Stigma, Shame and lots of Pain: My Period Story

You are about to read a narrative full of pain, shame, privacy concerns and blood! Yes, they comprise the story of my monthly ordeal named “periods”. As a person who heavily suffers, who cries from menstrual cramps, I think that what I would consider worse than the pain is the stigma around menstruation.

My story begins when I was in class VII. I noticed blood on my skirt but I assumed that I must have got hurt. The carelessness and casual attitude that I had allowed me to assume it. But the “secret” was not kept from me for long. I had to face it the next month and learn to deal with it.

I was also the one who struggled a lot with stains so yes, I have many experiences which have been like lessons on patriarchy. I remember that once in school, I had stained my skirt and had to take a napkin and borrow a skirt from the school office. I had to return it the next day and when the office lady approached my teacher, my teacher felt very uncomfortable communicating the office order to me.

The stigma around menstruation, the dirt and shame seems to have been accepted by most of the people at school as well. A stain was seen with horror, disgust and accepted by mockery and humiliation. An exception to this rule was a classmate and friend, Amrita Arora (I think she deserves to be named) who did not create a scene, helped me get over the shame that day and earned respect from me.

Even without the stigma, the taboo, we also grow up believing that we are impure when we are menstruating. The most urban of us are also advised not to touch pickle or to participate in any religious activity. Some of my friends have told me the existence of several other restrictions like menstruating women not to enter the kitchen, serve food or do any household activity. While these are and can be justified by arguing that our scripture writers wanted women to rest but the part about us being impure just cannot be justified. How can blood be pure or impure?

Menstruation is a natural, biological process just like reproduction. It is high time that we start taking talks around reproduction, reproductive health and sanitation in a serious manner. A lot of us, especially women, suffer because of the stigma. While the monthly pain which consists of extreme weakness, abdominal pain, back ache, pain in every part of the body is unbearable for us. The pain varies among women and for some, these are literal the worst days of the month. Yet, this pain has been so underestimated. A female friend had once told me that I am “exaggerating the pain”.The fact of insufficient research around menstrual pain and the ways to deal with it contributes to such a thinking among women as well.

Menstruation is a fact, deal with it! For ladies out there, it is not going to stop till we reach our 50s maybe and yes, is a better companion than some people so get to know about it better. For “gentlemen”, please read about menstruation. It is not unhygienic and impure to read about it. Let’s together break the taboo around talks of menstruation and reproductive health.

This article has been published on Women Chapter (English)

On Women’s Day, appeal by Mission Bhartiyam to improve Safety of Women in Trains

Photo Source: Internet

To,

The Chairperson,

National Commission for Women,

New Delhi

Subject: Request to Issue Suggestions to Indian Railways to Improve Safety of Women in Trains

Dear Madam,

We, a group of responsible and committed citizens, are writing to you with suggestions to improve and ensure the safety of women in Indian railways. The Railways is an important communication link in our country. Every day, millions of Indians commute through the railways. However, there are several challenges in this sector. Recently, there have been many efforts to improve the Indian railways but a lot needs to be done for the safety of passengers, especially the women passengers.

The Railways is, unfortunately, another vulnerable space for women. Sexual assault, molestation, and even rapes have been reported in trains and are even rising. As per the information available on the Indian Railways website, the incidents of rape year wise are:  21 in 2011, 47 in 2012, 54 in 2013, 40 in 2014 and 33 (until Sept month) in 2015 whereas, crime against woman other than rapes ‘registered’ in IPC are: 154 (in Train) and 222 (in Premises) in 2011; 229 (in Train) and 215 (in Premises) in 2012; 350 (in Train) and 289 (in Premises) in 2013; 330 (in Train) and 258 (in Premises) in 2014; 260 (in Train till Sep month) and 172 (in Premises till Sep month) in 2015.  

