is probably just some thought around taboo or repression. “Indians don’t talk about sex or sexuality. That is our tradition. Talking openly about sex is a Western thing, an American thing.” And yet, somehow, somewhere deep in our history, we wrote an entire book dedicated to sex and sexuality.

Then we forgot about it, till white people “rescued” it and gave back a version they found more acceptable. One without queerness and gender binaries broken. And because of all that lost history and culture, we went with it; we didn’t have a choice. And so we did what we were taught; shunned, isolated, abused, and marginalized lakhs of people.

Is anyone else as furious about the whites appropriating yet another part of indigenous and other people of colour’s cultures, and making the rest of the world believe that it came from them? And now, they walk around as moral authorities, trying to get the rest of the world to be as “open and accepting” as them.

They do this in the UN, trying to make the whole world make queer issues human rights issues. And though that is something the world should do, white countries, western countries being the leaders of that argument is aggravating, and it’s whitewashing (emphasis on “white) over the hand those same countries played in making others more conservative.

As a counseling student, something I’ve come across often is the concept of generational trauma. It’s something I discuss with my clients of colour (a phrase which depicts a whole other level of colonization) constantly. We talk about what triggers it for them, how it plays out in their daily lives, how it impacts their identities. What is colonization if not collective generational trauma? What is this idealization of white people if not trauma bonding? Having the world look at America, Canada, and even the freaking UK being seen as “developed nations”, as leaders in anything connecting to queerness or transness, is making a complete mockery of the generational trauma which they instilled into the minds of billions.

What Is Colonization If Not Collective Generational Trauma?

I see my generational trauma play out in so covert many ways daily. There are probably a million more ways I don’t see it, but it still exists. But recently, I’ve been feeling the pain of it more, feeling the rage growing from it more. I have this deep sorrow about not knowing so much of my history, a deeper sorrow about how much of it has been lost.

I also feel regret that I speak the language of my colonizers better than I do my mother tongue; that as a dancer, I held western dances in higher standards than Indian ones, giving the latter up to pursue the former. And a thousand other small things. I don’t know what to do with that rage and grief. It’s just there.

I wonder how we would have been if we hadn’t been colonized at all, without all this generational trauma suffocating us. Would we have been leading the charge to make these ‘developed’ countries, these white countries more accepting and inclusive?

To be more colourful, opening their eyes to what humanity could look like if only they weren’t trying so hard to enforce a single norm onto everyone? Would we be teaching them how to be better, rather just falling to the 200+ years of training we got in believing that white people are better than us?

I wonder how I would have been if I had grown up in an India which at least remembered its roots. What would my gender have looked like? My sexuality? My relationships with other Indians, with people of different ethnicities? I also wonder about how who I am today would have been treated in an India which remembered its roots. How would it be different? How much more open would I be and with whom?

What would we look like if we were to start acknowledging our collective generational trauma? Would families be more accepting of their queer or trans children if they were to realize that the society which shuns them is who’ve forgotten their roots, not those children? What would India and Indians look like in a world where we work through our collective generational trauma?

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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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