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Who’s A Real ‘Mard’, After All?

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Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!

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“Mard ko dard nahi hota.”

“Mard hai tu, haatho pe chudiyan nahi pehni tune.” 

“Kya ladkiyon ki tarah ro raha hai.”

“Biwi hai teri, do laga, kaise nahi manegi?”

(Men don’t feel pain.

You’re a man, you shouldn’t wear bangles on your wrists [act feminine].

Why are you crying like a girl?

She’s your wife, slap her, and she’ll come around.)

We often come across these very common phrases in our day to day life, be it through our social interactions or through the media or cinema, which forms our understanding of who a mard (man) is.

In today’s contemporary world, life is changing with each and every tick of the clock. But we are still accommodating a rudimentary idea of ‘manhood’ in society. We give the status of “Devi” (or goddess) to an Indian girl as soon as she comes out of the womb, but men are treated differently for their inappropriate behaviour and often compared to animals, negating the fact that they must be taught good behaviour, in order to make women feel that they are equal, which we actually don’t believe they are. This hypocrisy affects both men and women (and people of other genders). The burden of performing a social role kills the basic instincts of an individual, irrespective of gender.

In the late 20th century, we have seen on celluloid the artistic work of Amitabh Bachchan as mard, who stands against the evils of the society, who saves the heroine, who never cries, and is the only righteous person in the setup. But do we really think that this notion of mard is appropriate enough to address the idea of manhood? Or is it just another reflection of male chauvinism?

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Farhan Akhtar, in a still from the movie ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’

Let’s, find out who a real mard is:

  1. A man is someone who not only believes but also practices gender equality, in every sense, be it personal, professional, economic, as a father, son, husband, brother, friend, colleague, or even as a stranger.
  2. A man is someone who does not impose his physical strength on any individual until and unless that act is done for self-preservation. So, those who believe that showing power and force in bed, with any individual is manhood must ask to themselves what sort of power is proven only by letting down someone.
  3. A man is someone who is emotional and expresses his feelings. The phenomenon of “boys don’t cry” is actually making men weak and vulnerable. It’s creating a hollow inside them. According to psychology, the tendency to cry is more frequent in women and that’s why they are better equipped and more sensitive towards handling emotions and relationships. Strength is not about bodybuilding, or showing weakness, or hiding your imperfections, or controlling your tears. It is about facing the challenges of life, building a career, building healthy relationships, and having the ability to accept change. It is also about facing your own self, being able to express and understand and reciprocate. It is about building your emotional self.
  4. Men are not usually very keen on criticism, especially when it comes from a woman as it really hurts the infamous male-ego. But by doing so, they are actually creating a huge loss in their personality development process. Criticism is, among other things, a check on one’s conduct, it helps us to become better through knowledge of problems, of which we may oblivious. So men must understand and appreciate criticism.
  5. Reproduction and production should not be associated with gender. The outlook towards a man must be changed. The pressure of having a secure job, or the tag of the family breadwinner for men, and the idea of child-rearing as a mother’s duty must end. These responsibilities must be shared equally. It will help in building mutual respect as one will experience each responsibility equally.

The fundamental idea behind manhood is not masculinity, it’s the sensitivity.

We live in a world with heterogeneous gender identities and it’s not possible that either a man or woman can go it alone. Both need each other in their own way. One gender superseding another is not the solution because it’s not a fight for superiority, neither is it a competition. Our urgent need is for an equal partnership and companionship among all genders to create a just and egalitarian society.

Featured image source: Charlie Higson/Instagram.
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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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