In view of this, we have thought of several measures that can contribute to making our trains safer for women:

a) A female-only coach, especially for long distance journeys involving one or more nights of travel is still unavailable in all such trains where night journey is required. Presently there are few trains with such provisions but that needs to be

b) Emergency buttons in trains, in the washrooms, to ensure women feel safer in trains.To avoid misuse, a heavy fine can be charged in case of its violation. There may also be an emergency complaint system (with the provision of the speaker) that can connect a woman traveler directly to the security person/guard who is present in the train.  

c) Deployment of guards in every coach or at least two guards patrolling trains, especially overnight ones should be achievable.Though it is in use at present, but somehow this provision is not much effective. An analysis must be done regarding the same. Few more female guards must be deployed and they should preferably be in civil dress. 

d) Better working conditions for women employees. Since the railways have taken this initiative of deploying women officers and women staff for various other jobs at the station, they should also take care of their women employees and must provide them with better and healthy working conditions that would cater to their unique job needs. The responsibility of the Railways is huge in terms of providing necessary amenities and security to its women employees in station premises and on-board trains so that they are able to conduct their responsibilities nicely.

e) A sanitary napkin vending machine in washrooms ofrailway stations. Sanitary Napkin along with basic medicines should be one of the things that should be available (on request) in trains.  

f) Hygeine should be taken care of. A lot of women/people have complained about dirty loos and unhygienic conditions in Indian trains which in turn is the reason for the spread of a lot of diseases. Care should be taken to maintain cleanliness inside and outside the trains.

g) There should be a provision for women traveling alone or in groups to be able to change their seats during the journey. This should be authorized and facilitated by the T.T.E. If (s)he feels the people around the female(s) are of a suspicious character and condition, that request should be immediately taken into consideration.

h) Women helpline numbers (Toll-Free Helpline No. 182 and All-India Helpline No. 138) are in use at few places, but not completely effective. Also, its information has not been disseminated. A lot of women are unaware of such a helpline. We suggest that its information should be disseminated through stickers in compartments, through advertising on display boards in stations, through printing in train tickets and through broadcast and social media as well. This helpline number should also be sent by Railways and IRCTC along with Ticket information via SMS. Effective reporting and action should be planned for its proper implementation as many times such helpline numbers are busy/non-responsive. As connectivity during travel is also an issue, railways must do its best effort to improve connectivity in no signal zones or to take up the matter with telecom operators for providing shared networks for calling Helpline numbers under ’emergency’ / SOS call. 

i) A social media App R-Mitra was launched last year by Hon’ble Railway Minister for ‘Eastern Railway’ women A lot of women have complained that this app doesn’t work properly. We suggest that effectiveness of this app should be monitored and if found suitable, improved versions should be launched for other zones as well

j) CCTV cameras are installed in very few trains. We suggest these cameras should be installed in all the trains and their working must be ensured. These cameras should be installed on all routes with proper technical analysis and their installation must be feasible and effective in terms of women safety. 

k) Though railway reservation system is computerized, such possibility should also be explored where all booked tickets by a single woman or a group of women can be (even if later) combined together in the vicinity of each other.  

We appeal to you to consider these suggestions and direct the Ministry of Railways to think upon these measures and adopt them to ensure women’s safety in trains. 

Thank You

Regards,   

Devika Mittal, Madhulika Narasimhan, Ravi Nitesh and Shruti Arora

Mission Bhartiyam

Petite Women and Body Shaming: My Personal Experience

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Photo Source: Internet

We live in a web of definitions, roles and expectations weaved by the society, the threads made strong and shiny with ideal images that invokes a sense of happiness and comfort. While we are all trapped, not all of us may realise it. Some of us realise or rather are made to realise it when we fail to ‘naturally’ meet the expectation. 

While the society controls every aspect of our being, in the present context, I am talking about the expectation regarding our physical appearance. Growing up, always looking half my age and being tiny in size, l have personally experienced the societal ‘reality’, the societal expectation to be of the pre-defined ideal size, height, colour, qualities and a mindset that all these pre-defined specifications are perfectly fine.

Always been tiny, I am so used to hearing people express their disbelief at my age that it surprises me when someone doesn’t seem shocked! I don’t mind people being surprised but I certainly wish that they would keep the after thoughts to themselves though they don’t affect me anymore. I am far more used to it and at peace with myself, with my body. Though there would be a time and I must confess, still there are moments when the comments affect me, trouble me enough to force me to look for solutions.

I have gone through body shaming in childhood, during teen years, in college and even today, there are people who try. A small physical stature combined with an introvert nature, I would be assumed to be dull, docile, subordinate, powerless, incompetent and a source of pity. While growing up, not reaching a certain height by high school was supposed to be a matter of great concern and shame. I would constantly be made conscious of my height, a friend would constantly hint at how she was trying new things to speed up her growth. She did manage to grow an inch or two taller than me but I don’t remember if I congratulated her for the achievement. I remember that once a junior kid had asked me if I was a dwarf. At that time, I did feel a sense of shame as I explained I am not but now ofcourse, I realise that it is no matter of shame even if I was one. 

