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)

Badaun Case and the conspiracy of the upper-caste

By Devika Mittal

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The tragic badaun case wherein two Dalit girls were gang-raped and their bodies were hanged from a tree has created uproar in the Indian public sphere. There are widespread protests, regular media reports and debates on this case. It has also found ‘concern’ internationally. It has managed to touch upon the ‘sensibilities’ of the upper caste urban Indians but not without their hypocrisy. 

While they are ‘sympathetic’ and consider this as ‘tragic’, they sniff over the mention of the caste of the victims. Why to mention the caste? How is it relevant at all? I see people even condemning the newspapers for mentioning the caste. “Shame on you for mentioning the caste. Every rape case is equally tragic”, “Don’t promote caste system!” 

I find that while they find it ‘tragic’, they are not ready to ‘accept’ it as a case exposing the shameful reality of caste-based discrimination. They demand to see them as “victims”, as “human beings”. They even argue that a victim is a victim irrespective of her caste, class and they say it with a sense of pride, with a self-declared sense of being ‘fair’ and ‘just’. I find this tragic as it shows that how they are so privileged and so alienated from that reality that for them, mentioning the caste is unnecessary, that caste is a non-issue. They, who do not experience caste system as victims, fail to understand or imagine the caste factor here. They see caste only as “politics”, as “a debate about reservation” and nothing else. They are not able to imagine that how there is a strong link between caste and rape. Rape is used as a weapon by upper or dominant castes to assert their identity on the underprivileged castes. They are ignorant that this is among the few cases of caste-based violence that has managed to get the attention of mainstream media and is witnessing such a widespread ‘outrage’. They are ignorant that such cases especially of sexual violence against underprivileged caste women are a common reality of this caste-based society.

If some of them do also ‘acknowledge’ this caste-based discrimination, they regard it to be a ‘tragedy’ of rural India. They feel ‘sad’ and condemn it to be so ‘unprogressive’, showing a ‘bad picture of India’. Caste is a horrible thing, they would argue. We are all equal. This is such a strong conviction that it ends the moment they get to know that their friend is from a “reserved” category. This strong conviction lasts when their parents struggles to find a suitable match for them.

This apathy and ignorance towards caste shows how deeply-rooted the caste system remains. They are unable to see the caste factor not because it is just a political tool but because they are privileged enough to see it as a non-issue. As the dominating section, they are alienated from the lived experience of the underprivileged castes. They cannot see caste because they do not experience it as victims. While there is a section among the upper-caste urbanites who think it is nice to say that caste system is absolutely unprogressive and should be done away with, there are also those who though condemn the discrimination but uphold the caste system. This bunch of the self-declared ‘liberals’ are convincing people to believe that caste system was nothing more than a division of labour based on consent. The problem was when it became arbitrary and binding. They refuse to believe that the caste system in its core is inhuman. We are still a deeply casteist society. What ‘modernity’ seems to have added are these contradictory views and this new level of alienation achieved by the upper-caste urbanites. They not only neglect the caste issue, they are not even able to ‘recognise’ it. But the reality remains intact. By ‘denying’ caste in the Badaun case, they are ‘denying’ the social reality of caste-based violence. 

This article was published at Countercurrents

Caste rules, whether you see it or not

Power is not a difficult or an unusual concept to be understood. Power as domination, is generally understood to be recognizable. It is a lived experience for all of us, whether in the form of exercising it or experiencing it. However, it is argued that while power is a lived experience, it cannot always be seen. It is not always recognisable as there are some forms of power which we internalise and normalise, making it a social fact, which let alone resist, we cannot even recognise.

Sadly, this seems to be the case for caste in modern urban India.  A generally-held view among young, upper-caste urbanites is that caste is a problem of rural India. While a general survey would suffice to prove my point, the voices against caste-based reservations definitely shows this. Going by the slogans and opinions of the anti-caste-based reservation, it seems that most are unaware of the very logic behind reservation. They see it as a privilege being extended to some because they were discriminated centuries back. They see the reservation as “discriminating” the general category. It is viewed as “anti-progressive”. Infact, reservation has almost become a joke for many. Recently, Aam Aadmi party had proposed reservation for Delhi students in Delhi University. Reservation is being seen as a privilege, rather than as an opportunity for the deprived. It is sad to see these views but the truth is that, this is the popular view of most of the upper-class urbanites.

