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On Topic: May with Menstruation, Masturbation, & Mental Health

Events

-May is observed as International Masturbation Month and sex- positive website Agents of Ishq helped people celebrate it. Through the posts on their website and by using the hashtag #masturbationmay on social media platforms, they initiated conversations about female masturbation (something that isn’t talked about often) and talked about the different words people use to refer to masturbation. They even published a series of videos that addressed and dispelled various myths surrounding the topic!

-May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and Canada-based desi duo Chuski Pop, who host monthly podcasts on desi culture, women’s issues and society at large, dedicated their May podcast to talking about women’s mental health and addressing their own struggles with depression and anxiety. Catch them on Soundcloud here for more.

Governance and Politics

-Besides masturbation and mental health, the month was also dedicated to discussions on menstruation, owing to the fact that the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime has taxed sanitary napkins at 12%, but has made items like sindoor, bindis and bangles tax free. Although the 12% figure is a reduction from the earlier figure of 14.5%, this decision has angered many as it prioritizes the affordability of symbols of marriage and beauty over items that are of essential use to women.

In India, only 12% of the female population has access to sanitary products. Women who don’t enjoy access to these products use alternatives like rags, ashes and even old sand, leading to long term health complications and sometimes death. Government programmes do exist to promote menstrual health, however in states like Hyderabad and Telangana, they have suffered from bad implementation. A survey done in the two states reveals that while there are provisions that provide girls with supplies, disposal still remains an issue.

The public’s response to the new tax regime was swift—many took to social media to express their disappointment, and petitions and campaigns like #lahukalagaan were launched.

-Social media was also used by Chhattisgarh police officer Varsha Dongre to expose the (alleged) human rights violations being carried out by the Indian state. In a Facebook post, she talked about how young Adivasi girls in Bastar were subjected to extreme torture like electric shocks. She also went on to state that tribal women suspected of being Naxalites were being raped and assaulted. She was subsequently suspended for violation of conduct.

-While some girls are being denied their human rights, others are being denied their right to education. Schoolgirls from Rewari in Haryana sat on an 8 day hunger strike to demand the upgradation of their local school from Class 10 to 12. A similar protest also took place in Rajgarh. These strikes took place because schools that offered higher classes are located far away from the villages where the schoolgirls live, and they would consistently face sexual harassment during their long journey to school.

- Undoubtedly, education is an integral aspect of everyone’s lives, and how it is structured can shape worldviews and opinions. However, Indian education may soon witness the erasure of identities. The Central Board of Secondary Education in its course review meeting suggested that it may replace the term ‘Anti-Muslim Riots’ with ‘Gujarat Riots’ to refer to the 2002 communal riots. This definitely isn’t the first time that (potential) syllabus changes have reflected ideological considerations—in 2014, former HRD minister Smriti Irani announced that Kendriya Vidyalayas would discontinue teaching German as a third language as an alternative to Sanskrit, a decision she said was taken in view of "national interest".

Many BJP leaders have also been demanding the removal of Mughal emperors from textbooks to make more space for Hindu kings. Earlier this year, an RSS-organized workshop called Gyan Sangam was held in Delhi, and academics and vice chancellors of various central and state universities were on the list of attendees. The aim of the workshop was to discuss how to “Indianise” the educational system of the country and bring a “real nationalist narrative” to higher education.

-In representing all shades of opinion in governance, Mexico is making important strides. Mexico’s National Indigenous Governing Council appointed María de Jesús Patricio Martínez as their spokesperson. Backed by the leftist political group Zapatista Army of National Liberation, this decision will pave the way for her to run as an independent candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in 2018. As an indigenous woman who will now work towards securing representation for her historically underrepresented community, her appointment is extremely symbolic.

-Speaking of representation and recognition of identities—Taiwan made history this month when it became the first Asian country to decriminalize gay marriage. Its constitutional court declared that a new legal framework accommodative of gay marriage must be implemented within two years.

