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How Gender Violence In India Is Exacerbated By The Caste Of A Woman

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Trigger Warning: Rape, Caste-based violence

With almost 87 cases of rape reported daily and several more going unreported, sexual violence in India is a daily affair. The roots of a crime as heinous and violent as rape can be traced to the perceived status of women as inferior and sex objects, courtesy patriarchal norms that have been in place for thousands of years.

During the Partition holocaust, rape was used as a political tool by the warring communities to establish their dominance over the other’s women – in a bid to desecrate the “honour” of the communities. However, it wasn’t the first time women were attacked for their identity. Since the days of medieval conquests, women were regarded as property to be won over by the victor.

This gendered pattern of violence against women has empowered and enabled institutions of power – both political and financial, to be dominated by men. Anatomical differences between men and women have been used to justify the exclusion of women from all spaces and have been accepted too, by a large section of the citizenry. For example, despite the constitution envisaging equal treatment to both men and women, no woman yet has been the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

In such a scenario, rape has to be seen as emblematic of the larger issue of power imbalance in society.

intersectional feminism
Image credit: Arpita Biswas/Feminism In India

The Power Dynamics In Gender-Based Violence

Rape is an act of violence, committed from a position of power targeted systemically against women and more so, against women who belong to marginalized communities. Contrary to populist discourse, rape is not committed because of “sexual urges”, “natural drives” or any such hokum.

It is a conscious act, committed with planning and precision to inflict pain onto the victim because of power imbalance that exists between them. Rapists indulge in this act because they can – the perceived sense of sheer impunity that stems from their privilege.

To cite a popular analogy, look at the movie “Thappad” released earlier this year. The husband, in frustration over not getting his desired promotion, slaps his wife over a minor dispute. As it is later shown in the movie, his anger was directed at his supervisors but due to his lack of power in the corporate structure where he worked, he couldn’t redress his grievances let alone hit his boss.

With his wife, he assumed that he was more powerful and slapped her because he could – something eerily similar to all cases of domestic violence and abuse.

The wife, rightly furious, leaves her husband. However, in a particular sub-plot, it is portrayed how the domestic help employed at the house also faces a much more violent brunt of abuse but is unable to do anything about it, due to her marginalized status.

Representational image. Image Credit: Marva M/Feminism In India

How Caste Amplifies This Gender Suffering

As such, while all women do face the wrath of patriarchal culture and norms, some women face it more than the others. Take a look at the issue of rapes of Dalit women from the perspective of power imbalance. In a caste-ridden society, where Dalits have been marginalized historically, socially and politically, the rape of Dalit women is reflective of the systemic violence against a particular community.

In the larger structure of power, they face the brunt of crimes committed from a position of power. A particular person from the community gaining affluence does not change that. In the recent case of the alleged gang-rape of a 19-year-old girl, belonging to the Valmiki community, at Hathras, the perpetrators committed the crime because they could – the sense of impunity arising from the privilege, provided both by their gender as well as caste.

Bell Hooks in her book Feminism: From the margin to the center explains how coloured women in the USA face the wrath of violence greater than their white counterparts. A system of double exploitation – at the hands of patriarchy as well as because of their race is prevalent. Likewise, in India, replacing coloured with Dalit and race with caste, it is easily deducible how sex crimes against women of marginalized communities are exacerbated by their caste.

In an age when anti-reservation rhetoric has caught fire in the social media forums, a nuanced discussion on the maladies of caste and its solution needs to take the driver seat now. With a violent crime as rape affecting women of a certain community more than the others, it is imperative that we not only make efforts to level the power imbalance between men and women but also take concerted steps to eradicate caste-based discrimination from our society.

Whether the government steps up to the challenge is a question on which the jury is still out.

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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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