It is sad but not shocking that the rationale behind caste-based reservation is not understood because this again comes from the dominating section who had not only dominated but is still dominating. The caste-based domination is not an evil of yesterday, it is going on. It is the reality of today that still there is a discrimination against students of backward castes in schools. The report of a mainstream and popular Newspaper, Times of India, dated 25 June 2009 talked about the discrimination faced by backward caste students across India. In the report titled “Dalit kids cannot use school loo but have to clean them”, it is stated how not only the students but the teachers also indulge in caste-based discrimination. They are made to sit on the floor, punished unnecessarily, forced to clean the classrooms, the toilets, and are refrained from attending several school programmes. Similarly The Hindu, had released its report titled “In Perali village, Dalits can’t cycle in upper caste areas” in this very century. These are not the discriminations of the past, but the realities of today. Upper-caste men raping dalit women is almost a norm in villages even today.

As about caste being a problem only of the rural India, these upper-caste, educated urbanites should ask the caste of the people who come to collect garbage from their house or clean the mess on the roads, in their schools/colleges and workplaces. According to The report ‘Upper castes pose problem for sanitation in BMC’ published in The Hindu dated 27 July 2009,  while the upper-caste would be appointed, they would not clean roads and drains because they felt that it the work of the lower-castes. The class of sweepers is still largely dominated by the people of underprivileged or backward castes. This is not all. It is wrong to think that discrimination happens only in villages. According to the report titled “Suicide by Dalit students in 4 years” published in The Hindu dated 5 September 2011, 18 students in some premiere educational institutions had committed suicide in four years because of traumatic experience of caste-based discrimination. One of the victims, a Dalit student in AIIMS was taunted by both the faculty and class mates:

“How could Chamars become doctors? You have come here only because of quota, you cannot go ahead”

This was not a one of its kind report. There are hundreds of such reports and thousands of unreported stories. How many of the ‘progressive, educated’ upper-caste youths do even realise that their abuses are also caste-based? The abusive words “bhangi”, “chamar”, “chuda” are names of some underprivileged castes. Caste is not just limited to the rural. It is very much present in the urban areas. Another way to ‘see’ it is in the institution of marriage. Even today, inter-caste marriages are a problem. Contrary to the view, honor killing and the ‘milder’ forms of abuse and discrimination are not limited to rural areas.

It has been argued that class, not caste, should be given reservation. Do the urban, educated, upper-caste youth realise that a large section of the poor comprise of the under-privileged or backward castes? Caste is not such a social identity. It is tied to political and economic identity as well. They need opportunities to come up. Reservation based on caste will ensure them economic liberation and may also lead to their social liberation. When they will get opportunities to prove themselves, to break this myth that they are good only for ‘menial’ tasks, they will be able to provoke a change in thinking.

I would like to conclude by arguing that caste is still a reality of the today, whether the urban, upper-caste people can ‘see’ it or not. The reason why the urban, upper-caste youth cannot see it is not because it does not exist, but because they are not affected by it. Ask a Dalit, what caste is. As about this constant debate of going ‘beyond caste’, as Social Scientist Surinder Jodka had rightly pointed out, the beyond framework seems to be a conspiracy of the upper-caste. We cannot go beyond the caste because caste still exists and determines the life of a large section of population”. 

Confession pages and the power of Anonymity

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The Mumbai Mirror reads “FB’s confession pages become a headache for colleges and cops”. According to the Report published today i.e. 31st March 2013, several college authorities have lodged complaints to trace the author of anonymous posts who have been posting obscene remarks against female students, against the teachers and the administration. 
 
Confession pages are the new trend on facebook. There are confession pages for schools, colleges, offices and even for Delhi metro. I am not sure if there is one for DTC buses. They are a huge hit. On Delhi Metro Confession page, one of the post read that the confessor is more attentive in metro now so that he/she can get something to post as a confession! 
 
A careful look at the content of these pages would tell you that they are actually a repository. Ofcourse, many confession pages are also working like the pigeon transport system to deliver love messages, but confession pages are also full of reflections, suggestions and most importantly, frustrations. I have seen confessions by victims of sexual harassment. 
 