Legal Judgements

-The highly brutal and highly publicised Nirbhaya gang rape case came to a close on May 5th, when the Supreme Court upheld capital punishment for the accused. The court’s decision was met with mixed responses—many celebrated the decision and thought it was fitting, but some questioned the role of the death penalty as a deterrent. These concerns were further exacerbated when only a few days later, a woman was brutally gang raped in Rohtak.

-On May 11, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court convened a special summer session to deliberate upon the constitutionality of triple talaq. Six days later, it decided to reserve its verdict. However, the bench did ask the All India Muslim Personal Law Board whether a clause could be inserted in the nikahnama (marriage contract) that would prevent a husband from being able to use triple talaq. Muslim marriage is contractual, so the addition of such a clause will specify the nature of a woman’s consent to a marriage and thus possibly curb the use of triple talaq in the future. However, as Flavia Agnes says

“In any case […] the bride and her family have little, if any, say in wedding-related decisions. The nikahnama is usually drawn up by qazis affiliated to the Muslim law board and they hardly ever inform the bride of her right to negotiate the terms of her marriage.”

Thus, only time will tell what sort of judgement will now emerge from the apex court and how it will impact Muslim women.

Sports

-The Indian women’s cricket team is breaking worldwide records—Deepti Sharma and Poonam Raut became the first ever pair to score 300 runs in a One-Day International. Jhulan Goswami also made history when she became the highest wicket taker in women’s ODIs.

Popular Culture

-May has been a good month for female directors. DC Comics’ first ever female led superhero movie Wonder Woman hits select theatres at the end of this month, and will see worldwide release in June. It also happens to be the first major studio superhero movie directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. Gina Prince-Bythewood will soon make history as the first woman of colour to direct a superhero film with Marvel Comic’s Silver and Black. The film itself is centred around two women ‘antiheroes’. Further, this month at the Cannes Film Festival, Sophia Coppola became the second woman ever to win the Best Director title for her film The Beguiled. The first woman to win this title, Yuliya Solntseva, received it over 56 years ago.

Tech

-Intel Social Business Ltd. and a Bangladeshi not for profit have created the COEL, a smart bangle that gives pregnant women audio cues like reminders regarding diet, vaccinations, cramps, etc. Rural women lack access to maternal healthcare facilities, and the COEL seeks to address that issue. COEL can also detect toxic carbon fumes originating from the use of charcoal, which can be harmful to the child and alert the mother. It’s being used in Bangladesh and will be distributed in Indian markets this year at the price of Rs 1000.

In Memoriam

-Earlier this month, Justice (retd) Leila Seth passed away. She was the first woman judge in the Delhi High Court, and the first woman to become a Chief Justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh). She was also responsible for progressive amendments to the Hindu Succession Act.

May at Zubaan:

-Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?, our book on the 1991 mass rape of women from the Kashmiri villages of Kunan and Poshpora, by the Indian army, was awarded the Laadli Media prize for best non-fiction book. Co-written by five Kashmiri women, the book highlights the continuing legal (non-)consequences of the Indian state’s human rights abuses under AFSPA in Kashmir.

-In celebration of International Museum Day and in collaboration with the International Association for Women’s Museums, Zubaan participated in a worldwide social media campaign to promote women’s museums. We shared several posters from our Poster Women archive on Facebook and Twitter, which addressed various issues like dowry death, religion and domestic violence.

-We also announced our next Young Zubaan project, a comic book promoting menstrual health among young readers called Spreading Your Wings. Created by Ariana Abadian-Heifetz and illustrated by Pia Alizé Hazarika, it will have both Hindi and English editions. The author is currently accepting donations so that the cost of the book can be subsidized, making it affordable and able to reach as many beneficiaries as possible!

-On the 28th, Zubaan’s feminist book club discussed Kuzhali Manickavel’s Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings. If you were unable to attend but are interested to read it, you can pick up the book here. The next meeting is on the 25th of June and we’re reading Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva – if you’d like to join us, shoot us an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com)!

Happy reading, and May the force be with you!

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