This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Puja Bose. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Isn’t It Time We Called Out The Toxic Culture In Our Schools And Colleges?

More from Puja Bose

Quite recently, a tweet by the United Nations and UN Women, listing a number of gender-neutral alternatives to commonly-used gendered terms in the English language, received backlash.

The responses pointed towards the seemingly unnecessary policing of language during a global pandemic. A number of writers and social media users went on to make a resounding point about how this was a particularly significant time to be talking about any and all issues pertaining to gender. After all, while countries like India have been seeing reduced rates of crimes such as theft, robbery and murders, in the last few months, instances of domestic violence and cybercrimes against women have witnessed a considerable surge. Not to mention the fact that some of the responses themselves were quite derogatory and sexist in nature.

Hardly any news on the ‘Bois Locker Room’ had broken out, when a Twitter user by the username @Ayioobrows took to social media. They called out eight men from one of the premier institutions of higher education in the country, for having created a Google drive to circulate similar, compromising pictures of women from their social circles.

Have We Been Enablers And Accomplices In This Behaviour?

The list of names included students and ex-students of different departments in the University, and even as I write this piece about three weeks after the news originally broke out, my fingers are still shaky, given that I knew each one of them. Soon enough, accounts of misconduct and toxic behaviour of many of these young men began to pour in from multiple quarters. This included women from outside the university.

While reading about these accounts about men who’d been friends, brother-figures, or mentors to me was unsettling, but not a bolt from the blue. Eventually, a large number of women opened up publicly, about their experiences of sexual harassment or assault by other men too. I spent a week skimming through the names of many people I’d known, being called out as molesters or abusers. Interestingly, most of these were cases of violence between intimate partners or involved accusers who were known to the survivors.

This is, unfortunately, the reality that we live in today. Every account I read about, reminded me of my own experiences that I’d brushed aside on numerous occasions. But it also made me increasingly aware of my own complicity in having laughed off improper comments or ignored toxic behavioural traits in people I had known.

But how does this happen? How do people from relatively more privileged and educated backgrounds such as ourselves, belonging to one of the last standing liberal bastions of higher education in the country, get away with such conduct? It quite obviously has to do with the circumstances under which we are groomed and conditioned, not just within the university space, but also outside of it, and even before entering it.

I spent a week skimming through the names of many people I’d known, being called out as molesters or abusers. Interestingly, most of these were cases of violence between intimate partners or involved accusers who were known to the survivors.

This same conditioning also gave light to another unfortunate phenomenon, which was that of mud-slinging and victim-blaming, especially amongst and by women. As I saw witnessed many such instances unfold during that one week, I realised that as this movement of call-outs also targeted enabling and complicity, and rightly so, it hardly left any person I knew free of culpability. The fact remains that as we grow up, our society clinches onto supposed adages such as “boys mature faster than girls” and “‘boys will be boys.”

Thus, the question of accountability is very swiftly shifted onto girls or young women, who ironically, are granted less agency. This same social structure also gives rise to the patriarchal myth of a “woman being a woman’s worst enemy”, which then goes on to assume some truth value because as the worst affected victims of such patriarchal conditioning, women tend to internalise the same. Quite naturally, we see instances of women slinging mud or tearing each other down, during movements such as these, which call for solidarity-building more than anything else.

Calling Out Toxic Culture In Schools On Social Media

However, this social structure that I speak of, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. This brings me to the other significant development that accompanied this social media upheaval — scores of young men and women choosing to call out the toxic culture of their own schools. I myself come from one of the better-known all-girls convent schools in the city. There is usually a great hue and cry about the culture of discipline and decorum that convent education supposedly entails.

Despite that, all I remembered of this ‘culture’ when I chose to change schools after 12 years of studying there, was an instance wherein my principal had called my mother to school and slut-shamed me before her, for I stayed a little late at a fest happening at an all-boys school. Oh, and I was seen talking to a couple of boys by our teacher coordinator.

This is one of the innumerable instances of repressive attitudes expressed within our school cultures. Also, this phenomenon obviously isn’t restricted to convent schools. Students attending co-educational schools too face repression and policing, which simply takes a different, and often uglier, form given that you have boys and girls growing up together in the same environment.

Therefore, the need to enforce discipline and chastity is felt all the more rigorously, which effectively subverts what would’ve otherwise been a normal environment. Some students also talked about how their school authorities over-looked or even blamed them for reporting cases of harassment within the school premises. Hence, our tendency to overlook toxic behaviour and microaggressions, to not come forward with our stories of abuse, stems from a deep-rooted sense of guilt and shame ingrained in us. This is the same place that victim-blaming stems from.

All eight men who were named in the aforementioned tweet had studied at some of the best schools in the city. More importantly, they were studying at a premier university. So does that mean that even if our school education fails us in certain ways, we can’t unlearn our conditioning in college?

Some students talked about how their school authorities over-looked or even blamed them for reporting cases of harassment within the school premises.

Perhaps we can, and I know that I myself have tried to do the same. However, even a supposedly liberal institute such as JU might not be the safest space. I know of at least one instance wherein a senior from our university had filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) after having been assaulted by another student within the university premises.

After a long, tedious period of hearings and adjacent formalities, the ICC did as little as revoking the library and ID card of the accused. He was in his final semester and had already been placed and thus, went on to graduate. It is evident that even in institutes of higher education, not much heed is paid at an administrative level to sensitise students or at least offer a thorough grievance redressal mechanism.

This essentially brings us to the bitter and also strenuous reality: the responsibility to sensitise ourselves and our peers, and to hold people accountable for their actions lies largely with us. People questioning the efficacy of social media call-outs need to bear this in mind, that oftentimes, there are few other avenues available to people who’ve been wronged. Considering Louis Althusser’s conceptualisation of the ideological state apparatuses, it would be fair to assume that institutions of education serve to further the purpose of state/social hegemony more than anything else.

In this case, the social structure we occupy is inherently patriarchal in nature. The same goes for the apparatus of the family, and by extension, our immediate social surroundings in which we grow up. If a friend’s mother suggests that the only reason why a 22-year-old guy would have shown interest in a 13-year-old girl is that she must have somehow warranted it, then being that girl, it can be difficult for her to unlearn this notion, even as she grows up.

These are the base ingredients that ultimately produce socially-sanctioned concoctions of ”women asking for it”, or as we saw in this recent incident, “Why did these women not know any better” or “How did they get away with this for so long?” 

Opening up about experiences of trauma and abuse tends to be as difficult as it can be cathartic. At a time like this, wherein the entire fabric of the world as we know, appears to be falling apart at the seams, there is an opportunity for restructuring. As the entire system of education in the country is being rethought, owing to the lockdown and distancing regulations, the subsequent remodelling could also focus on a more holistic approach to teaching, one that sensitises its recipients and is aimed at diversity and inclusion as opposed to being repressive and restrictive.

However, such changes are systemic and not minor, they require time and concerted efforts. Meanwhile, those of us with privilege and access can use this time to not only work on unlearning our own conditioning but to also carry it forward. It is an uphill battle, but one that must be fought. After all, if there’s one thing we have taken away from being affected by a pandemic, a cyclonic storm, and locust attacks ravaging the country, is the importance of forging solidarities.

You must be to comment.

More from Puja Bose

Similar Posts

By Martha Farrell Foundation

By Sushmita Sinha


Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below