But back then, it was hard to fight it. I remember that once I had said to my friend that it doesn’t matter to me if I am short and she frowned which made me think if I really said something so wrong. But eventually, I started accepting myself, my body and doing so, I realized that this was much harder than to grow in height!

I am still made conscious about my tiny stature.  There are people who still treat me, a woman in mid-20s as a “kid”. The snide comments passed off as “jokes” or sentences in “light vein” do not stop. I am still asked if I am ok with looking so young. I am suggested ways to look a bit mature, given free advices on hairstyle, dress sense and way to carry myself. But this doesn’t hold me back anymore.

I have realized that the problem doesn’t lie with me but with such people. I realise that it is actually their own insecurity and failure that they try to impose on me to become happy. They themselves failed to challenge the society that teaches us to give importance to looks than to other things, to challenge the society that teaches us to be of a certain type. They fail to fight to get our right to be the way we want to, look the way we want to. They not only failed but also try to hide their failure by sustaining the order, keeping stiff the web. If they judge me, then the fact is that I judge them more. I feel pity that they could not look beyond my physical appearance. I feel pity that they can’t find a better topic to talk about other than one’s physical appearance. I don’t know and care less whether one may agree or not but this is my tiny perspective on the body that belongs to me.

This article was published on Women Chapter http://en.womenchapter.com/a-tiny-womans-experience-of-body-shaming/

Homosexuality is not unnatural; also present among animals

Source: Think being gay is unnatural? These 11 animals will prove you wrong

If diverse sexualities are not natural, then why is it found in most animals? If diverse sexualities are not natural then why do we need so many measures to impose heteronormativity?Here are some animals that prove diverse sexualities are a fact of nature:

1) Dragonflies: Dragonflies are among the most highly evolved predators in the insect world and they are also among the most demonstrative—engaging in spectacular in-flight ballets as well as serious sensual encounters with other dragonflies.

2) Giraffes: Young male giraffes, prior to mating with a female, sometimes engage in same-sex encounters and short term alliances

3) Rams: Domestic rams are statistically among the most extensively gay mammals in existence. Scientific studies have shown that up to eight percent of male sheep may form exclusively male-to-male pair bonds, forsaking all contact with the female ewes.

4) Dolphins

5) Rams

6) Western Gulls

7) Australian Black Swans: Homosexual behavior has been documented in wild Australian black swans, which sometimes form threesomes involving two males as they establish a nest site

8) Penguins

9) Laysan Albatrosses: In 2007, scientists studying the laysan albatrosses of Oahu noticed that sixty percent of birds present were female, and that thirty-one percent of all the albatross pairs were lesbian.

10) Bonobos: Bonobos, which resemble miniature chimpanzees, are not only among the world’s most intelligent animals but are in fact humanity’s closest relative. Since many of the conflicts occur between two males or between two females, homosexual bonding is a frequent occurrence among these amorous apes.

11) Cock of the Rock: Andean “cock of the rock” are spectacular forest songbirds with an extremely dramatic appearance, combining brilliant orange with a huge crest. Natural selection has led to some rather outlandish feather adornments. Remarkably, up to forty percent of males engage in same sex activity.
12) African Lion: A good percentage of male African lions have been found to engage in same-sex sexual activities

We all should be out and proud

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The Supreme Court of India has recently recognised transgenders to be the third gender. They have been recognised as full citizens of the country who will be entitled to equal rights. This decision has been warmly welcomed by not just people of LGBTQ community but also by many amongst the heterosexual community. It is being seen as the realisation of a true and just democracy. It is being hailed as a progressive move.

However, I think that there is much more that the heterosexuals should derive out of this commendable judgement and the larger LGBTQ movement. This decision and the struggle for the equal rights should not just be seen and labelled as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ by the heterosexuals. I always feel that the LGBTQ movement is a liberating experience not just for the people of non-heteronormative or diverse sexualities but for all genders. 

I consider it important to state that I claim no expertise in this matter. My understanding over the issue is based on basic scholarly literature and the little experience that I have had. In this article, I attempt to share the lessons that I derive from the LGBTQ movement. What it means to me.

