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“Everything We Do Comes With A Disclaimer Of Not Letting Our Families Down”

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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!

Trigger warning: Mention of suicide

Being a man or a boy has been symbolic of strength or power or adventurism for a long time. It is considered a privilege in our society. Every parent or atleast most of them want to have a son. A couple expecting a baby hopes it to be a baby boy. We are considered the true future of our family and though verbally but handed over the responsibilities to take our family to new heights at birth itself. From the time a boy is born, the chatters of what will he become in the future starts. Some say that we will become doctors, and to some, our hands look like of a future engineer and so on. No one bothers to ask or atleast considers what we would like to be.

Representational image.

When we start going to school, it feels so great to be out at first as we get to see the outside world. we make new friends and find out what interests us the most. But the good feeling doesn’t last long, as the moment we enter schools the aspirations of our parents, of us doing good at everything, starts growing stronger. Instead of learning, we start competing. Everyone expects us to be the best, as we are the flagbearer of our family’s future.

Everything we do comes with a disclaimer of not letting our families down.

The cousins that were our best buddies start turning into our biggest competitors.

The board exams become a matter of pride for everyone in our society. Those scoring highest get labelled as champions and others as losers. If we are amongst those losers, it’s no less than a nightmare. We start getting scolded and often get the remarks like, “you have disappointed me”, “you have ruined the reputation of this family”, “what kind of example are you setting up for your younger brother or sister” and so on.

For us failure is not an option, we only have to succeed. We are not allowed to try something we like, as the mere thought of us failing at something is not acceptable to our families. We can’t fail, as that will jeopardize the whole dream of a bright future.

Our choice of subjects becomes a topic of concern for our families. Every parent looks at it with utmost curiosity and scrutiny. science is considered the best even if it doesn’t interest us. Commerce, we are told, is for mediocre students and we should think twice before choosing and arts. It’s not to be considered, as if it’s something inferior, and so are the ones choosing it.

The Saga Continues In College

By the time our teenage life reaches an end, we are at the cusp of taking a big leap; we are going to be college students. We get reminded that teenage days are over and we should act responsibly. We must get into IITs or AIIMS or else our future will be bleak. Not all of us manage to do so.

Amidst all the scolding and recitations of Sharma’s/Mishra’s/Gupta’s sons getting into IIT or some premiere institute, we sit secluded with our heads down with shame, in our own house.Some of us manage to cope with it,while some succumb to it.

Some of us don’t feel strong enough to face this humiliation of failure and put an end to this miserable life labelled with failure.

Representational image.

Men are always projected as macho. Showing our emotions is considered a sign of weakness. Everyone must be familiar with the dialogue “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota” (Men don’t feel pain). Yeah, that’s how we live, hiding everything i.e pain, depression, and burying it somewhere deep inside our hearts.

Being a man means we can’t show our weakness. Even when we need help, we can’t seek it. If we feel pain and cry, it’s a shame as that’s not something a man should do. Amidst all the hue and cry of equality and patriarchy, on a date, if we forget or let the girl pay we get judged.

If someone misbehaves with a girl in front of us and we choose to talk some sense in him, we hear remarks like “you are not a man”. If we indulge in a fight, we get labelled as the poster boys of toxic masculinity. No matter what we do, it’s never enough. Everyone talks about a mother’s love and her sacrifices but no one ever appreciates the love that our father showers upon us.

We don’t choose to be a boy or a man as it’s something, that I believe, gods decide. But we choose to live by the virtues that a man must have. To me, being a man means having courage, strength and an adventurous spirit. It means being honest to the one I love. When my family is in trouble, I am their pillar of strength. In troubled times, I am their shoulder to cry upon. I am there to protect my family against every danger.

Being a man, we work tirelessly to ensure a better future for our families. It means taking responsibility for everything and stop blaming others for it. If I fight with my girlfriend, it is generalised and considered my fault. I’m told that a woman is just a mirror, projecting my lies to me. If I get betrayed, it’s because I am dumb and immature, as I trusted someone who doesn’t deserve my trust. It means being generous and kind.

Being a man means not indulging in jibbering or self-praise, but instead letting our success do the talking. It means to raise our voice against something, that is wrong. And most importantly, it means making the world a safer place for women. Women should not feel insecure around us, rather they should feel at home when we are around.

Featured image is 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.

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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.

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.”

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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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