The confession pages of schools and colleges can also give a peek view into their environment.The confessions on the pages tell you what the students are thinking about.  In the LSR confession page, most confessions are a debate on feminism. I feel that in many ways, these pages are also contributing to the environment of the college. As a personal example, the confessions posted on the page are discussed on the page as well as in the college. 
 
But i propose to give a serious look at the critical comments. According to the report, there is a serious attempt to control this important aspect of the page. While obscene remarks should come under the radar, I cannot make up my mind if the latter deserves censorship.
 
As I said earlier, confession pages are also becoming another source to vent out frustrations. I have read many confessions against the administration or about how things work in the college. To me, these should be seen as a feedback form. 
 
One of the confessions that i read was against a teacher. Somebody had commented that the page should not support anti-administration or anti-faculty posts. This person had also said that the confessor should have the guts to go and tell the problem directly, to which somebody commented that it is not possible for a student to go and tell the teacher directly. This is really a fact. Not only do many universities despise self-criticism, it is even worse in the case of a teacher. Not many teachers can take self-criticism, something that is unhealthy. In such a scenario, these confessions should be taken as a feedback and not as an offence. If a University bans a confession page, I feel that it is banning these voices and any university which is not self-critical cannot ever be successful. 
 
There is, ofcourse, another side to it. The question comes, “what if the person is trying to defame the university or a particular teacher?” I have a solution to check this. If there is a wrong post, people usually react to it and point it out. But in cases when it is true, it does not meet with any opposition.
 
So if these posts are true and there is really a problem with a teacher or the way university is working, instead of finding out the confessor, the university should look into the matter. Though I myself do not appreciate anonymity to a great extent but in cases where we are dealing with careers, we must understand the importance of anonymity. 
 
Banning these pages will not solve any solution. It will be even more unhealthy. Ideally speaking, the administration should not try to intervene in this as this is off the campus but if it has to, I think that the Universities should take these pages seriously and treat them as feedback forms. 

Reimagining the “weird”

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“When I go out, I see people point at me and make fun of me. I come back and would cry out. I would curse myself for what I am. I also refrain from moving around much”, she said. She is a eunuch.

As she said that, I felt guilty as many times I also used to try for a second look. Unlike many others, I may refrain from sniggering at them but I would make them conscious and unknowingly, remind them of their status in this heterosexual society. Like many others, I would found them “different”, more specifically, “weird”, “peculiar” or “abnormal”. I would try to imagine how they can like someone of their own gender or about those people who consider themselves of the other gender. I would find it hard to imagine and would even find it “funny”.

But now I ponder why it is “funny” and “unimaginable”? As we must recall, women coming out of the domestic sphere and performing tasks which were dominated by men was also “funny” at some point of time. Jokes about women and their capabilities still have a circulation but they get challenged now. So they are no longer “funny” for some. So maybe “funny” is just a perception and related with time and space. “Funny” is a tool for suppression.

Yes, they are “different”. But the difference only lies, I realized, in their way of perceiving themselves and choosing who to get attracted to. But there also emerges a problem in this. Is it about how they perceive themselves or how we perceive them? Are the genders and sexes really two? Is that the biological reality? Have we assumed heterosexuality?

A fact of nature tells us that homosexuality, hermaphroditism and other forms of alternate sexualities exist in animal species as well. Male bats have a huge tendency for homosexuality. A more known fact is about hydra which is clearly hermaphrodite.

So how is it unnatural as many have claimed? Works of Social scientists have shown alternate sexualities to have been deeply woven into the political, social and economic fabric of societies across the world. But even if we do not get into the social and science part of the debate, let’s think from a human perspective.

They have different or alternate preferences but aren’t they still human beings? Do we have any right to humiliate them? Do they harm us in any way so why does their existence cripple our minds so much? They are not “cursed” or “sick” or anything. They are as much as a creation of the God as we are. Why does their private life matter so much to us?

20th November is celebrated as the “International Transgender Day of Remembrance”. The Day is celebrated in memory of all those transgendered people who were murdered by those suffering from the “mental disorder” of homophobia. Owing to my limited knowledge, the two names that I know are of Harvey Milk and Dr. Srinivas Ramachandran Siras. Harvey Milk was the first Gay American politician. He had contested elections, in response to the increasing cases of murder and torture of transgendered people in his region. He was assassinated by another politician. Dr. Siras was a renowned professor in Aligarh Muslim University. After his identity of being a homosexual was revealed, he was suspended. He had also received death threats and after few months, was allegedly murdered.

