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Two Minute Silence For The Perished Souls, Please [BLASTS IN INDIA]

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By Sunanda Ranjan:

Blow out the candles and raise your heads from that bow of homage. Recently, we observed the 9th year anniversary of the Parliament attack, when a conspiracy against our decision makers was thwarted at the last minute.

Every year, on the 13th of December, politicians, cutting across party lines and ranks, pay tribute to the soldiers who perished in their confrontation with the perpetrators of this attack. But honestly, for all their well-placed hearts, some would see this as little more than a PR exercise. May my cynicism be excused.

One would see credibility in these gestures of theirs, had all plans of a similar nature been nipped in the bud from then on, and steps been taken to strengthen India’s security apparatus.

However, as all of us know, that was not to be. Since 2001, India has been the target of terrorist hits with a frightening regularity:

Sept. 24, 2002 – Militants with guns and explosives attack the Akshardham Hindu temple in Gujarat, killing 31 people and wounding more than 80.

March 13, 2003 – A bomb attack on a commuter train in Mumbai kills 11 people.

May 14, 2003 – Militants attack an army camp near Kashmir’s winter capital, Jammu, killing more than 30, including wives and children of soldiers.

Aug. 25, 2003 – Two almost simultaneous car bombs kill about 60 in Mumbai.

Aug. 15, 2004 – Bomb explodes in Assam, killing 16 people, mostly schoolchildren, and wounding dozens.

Oct. 29, 2005 – Sixty-six people are killed when three blasts rip through markets (Sarojini Nagar) in New Delhi.

March 7, 2006 – At least 15 people are killed and 60 wounded in three explosions in the pilgrimage city of Varanasi.

July 11, 2006 – More than 180 people are killed in seven bomb explosions at railway stations and on trains in Mumbai, blamed on Islamist militants.

Sept. 8, 2006 – At least 32 people are killed in a series of explosions, including one near a mosque, in Malegaon town, 260 km northeast of Mumbai.

Feb. 19, 2007 – Two bombs explode aboard a train bound from India to Pakistan, burning to death at least 66 passengers, most of them Pakistanis.

May 18, 2007 – A bomb explodes during Friday prayers at a historic mosque in Hyderabad, killing 11 worshippers. Police later shoot dead five people in clashes with hundreds of enraged Muslims who protest violently against the attack.

Nov. 23, 2007, A string of explosions ripped through courthouse complexes in northern India’s Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad cities, killing 16

May 13, 2008, Bombs exploded in crowded markets outside Hindu temples in the popular tourist destination of Jaipur, killing at least 60 and injuring more than 150.

July 26, 2008, Some 16 small bombs rocked Ahmedabad in western India’s Gujarat state, killing 45.

Sept. 13, 2008, Seven explosions killed 18 and injured more than 90 others in the capital New Delhi.

Oct. 30, 2008, At least 70 were killed and more than 300 injured in 10 blasts in the northeastern state of Assam.

Nov.26,2008, At least 184 people were killed and around 714 injured, many seriously, as seven powerful blasts ripped through packed train cars and on stations during rush hour here Tuesday evening in the worst terror attack in India in over a decade.

According to Ministry figures, more than 5000 people have lost their lives in these incidents.

So, every year when we close our eyes in mourning, on dates which have come to be associated with bloody strikes, what is it exactly that we mourn? Just last week, a low-grade explosive went off in Varanasi, during the time of evening aarti near the Ganges, killing two – one of them a little child – and leaving a few others injured.

This was the second time the city has been targeted, after the 2006 bombing of the Dashashwamedh ghat, which resulted in the death of 16 people. Incidentally, the site of the December blast is quite close to the ghat, which undergoes “rigorous” inspection everyday.

A report in the Indian Express on the 10th December, 2010 revealed how, inspite of state Government’s claims of “daily sanitization”, of what has been described on Wikipedia as “the most spectacular ghat”, the locals beg to differ. They say while Dashashwamedh’s neighbouring Ghats are not a part of the security drill at all. Even at the former, the “team of cops simply install two metal detectors at the ghat, and don’t bother to frisk anyone, even when the detectors beep.”

Does life come so cheap in our country? Maybe, all of these attacks couldn’t have been predicted and prevented. But, what about the blast that ripped through Sarojini Nagar, one of Delhi’s most popular and hence, crowded market, on the eve of Diwali, one of the biggest national festivals?

And while, one would expect such an attack to shake the authorities into alertness, no such thing seemed to happen. After an initial red alert that lasted a couple of days, the city again receded into its daily humdrum, only to be shaken from it again, barely three years later. Three of the city’s most famous areas – Connaught Place, Greater Kailash and Ghaffar Market – were the targets this time. More than 30 people were killed.

The attack on The Taj and Oberoi hotels in Mumbai is perhaps the most glaring example of the nation’s intelligence failure. For two whole days, the country was held hostage by 11 men, who could carry out their plan pretty much to its last detail, without meeting any resistance until it was too late.

Similar attacks on Spain and England in 2005 and 2007, respectively, remain isolated incidents of their kind, in both these countries. So, how come India falls prey to such conspiracies, time and again?

After every such incident, the entire country is put on high alert, but after the initial state of alarm, all these assurances of security breath apart. Soon some other city is shaken by the tremors of yet another explosion.

So routine have such news stories become today, that they hardly evoke more than a momentary sentiment of concern from people.

Every now and then, reports come out, of Government monitoring (read tapping) of all the country’s phone lines. Lack of information or “inkling” is definitely not an issue here, for with every such occurrence, also come reports of ignored intelligence.

The recent Varanasi blasts were soon followed by a war of words between P. Chidambram and Mayawati, reducing the loss of lives to the lowly level of a political squabble.

Countries like Iraq and Pakistan share India’s grievance in the frequency of such attacks. But, our circumstances and theirs are different as can be, in that India is a fast growing economic power, and is globally touted as the torchbearer for Democracy, while the other two suffer from immense internal strife – while Iraq is just recovering from the effects a draining 6-year long war, Pakistan is time and again termed a failed state.

Apart from the State’s responsibility of tightening security measures, we as citizens should make sure that we keep our eyes and ears open for anything suspicious that may be the precursor to a terror attack. Informing the police about such suspicions at the earliest is the least we can do to ensure our own safety.

Then, where are we going wrong? Will we keep observing anniversaries for these incidents, year after year, till each of the 365 days of the year is marked by similar bloodbaths, without doing anything to stop them?

Every life lost, is the nation’s faith that much weaker.

Let’s close our eyes, and mourn the perished. Silence, please.

Image courtesy: flickr.com/photos/lakshmananand/383913624/

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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.”

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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 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.

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