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Operation Black Thunder

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Irfan Mohamed:

The pen and ink lie beside me. Looking at it, a long sudden spell of anger springs up from nowhere. I am a journalist GODDAMNIT! Ach! The dislike grows, dislike for my profession, for humanity, for religion. But I need an ear, a vent. Lo! Here you are, Here – my story. Dry wet tears still laze under my eyelids. It feels like when hope is far off, but sure, but you can’t be patient enough to wait for it to get close. It seems like I am just out of a nightmare, a close death call. Given these situations, writers may say, “He laughed at the face of death”, but a survivor like me can only say “I pained throughout”. It takes someone to sense it, only to understand how it is to have hopes snatched away and being asked to be forcibly reborn.

It was a cold Wednesday night; at around 8:00 pm. Stress from work had kept me low all through the end of evening. Don’t know why, but I was all gloomy that day. Maybe Preetam must’ve pulled a bad joke, maybe he didn’t. I keep forgetting with that migraine in my head. But, warmth spread as Leopold Cafe & Bar spanned out right across the front, just like a starved man finding food close by. An involuntary smile lit my face. I was meeting Kate and Clemency today. It was fun, having foreigners around your place. They always give this empty stare at anything traditional or Indian, cause according to them, the customs here, seems to be “Pretty much off the hook”. But hey, these French women were picking up pretty fast. Kate’s betting all her odds into writing a script for the local Pantheon Theatre. She’s planning a comedy where she falls in love with a man with a moustache. Clemency’s bizarre plan of filming the lifestyle of the local hawkers was going on pretty much well too. The talk sure was pumping. I felt better from whatever had pulled me down. The beer and the hot food that was being mercilessly slaughtered kept pushing up my good spirits. Kate seems to be speaking Hindi very well, even though her French accent mixed Hindi made it sound like someone having a fizz bottle stuck in their throat. All the fuzzy wuzzy absent phonetics. The clock ticked by as Clemency came up more bizarre and fun ideas.

The night dragged on. At one instance, out of the corner of my eye a strange metal flashed. Turning a little I caught sight of a man resembling Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Carribean. A proper second look wiped out the sudden risen excitement of the prospect of having him here in Mumbai. Poosh, I exclaimed and this went on to trigger another round of talks about Hollywood that eventually went with more beer. We would have scaled Brad Pitt’s present assets if it were not for the sharp sudden sting that took me by surprise. A sudden spasm of pain spread all over my leg. My trousers had been torn apart at the shin, by a blade that had flown off from the nearest table. Looking back, Johnny Depp had risen violently, and removed from nowhere the metal that had caught my eye — an elegant Anti-Kalashnikov.

A wave of panic and urgency took over the place. I didn’t like the idea of being the subject of the many stories that I write. Would I live to read my story, in case there were any … was what flashed in my mind. Two men, the other one had routed off from the fag end of the hall, came forward and rounded up the residents of the shop into a huddle in the centre of the café. Things obediently settled with a sheet of silence following it. Straining a little, I could hear gunshots from outside. Something was wrong, very wrong … was what I felt. Hair stood at the back of my neck, and an alert mode set in my body unconsciously. I propped myself against the wall, still clutching my leg that bled on and on. The cut was a little deep and it probably needed stitches. Funnily the pain didn’t bother much, with all the excitement around. The situation had obviously taken an upper hand. People started growing tense and suddenly someone ran across the room. The gunmen, quicker than their own impulse, took them down mercilessly, firing at them at point blank. That outraged all of us sitting by. Seeing someone shot down right in front of your eyes is not what you see every day, and imposing unacceptable commands is not what you want to be doing too. Anger flared up. Anger at the forced dictatorial law imposed here. The younger of the two, started to speak in English with a deep accent, placing him somewhere north of India. He asked for Britons or Americans among us. None dared nod. They all kept still. Then yet again, someone from the other end created another sudden fit of stupidity. Everyone got distracted and started looking the other way. The short fat lady who ran behind the counter was hit midway on her head with the back of the rifle. She was knocked off cold and lay in an unplaced heap next to a table. The gunmen who smacked her, had to lean a little forward to hit her, doing which, he lost his balance and toppled forward. This gave me a tiny window of escape onto the far back. Turning back, I dashed across the room. As I reached the door, I heard simultaneous gun shots; each of the two men had pulled the trigger in anxiety. I suddenly felt a searing pain on my chest and a moment later pain in my leg.

