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The Kashmiri Banyan And The Unsolved Mysteries

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By Amar Tejaswi:

A problem is like a banyan tree. Allowed to grow unabated, it spawns a multitude of sub-problems. The older the tree gets, the wider its implications. Trimming the banyan in search of a solution is an inane exercise performed often but futilely. To actually put a permanent end to the recurrence of a problem in the form of its offspring, the subtlest move would be to uproot the tree. But uprooting trees is not common practice in our country, more so when it’s a banyan.

In its own way, India is an amusing country. With cultures, languages and people as diverse as the food on a south-Indian platter, Indian soil is perfect for the growth of banyan trees. Trivial issues flowering into obstinate problems are a daily affair. India’s problems too, are as diverse as herself. Testimony to this is borne by one of the first major problems that India faced: the Kashmir problem.

The largest of figs flourishes from the smallest of seeds. Lord Mountbatten and Raja Hari Singh together insidiously sowed a seed which beautifully germinated into a cause of concern, and which today has grown into a giant banyan tree. Intuitively, I guess Raja Singh never imagined that Kashmir would become such a big problem, but the same intuition suggests to me that Mountbatten fully well knew what the consequences of his deed would be. Nevertheless, he did it. And his British guile only encouraged him.

In the depths of the banyan tree are hidden myriad mysteries, mysteries we never thought could exist, and mysteries we knew existed but never could understand. Why did Mountbatten sow the banyan seed? Why did Nehru grant autonomy to his native state? Why didn’t Nehru move the army to fight Pakistan before they occupied 37% of Kashmiri land? How independence will supply Kashmiris with dignity? Unsolvable mysteries, undecipherable puzzles! Mysteries give birth to problems; problems cannot be solved because they are mysterious! The wheel keeps rotating! Mysteries and trees are everything we inherit when people are not made accountable for their actions, when people do not have to justify their notions. Now, to uproot a tree, we have to go to the tree and find its roots. The Kashmiri tree resides in our backyard in Kashmir and it can never be uprooted by people sitting inside the house in Delhi. A few months back, an all-party delegation from Delhi did try to visit the tree, but to the onlooker’s eye it seemed more like a sight-seeing trip. They did seem like looking all around but missed the tree!

Speaking of Delhi, Obama has departed from India, Chavan from his office and the ‘great’ Kalmadi from some Congress office. Obama timed his visit with admirable immaculacy. Had the election results been good, it would have been celebratory visit. Otherwise the visit could have served to provide him some solace. The latter though turned out to be the case. Obama and Chavan discovered banyan trees in the mornings. On one morning, Chavan found a giant banyan tree in front of his house, which his memory says, had been a little sapling the night before. Obama on the other hand, silently watched his banyan grow. It is now threatening to throw him out of office in 2012. Foolishly audacious Kalmadi thought he could draw a veil over his giant Commonwealth tree with A4 size papers of contracts awarded to his friends. A few papers stuck on one or two branches but largely his tree was found naked in the open. Sacking Chavan and Kalmadi are obvious steps that Congress has taken, but what about the millions stuffed in their pockets? Who will recover them?

Apologies for the digression! Let’s sling back to the Kashmiri tree now. Inside the dark depths of the branches, I feel that the flavour of the problem is not only political but also religious. It seems to my mind that Kashmiris want for themselves an Islamic state which diverges away from India’s secularism, and that could be one of the reasons why they are asking for independence. But, independence will lead Kashmiris into a lion’s den; plebiscite might lead them to a tiger. I am not sure they realise that. Passions in the valley are running high and until people calm down nobody can move forward. But the Indian government would make a good start if it, at least partially, revoke s the AFSPA. And then it all depends on the Kashmiris!

Image courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Keeping_Watch.jpg

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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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