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I Was Conditioned To Conceal Rather Than Confront Abuse

ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

*Trigger Warning*

Diary Of An Unknown Girl: “There Is Nothing Special About Me”

In a status-driven ableist society, it often becomes difficult to release oneself from the shackles of the trauma and victimisation that is experienced in life, since, that will mean that one is weak and could, therefore, be wronged.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a litmus test for human compassion and has brought us face-to-face with the realities of our lives. This period also became a period of self-realisation and self-construction for some.

I wish to feel human. I wish to feel alive. I wish to breath free. Representational image Today, the little girl in me wants to talk to the woman I am. I want to look in the mirror and not feel guilty, not feel ugly, not feel self-hate, self-abhorrence, not feel sad. Representational image

One such person that I had an opportunity to meet and who has had an indelible impact on my mind, took me through the corridors of her life, the corners that got overshadowed in the noise of the capitalistic and opportunistic world that we live in.

I became a partner in a “walk down the memory lane”, and somewhere midway, we found each other. We could see ourselves more clearly and hear our breaths.

The #MeToo movement, the feminist discourse, the women rights movement and the discourse on prevention of crime against women and children have afforded us a vocabulary to probably identify the injustices that are inflicted on us.

Yet, the realisation of the self of the injustices that have been experienced and inflicted by themselves on their being and have been inflicted by their people is the demise of the self that one perceives.

Tracing this experience and sharing it will be very difficult since it is not only innate but deeply personal, and that is why I am sharing the following excerpts from the journal of a woman who experienced a rebirth in this life and has breathed life into many with her passion and zeal for humanity and her pure compassion.

From you, I learnt the value of expressing oneself and what self-determination means. You keep saying that you are no different and that your story is no different. There are so many women and girls who have the same story. But for many to make that journey of identifying one’s true self and walking through the memory lane of trauma to search for oneself is an exploration that needs inspiration and faith; that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I take your permission and share with the world what it looks like to revisit one’s life journey and the realisation of being wronged in life.

Entry 205: “It Is Painful To Carry The Dead Weight Of Childhood Trauma”

I wish to feel human. I wish to feel alive. I wish to breath free. Representational image

Today, the little girl in me wants to talk to the woman I am. I want to look in the mirror and not feel guilty, not feel ugly, not feel self-hate, self-abhorrence, not feel sad.

It is painful to carry the dead weight of childhood trauma. I wish to feel human. I wish to feel alive. I wish to breath free.

Trigger Warning, because I don’t know if there are any better ways of writing about narratives of dehumanisation that women face in their lifetime, and often inflict on themselves. I am not going to spare the bare details of the gravity of what happened to me because I don’t want to traumatise anyone, but I am writing this to share for myself that no matter what happens in life, self-love is the most important essence of all. But still, there are times when you stumble and realise that that love for yourself and others is tainted and is not enough.

I love music and I love to dance. I love to dress up (except when I don’t) and I love the way I am. A year and a half back, I started having moments of deep distress and sleepless nights. I knew something was not right because I no longer felt like myself. I was becoming distant and disinterested in life in general and this affected all other aspects of my life.

It was the same time when I began my studies as a researcher and came across several discussion groups and solidarity networks on gender sensitisation, gender politics, mental health, human rights, etc. Experiences shared by people and the discussions made me spiral into a marathon of backward tracking in life. I knew that the only way out was to have the much delayed and neglected conversation with myself.

I was 5 when it first happened and I didn’t know what it meant. We were lying down on the carpet, talking and playing when things took a different turn. I only remember feeling that something was not right and that I have not been a “good girl”. I was scared even to face my mother. So, I pretended that nothing happened. It was a family member, a cousin, a friend. My aunt threw me out of the house and this multiplied the shame with hurt. I knew I had to conceal what happened and that I should not talk about it.

Girls in our society are from a very early age taught in very subtle ways that their honour is the honour of the family and that if something goes wrong, it is them who is to be blamed. So we are always conditioned to conceal rather than confront.

My understanding of myself as a girl was also no different, due to which I kept quiet. It happened again, but I did not know what it was. I only remember that it was something of a secret that I cannot tell anyone about. This time it was on the terrace.