But there exists thousands and probably millions of unknown victims. It may be hard for us to “understand” them. But we, as the so-called “civilized” beings, have no right to humiliate them. Next time, we feel tempted to stare at them, let’s imagine the situation when for some reason, we were being stared at or was mocked at. I am sure it will not be hard to imagine.

 also published @ countercurrents http://www.countercurrents.org/mittal281112.htm

The time when children were innocent

As kids, we had a desire to speed up the growing part and become adults. Adulthood meant an escape from the boring homework, having a lot more freedom and the power to decide. Ofcourse, now as adults, we like to laugh on that silly desire. It was silly but it was a very innocent one. We were too innocent to understand what adulthood would really mean. How that “freedom” would mean very little in front of that ever-increasing tension. We realize it now but it seems that parents these days don’t.

Recently, I came across an article in a popular newspaper about preschoolers and little kids learning to cook, wash cars and doing computers. I anyway never understood the concept of pre-schooling as 14 years of schooling is torturous enough for kids but this came as a major shock to me. I wondered what has gone wrong with parenting these days.

I remember how our parents would talk about their ‘golden’ childhood and would totally discard our idea of ‘fun’ in childhood. My mother had a serious disapproval for Cartoon Network and my computer buddies, Dave and Aladdin. They would talk about their vacations back in the villages and the “real” fun, as they used to put it. Every vacation, I was forced to engage in some ‘fun’ activity like dance, music or playing casio. We all grew up being compared with a neighborhood kid or a cousin. This was our childhood. We were more ‘privileged’ than our previous generation but the next and the current generation have a lot more, like cellphones before college, facebook accounts much before their teen years, the obsession with branded and fashionable clothes, in short, an over-exposure!

Now, I think that we were so much better-off. And I don’t feel any kind of happiness as I write this. I feel really sad that what they are losing out on what happens to be what kids are famous for i.e. innocence. Now, when I think of my childhood, I review all the mistakes that I ever made. Some of them were stupid and others, quite serious, yet I don’t feel any remorse because I was innocent. I was not trained enough to see all aspects of things. I realized and learned from my mistakes only with time. I learned all that, at the right age. I was ignorant, immature and imperfect. It was only with time that I started shedding some of them. I now feel that growing up is so beautiful. And as I realize this, I feel sad for these kids.

It’s not their age to learn how to cook or how to wash a car. Why do they need to do that? Are they being expected to be independent? I see kids in reality shows trying to express emotions which they are not even supposed to understand and I have nothing but pity for them. Why are they being expected to behave like adults? Most of the times, the judges don’t seem to know how to talk to kids. They end up discouraging the kids. But Why? Why are kids supposed to be perfect today! They are expected to sing their throats out, dance till their legs give away and express emotions which are way-ahead than their ages. So we have a preteen TV actress playing the role of a wife(not child bride) on a popular TV show. Is there a dearth of better actresses, I wondered. What was the need for playing with the psychological mind-set of the young actress?

I see preschoolers having their ears pierced and I wonder the need. I remember having the ear-piercing done when I was in third standard. I fail to understand why things are growing so fast.

I don’t think one can blame the kids! The questions should be directed to their parents, their guardians and these schools. What are they playing at? The World is moving on very fast… there is an upsurge in technology and one needs to be updated but not at the cost of destroying the beautiful child-like innocence. Why are we exposing them to a world for which they are not yet ready? Why are they taking away from their own kids what they cherish the most… the “golden” childhood? Why are the parents in such a hurry?

The schools consider this as a step to better ‘prepare’ the students. They are ‘preparing’ the students for what? This competitive world? The world is definitely become ‘meaner’ day by day and the competition is a reality. But this does not mean that we end up producing miniature adults, rather than kids. And all this is only worsening the competition. The schools may claim “innovative” methods to make learning “fun” but actually, it is indulging into a lot of “learning” for the kids, with these “extra-curricular” activities. The “Extra-curricular” activities which sometimes also include personality development, a concept which again I fail to accept for kids. If immaturity is bad, so is over-maturity.

Why cant we just let them be themselves… and enjoy their innocent childhood which they will cherish later in their lives, when they will ultimately struggle in this notorious, demonic world? Why cant we let kids be kids again?

