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A Fate Divided by Faith

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Arastu Zakia Jowher:

Who is a Muslim? Who is an Indian? Is a Muslim just as Indian as other citizens or is a Muslim’s Indian-ness always under doubt? Does a Muslim deserve equal rights? Does a Muslim actually have to bear more than other Indians? Are Muslims actually as bad as they are assumed to be nowadays? If the world had its way, I would be told that my opinion on these issues is unimportant or that I just shouldn’t have an opinion. Maybe because I am too inexperienced or too immature or maybe I am just too young. Even if for a while I concede that all these accusations may be true, still I am human and I too have a heart that feels and a brain that thinks just as much as someone experienced, mature and old.

When I was even younger than I am now, my heart asked me why my friends left me the moment they discovered that their friend who displayed no visible or audible signs of belonging to a particular religion is actually a Muslim? My heart wondered why I used to be so scared of filling up the ‘Religion’ field in all school papers and forms? My heart dreaded the next question that was usually posed after people heard my uncommonly unreligious name. My heart mourned when it saw my Muslim friends being scanned by glances full of disdain and contempt whenever they dared to venture into non-muslim areas wearing a traditional kurta-pyjama after the Friday namaz. My heart was torn into pieces when we had to run for survival to an entirely Muslim occupied ghetto during the 2002 massacre in Gujarat because the locality we lived in was too cosmopolitan to not get burnt.

Having existed through the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 in the fourteenth year of my life, one night I saw my mother unexpectedly waking up from her sleep, standing on the bed and shouting hysterically assuming that a mob of rioters had come to burn her. As shocked as I was then and as amusing as it may sound now, that incident moved me. It told me what my otherwise silently enduring mother was passing through. It brought me face to face with the emotions playing havoc within the person I valued the most — my mother. The chain of thoughts that started within me after the initial shock subsided caused me to think — Is this what every single mother goes through? Is this what every single Muslim goes through? Does a Muslim or any human for that matter deserve this extent of fear, hatred and brutality for no apparent fault of theirs?

After repeated attempts at being secular and cosmopolitan were disallowed, I tried to seek solace within people socially assumed to be my own — Muslims. To my utter disbelief, they too ostracized me because their beards were at least a few inches long as compared to my clean shaven face. Because when we kids played on the streets and their parents came out shouting at them to rush to the masjid to offer namaz, they hid in their parking lots to make it appear as if they were busy praying and I continued to play. Because I wore shorts and they wore pants. Because when the maulana from the nearby mosque passed through our neighbourhood while all of us were playing, all my friends hid inside their houses and I refused to hide and defiantly continued to stand right there. Because when my friends told me that the maulana had told them to stop watching television, I fought against them. Because when my Muslim neighbours got into discussions of apne waale (our people) against unke waale (other people), I refused to add my red pepper to their already boiling and overflowing chutney. Because they offered namaz five times a day and my formally Muslim, habitually non-practicing and mentally unreligious family never forced or asked me to pray.

I felt like how a child would feel getting abandoned by his parents, then getting adopted by foster parents and then being abandoned again. I could go neither here nor there. My guardians refused to accept me and my own disowned me. If being Muslim was a crime in the Indian uncivil code, then being a questioning and non-practicing Muslim was a crime in the Muslim uncivil code.

These days, a lot of voices are being raised over the want of a progressive voice of Muslims. To me, such a voice would include two aspects:

1. The want for treatment of Muslims as equal citizens and an immediate end to all injustice against them and all others on religious lines

2. The development of a greater degree of tolerance amongst Muslims and an urge to give at least equal, if not more importance to education, knowledge, exposure and logic as compared to the practice and interpretation of religion.

Let me try to evaluate and compare the Indian Muslim Youth’s perspective with the above two points taking references from the ‘Study on the Mindsets of the Youth’ by a Youth group of which I am a member — ‘The Difference’. Out of the 832 18-25 year old respondents interviewed in Ahmedabad and Delhi under this Study, more than 11% were Muslims. Questions on issues like Religion, Gender, Politics & Governance, Stereotypes and Youth’s contribution to Society were put forth to the young respondents and a range of interesting responses were received.

