The new campaign, called "Red Alert: You’ve Got a Napkin!", was launched on Wednesday after news of a forced strip search of women in a Kochi factory was reported by various media outlets.
Inspired by the 2009 Pink Chaddi campaign against moral policing in Mangalore, the Red Alert campaign involves mailing sanitary napkins (used or unused) to the manager of Asma Rubber Private Limited in the Kochi, where more than 40 women employees were strip searched by two female supervisors in a bid to find out who left a used sanitary pad in the bathroom.
The incident took place on December 10, and the manager of the factory had refused to support the women or take action against the supervisors. A police complaint was filed against the supervisors only on December 27, after the Kerala state women’s commission intervened.
The Red Alert Facebook page, hosted by Kiss Of Love volunteers, has posted the address of the factory to which protesters can send sanitary napkins. “Protest against this inhuman act! Send a napkin (used or unused) to the MD of the company and mark your protest against this inhuman act,” the Facebook page says.
“Some people have already sent pads to the company,” said Maya Leela, a campaigner from Trivandrum who is currently doing her PhD in Spain. “Women should not face any discrimination in society due to their biology. The body politics that is practiced by patriarchy on women must change.”
The Asma factory controversy is not the only incident that has outraged Red Alert campaigners. At least two other instances of discrimination against women of menstruating age took place in Kerala in December, sparking off intense social media discussions on the subject among protesters.
On December 17, a woman travelling with two young children and her mother-in-law was forced to get out of a Kerala state transport bus that had been unofficially reserved for devotees of Lord Ayyappa who were heading to the Sabarimala temple in Pamba. This temple is known to allow only men and women who are not within the menstruating age group.
The conductor and driver of the bus allegedly claimed that the young children and the elderly mother-in-law could travel in the bus, but the woman would have to leave because they were unsure of how "pure" she was, given her age. After the local police refused to listen to her, the woman filed a complaint of human rights violation against the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation.
A few days later, on December 21, five women decided to protest this incident by climbing on to the same bus from Pamba and sitting on the seats reserved for Ayyappa pilgrims. Even before they could get on to the bus, however, they were detained by the local police, held without explanation for three hours and charged under section 151 of the Indian Penal Code – joining or continuing in an assembly of five or more people even after being ordered to disperse.
Aswathy Senan, one of the members of the Red Alert campaign, described another incident on a KSRTC bus on her Facebook page last week, when three members of a family – two women and one man – were made to leave a state-run bus ferrying Ayyappa devotees. The driver and conductor allegedly claimed that “the boy can travel if he wants, but the women have to leave”, wrote Senan.
Through the Red Alert campaign, the protesters want to raise awareness about the prejudices and politics around menstruation and women.
“Menstruation makes lives of women in India unbearable," said Leela. "They are treated as untouchables due to primitive superstitious beliefs about uncleanliness. We don’t have any problem with anybody’s religion, but we are talking against myths in society that need to change. Women are not unclean or untouchable or any less human when they menstruate.”
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