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By Shraddha Sankhe:

Just as I started typing this, I felt Maureen Dowd of New York Times and me were thinking alike-albeit at different moments. I want to mention the classic story of Harper Lee-‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and how it has honestly captured what we see in our society each day. This could be the fourth time (including  my other writings) that I am I quoting, “A Black neighbor is acceptable but not a Black son-in-law”, but look at the reasons I keep getting to quote this. Worse, most who read the book felt little remorse and carried on their selfish lives as if nothing happened

Well, really, what has happened? The Kashmiris want autonomy, Maoists want a government and the floods are killing whatever was left of our neighbors Pakistan. The situation is grim. And I’m still stuck on a word that was mentioned in the Indian Constitution-Secularism. Do we need to talk about it? Well, if you know Sanskrit terms-‘Sarpa drishti’ and ‘Garud drishti’–you’d know. Much importance lies in realizing what is around us before it makes itself apparent. As for those two ‘drishtis’–search for them online. You’d be enlightened, I’m sure.

“India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country. I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders, respect, and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness.”

Do these words ring a bell? Well, for the ones who got out of school and got patriotic only when India won a Cricket match or at most on January 26th and August 15th – this is the Indian Pledge. Were we more patriotic when we were in school? Yes? Perhaps. But we’re discussing and I am dissecting the second line. Do you know why “rich and varied heritage” does not include the words, ‘culture’, ‘religion’, ‘castes’? Because, my dear brothers and sisters, we’re Indians. And we are expected to practice our religion and all faiths in seven easy words– “Behind the doors and between four walls”

Not until the 1800s did Indians then feel that religion and the nation were any different.  The British made religion and its real meaning a little more apparent to Indians-after which Uniform Civil Code came into existence. The Indian Constitution expects the Government and the Religions of India to be indifferent and unrelated to each other. Dharmanirapekshavada (indifference to religion) is the philosophy of Secularism in India. Yes, we are secular. But conditions apply*.

These conditions include separate set of rules for inheritance, marriage and divorce for religions. Ironically, the Uniform Civil Code was formulated to unite religions and certain rules for a greater purpose of peace, harmony and nationalism. So much secularism that religions have separate set of rules!

Be it Obama going out of his way to endorse the Mosque on the site of Ground Zero or Sikhs being threatened to convert to Islam in the Kashmir Valley, Secularism is what is getting an elbow of indifference. I’d like to know, as a society, how secular are we? Everyone today, is scared of opining on anything related to some one else’s religion. “You’d not want controversy, right? So stop commenting on religions”. I don’t understand what has made some Indians so latent? And it is beyond me why, commenting on and influencing ideologies of religions is left to either politicians or extremists.

Is your housing society restricted to people of one religion? Is the public park in your area having any religious symbol/idol? Did you recite a particular religion’s prayer in your school? Have you been told to not speak to some one because he belongs to another religion?

Well this is much on a personal level. To me religion is in the heart and in the house. I do not practice religion outside these spheres. I am a Hindu who prefers the beautiful festivals indoors. Our national leader, Lokmanya Tilak did manage to get all Hindus united for the Ganesh festival. But on a larger view, we need the much spoken about and least practiced religious indifference to maintain the calm in the 21st century. Some one who did not want to be named expressed his view rather cautiously, “Why do religions have processions? Why do they need to be public? Can’t we as citizens organize our religious meetings and celebrations in a committee hall or an enclosed place? We could do without loudspeakers too. So no one hurt and nothing is imposed upon”. Point taken.

What is your idea of culture? My professor asked me this and got me thinking. Culture to each one of us is a reflection of ourselves. What is your idea of Indian culture? This question could get rave answers. After all, nothing excites us as much describing the philosophical magnanimity of our country. While these questions were flowered on us, students, the professor bombarded another question. “Why do you see all weddings on TV as Hindu or Sikh weddings? Do you ever see a Christian or a Muslim getting married onscreen unless the characters categorically demand so?” Point taken again. There are a million questions I’d rather leave unanswered. My country folks, who’re reading this-I’m sure I’ve got you thinking. Media has a role. And trust me, media could change a lot of  notions and ideas. And unsettle the base of many ideals too.

When a Democracy functions on religion and caste —based politics, it is time to realize that some thing is not going right. As a society, what worries me most is another riot to kill the ideals our national leaders contracted during the freedom struggle. India is independent. And people are hungry. Why would you care about religions then? Well, my dear Indian, faith moves mountains. If we really see a secular Sun shining on India, half the insincere politics could be curbed. Harmony in the society can’t be traded for our personal faith, right?

After all, as a society we want strength, not power. That’s the first step to kinship in being an Indian, first.

Remember this? All Indians are our brothers and sisters.

The writer is an Intern at Youth Ki Awaaz and blogs at

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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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