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

“I Hoped I Would Not Have To Write A Piece Like This Again”

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Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault, Rape, Caste-Based Violence.

I remember reading about the Hathras case at least a week ago and the gruesome details left my conscience shaken. The injuries on the girl’s body. They told that they had found the girl battered and bleeding. Parents’ plight as they faced threats. And how her family said that they were used to staying quiet.

This news was covered eleven days after the horrific incident. At the time, Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir said she has severe injuries on her neck as well. But, what was tragic is that the mainstream media did not cover anything related to the incident. They were focused on Rhea Chakraborty, the Bollywood drug ‘rackets’ where a lot has to be proven, and the journalists were chasing Deepika’s car while she was on her way to the NCB office for questioning.

Sushant Singh Rajput did not leave behind any notes but we saw the media becoming the judge, jury, and the executioner in the case, even though the Bihar Police, the Mumbai Police, the ED, CBI, and NCB were all investigating it. After a verbal exchange with Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut, Kangana Ranaut was given CRPF’s Y+ security.

Kangana Ranaut’s tweets, investigation on Sushant, and other Bollywood stories served as a perfect distraction from the rising COVID-19 cases, worsening GDP, the farmers’ protest, and many sexual assault cases.

Before mentioning the Hathras incident, it is crucial to call attention to the following incidents too. In Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur, earlier this month, three back-to-back rape cases were reported within a period of three weeks. A 13-year-old girl was raped and murdered. A 17-year-old Dalit girl was found dead outside her village after she had left home to fill a scholarship application. A 3-year-old was also found raped and strangulated.

There were also other forms of gender-based violence, including this nauseating case where a father of five girls ripped open his pregnant wife’s stomach to check the gender because it was foretold that they will have another girl. Ironically, the foetus was said to be a boy. But, the point is that misogyny comes in different forms, from not wanting a daughter to violating women’s bodily integrity. Seeds turn into plants.

I have referred, one-after-the-other, to articles about the increase in domestic violence during the lockdown. The year also saw a surge in sexual violence. It seems to me like a lot of lascivious and sadistic perverts have treated this lockdown as an opportunity to attack women and children, especially from marginalized castes, who are also subjected to fear.

Now, as mentioned above, the media did not talk about the Hathras case until after she succumbed to her injuries. It was then that the media, as well as netizens, saw the brutality of the crime and the sad state of affairs. What’s more angering is the handling of the case. Just because it just makes one ask more questions as a result of both frustration and confusion.

Her mother said that when she found her she was bleeding. She was transferred to three hospitals and finally died while in AIIMS. During this time, the accused had allegedly showered threats to the victims’ kin. After she died, in a disquieting and infuriating move, the police cremated her at midnight in the absence of her family. Journalist Tanushree Pande’s reports gave us more details.

The police poured petrol and kerosene to bring up the flames and burnt her into a cinder. Their explanation was that they wanted to prevent possible mob anger. Her brother said, “My father had almost fainted and was lying on a charpoy here when the cremation took place. The person at the site of the cremation was someone else.” A viral video showed the police reportedly told the family, “In this extraordinary situation, you have to accept that you have made some mistakes.”

Another video showed the District Magistrate telling the family that the “media will leave in 2-3 days,” and that it is up to them to change the statement.

As per the latest reports, ADG Law and Order Prashant Kumar said, “No semen has been found in the forensic report. The FSL report has already clarified that there was no rape on the victim.” However, they acknowledged the injury to her spine and neck. The officer added that they will take action against those who spread misinformation about caste tensions.

Several Questions Have To Be Raised

Like, why would either the girl or her mother lie about the rape? The reports suggested that the medical examinations were done days after the incident and it can explain the absence of semen. And, the body was burnt by the police at midnight in the family’s absence.

Amidst the outrage over this incident, another gangrape and murder of a 22-year-old Dalit girl took place in Balrampur. The incident happened when she had gone out to get admission in a college. Even her body was cremated at night, hours after pronouncing her death.

Two more cases of sexual assault of minors were reported from Azamgarh and Bulandshahr.

Representational image.

Why Uttar Pradesh?