Time went by and I had a busy childhood with numerous hobby classes round the week. I kept running to and fro between music classes, dance classes, painting, performing in theatre, and I graduated from one class to another in school. I practically did not have the time to think about anything apart from how busy I was and what was the next thing to do.

I must mention here that I was a girl child in an over-accomplished household where children’s education meant all-round development, be it a boy or a girl, and being successful was the only option.

I was 7 and it happened again. Again, it was something of a secret. I didn’t know what it was because I barely had time to process what was happening. I was too busy to be accomplished because I was told early on in life that “people will like me for my intelligence and talent and not my beauty”.

I know it sounds liberal and progressive, but it was a garb coming from a place of insecurity that my parents had in terms of my physical appearance — I was overweight, dark and not a pretty face. It took me years to realise what that statement meant before I could understand what it means to be successful and accomplished as a woman in our society. It is always “beauty with brains”, or else you are doomed.

As I was growing up, a sense of rage was gripping me. I was 13, and this time when it happened, I pushed myself away from that person. The rage in me was growing more and more and I started growing harsher on myself.

I became my biggest critique and my harshest mentor. I couldn’t speak about it in shame, but I was filled with anger. I thought for a very long time that it was me who was getting into this situation always. There was something wrong with me. I again couldn’t speak about it to anyone.

I was too busy, but this time I was losing interest in everything. I began to work harder. The more people appreciated me, the more hatred I felt for myself. I just ignored the incident again because how could I talk about it, it was my brother. I don’t think I will ever be able to talk about it to anyone, not even to my parents. I didn’t give myself a moment and just went about life, making myself better and better, without understanding what I was doing, and did I even want it.

Life went on and I turned 18. I got into one of the best colleges for a professional course. College was a new life and I made amazing friends who would know the new me. I did not have friends to hang out with before this. This time it was different. I was confident and flamboyant. I was fun to be with. I realised that I like talking to people and knowing more about different lives. That’s the thing about being an accomplished child; you learn to navigate life only till the time you realise that it’s all strategic.

Today, I am practising self-love and tending my heart. I know it’s going to take time, maybe a lifetime, before I can see myself in the mirror and not feel guilty. Representational image

At 18, it happened again. Twice! Once, it was my brother and the other time I met with an accident on the road, while I was trying to escape a bid to be sexually assaulted in public. I did not talk about it to anyone because I did not want people to think that I was weak. I did not want to spoil my image.

But that day broke me. My rage, frustration and anger all came out in tears. I was in tears, but I didn’t know why. I felt less of a human. I was not sure what I was supposed to feel. I did not know it was sexual assault; this time and on all the other occasions. All I knew was that what happened was not right.

As I began attending more and more of the discussion groups, and with years of self-reflection, I realised that I was living a dichotomy. On the one hand, I was taken good care off with all the necessities of life, on the other hand, my life had been trapped in a cycle of intimidation, manipulation and toxicity by my own family.

I gradually learnt that what was happening to me was not only sexual abuse on several occasions but also emotional abuse on all the instances, when I was made to feel inferior, undeserving and unworthy of love and respect from the people closest to my heart.

Today, I am 32 and I have learnt that I have spent a lifetime trying to convince “my people” that I am good enough and I am worthy, and that it is not how it should be. I learnt it when, as a researcher, I came across solidarity groups working on these aspects of human life and became aware of it.

I did not know that people could talk about these things openly. It was liberating. I always felt that even if I shared about what was happening to me, no one would believe me because who would want to do anything to a girl who looked like me. I dehumanised myself to the extent that I began convincing myself that nothing happened to me, while on the inside, I was burning with rage.

Fortunately, life surprised me and I stumbled upon people with whom I learnt the value of conversation and the need to vent out at times. They made me talk about myself and visit my demons. They made me question myself and most importantly, encounter aspects of my life that I did not value.

Today, I am practising self-love and tending my heart. I know it’s going to take time, maybe a lifetime, before I can see myself in the mirror and not feel guilty.