When arguably the most debated topic of today’s times — Terrorism — was touched upon, a surprising outcome was seen. In ranking terrorism in order of priority with other issues like corruption, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, gender bias and communalism as threats to the nation, Hindu respondents ranked terrorism 5th whereas Muslim respondents ranked it first followed by communalism. This could indicate that Muslims are equally or probably more concerned about terrorism thanks to the kind of stereotyping that has risen in recent times. Also 17% of all respondents except Muslims said that terrorists are always Muslims. When asked if they feel safe, a much higher number of Muslim respondents answered negatively as compared to respondents from other religions. During discussions on the topic of marriages, quite a few respondents said that they wouldn’t mind marrying people belonging to other religions except Islam. Although not very major, but still a reasonably substantial prevalence of injustice against the Muslim community was evident from the outcomes of this Study.

On the flip side, when another highly discussed issue — Marriages — was put under the limelight, the Muslim community was the only one where a majority of both males and females desired to have an arranged marriage. Muslim females occupied the most major chunk of respondents out of those who refused to get married to someone of another caste, religion or someone younger to them. Also, while most other respondents were comparatively more open to the idea, 92.31% Muslim female respondents refused to marry against their parents’ wishes. These results implied a degree of intolerance and fundamentalism within the Muslim community.

But the fact that quite a few Muslim Youth now want to change and grow for the better was clearly visible too with quite a few of them conceding that the practices they have seen so far have been far too orthodox and they feel a need for change. Most of the Muslim respondents expressed a desire to get educated and supported reservation for women, SCs/STs, minorities and for the economically backward. The number of Muslim respondents was also the highest when asked if they would want to take up social work as an occupation.

At the cost of sounding authoritative and asking forgiveness for any misrepresentations, I would say that by and large the Indian Muslim Youth of today too hope to see their country India evolve into a nation free of injustice and their community full of tolerance, growth and free of fundamentalism. Whether the experienced, mature and the old make this happen or allow us — the inexperienced, immature and young to help remains to be seen…

The writer is a correspondent with Youth Ki Awaaz.

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  1. Radhika Ghose

    I remember wondering out loud at times, but mostly in my mind – “Is it scary to be a Muslim in India today?” Whilst many may look at the broader spectrum of the world, I guess its the Genocide in Gujarat, and the Demolition of the Babri Masjid and others from the same “grp” in society, that has led me to think this way.
    Brilliantly chosen title, I must add.
    It must be unnerving for you to have to face this dillema of not fitting in, either in how one would define the “Muslim World”, and the “Others”.
    I have my own kind of dilemma, where I am afraid to be someone I belive I should be, because I know my world will crumble around me, so I stay within my own skin and live on, wondering….
    And ofcourse the answer is No – no human being deserves to expereince the “extent of fear, hatred and brutality for no apparent fault of theirs?” and I really pray that someday, somewhere the perpetrators of that Genocide, will recieve the fate they deserve. They will pay for their crimes, unfortunately and apparently not now!
    It’s really time the Others began seeing Muslims, as Indians and other human beings, and not as the Terrorists or whatever else they are looked at as today.

  2. Arastu

    Very well written Radhika. I agree with everything you said.

  3. Milesh

    Looking the involvement of Muslim religion in violence across the globe as depicted in all over the media, Nowadays people and even Muslims raise this issue that
    “All Terrorist are Muslims, But all Muslims are not Terrorist.” to defend them.

    Don’t mind but these are my own personal experiences which i like to state.
    I am now 19 and when I was a kid, I was raised by both the religious families. But when I asked my Muslim guardians to take their children to the Independence function with us, they denied, instead i found them celebrating and unfurling their religious flag on 14th August.
    When I was watching India-Pakistan match with them, they cheered for Pakistan when Pakistanis players hits sixes, but no emotions when Indians did.
    One fine day, I found my loving Khalajan perpetuating the antireligious sentiments among her little kids.
    I do not want to prove their anti Indianness, as I have freinds who are Muslims and share the same belief I have, but what I felt that they are heavily religiously inclined and less nationalist.
    As far as faith is concerned, Indians have lost faith in their Indians Muslims Brothers and Sisters.
    I think , Indian Muslim community have to work terribly hard to cherish back their faith among other Indian communities.
    Unless it happens, Indian Muslim community shall have to bear the indifferences ,though may not politically, but socially.

