Then my own experience of growing up as a girl in India where instances of street sexual harassment had a big impact on me personally. I reached a point where I felt uncomfortable and rather ashamed of being a girl, she said.
We all remember when during the science class, a chapter on reproduction made every student quite uncomfortable, but after the class, the folks around shared a good laugh. The teacher told us to just read and move to the next chapter. Don’t discuss. Don’t ponder. Just memorise and end up rewriting the same words in the answer sheet during the finals. We were passed. We all didn’t realise, but we were actually failed. And we continued to live in and with-in the myths and taboos that breathe every moment in the sections of the society and we have to live by it.
Meet Vithika Yadav, a mother to a 6-year-young little boy, who is the leading lady behind Love Matters, what today stands as the first ever and the most popular digital comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) platform in India, encouraging people to keep fighting the odds (and you know, we have some countless odds existing here in the country and the world) and today, she calls herself anti-slavery, sexual rights and gender rights activist.
High time we break away from the shackles of taboos, myths, and misconceptions, she quoted in one of her responses.
Sex is a term that when we speak about it, the expressions on other’s face flash the hesitation, and one doesn’t feel comfortable to talk about it. Forget about a conversation about sex awareness in general between a guy and girl, one of the two is going to label the other, pervert in a second. What change this society really asks for? How do you approach people to learn ethics and kill the taboo?
Sex, of course, continues to be a taboo subject in India where talking about sex is considered wrong and shameful, and educating young people about sex is still a controversy, because it is said to go against the Indian culture.
But the irony is, all of us probably also know that India is one of the first countries in the world that educated, talked about and celebrated sex. What remains often is a casual, sensational and partial attitude to these issues which do not really translate into more informed choices or decisions, especially those defining our body and rights. Matters of reproductive sexual health are still ignored and swamped under myriad myths and taboos.
What is needed is an open and honest conversation about sex and related issues that help bust the myths and fight the taboos. Conversations about consent, about understanding that no one ‘owes’ anyone sex just because you are in a relationship, conversation that makes people understand things like – “going outside” with someone is not a contract for sex, conversations about body image, about body changes that one goes through, discussing the importance of self-esteem and body image, setting boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not, and why – all these are important things to be talked about.
Not talking, and thinking ‘don’t people just learn these things’ might just mean that our young people are getting into more unsafe sexual behaviours and that sexual harassment and violence against women will only be on a rise.
You’re the country head of LoveMatters India, and it has a great following and the topics flashed there genuinely suggest about cutting off the taboos. How’s been the journey till now? What all have you gone through to make this happen?
The journey so far has been interesting when I look back and reflect. It’s been a journey that has been fueled by passion, purpose, aspiration, inspiration, confidence, risk-taking behaviour, patience and knowing that not everything will go just as planned.
When we started Love Matters, not many people were convinced about what we were going to do. We were also looked at by many as being a bit too ‘bold’.
But along the way, we also found incredible supporters, partners, who believed in us, who gave the much needed support to kick it off. And frankly, I am so happy the way Love Matters journey has continued and in last 5 years, Love Matters has scaled up to 5 countries in the world. This is the work of an incredible team worldwide that is committed, fearless, energetic and inspirational, she said.
As I’ve always believed, hope is one good thing, she is the lady who inspires us to being bold is not about more or less, it’s about the righteous, the rebellious and the rising. Hope is the backlink here if I could mention again.
What were those experiences that you’ve had during teenage life or say during school/college life, that made you realise that the society is full of taboos and one has to go along with those customs to be referred as a good boy or a good girl?
There are so many taboos that we live with when we talk about sexual and reproductive health and rights. From masturbation to body image to virginity to abortion…the list is quite full. And frankly, this is not just about India but many other parts of the world.
There were so many taboos that I came across in my growing up years…from menstruation to the size of your skirt determining your character, to inter caste and inter religion marriages, to homosexuality, to even something like divorce. People might kill each other in a marital relationship if they just don’t get alone but they must not get divorced for what will the family, society and the world say. The world that actually knows nothing about the relationship between two people. And all of these taboos pretty much decided in the society as to what is ‘okay’ and what isn’t, who is supposedly ‘good’ and who’s ‘bad’.
There are so many instances I have come across, experiences I have had where I have seen the kind of trauma people go through just because they feel ashamed about something that is actually really normal.
It is all these experiences personally in my life and what I came across in other people’s lives of shame, stigma, and abuse that definitely is a reason why I am so passionate about what I’ve done in my life – on Love Matters and also as an anti-trafficking and anti-slavery specialist.
And the future seems bright for the nation because of the millennials. In an era of social media, does the youth really have an interest in getting aware of the facts and knowing that there are no norms to live a life of their choice?
