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Jab Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya? The Dichotomy Of Young India’s Love Life

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“I would talk about love, sexuality and gender openly at college, with my friends. We would dissect such topics with ease. But the moment I reached home, all the openness vanished. I wouldn’t feel comfortable broaching such topics anymore,” confessed Shreeti Shubham.

The 25-year-old is a research assistant at the University of Hyderabad. 

Shreeti is speaking of straddling a dichotomy, which many of us, as young people, are familiar with. We have access to all these new vocabularies, but not the freedom to utter them, as and when we like.

Shreeti was a part of a media fellowship (October 2020-March 2021), and she came up with a project called Democratic Love, as a part of it. The digital project dealt with the themes of women’s right to choose, interfaith marriages and the challenges in the solemnization of marriages under the Special Marriage Act (SMA), through articles and podcasts.

Representational image.

“Do I Not Have The Right To Love?”

The SMA enables interfaith couples to get married, without having to convert. However, some couples hesitate to take its aid because the system is not pro-civil marriage. Another hurdle is having to publish a notice. Both, the lack of privacy and the fear of potential attacks by vigilante groups are major concerns arising out of it.

One of Shreeti’s participants asked her the following questions:

“I don’t have it in me to take on society, does this mean I don’t have the right to love? Or that I should ask about the religion and caste of a person before falling in love with someone?”

Sounds ridiculous, right? However, this is exactly what the Uttar Pradesh government is trying to do by passing a “love jihad” law in the state. It discourages interfaith couples from marrying each other and then converting. Whether it is faith, love or convenience behind that choice, should be none of the UP government’s business.

Yogi Adityanath and his government, insist that forceful conversions are happening. The state shouldn’t try to undermine its citizens’ personal relationships on the basis of political agendas. The flames of Hindu-Muslim enmity are stoked using such laws, which have little to zero basis for existing. Ideally, there should be no place for regressive ideas about whom one can, or cannot, love in today’s India.

Unfortunately, the ground reality is much different. 

Arranged Marriages Are The Norm

Even among the so-called progressive, urban lot, a survey showed that 93% of its participants opted for an arranged marriage. This was as late as January 2018. A mere 3% opted for a “love marriage” and the remaining 2% described their marriages as “love-cum-arranged”.

It is common knowledge that arranged marriages are those marriages that happen within caste, class and religious boundaries. Although with the advent of dating apps, dating across these lines has become slightly easier, the institution of Indian matchmaking is a bigotedly stubborn one.

Komal Singh*, a 29-year-old married woman, had used dating apps before marriage. However, when the time to marry came, she had to marry someone her parents picked. She had to give up her job, move cities and start living with her husband once they got married.

“After I turned 25, my parents started pressuring me to get married. Obviously, I didn’t find the courage to tell them about my dating life or my boyfriend. Eventually, I gave in,” said Komal. 

Why do people in positions of authority, be it our parents or legislators, think it’s okay to determine our love lives?

Depriving young people of the right to love is just a convenient facade for controlling our sexuality. Representational image.

On The Need For Marriage Equality

Take the lack of marriage equality in our country, for instance. As a queer person, I feel like we should have the right to marry.

Do I want to marry? I don’t think so. Should I have the freedom to marry? Absolutely!

Simply decriminalising queer relationships is not enough. The right to love, marry, live with one’s partner or form families of choice, adopt and more OUGHT to be universal.

Such rights should have a legal sanction as just because one doesn’t live up to the normative standards of love, doesn’t mean the state should treat one any differently. Depriving young people of the right to love is just a convenient facade for controlling our sexuality. By doing so, we are conditioned not to overstep arbitrary boundaries in love.

“The right to choose your partner is enshrined in article 21 of the Indian constitution. However, governments can misuse broad-based restrictions listed within, to target specific groups,” explained Rudresh Jagdale, a lawyer who shuttles between Delhi and Mumbai.

Rudresh explained that even if we buy into the fallacy of “love jihad” for a moment, the existing provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), pertaining to kidnapping and the like, would be sufficient to deal with cases of forceful conversion. “Drafting an entirely new law for the sake of this is nothing but political strong-arming,” he opined.

To Swipe Or Not To Swipe?

Coming back to dating apps, using them is no walk in the park either. They have their own flaws, some of which are built into them. For instance, it is common knowledge that the algorithm of such apps determines your “attractiveness level” first and then shows you only those prospects who match your level. Not to mention the fact that people continue to look for caste, class and religious markers on these apps, before swiping right or left.

The “illusion of choice” provided by these dating apps is still leaps and bounds ahead of the (un)freedoms given by the government and Indian parents, to young people. We are not asking for a lot. All we are asking for is the right to love

Be it dating someone out of choice, being in a queer relationship or marrying a partner from a different faith, all of these scenarios challenge the brahminical, hetero-patriarchal ideas of what love should look like. This is the reason why they are being policed more than ever.

As Faiz Ahmed Faiz aptly wrote in his poem, A Prison Evening:

“though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed

in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,

they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,

nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed…”

*name changed to protect identity

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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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