Interview |On #padsagainstsexism @ JU, backlash, and gender sensitization

The fight against patriarchy found its newest expression through feminist messages on sanitary napkins. After Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi, Jadavpur University in Kolkata participated in the #padsagainstsexism campaign on 27th March, 2015.

A group of students who run the online feminist forum called Periods, set up for gender sensitization through discussions and campaigns, initiated the #padsagainstsexism campaign in Jadavpur University to protest rape culture and sexual violence.

By evening, most of the sanitary napkins had been taken down by unknown people. The group ran the campaign again on 30th March and this time the sanitary napkins were found intact for another two days before they were  anonymously removed.

On 1st April, 2015 the Pro Vice Chancellor of JU, Ashish Verma said he was not against the movement but against the “form” of the same and would set up a committee to probe into the matter so that necessary evidences can be found to take strong actions against those involved in the movement.

We met Upasana Chakraborty, one of the six women who initiated the campaign to talk about it:
Eye: Tell us why you felt the need for the #padsagainstsexism movement in Jadavpur University. What sparked the movement?

Upasana: The strip search in Kochi. Remember how all the women were made to stand and they were stripped because the authorities wanted to find out who had left a used pad lying around in one of the toilets? Then came Elonë Kastrati painting the streets with sanitary napkins messages like, “I hope rape disgusts you more than my period blood”. The timing was perfect and the situation fit– given that there was another alleged molestation and people started with the victim blaming again, there had to be a reaction this time which was entirely against the victim blaming, to begin with; and la, you have this.

Eye: However, some of the students from your University have spoken against the movement, labelling it ‘elitist’. What is your reaction to that?

Upasana:  People must have been shocked to have reacted so vehemently to this one movement. Agitprop is to be able to agitate. Hence, the sanitary napkins. If we don’t start pulling the sanitary napkins out of the newspaper wrappers, we can’t dream of the women being allowed to work in their farms in those four days of the month either! There… the Marxism right back at them; the ones who have branded this as elitist. This movement had to start because the taboo had to broken. We shall go places, this shall spread. But we begin at home.


Eye: We learnt that on April 2nd , two students from the forum were summoned to the Dean’s office in the presence of a three member committee which was set up to probe into the matter. What was the Dean of Students’ reaction when you met him?

Upasana: They asked us the same questions about what sparked this et cetera. They asked us if we have reviewed the responses we have been getting so far. They were being overtly nice; the last thing they asked was if we intended to plaster the walls with pads again.

Eye: So, are they now afraid of sanitary napkins? Is it the inherent sexism coming out?

Upasana: Oh, yes! The removal of the napkins on the evening of 27th of March was quick. The inherent sexism works more subconsciously, I presume. The fear, the disgust is the first response due to the inherent sexism.

11082449_10205141172881108_8693913484717623613_nEye: Was this movement a one-off action or is it a part of an ongoing campaign? How do you wish to take this movement forward?

Upasana: Now that Jadavpur (University) has been made to deal with the sanitary napkins up close and personal, we plan to go to urban locations like Sector 5 in Saltlake, and see if this generates the same response…it’s not like response to sanitary napkins by the roadside is a yardstick to measure the extent of sensitization but the responses are an easy way to find out how deep-seated the problems are.

Of course, we will do some groundwork and finally reach the rural space. A lot of people have made these relatively cheaper sanitary napkins but these inventions have been isolated so far, in my opinion. If more people could be made aware of such options then we could go a long way. Also, the need for proper sanitation is a prerequisite. I think I have forgotten to mention that our leaflet also demands more ladies’ toilets and sanitary napkins be made available in all the departments around the campus.

Eye: What do you have to say to the haters?

Upasana:  It will stop being uncomfortable after a while. This is what we intended to do in the first place; till then they can look around at all the gore.

Translation: Women are not “babes”.

The students who are part of this movement were threatened with expulsion by JU Authorities. Due to lack of suitable “evidence”, no action was taken against the students, stated the official press release.


Photos: Courtesy of Nabottama Pal
Eye Correspondent: Debarati Sarkar
Edited by: Manisha 

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