  4. Radhika

    I can understand how Milesh must have felt after the expieriences he narrated above.
    Must have been extremely difficult to have to watch them,
    I knw many ppl in my close network feel that Indian Muslims are Muslims first and Indians second, and to some this means they are less patriotic than others… and make them ‘anti indian”
    Arastu a comment on what would come first as an identity?
    Does Islam require it followers to put Islam before the Nation
    or is that a misconcpeiton?

  5. Arastu

    Radhika, its better if you fulfill your curiosities based on answers given by the foremost progressive Islamic scholar around – Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer. Check his articles out on google, wikipedia and so on. Here is another link that will help you: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~rtavakol/engineer/

    All I’ll like to say about whether “Islam requires it followers to put Islam before the Nation” is, just go back a while in history. Think about when religions came into existence. Think about when Islam came into existence. Were countries and national boundaries even important then or was it all about kingdoms? More than half the countries that exist today either did not exist then or were very different territorially. So the whole question about which of the two being more important is a wild goose chase.

    Milesh, thank you for your comment. I respect your views and experiences. However, let me say a few things. Mentally, I’m an atheist. However, for the most part of my life, I’ve had to live in only-Muslim occupied neighbourhoods. Want to know why? From 1987 to 1992, my parents and I lived in a perfectly cosmopolitan society in Gujarat. In fact out of the 360 flats in our society, we were the only Muslims. It didnt matter who we were, it didnt matter where we lived…….then. My father was in fact the president of the Society Association and we were a very loved family in that locality. After the 1992 Babri Masjid Demolition (I suggest you read everything about it on Wikipedia), from somewhere right-wing political forces came to know that we were staying there and once they surrounded our car when I was still a baby and smashed our windshield and stuck a paper on the car saying “Bhaago ya maro”. We refused to leave. We didnt want to leave our beloved home, our loving neighbours (most of whom were Hindu). After a few days, when we came home at night, there was a page stuck on the door “Aakhri mauka, bhaago ya maro”. That was it. We were forced, pushed to run to a Muslim locality where we wouldnt fear getting burnt. And ever since then, we’ve had to stay there.

    In 2002, 5000 Muslims were killed (though official records say 2000), tens of women were raped in ways I dont want to describe here. And these are not rumours. My entire family including myself are in the social development sector and we have personally interacted with all concerned parties. Let me give you one example of the kind of brutality that occurred then – A pregnant lady’s womb was cut off and the unborn foetus was pinned to the roof with a sword through his stomach just because his mother was ‘Muslim’.

    Okay what happened then? Would you believe it? More Muslims than Hindus were arrested for the 2002 pogrom atrocities. You dont believe me? Check http://www.nsm.org.in. Poor, daily-wage Muslim worker boys were framed, arrested, tortured and then hanged solely on the basis of the confession their tortured bodies were forced to sign. You wouldnt even want to know how they were tortured. Again, I’ve personally interviewed 11 such families and also have a Powerpoint presentation about them which I had sent to a group in Germany once. If you doubt me, I can send it you.

    Still, today I dont blame Hindus. In fact I love them. I think Hinduism is amongst the best religions in the world, in terms of practice. 7 out of 10 people I know are Hindus and I dont care what religion they belong to. So who do I hate? Not hindus. I hate the people who killed, burnt, organised, framed and till today continue their propaganda in the form of media, politics and so on.

    Never in my 22 year old life have I seen any of my Muslim friends/acquaintances jeering India and cheering for Pakistan. In fact after the final of the first T20 World Cup, me and 3 of my Muslim friends were shouting and jumping with joy and then we barged out on our two wheelers and did a grand party on one of the streets of Gujarat. Why? Because OUR country had won. Because we love OUR country. After reading your comment (which is quite a common reaction I’ve got all my life), I was pained at how Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities have to still prove their loyalty to India, despite being pushed in one corner and badly ignored and isolated from governance and their human/citizen rights.

