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Let’s speak about intercourse: TARSHI turns 25

Delhi-based NGO TARSHI has been advocating people’s rights to sexual wellbeing for 25 years and creating the resources to make this possible

On February 14, 1996, when Valentine’s Day was still about love (as opposed to takeaway coupon deals in 2021), a group of people got together in hopes of improving the quality of conversations about sexuality – previously whispered, incomplete and uncomfortable. It all started with a telephone hotline.

“We have set up a hotline that focuses on sexuality and reproductive health and offers free information, advice and recommendations from trained counselors. It guaranteed anonymity and confidentiality, two aspects that were and are very important to people when discussing sexuality, ”says Radhika Chandiramani, founder of the helpline she called TARSHI: Talking about reproductive and sexual health problems.

25 years later, the TARSHI hotline has developed into an NGO in Delhi that has consistently created reliable security rooms for questions, dialogues and credible resources. The belief is that “all human beings have the right to sexual well-being and a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality”. Radhika adds, “Work on sexual and reproductive health and rights should not be limited to a framework for preventing disease, violence against women or sexual minorities, but should include a broader and more positive rights-based perspective.”

Are you looking for resource material?

  • TARSHI’s signature publications include:
  • The Red Book for 10-14 year olds to guide them through any changes they will experience.
  • The Blue Book for those older than 15 years and on their way to adulthood.
  • The Yellow Book for adults who want to start a conversation about sexuality with younger people.
  • The Orange Book for teachers / sex educators to explore their own doubts about gender, gender and sexuality.
  • Her digital magazine In Plainspeak chooses a topic related to sexuality every month: from singlehood, aging, susceptibility to food, drinks and dates. You can submit your ideas to blogeditor@tarshi.net.

The TARSHI team looks back on 25 years of work in this area. Edited excerpts from an interview:

When you started in the 1990s, the HIV / AIDS epidemic was one of the biggest problems in India. Today the conversation about it has diminished, as has the number of cases. Do you think that sustained dialogue about this is still just as important?

Prabha Nagaraja (PN), Managing Director:

Yes, because prevention is always better than dealing with a large number of infections. HIV was not eradicated like smallpox, which means it can flare up in any generation / region / community or at any time if basic precautions are not followed consistently. More importantly, ongoing dialogue about HIV opens the door to discussions about consensual sexual activities, respect for diversity of sexual expression, safe sex, and contraceptive choices.

Let's talk about sex: TARSHI turns 25

In retrospect, do you remember any important contributions to Indian politics related to sexual health and rights?

Radhika Chandiramani (RC), psychologist, founder:

It would be arrogant of us to call certain incidents a “success” because of our work, but yes, we have had more open discussions about sexuality and trained teachers to be more comfortable in providing comprehensive sex education and to offer parents ideas on how to talking to his children about sexuality and so on.

The pandemic has drawn special attention to our general wellbeing. Will TARSHI resource material be updated for a post-pandemic world?

PN and Vani Viswanathan, Program Manager: We have focused our attention on creating resources to help activists and service providers as well as anyone experiencing the stress of these extraordinary times. Our new Self-care Essentials website was put together as countries around the world got into various stages of restricted movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing millions into precariousness in terms of health, finance and livelihood. Those who work people have faced increased vulnerability in the people with whom they worked. with working from home / limited mobility; and with the pressures of the pandemic.

Burnout is becoming more common in most workplaces. But what are the stressors that are unique to your area of ​​interest?

Shikha Aleya, Senior Program Associate:

Crossing the boundaries of taboo subjects within one’s own community, neighbors, families and peers is the first challenge. Another massive stressor is the presence of conflict and violence in many places; These elements only apply to regions and population groups. Working on a taboo subject within this powerful and predominantly larger dynamic requires constant awareness and handling of risks and threats on a physical, social, emotional and mental level.

Many people who work in this field come from a personal space of struggle in their own life, with identity problems on a deep level, yet are expected to put the “personal” aside in a distorted understanding of the “professional”. an understanding that is borrowed from the traditions of other work areas such as industry. This is simply untenable in the long run. The “professional” in this sector is constantly reminded of personal stress and trauma (some people refer to this as a trigger).

How have dating apps that are prominent in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities affected sexual health?

Anisha Dutt, Senior Program Associate:

Especially in the last year when a pandemic was imminent, the human world has been moving online, including dating. On the one hand, we have newer, faster, and more innovative ways to assert our agency by expressing ourselves and connecting with like-minded people, especially LGBTQIA + folks, and on the other hand, being online has opened discussions about accessibility. Privacy, anonymity, surveillance and so on. We’ll be covering Data and Sexuality in the May issue of In Plainspeak magazine.

Has the conversation about sexual rights and consent evolved two years after the #MeToo movement in India?

Anjali Hans, program assistant:

In a way, #MeToo didn’t really give an “after”. While there has been room for many sexual violence survivors to speak up and take their narratives in hand, we need to consider the socio-economic profile of people who were an active part of the movement and examine how #MeToo has maintained spaces for difficult conversations and not just online. There is no way #MeToo has changed the landscape of sexual violence, especially in India. However, it has undoubtedly asked us some sobering questions about agency, consent, and physical integrity.

We lost a lot of loved ones in 2020, and one of them was sexologist Dr. Mahinder Watsa …

RC: Dr. Watsa was a really lovely man – a man of few words, but the words were always well chosen. He was a trained gynecologist and obstetrician and, as early as 1974, convinced the Family Planning Association of India to set up a program of sex education and counseling. His answers to questions about sex were always factual and often tempered with well-deserved compassion or an impatient dry sense of humor.

Visit tarshi.net or call 011 26324023 for help.

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