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Here’s The Truth About LGBTQ+ Representation In Bihar Elections

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Patriarchy is so deeply engraved in our society that it has reached a stage of normalisation. Society has trouble acknowledging the problem of patriarchy because of society, patriarchy was taught as ‘the rule of law’ since its early ages. And when this patriarchy seeps into the decision-making process, we limit and inhibit the progress of all other genders by giving sole importance to the heterosexual male, a demographic that comprises just one of the many myriad components of our society.

Our politics has struggled to accept the concept of homosexuality, much less make laws to protect them for harassment that the society feels entitled to subject them to. The government passed the Transgender Person Protection of Rights Bill 2019. The transgender community as a whole rejected the bill because not only did it fail to come up to the expectations but also because the provisions of the bill were not in alignment to the needs of the community. And the reason behind this will astound you.

The transpersons community was neither adequately represented in the expert’s committee that laid the basic framework of the bill nor was it sufficiently consulted while designing the provisions of the bill. Patriarchy not only spoke on behalf of them but also made laws for them without caring about their effect on the community.

NEW DELHI, INDIA DECEMBER 28: Members and supporters of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community shout slogans during a protest to stop the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, at Jantar Mantar, on December 28, 2018, in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Amal KS/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

The state of Bihar is no different when it comes to the participation of the community in politics. This article aims to analyse this fact with greater insight.

Monica Das became the first-ever transperson woman to be elected as the presiding officer of an election. She will preside over the state assembly elections of Bihar that are due to begin on 28 October. The transperson community has existed for as long as the heterosexual community, yet such feats are occurring for the first time for the community which is equally talented than the rest. This is the cloud of the silver lining that I am forced to highlight here.

The 32-year-old gold medalist law graduate from Patna University has created history and I hope it will speed up the justice the community has been waiting for too a while now.

Is The LGBTQ+ Community Ignored In Bihar Elections?

A further look at the electoral rolls for the election will point out the disparity that the community faces in Bihar. While there are more than 40,000 transpersons in Bihar, only 2,344 are eligible to cast their votes in the upcoming elections. The political parties very conveniently disregard the needs of the community in their policies because they do not view them as a significant vote bank. By keeping them out of the voting process, an effort is made to keep them out of mainstream politics.

This is the 21st century and this behaviour can no longer be excused. It’s time we came out of our bubble of cognitive dissonance and challenged whatever stereotype we have normalised. I understand that it’s difficult to believe anything that contradicts what has been instituted in us right from childhood through media as well as our personal interactions. But these stereotypes have made the lives of the LGBTQ+ community difficult.

It should not be a matter of fear to discover your sexual identity. It should instead be an occasion of celebration and joy. And it is up to us as a society to convert this place from a hostile setting to a welcoming inclusive place.

The Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which made sex or marriage between persons of the same gender illegal by law was part of our legal framework till as recently as 2018 before the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional. Just as we had begun to celebrate this development, the Solicitor General of India refused to grant a same-sex marriage a legal recognition. He reasoned it by stating that it goes against “our law, legal system, society and values.”  Someone’s sexuality is their right and the society gets no say in neglecting it by giving the excuse of their values. If that is the case, it is the values that must change.

We cannot take one hesitant step towards progress and then take two steps back. India is an amalgamation of humanity. We were never a land of a  single culture, a single language, or a single religion. And thus we chose to celebrate our diversity. We chose to be an ‘Incredible India’ by respecting all our diverse aspects. Similarly, India was never a land restricted to heterosexuality or the concept of two genders. We celebrated the diversity in our sexuality at a time when the rest of the world considered it blasphemous.

Vishvanath Temple, Khajuraho | Wikipedia Commons

A look at the ancient culture and texts like the Tamil Sangam Literature and even painting depictions on temples will back this. The Kama Sutra also acknowledges attraction and unions between persons of the same gender. We were a progressive land that regressed into restricting normalcy to comprise solely heterosexuality. To look for justice, we need not look far for inspiration. Our ancestry is a glorious saga of how sexuality should be celebrated.

Section 18(D) of this act regards sexual offences against transpersons as a petty offence and less grave compared to a sexual offence against a woman. The punishment ranges from imprisonment for six months to two years. While Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code has provisions for the legal protection of a woman in case of a sexual offence, the punishment for which can extend from seven years to life imprisonment. The constitution lacks sufficient legal provisions to protect male survivors of rape.

Our parliament needs to reflect the true demographic of India, which includes a significant fraction of the transpersons community and this change needs to begin with Bihar. We need more transgender members in the decision making bodies to create laws that truly respect the needs of the community.

Bihar did begin considerable progress in this path. The Kinnar Kalyana Board established by the State government includes (five) transgender members out of the governing body comprising a total of 21 members. Recently, it was made a legal offence punishable up to two years to discriminate against transgenders to rent a house or provide medical facilities to them, making Bihar the first state in India to do so.

The government has also promised to pay a sum of 1.5 lakh to the members of the community who wish to undergo sex-change surgery. Starting with Bihar, let’s demand more legal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, greater political participation of the community in politics, greater registration of the community as eligible voters. Let’s not forget that we live in a democracy and all we need to do to create a change is demand for it.

Image used for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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.”

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.

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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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