India today is home to the largest number of young people in the world. Young people face increasing pressures regarding their bodies, sexuality and health particularly by way of conflicting norms and messages.
On the one hand, society projects messages of sexuality as being negative associated with fear, guilt, and disease, while on the other hand, it is seen as positive or desirable by media and peer groups. So of course, the need for young people to be able to access right and fact-based information on sexuality and sexual health is extremely important.
It is rather critical because it empowers young people with information that can help them make informed and safe choices. It also enables a positive attitude towards relationships and improves the quality of health and life of young people.
And what are your experiences with it? I asked.
The experience at Love Matters has shown us that young people are in dire need of fact based and quality information, and a safe space where they care to ask their most intimate questions, doubts without any fear of shame and stigma.
People are too judgmental though they share a lot about humanity on their social media handles, is humanity an underrated term? Seriously something has to change to be a real happy human.
Well, I wouldn’t generalize by saying all people are judgmental. Yes, it’s, for the most part, a very judgmental society that we live in but there are people, individuals, groups, change-makers, who are doing really significant work and bringing focus to the much neglected critical issues.
On the other hand, I think it is also incredible that there so many young inspiring change-makers and entrepreneurs in the country today and who are doing some really cool stuff.
What change you aspire to bring through Love Matters? I personally feel humanity sells better on the social media than it can be seen working which means humanity has become a product instead of being practised.
At Love Matters, we provide judgment-free information to people and make them feel supported. I think at Love Matters, we are using technology for social good and on topics that touch all of our lives as human beings.
Talking of humanity and being happy – again, I cannot generalize this because this is about individual experiences we have with people both offline and online that makes us have the perspective we have on this. For me personally, kindness and gratitude are two of the most important values that I live by.
And I make it a point to talk about being kind and gratitude to my child almost every single day. Likewise, about being happy. I make a conscious effort to do things that make me happy and I at least try to do things that make others happy. I am not sure if I am cent percent there with this but I try.
Love is a strong word. Tinder is one popular app. What are your views on such apps where dating and getting into a relation became an easy task but the feelings have been lost somewhere or the use of the app is only limited to grab the following on Instagram and Snapchat handles?
Well, I think different people feel different about love and about being in love. It’s an individual experience and this is also true for apps like Tinder. For some people, it’s a great way to find dating prospects and there might be others who are not really interested in dating apps. What works for one may not work for another. There is really no one rule that works for all.
What it is true is that today young people make possibly the biggest market for technology platforms like Tinder, especially in a country like India. Young people love being online and they love online spaces that make a connection with their lives. But yes, technology needs to be used responsibly both for oneself and for others, and this is not really well understood by people.
While having a coffee, I was writing this around 2 AM, and with every word, it is coming to my realisation that “change-maker” as we say very easily is not an easy task being a change-maker. I went into some other imaginative world, by the time I realised that the story is waiting for the next word to be churned, the coffee turned cold.
What and who inspires you the most? Tell us a bit about the entrepreneurship that breathes within you.
I am inspired by people – and so many of them – all around me. On one hand, the optimism, confidence, kindness and enthusiasm I see around me is what inspires me to do what I do. On the other, it is also the misery, unfair practices, pain and trauma that people go through in different situations make me feel that I want to try to do my bit to make a difference – however small it may be.
As for entrepreneurship, I love this quote by Walt Disney because it resonates with what I think: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”. So as an entrepreneur, I try to covert my ‘I wish’ list to ‘I will’ and ‘I must’.
I take risk, I embrace mistakes and learn from them, I sometimes try to take flying leaps in the unknown and I am not sure if it is the right thing to do. But most of all, I do believe that the road to success is not a jump but a steady incline when you take one step after the other and stay focused with your passion and purpose.
Last but not the least, what your family members have to say about all what you’re doing? Does the society have something to say about it?
I am incredibly lucky to have a family that has always been supportive and encouraging of what I do. There have been instances where people have asked me that “did you go through some pain personally because of the work you do both in the anti-slavery world and at Love Matters”.
And every time my response is – NO – I actually do not have a sob story. Some ups and downs, yes but hey, that’s a part of everyone’s life.
My passion for the work I do comes from the fact that I could see and compare what a beautiful supportive family I have always had and how that compares with many other lives. I think I have been very fortunate and I use this strength and support I have had from my family – my parents, in-laws and my husband to drive the work I do, to make someone else’s life better, she ended saying that.
Her words and her words, let those words echo inside-out every mind, and my words fall short to end it because I literally have no words rather an immense wave of inspiration inside-out just like that echo. Quite Wit-Vithika.
Vithika hits at the note where the biology teacher might call you back again to have a class where everyone can discuss the pros and cons to make this world a better place because every life matters. And to sum up, that’s her mission, because love matters!
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I read. I write. A threat to humor, if one liners could kill. Twitter: @ayushxgarg