The most basic lesson that I derive from the movement is in its very nature. The LGBTQ movement, as the name suggests, is not a homogeneous movement. There are many sub-groups within and they vary greatly in terms of their issues. The LGBTQ community represents and celebrates the diversity that nature has shown in everything including sexuality. Contrary to popular misconception, diverse forms of sexuality are natural. There are several forms of evidence available including the fact that diverse sexualities is present both in plant and animal kingdom. Theorists like Foucault have discussed how heteronormatity has come in a certain historical time in Europe. There are others who have shown how this was disseminated in different societies through colonialism. Other factors like religion, over-emphasis on fertility and several other social factors led to non-heteronormative sexualities being regarded as a deviant. The LGBTQ movement challenges this and brings to light the truth about the extent of diversity that nature has shown. The nature loves diversity in every aspect including sexuality. Heteorsexualty may appear more prominent but it is just one form of the diverse sexualities that are present in the nature. 

The LGBTQ movement is a movement of liberation for all. The LGBTQ movement not only challenges the heteronormative society but also the patriarchal society. This is because it challenges the notion of gender as determinants of behaviour. It challenges the gender-based roles and stereotypes. It challenges that sex and gender are natural. It proves that they are social constructions. While we are born with a particular genital, our behaviour, preferences has been constructed by the society. The society makes a man or a woman. It is the society that expects a person with a vagina to take care of the household. The LGBTQ movement disrupts all binary and opposing notions. It does so in several ways.

A homosexual person often challenges the stereotypes conforming to their gender. However, it must be noted that not all homosexuals will do so. A transgender female may be born with a penis but does not feel or consider herself to be a man. Then there is also the case of inter-sex people. They clearly transcend the binary notion of gender.

Another fundamental essence of the LGBTQ movement is the emphasis on individual agency. Who gets the right to decide whether a person is a man or a woman? They would say that the person himself/herself. I find it empowering and extend it beyond this. I see it as this beautiful idea of “I am what I think I am”. It talks about the self breaking the constructed barriers. It celebrates the individual that challenges the biased and discriminatory notions, norms constructed by the society. It gives importance to the individual’s perspective. It celebrates the voice against injustice and inequality.

To conclude, I think that the LGBTQ movement should be seen as the liberation of us all. It is a movement tied not just to the issue of sexuality. It is waging battles far beyond. It exposes the society and its norms that we take as “primordial” and “natural” as a construct. It encourages us to come out and speak against the injustice. It encourages us to be ourselves, to respect ourselves. 

This article was published at Countercurrents

Is homosexuality an import?

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The Gulf nations are planning to conduct “gay tests” for foreign tourists. It is claimed that the test will “recognise” gays and transgenders who will be then denied entry.  This will be applicable in all the GCC or Gulf Cooperation Council countries that includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. In all the GCC countries, homosexuality is outlawed.

While this news is becoming a talk of the world, I fear that it will be largely discussed as a symbol of conservatism and related to a particular religion. I feel that the focus needs to be shifted to the accusation that homosexuality is an important. My article intends to burst this myth.

The proposal of GCC is inherent with the assumption that homosexuality is an import of the west. It is not a practice of the land. This assumption and notion is true not only for the Arab countries but is also quite widespread in many South Asian countries. However, this is not corroborated by facts.

The movement for the rights of the LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex) community is not very old. It was only in 2003 that all the states of America had legalised homosexuality. Marriage equality is banned in countries. Many states of USA are yet to legalise it. Russia has recently passed the anti-Gay bill. Even if western countries have some provisions, there is still social stigma attached to people of LGBTI community. In a recent news, it was reported that a Christian College in California had banned a student after it was found out that she was a transgender. Infact, it has been argued that homophobia or fear of homosexuality and diverse sexualities was a product of colonialism. Thus, it would be more apt to say that homophobia, not homosexuality, is an import of the west.

Homosexuality as an “import” also conveys that homosexuality is a kind of trend or lifestyle. It is generally believed that like the concepts of a nuclear family and an individual life, homosexuality has also “come from the west”.  It is not true because homosexuality is not a concept. It is not a trend that can be followed. It is the way a person is. What can be said to be imported from the west is the acceptability and recognition that some western societies have shown for diverse sexualities.

Related with this concept is the basic assumption that homosexuality is “unnatural”. This assumption has been long challenged through inter-disciplinary researches. The fact is that if homosexuality is unnatural, then why is it found in about 1500 species ranging from primates to parasites? Homosexual behaviour is found to be quite widespread in the animal kingdom. One quarter of black swans engage in homosexual unions.