I kept half running, half limping without turning back. The pain in my chest mounted and I couldn’t take it much longer. My vision got dizzy, my legs weak and most of all, my instincts dull. All I remember next was falling into a narrow street and being picked up by someone who had carried me across his shoulders to a limo. And then my memory went to standby.

Waking up after what seemed like ages, I found myself in a local government hospital. The fetor around jump started my senses leading off all the drowsiness away. It took me a minute to realize that I was the only person who made it out from the café, alive! Chills ran down my spine. The aspect itself was horrifying. There were many around, from what I seemed to learn, from attacks at different spots over Mumbai. People were shouting in pain, weeping in front of dead ones, and a few who frantically searched in vain for missing ones. My head felt heavy and something tickled my lower right leg. Surprisingly the tickle came from within the leg and not on it. I stretched out my hand underneath the sheet to scratch it only to find something wrong. Shocked I sat up straight. Removing my sheets away, I saw my fate. I saw my written dominating destiny. There lay a broken stub below my waist at the place where my leg used to be. I cried, cried in pain, cried in anger, cried in vain. It took me a long while to swallow that I would remain a cripple all through the rest of my life. The doctors had no option other than to remove it. The initial blade cut started off the bleeding, the second dislodged bullet aimed at my leg, had caused severe internal bleeding and gangrene.

“We had to remove it, so that you would still have a chance to survive,” they said. It had been a day since the incident and yet, no one had come to find me, neither my parents nor my friends. I was let alone among all the other lonely bodies around awaiting company.

All through the day, the TV displayed news of the ongoing Siege of Mumbai. A total of 10 gunmen had been dispatched in groups of two, to different spots in Mumbai, in order to keep hostage, killing people and terrorize more.

I stuck to bed for a few days until my co worker narrowed down my address and paid me a visit. I still have migrane on the left of my head. I would have slept, cried or ignored the heavy injustice and pain of what had happened to me, but the day didn’t seem to end. Today morning, I grabbed the nearest paper and shuffled it for the news. The terrors of the terror strike didn’t seem sufficient enough to cover more than the first page. The local dailies listed out the common politicians and all their nonsense. A toll on the death rate was also given next to it, followed by a long list of the bereaved. The terror strike had been intense killing around 81 people so far. The spots had not been secured yet and the confusion was still on. As I went on reading the report and the long list, hoping I wouldn’t come across someone I knew, something peculiar struck me. The 23rd name of the list spelled out as

GAYATHRI Krishna, 29, Journalist.

I rechecked the list on top, rechecked the name, and dropped the paper in shock. I was here, live, healthy and breathing. It was preposterous. It came up on me as a soup of emotions. Personally I felt ashamed, being a journalist myself, that mistakes like these can happen. I felt angry too, the stupidity of the government could not be overlooked. But somehow all these vanished as soon as they had come. Somehow they all didn’t matter. The situation of finding oneself right in the middle of a hostage situation, risking life to save it and finally scraping through with half a pair of legs, somehow shadowed this petty issue.

I was let down. I was lost. Lost hope in humanity, in the shameless government, in religion.

It is sad that I don’t understand the concept of terrorism. Every religion, every one of it, has based its lifestyle on peace and brotherhood. But, they say, we terrorize people in order to attain peace. An irony isn’t it. Bloodshed to brotherhood, violence to parley. Is this life, this right that we are said to own, be allowed to be snatched away mercilessly? I might ask death the same question, but apparently I cannot. What is the root cause of uneasiness? Of the desire to let others suffer? The vain to inflict non-humanitarian pain? Why the unrest in the first place? Do we individuals bother to take small steps to help prevent terror or have we left it at the hands of someone else, someone else who doesn’t weep or worry when your loved one is dead in a blast? All these questions need an answer, they need a new power. The call has already been made, people are only to pick it up and answer. Will you be the India that laughs at the face of terror?

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  1. kartik

    your creations are magical…

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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