    You used the following words: “I think , Indian Muslim community have to work terribly hard to cherish back their faith among other Indian communities.
    Unless it happens, Indian Muslim community shall have to bear the indifferences ,though may not politically, but socially.” Milesh, for a few minutes, forget your biases and think. What is the biggest negative of Hinduism? It is the Varnashram system where a handful of Brahmins govern everything. Do I even need to list out the atrocities the lower-castes and Dalits have had to bear because of this system? Did anyone ever say “I think, the Indian Hindu Brahmins have to work terribly hard to cherish back their faith among other Indian Hindu castes. Unless it happens, Indian Hindu Brahmins shall have to bear the indifferences, though may not politically, but socially”????

    The thing is this: One day Jai returned from school and told his mom: “Mom, today Raj beat me”. His mom said: “Beta, Raj aisa hi hai, uske saath mat khela karo”. The next day when Jai returned from school, he said “Mom, aaj Salim ne mujhe maara”. His mom said: “Beta, ye saare aise hi hote hai, inke saath mat khela karo”…..Whether it is a Hindu or a Muslim or anyone else, when something concerns people of our own religion, we use the person’s name and blame him/her individually but when it concerns someone else’s religion, we use the person’s religious identity and blame all of them for that one person’s fault. How biased is that?

    Anyway, when I wrote this article Radhika and Milesh, I never wrote it as a Muslim complaining about Hindus. I wrote it as a human being hurt by others solely because of his religious identity and his ‘own’ isolating him because he refused to comply with their practices. I wrote the article both ways, blaming all who were responsible, not just one. I dont care what my religion is and I dont care what anyone else’s religion is. That is how I expect everyone to be. Treat me for who I am and not for what the ‘Religion’ field on the forms I fill tells you.

  6. Radhika Ghose

    PS Thanks Arastu
    If you enjoy reading, there’s a book called “Stranger to History”
    My interest for many years has been the Middle East/ Islamic Countries and Islam in general, and this book is a journey of a young man half indian half pakistani, half sikh, half Muslim, embarking on a journey to try understand his father’s world.
    Am currently reading it, and find it incredibly interesting.

  7. Anshul Tewari

    @Milesh —

    “I think , Indian Muslim community have to work terribly hard to cherish back their faith among other Indian communities.
    Unless it happens, Indian Muslim community shall have to bear the indifferences ,though may not politically, but socially.”

    I don’t think so Milesh. This is certainly not the case at a majority places. We are supposed to be indifferent to people and unbiased too. I do accept the fact that at some places there is a certain thought prevailing against Islam, so to say, but at a majority of places, Indians still do not think that Indian Muslims are against India.

    The Indian Muslims must not work terribly hard to improve their image in front of the rest of the nation, instead, others MUST work terribly hard to have a better and more open outlook towards people of other religion. God did not make boundaries, we did. However idealistic it might sound, the need is to reform ourselves, regardless of the community we belong too.

    For your personal experience, what you faced was rather unfortunate. I seriously condemn such acts and I hope that no one has to go through such, or similar acts.

  8. Milesh

    @arastu
    I need you to send me the ppt and the proofs you have,
    my email add is: milesh867@gmail.com

  9. born_atheist

    mindset of masses is shaped by those who lead them and in case of our country india it becomes more important due to lack of awareness .
    it is our unfortunate fate that these guys will divide u on any ground. u just hav to give them a chance to do it !
    the above story is not just about a hindu-muslim divide its just a part of the story . these so called divide and rule theories hav been created and applied for vested intrests.
    they divide in classes rich and poor on promises that u’ll get food water shelter if u vote them
    they divide on caste lines (within a religion !!)
    homes r burnt somewhere on communal lines and somewhere on caste lines . does it matter whats the cause if people die in both cases .
    bhopal gas tragidy looks like a foreign company killin us .
    but deep within we know its we who were responsible and it has still not been fixed.
    awareness and right education can only fix these issues and nothing else no amounts of slogans or justifications

  10. Arastu

    – Thanks Radhika. The book sounds interesting. I’ll try getting my hands on it soon :-).

    – Anshul, I agree with everything you said.

    – Milesh, Sure.

