In an atmosphere of doubt and hesitation, when young Indians in an immigrant country still struggle to find the right answers to domestic violence, abuse, dysfunctional marriages, sexual health and pleasure-related questions, Dr Niveditha Manokaran is helping them unlearn and relearn. The Indian-origin dermatologist and venereologist is currently based out of Sydney. Her Instagram handle has close to 80,000 followers, and has transformed into a repository of authentic knowledge, shattering taboos and easy-to-access support for youngsters and women.
*A ROAD LESS TAKEN*
Dr Manokaran chose to take up dermatology as a career, despite being from a family of surgeons, due to a dual interest in skin and beauty. She started working in Sexual health when she moved to Sydney and stayed in the field due to her fascination and interest towards something so challenging and tabooed like sexual health. Down the line, her lived experience and her reflection on the needs of Indian society, especially the youth, prompted her to address sexual health and other awareness issues. The doctor understands how prejudiced and conservative Indians can be when it comes to open discussions on sex, abuse, domestic violence, mental health, divorce and so on. Recalling her experience as a medical trainee in India over a decade ago, she says, “We could not imagine asking any young, unmarried person who presents with an STI whether they are sexually active, without being judged or even crucified! I don’t think we ever did.” Asking the right questions on sexual history was taboo. Therefore, her choice of venturing into the sexual health domain for the same country astounded many.
*GRADUALLY WIDENING ACCEPTANCE*
Manokaranas booming Instagram account attempts to address the prevailing gap between Indian audiences and sexual healthcare professionals. Her short, fun videos often answer the most common yet unasked questions, urging youngsters to leave judgements behind when learning about their bodies and relationships better. The rapidly increasing number of followers of her Instagram page resonates with the gradually widening acceptance and discussions among Indians on many tabooed topics, including Domestiv Violence, abuse, divorce, and reproductive healthcare. They not just appreciate her original content but also interact with her regularly through shares, comments and private messages. Often, audience members ask questions directly to the doctor through Instagram Direct Messages (DMs) on masturbation. vaginal health, contraceptive devices, consent, and other tabooed subjects like DV and divorce and so on. She also receives queries on wider topics of feminism, divorce and more, which speak of the opening up of Indian youth to sensitive issues concerning their bodily autonomy, health and the society at large.
*MAKING A DIFFERENCE*
“The reason I started this Instagram account was that I wanted to give back to the people of my motherland. What better way to do that than to help create a safe space for discussions around age-old taboos that Indians are still struggling with.” says Dr Manokaran. It might take some more time, but we are on our way to establishing acceptance and empathy. She believes that her intentions have come to life only because of the digital revolution and the power of social media. Despite being based in Australia, Dr Manokaran is impacting countless lives in both Australia and her home country, miles away. “The more we talk, the more we are working towards the eradication of taboos. And social media, with its interactive interface and multiple content formats, is helping make such discussions brief, enjoyable and impactful.,” the doctor says. “I do hope that someday I will be able to provide healthcare services and a safe space, as a sexual health physician in the country I was born and grew up in. Until then, I commit to using this platform to un-taboo.”