There are days when I am consumed by my rage and self-hate and just shut myself off. And yet I bounce back because I have to. I have no other option. I am co-habiting with these people. I don’t have friends and I am relieved that I never have to sustain a relationship because I never feel connected or the need to connect with anyone.

But I like to help people and it makes me happy to know that I made someone feel better because I know what it feels like not to have anyone to support and be there for you. I feel I have enough love in me to make people feel loved when there is no one to hold their hand and that is the central purpose of my life now.

In this lockdown, I think I have missed these people the most, more than anything else. I miss having chai with them and I miss all the conversation we had. Honestly, I can’t wait to meet them again.

My mantras to get by this lockdown: “Take one day at a time, take care of your emotional health and love yourself darlings, because you deserve every bit of it.”

Destiny’s Favourite? No One’s Favourite Child

Talking to my prospective boyfriend about how my life has been, I shared that I was glad to have survived this long, without understanding that maybe this was the beginning of an end. An end of the person I was and the end of all things that were inflicted on that person.

It is strange how one finds oneself at crossroads in life with scratches of memories from the past that one believes is not theirs. Yet, at another moment, the truth prevails upon them that they are the child in them that was abused, that they search for in every story they read, that wishes to break free and wishes to go back to the point of time in their life when they were oblivious to this realisation that they are the victimised bodies in all the stories. Their self-hatred, self-blame and their stigmatising their self was not their responsibility; rather, it is a gift of nurturing and socialisation that was bestowed upon them by their people.

In my case what accentuated this was comments like “you take of yourself too seriously”, “you are elite, everything you talk about is elite, and sadly you don’t even do anything about it”, “there is no racism in India”, “you are just privileged and are ignorant to the problems of others”, “who would want to be with you”, “you look like a domestic worker”, “you are fat and ugly”, “oh! your hair looks like a jhaadu”, “we have to pay extra as dowry for your small nose”, “a road roller went over your face”.

Also comments like “I have heard students are caned in your school publicly along the flag pole”, “why don’t you put make-up you can look better”, “you look pretty but I wish you were fair”, “why don’t you do something about your weight”, “her looks will not matter”, etc. backed by episodes of stigmatisation, intimidation and silencing, all showered on me since I was 5 years old to till date by my mother, brother, a prospective partner.

These episodes persisted all my life with instances of sexual abuse, mean bullying and sexualised remarks, comments on my looks, skin colour and hair texture, body shape, bodyweight, etc. making the child in me feel inadequate, defenceless and unwanted.

I have wanted to kill myself since I was 5. There have been numerous times when I have questioned God that why don’t I die when I am of no use to my family or anyone. I have spent a lifetime feeling like a burden and disgrace to my parents. As a result, I have spent my entire life just trying to prove my purpose of existence and reason for being in this world, and trying to be “accepted” by people, especially my family.

When I was 19, I for the first time felt emotionally drawn towards a person, but at the same time, I drew away in despair since by then the feeling of “I don’t deserve to be loved, to be happy, I deserve to be abused and hated, I am not worth it”, had rooted so deep in me that I never allowed the other person to show their affection towards me. I have always been guilty as to why I even get emotionally involved or started anything.

There have been many times that I have gotten into relationships, but none of them has lasted for more than 2 days, with the last one, which lasted 1 month. Every time it is the same episode. I feel sad for the other person who suffers for no fault of their own.

My family has wanted me to get married and I have been rejected more than 30 times officially, and over 75 times unofficially. Each time I feel satisfied that that’s exactly what I deserve. I deserve to be hated. I don’t know why do I feel satisfied every time.

It is exhausting and tiring to be like this. I don’t wish to die anymore because now I draw pleasure from the fact that people are incapable of changing and the same people are still talking about the same topics.

I have grown up with no friends, no sibling or cousins to connect, no trust with the family or people around. I always wanted only to live alone and safe. But I hold no qualms against anyone. I want to be happy. I want to feel loved. 

Will I ever be able to love myself, the way I love, care and support everyone around me — my friends, family and colleagues.

“To love is to live” — as you always say. 

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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 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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