gender bias

Please provide sanitary napkins for detained protesters: An open letter to Delhi police

Angellica Aribam, the national secretary of the National Students' Union of India, asks the Delhi police commissioner to be sensitive to the needs of women in its custody.

Respected Sir,

I write to you on behalf of the rapidly growing population of women protesters on the streets of Delhi. I don’t know whether this issue has been raised before and the authorities decided to turn a blind eye or I’m bringing it to your attention for the very first time. But leaving all that aside, let me try and explain why I am writing to you today.

As enlightened citizens many people take to the streets to demonstrate their dissent and disapproval against anything they believe isn't right, and in that many people there is a small but ever increasing tribe of females. I and a bunch of my friends proudly belong to this tribe. And no, I’m not writing to you to complain about the violent hustling and shoving carried out by the respectable lady cops. We have gotten used to it and have, by now, realised that they are just doing their duty. Even when we are kept in police custody for long hours, we have no qualms.

But there are a few things concerning female health that affects us and we need you to step in.
Firstly, there has to be sanitary napkins in police stations especially when females are detained. Our bodies are extremely unpredictable and we don’t know for sure when our periods might start. I was once in Mandir Marg Police Station custody and all of a sudden my "time of the month" hit me. I asked the friendly lady at the station for a pad, she glared at me as though I committed a sin by uttering the word "period" loudly and then told me no such thing is available. After much pleading, she said she could give me her used handkerchief. Whatever happened to hygiene!

Not an uncommon experience

I shall never forget those eight traumatic hours. My friends have had similar experiences in other stations. Even otherwise, when periods are ongoing it is advised that pads should be changed every six hours or it might lead to infection. Hence, sanitary pads become all the more crucial when you keep us in custody for more than six hours.

Secondly, kindly direct all stations to keep the ladies’ washrooms clean. Wherever we have been detained be it Parliament Street or Mandir Marg, the condition those washrooms are in never fails to make me squirmish. Sometimes, even water is scarce. Maybe it isn’t everyday that women do end up in custody compared to men but that doesn’t mean the department could get all sexist and decide not to give us basic facilities just because we are rare and few in number.

Thirdly and most importantly, please sensitize your rank and file (both men and women) that menstruation is normal and not to look scandalised when anyone asks for a basic necessity. It is a biological process; nothing that we should be embarrassed of. It is not my fault that I get periods. I didn't choose it. It didn’t happen to me because of my sins nor is it some venereal disease I should be ashamed of. It is quite natural and I hope your officers come to terms with this natural process.

Thank you. And looking forward to a hygienic detention in the future.

Warmly,
Angellica Aribam

National Secretary,
National Students' Union of India

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.