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Ritwika Sharma:

Three years, 2600 lives lost… yet another day, yet another carnage, yet another war of words… the outcome, ZILCH!! In contemporary India, everybody seems to have an opinion about Naxalism. A section of people talk about the atrocities committed by and on the Naxalites, the other seems to argue over the plight of the CRPF jawans while there is yet another, albeit a miniscule segment of people who do care about the kith and kin of those who perish away in the violence that the Naxalites have been unleashing of late. The group discussions have now moved beyond the dinner table to talk shows on national television and social networking sites. The fact of the matter remains that the problem cannot be resolved with the flash of a magic wand as the issue at hand involves the rights and interests of a multitude of people with each cluster of interests being as diverse from the other as these can be.

When Mr. P. Chidambaram, our Hon’ble Minister for Home Affairs makes a proposal to the Naxalites to hold talks if they abjure violence for 72 hours after the insurgents blew up a bus in Dantewada, Chattisgarh, a number of people viewed it as a show of poor will and lack of a stronghold on consequential matters by the veteran politician. While resorting to military alternatives to confront the problem may bring an interim relief, it can in no manner be an enduring solution to a crisis that is largely socio economic. Thus, exterminating the Naxal insurgents by deploying military force will lead to resentment being borne in the already rebellious red army. It should not be forgotten that the problem arose because of a class divide in our society that is factual and cannot be dealt with by forceful measures. Which is another reason for believing that civil rights activists who advocate for the rights and interests of the insurgents are not wronged while talking about the root cause of the problem. When the Naxal upsurge began in the 1960s and 70s it was in response to the atrocities committed by the local landlords on the tribals who wished to claim the land that was their own. The leftist movement sought to propagate an extreme form of anarchism that intended to reclaim the rights of those tribals who had been wrongfully deprived of the same.

The aforementioned argument justifies the movement, rather the ideology of the Naxals only to the extent of its end and not with regard to the means to its ends. A right can be either absolute or qualified. It cannot be an alternative. Sacrificing an individual’s right at the altar of providing protection to the other’s cannot justify any act of aggression. Warring nations stand as an exception, bringing an armed rebellion to the verge of a civil war cannot be justified by the argument of protecting the claims of tribals. The aim of the CPI (ML) propagated by radicals like Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar to bring about a violent uprising to help the landless farmers seems to have overstretched its own limits so as to infringe into the territories of those who have had no say whatsoever in the state-of-affairs. Statistically speaking, nearly 455 civilians have perished in Naxal attacks in the period between July 2008 to June 2009, accounting for nearly sixty percent of the total deaths in the country during that period.

Like any other form of terrorism, Naxalism is gradually moving towards the policy of making the government bend on its knees by targeting civilians and those very people whose interests the movement sought to protect. The brunt of the recent spurts of violence are testimony to the fact that Naxal violence, if not stopped soon, will unfetter a reign of terror that would bring the nation on the brink of a virtual civil war.

Yet another story that is inherently intertwined in the Naxalites versus the state rigmarole is that of the CRPF jawans who have been positioned in the “Red Corridor”. One of the most brutal attacks by the Naxalites in recent times engulfed the lives of 76 CRPF men in the Naxal-infested region of Chintalnar, Chattisgarh. The Chintalnar ambush is a microcosmic part of a larger, more deplorable picture. The number of CRPF men lost is another story, the appalling conditions in which the jawans reside evokes not only pity but also a realization of the fact that these men are largely ignored in the tug-of-war between the tribals and the government. Deprived of the basic amenities to survive, armed with only guns but not medicines to heal the wounds sustained, these men are the ones who are at the worst receiving end. For people far away from the Red corridor, the easiest job is to cry hoarse over the inability of the government and the CRPF men to raise a battle cry against the Naxals. The ground reality remains that the CRPF men are ill equipped when it comes to food, drinking water and medical facilities. For soldiers who are willing to render their services to the nation, provision of the most basic necessities of life is the least that can be done. Also, for an issue that can be resolved without blowing up the defense expenditure and by a better show of governance, the lives of the CRPF men should not be endangered.

Last but certainly not the least, sparing a thought for those who have lost their lives and also the people whom they have left behind, largely ignored languishes the plight of those who have no say in the agenda of the government, in the strategies formulated by the CRPF, in the tactics adopted by the Naxalites, in the formulation of the Salwa Judum or maybe even in how to live a life which they now detest to call their own. Civilians who have lately become a target of the Naxalites probably are those who submit to the propaganda of the Naxals because of sheer ignorance or due to lack of means to withstand the show of force by the red combatants. If not for anyone else, the government should refrain from resorting to paramilitary forces to tackle the insurgents to prohibit losing a large number of common men who would inevitably perish away in the war, if it ever takes place. Though it is much easier said than done, considering the gravity that the situation has now assumed, adequate land reforms to restore the land to those who have been wronged is the need of the hour. The retributive theory of punishment would unleash a chain reaction of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Force may be used to bring about a minimum level of compliance and to stop the violent means adopted by the red combatants. Long-term solution of the problem would be in reducing corruption from the system to reinstate land to the landless and also a fair share of the forest produce.

Exploitation, when bred through a long period of time, becomes a way of life. It was this exploitation that the Naxals aimed to undo. In the bargain, they embarked upon an exploitation of another kind, where they have held as hostages the government, the tribals and the CRPF men. An effectual course needs to be adopted to do the needful before Naxalism becomes a way of life!!

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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