    – Born_atheist, true again. You and I share our religious beliefs. And I too am a firm believer, that the version of religion that exists today is meant to suppress and divide. No one better than Karl Marx to explain how ;-).

  11. Milesh

    @Arastu

    Arastu, Radhika has only asked what any person of this country would have easily answered. Instead you have taken us to the history.History might not have borders, but today we have,and these borders, though differ us, but also they make us unique. They make us a part of the giant family. I know this is a big and unending debatable topic but Leave the world at one side and if we put someone in an unknown place, what the first thing will he ask or anybody will ask him or what the first thought he will have in his mind? Will it be the RELIGION? NO. It will be his home,his family, that is, his country, which makes him unique and familiar. So is it wrong if someone ask him to be patriotic, to be at his country’s side in daily life as well as when his home is at stake(when his family is doing right thing)? What the family wants to hear, you know, ‘I am an Indian First, then after whatever I am.’,and this is obvious for any educated person. Religions divide us brother, and this new religion called Indianness unite us , binds us, makes us one,no matter what we are. Only this the country wants to hear to feel familiar and close. (In the context of the whole world, this new religion takes the form of Humanity, brotherhood for all the humans on this planet.)
    Regarding what all people like you ,have suffered, I condemn not this violence acts, but I condemn the passivity of the government and the waking people like us, who could not forecast the events, I don’t know why the secular government and judiciary of India, the ASI, and all other organization wasted their valuable time in declaring the ownership of the debated Masjid and the Ayodhya land, why didn’t they throw out all the Gods from the Masjid or would have put all the Gods inside the Masjid and declare the unique architecture of Babri Masjid as the National Monument and Museum and the debated land as the Union Territory and open to all Indian communities? They would have done this rather than wasting their time and the crisis could have been averted.
    There are always some miscreants who are narrow minded and lack the sensitivity , and our political parties are full of these people. It has been the habit of the people to blame ones background for the deeds of one sharing the same background. And so for the deed of one, all the innocents sharing the same background suffers. The question is why the one who is hurt go for the revenge against the one who had hurt him? Is it the result of the slackness of the internal security maintenance departments that the public has understood their incompetence and are willing to take the laws in their hands? General public doesn’t understand how the food is cooked, they only know what is put before them in their plate. So, for the minor and useless gains of someone, these general public are killed and are divided. Why isn’t there any law which prohibits the formation and the promotion and propagation of any political party on regional and religion grounds when the constitution of this country declares itself as the united, democratic and secular state of India? Why these miscreants are allowed to roam freely while the secular people of this country hide in fear? I condemn this silence of the secular and the progressive people!
    What I have stated in my personal experiences, they are PERSONAL. and they do not apply to all, neither they prove someone anti-nationalist or disloyal. I have only stated that there are still some people like what I have stated in my personal accounts, who are not only miscreants, orthodox, rigidly religious and are not progressive and they exist in all religion. They still acknowledge this land of India as the land of their RELIGION AND ONLY THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO OWN IT.So naturally for them, Religion comes before their Nation. I don’t understand why we bother for who come first and who come late for claiming this country. I don’t understand why the scholars of this country do not remove the mentioning of freedom fighters names by their religion out of the textbooks? I don’t understand why the media of this country don’t mention the victim’s name as only by his name, why it mentions his caste, religion and else, if they call themselves as secular and free?
    I accept if the minorities have been pushed through but don’t they know they have equal rights to development and self progress, I accept if verna system have devastated the life of the millions innocent,but those millions are the ones who had once accepted this divisions.(History says they are the rebellers of the verna monopoly,but like all the wars the loser always suffers, but question is didn’t the sufferers know they are in majority? Definitely this is unjust , but This shows, majority of them have accepted the verna system,so this system still today survived.)
    Regarding loyalty, I don’t want any Indian communities to prove their loyalty.
    But the violence in the name of Jihad, terrorism, and the media depicting the involvement of mostly muslim people, have spoiled the image of the holy Quran. The thing is again the same, few does and the large sharing the same background have to pay for them. I am not talking about the this country, but this is about the world. The people are not spoiled brother, the religion image has been spoiled. People don’t care or worry about you, they are worry about this religion which has been casted as dangerous because of some few miscreants. I am not talking about the restoring of the faith for yourself among other communities, I am talking about the restoring of the faith for Islam among other communities and the same restoring of faith for other communities among Islam followers. Unless this amalgamation and the truly secularisation of Indian state happens, no matter how hard and what we try, the things will not change.
    Arastu, this is what I think, and I do not want to sympathize with you.
    I don’t think you need it.
    Nobody need sympathies.
    All men; whatever they are victims of , need justice.
    Justice, so that every men in this world, can live freely, individualistically. Right to Justice and Right to Freedom must not be said, but to be executed.
    Everybody needs this assurance.