This is a question that will be raised by the supporters of the ruling party. There was much conversation about how unsafe Delhi is after the Nirbhaya case. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was slammed for her response to the Park Street rape case, and for not releasing 2019 NCRB data from the state. The arrest of a gang-rape survivor in Bihar was also condemned.

When it comes to UP, one cannot ignore the National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) Crime in India, 2019, report which revealed that Uttar Pradesh topped the list with 59,853 incidents of crime against women and girls. The emergence of back-to-back cases also highlights lapse from the side of the authorities or in the police investigation and it should not be passed over.

The ruling government began Beti Bachao Beti Padao, and questions arise whether they are living up to the slogan, especially when the victims are being cremated at midnight.

Whenever a brutal atrocity takes place, politicians throw blame at each other and bring down the party. BJP’s 2014 election campaign had the ‘Nirbhaya’ incident in their kitty. The same leaders are now requesting both media and the public to “avoid politicizing” rape.

Smriti Irani, who leads the Women and Children Development Ministry, had taken a dig at Rahul Gandhi after an elephant was tragically killed in Kerala. But she did not give an official statement about the cases in UP, except retweeting CM Yogi Adityanath.

One can feel safe only when the ruling government takes it upon themselves to hold both perpetrators, as well as the lapse from the side of the authorities, accountable. The current ‘blame-game’ culture only makes one feel the opposite of safe.

Currently, the Hathras village is contained and barricaded, preventing media and opposition leaders from visiting, suppressing voices of dissent. Women who were protesting against the incident were manhandled and beaten in Delhi.

The December 16th incident itself should have been a case on how the authorities must be held accountable because they could have stopped the crime. Now, after seeing the image of the cremation and hearing the police denying rape, even though the woman mentioned that in her statement, one simply feels less confident.

Image source: Feminism In India

What Can Be Done?

The caste angle should not be disregarded. Women and children face sexual violence but women from marginalised caste have to face atrocities because of their caste and gender.

Human Rights Watch has said that “largely uneducated and consistently paid less than their male counterparts, Dalit women make up the majority of landless labourers and scavengers, as well as a significant percentage of the women (sic) forced into prostitution in rural areas or sold into urban brothels.”

Historical texts and events have mentioned that sexual violence is used to suppress, control, and scare women into submission. Due to the largely conservative culture and perspective, women are burdened with higher moral standards and tags like “honour.” So, attacking a woman is often looked like an attack on that community.

National Crime Records Bureau 2016 data revealed that Dalit women face the worst forms of sexual violence amongst women from all categories.

Despite having strong laws, social ostracisation and processing issues, incidents are rarely reported or prosecuted. Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Studies said, “most of the crimes against Dalit women are never even reported.” An NGO, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, reported that over 23% of Dalit women report being raped, and many have reported multiple instances of rape.

The protection of women and children from marginalised caste communities has to be checked and ensured. In Hathra’s case, her mutilated body, her photo, and her name were all revealed on social media, denying her right to dignity. This has to be condemned as well.

Calling Out Rape Culture

There will be more “Nirbhayas,” “Kathuas,” “Dishas,” and “Hathras” if the rape culture is not addressed and corrected. Calling out rape culture should go beyond candlelight marches, demands for the death penalty or castration, hashtags on social media, and more.

Former union minister Sushma Swaraj said that “a lot of laws have been made. A lot of empowerment programmes are done for women but what should change in men’s attitude.” When it comes to ‘men’s attitude’ it is important to criticise defenders of rape.

Recently, a former supreme court judge delivered a bizarre remark saying that “sex is a natural urge in men.”Added to that, the current system of preventing rape by ‘over-protecting’ women and denying them their constitutional rights will further regressive notions where men see them as ‘less equal’. This has been happening for centuries, generations, where women had to face fire to escape the wrath of patriarchy, losing agency in the process. It is hard to look at Twitter and see the current situation around the case as well as the voices of opposition.

When the Kathua incident happened, I had hoped that I would not have to write a piece like this. 

The voices should be louder and clearer. Marginalised voices should be amplified.

On a personal note, I hope that the women and girls of Hathras, Balrampur, and Lakhimpur, will get justice. I hope that the media will cover it the way it needs to be. I hope that the nation won’t witness another travesty of justice.

I hope.

#HathrasHorror
#DalitLivesMatter

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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.

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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.

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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 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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