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The Spectacle Of Performative Activism: Stop This Tokenism And Fight Rape Culture

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It is only human to jump from one breaking story to another. The curiosity of the audience and the responsibility of the media to follow up on a story have been gradually washed off and buried under the barrage of factory-made news reports. However, let us not mistake it for the lack of public interest or decline in the news relevance.

Relevance is not intrinsic but ascribed to news now, its degree determined by political propaganda and/or how much money and ballyhoo it can stimulate. It is also dependant on the subjects involved with the story- the underprivileged accused of rape can propel the country into applauding and normalizing police encounter but the privileged deserves fair trial upholding the innocent until the proven guilty flag. Privilege is both the spear and the shield.

The Bois locker room news angered many- the social media was glutted with leaked screenshots primarily of a private Instagram group comprising boys aged 15-18 sharing pictures of underage girls and expressing their lust in a detestable language. The netizens promptly discovered that the accused boys study in elite schools of South Delhi and Gurugram and the incident, which otherwise would have died prematurely, became news for the mainstream media only when their Instagram usernames were prominently shared.

An investigation was carried out and the students along with their parents were interrogated and taken into custody, according to the police. Some handsets were seized and warnings were issued. Meanwhile, the pandemic widened its gloom and the attention was diverted, naturally so, to the bigger enemy with visible victims.

However, the news reignited, albeit temporarily, the conversation around rape culture indwelling within the elite bourgeoisie class. Those startled by the language of sixteen-year-olds demanded stringent actions against them while recognising the usual incompetence of both police and the media when the offenders come from money and upper caste.

The Shiny, Hazy World Of Performative Activism

Shaming strangers on social media, asking for believing in the survivors’ stories, and calling for systemic reforms in the judiciary and the police are a liberal pat on the backs we give ourselves as long as there is no trail connecting us with the accused strangers. In the world of performative activism, it is easier to condemn locker room talks that we were not part of than accepting our own engagement in the million locker room talks either as an active speaker or a mute and ignorant spectator.

Those who have been woke on social media for a few years now find it most difficult to take responsibility for their past, call out friends and family who propagate rape culture through one or more ways- from forwarding ‘funny’ sexist humour to gaslighting victims, from ‘dark’ rape jokes to ‘harmless’ locker room banter.

The privileged class advocating for calling out sexual predators in either academia or entertainment industry has a virtual image to protect which is usually built around championing for various feminist campaigns.

Some benefit regularly from this image intentionally or not, capitalizing on the traction which comes with the activist badge. When their peers are called out for misconduct or sexual harassment, the image is compromised and their commitment to the cause is tested. They now begin to address the flaws in social media trials, question the inconsistencies in the survivors’ accounts and save face by jumping on the #NotAllMen wagon. The fear of accountability for one’s own misogyny and turning a blind eye to the rape culture turns us into an apologist for the actions of our privileged peers.

The spectacle of activism collapses.

What do you mean I am not an ally? Didn’t you see my profile picture? I am going to use my privilege to save you and call out your oppressors for you as long as your fingers do not point at me.

The #BoisLockerRoom Instagram group is a dead story now. Hopefully, the police probe will reach its rightful conclusion in spite of the expected resistance from the families and the school administrations of the accused in the case. However let us make no bones about the larger problem of internalized sexism, male entitlement and unchecked rape culture at schools and workplaces.

The privileged class needs to address the multi-layered systemic oppression of women and dismantle the refuge for sexual predators around us.

Foremost ,an acknowledgement must be made that such refuge exists and we are guilty of building it in the first place. Living in denial implies endorsing the perpetrators. The everyday locker room talks are birthed at dining tables and classrooms where parents and teachers are often inconsiderate and fail to check their own sexism.

The amalgamation of lack of sex education and gender sensitization furthers the rape culture and the young children, in this case from affluent backgrounds, participate and propagate it unabashedly. By the time they are exposed to the conversations around intersectional feminism, identities outside the gender binary and the subjugation of marginalized classes, unlearning privilege and admitting to one’s ignorance in the past become a herculean task. Reluctance and denial supersede acceptance and remorse.

Tokenism is glorified for preserving our self-complacency. Therefore, the privileged peers must check their performative liberalism, and begin anew- fight rape culture at home, call out friends and employers for propagating the same, and understand that unlearning is a process and we shall no longer be entitled to brownie points for doing the bare minimum. For the purge to take place, the pedestal must be abandoned and not for anyone else but yourself.

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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.

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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.

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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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