  12. Milesh

    @born_atheist
    You rightly pointed out, right education and awareness has always been the powerful tools to bring down such pathetic situations. But most importantly, this things must reach everyone, has to be ensured, which again depends on its sound and fair maintenance and governing system.

  13. Atiya

    Hello Arastu,
    You write well I must say. And you don’t need me to tell you that.
    I attended this youth convention some time back and among other things they made us see this movie about the Gujrat pogrom. It was made by a man who went door to door to get the first hand story of what actually happened there. There were no sets, no lights, just a camera and a lot of honesty.The movie was so gruesome that many people walked out mid-way, unable to watch, hear more.I stayed through.I’am not exceptionally strong, I just couldn’t turn away from reality.I saw charred bodies of women and children and children inside women.I was shaken by seeing a movie.You lived through the whole ordeal.I cannot begin to imagine what you and your family went through.But I know that this must have made you stronger.

    Though I like what you have written and can understand the dilemma you went through, I slightly disagree with some that has been said

    a)I don’t think there is an either-or situation between being religious and being uhm modern, forward and tolerant.You see I’am fairly religious myself and as forward and tolerant as they are nowadays.I try my best to offer namaz five times a day, even tahajjud.And after I’am done with my prayers, I sit on the ja-namaz and I talk to the Universal Energy that created me and you and everything else that breathes and feels and is beautiful.And in those few moments I feel like I’am one with this Universal Light, and I become at peace with myself, with the world and I’am strengthened and rejuvenated and healed.
    I think if everyone followed their respective religious faiths, it would be an end to all the problems that we face.All religions basically preach the same thing. To be a good,compassionate human being. And if everyone righteously followed their faiths, their holy texts, not the religion propagandized by the pandits and the mullahs, but the real thing, then this world would be a much more peaceful place.

    b)Correct me if I’am wrong but it comes across as if you think that if Muslim females do not prefer to get married against their parent’s wishes they are being intolerant and fundamentalists.I’am sorry but aren’t your parents the only two people in this whole wide world who love you unconditionally.You might be the slimiest vermin on planet Earth, but they’ll still love you.unselfishly, unconditionally.So it is so bad if you wish you’d rather get married with their best wishes?
    Nice name by the way, what does it mean.

    1. Arastu

      Dear Atiya,

      First of all thanks a lot for your comment and also for your appreciation.

      To respond to your disagreements:

      1. I never said there is an ‘either/or’ situation between being religious and being modern. I only referred to the undeniable over-reliance and focus on interpretation of religion within Islam and the unchallenged and often fundamental religious leadership of the community. That is why I clearly wrote “The development of a greater degree of tolerance amongst Muslims and an urge to give at least equal, if not more importance to education, knowledge, exposure and logic as compared to the practice and interpretation of religion.”

      2. What you wrote here is a topic I’ve debated on more than a hundred times :-). If you are on Facebook, please check the YKA page on Facebook and search for a similar debate on one of the posts there. Lots and lots of people have commented on it. The point I made here is not about romanticizing our affection for our parents or the other way round. It is simply a sociological concept that states on the basis of global research that “in Societies that have higher empowerment for women, selection of one’s spouse is solely the choice of oneself and divorce rates too are much higher”.

      And my name means ‘Aristotle’ in the Indian script :-). What does your name mean?

      Thanks again.

      Keep writing and commenting 🙂

  14. Atiya

    “and divorce rates too are much higher”.
    I wonder why 😛
    Atiya means Gift of God in Arabic. And one of my north-eastern friends recently told me that Atiya in Manipuri means the Sky.

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Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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