If homosexuality and diverse sexualities are unnatural then why do we need religion, culture, media, law and the state to enforce this “fact”? Diverse sexualities are reflective of the beauty of the nature. We are mesmerized by the diversity in flowers, animals, birds, landscapes but then why do many of us reject and condemn diversity in the sexual orientation of human beings. There is enough literature available on the history of sexuality, about a more accommodating past followed by the period of suppression of sexuality. There are reasons that explain the suppression. In the past, due to the existing political circumstances, many societies lay emphasis on fertility and so they condemned any union that was not productive. They had intertwined this with the moral and social. It was incorporated in many religious systems. However, even when the situation changed, the moral and the social was not adequately challenged. Thus, the taboo remained.

This move to bar the entry of gay tourists shows that there is a sense of “fear” and we must inquire about it. Who is fearful and of what? How is someone’s sexuality affecting a society or people around him/her? Homosexuality is being seen as a threat to the “moral good”. When a homosexual person is brutally harassed, where does the morality go? There are many incidents of rapes of people of LGBTI community. This proposed move to “control” homosexuality by barring the “agents” of homosexuality makes some sense if we accept that homosexuality has buyers in the land.

Thus, it is important to realise that homosexuality is neither a threat to any culture or system of ‘morality’ nor an import of west. It is important to  protest against this illogical and “unnatural” disease called homophobia that still grips many countries.

‘Celebrating’ Women’s Day

Published at Greater Kashmir

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Mission Bhartiyam’s poster for International Women’s Day

March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day. By ‘celebration’ I mean, there will be exchange of greetings, SMS messages, and there will be special offers for women particularly from beauty salons and some other special programs on television and radio. They will all talk about the strength and will of the women. Some will celebrate the “sacrificing” nature of women, others will celebrate them as mothers, sisters and wives and also, of course, their struggle to have “ventured out”.  Though, it is a reality that this day has also become another archies day, what is more important and ironical about this day is that it is for a particular set of women.

Owing to the fact that some men demand a “Men’s day”, it can be said that most people do not even know the origin of this day. Women’s Day commemorates the struggle, the movement against injustice and the goals of equality and justice. It had a proletarian angle to it. This is hardly celebrated or even recognized in this celebration today. But what is more striking to me is the concept of “justice”. Women’s Day is not only restricted to urban areas but to the class of relatively privileged women in political, social and economic sphere.

We celebrate Women’s day but what about women who, leave alone rights of women, do not even have basic human rights. What about women like Irom Sharmila, Soni Suri, victims of everyday torture in AFSPA-imposed states? What about women of the socially-underprivileged castes? What about the women on the lowest strata of the society? What about the women who are forced to engage in flesh trade?

The Government, the concerned Ministry, National Commission for Women, will introduce some scheme or will as a least send out a greeting to “respect” the power of womanhood. But what happens to this “respect” when they have all been silent on the torture and gang-rapes that take place each day in the AFSPA imposed states. Why have they never paid any form of respect to the victims of the Kunan poshpora incident? Leave alone respect, they amuse themselves by seeing the heart-wrenching condition of Irom Sharmila. They have honoured the police officer with medals who has dishonoured Soni Sori, an adivasi woman who has been implicated in false cases. So who are they really respecting?

The same question also goes to the International women’s organizations. It is not a hidden reality. Everyone knows about it but no one is speaking. They are all shamelessly preparing messages to be circulated on International Women’s Day.

But besides them, the common or the relatively privileged people (women) are also the culprits. They support this torture in the name of “national security” and the bigger farce of “integrity of the nation”. Which integrity? Whose security? They allow the state and the army to perpetrate torture in these states and then they dare to go about celebrating women’s day.

Women’s Day seems to me in alienation with the other and horrifying reality. It disturbs me that most of us, belonging to this privileged section, will dare to exchange greetings when our sister is dishonoured by the state forces. It disturbs me that we will celebrate women’s day, avail offers, write articles about its importance because we are the “privileged” ones among the women community. It disturbs me that there will be special programmes on television, on radio where they will ask us, “what women’s day means to us”. To them, I would say, “it means nothing to me and it should mean nothing to anyone in this country where the state, the army and the judiciary allow the dishonor of women”.