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Indian Cinema- Only for Entertainment?

Two teenagers meet in a straw-filled carrier of a truck, fell in love and try to create a world of their own in an isolated, rough-terrain area… The father is convinced, “Ja simran jee le apni zindagi”… rags to riches overnight… Heroines are an eye-candy, they are there to sing and dance around trees and to be caught by the villain… the inevitable happy ending.

Cinema is a creative platform to reach out to the society. Thus, it influences and is influenced by it.

Mainstream cinema is famous for painting a superficial image of things. In films, life is oversimplified. The many hurdles are all solved in mere three hours and a ‘happy ending’ is imposed. Movies are, afterall, for mere entertainment, they say. Love stories rule cinema. Even a patriotic movie tends to have some ‘masala’. Love in movies is generally love at first sight. The boy will stalk the girl and after resisting for few days, she will eventually accept the eve-teasing as love. There is also the glorification of first love- “pehla pyaar hi aakhri pyaar hota hai”. In reality, however, it is difficult to distinguish between love and infatuation as symptoms for both may be same (“hawa ka gungunana, dil mei violin bajna.. etc etc”). This notion also forbids the person from moving on. Movies generally terminate with the marriage but in reality, it is after marriage that the real test begins. The deal is not to build a love relationship but to maintain it. Problems arise when the two love birds actually get to live 24*7. But Movies never talk about this. They don’t even consider the differences- inter-caste and inter-religious marriage issues are hardly ever taken up. The issue is generally the difference in status. Love stories also glorify run-away brides and teenagers running away for some ‘adventure’. The society which watches ever step that we take is completely ignored.  In movies, life, in general, is shown to be waiting for that one opportunity.  Take one right step and everything becomes smooth. The complexities and struggles in life is never shown. Why? Because people want to leave the hall with a smiling face. “It only happens in films”, “How filmy”…This is how people understand the movie culture- interesting but unrealistic.

Movies exaggerate but they are definitely not alien in representing the society. Infact, they play a very crucial ‘social duty’ in terms of upholding the ideals and stereotypes of the society.  The basic component of the society is the family. “Marriage is the union of two families” so the approval of the family is very important for a marital relationship. So from getting a family member kidnapped and then faking a rescue to getting beaten up by the girl’s brothers, the boy will do anything to get the acceptance of the family. Marriage is seen as the most sacred institution in our society. The boy’s or the girl’s family may have organized a battalion but the moment the lovebirds reach the mandir, the war will get over and the love-birds will become inseparable. The reason why inter-caste or inter-religious marriages are not a popular theme may be because the society does not approve of them. Cinema is also phenomenal in creating and consolidating gender-related stereotypes. In the beginning of the movie, the boy will describe his kind of girl. It is here that they specify how an ideal girl should be like. Women are seen as mere symbols of love and beauty. With only shakal, no akal, her role is to look pretty and smile. Even today, when the condition is a little better, when asked about their favorite actress, people will oblige some bimbo. The person will then be asked – “and in terms of acting?”.  The role of the heroine ranges from being negligible to consisting of 5-6 dialogs including “bachao”.  As is believed, Women are shown to be helpless.  They also do not have an identity of their own. She will only be someone’s girlfriend, daughter or mother. And Even if in the beginning of the movie, the girl may have some identity, by the end of the movie, she will loose it and become helpless. For the woman, the earth is supposed to be flat. If she ventures out, she will fall off the edge. So when the heroine sets out, the series of events that follows discourage her and she is disillusioned, regretting her decision. This is what the norm of the society is- women should not try to alter the constructed order.                                                                                                             Since the past few years, forces of liberalism are attacking our society. And some of the movies are also trying to represent this change. So the image of the hero is no longer that stereotypical one. Ab mard ko dard hota hai.. he can get beaten up, like pink and can cook and do other household chores(he even manages kids now!)Many strong women characters have come up. The new-age woman(‘the modern woman’) is shown to be independent and career-oriented.  Issues like homosexuality, teen pregnancy, prostitution and other types of social stigma are also entering the mainstream.  So Cinema is also becoming ‘bold’..or I should rather say it is mustering the courage to reflect the changing reality.

In the media culture, Cinema has emerged to be the most important weapon.  It, thus, can be and should be used interactively and positively to reach out to the masses. It can, thus, be used to bring out that desired change.