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Understanding Contemporary India

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By Amritapa Basu:

The other day I was watching ‘Rang De Basanti’ — just a re-run on a television channel. I have watched the film umpteen numbers of times, yet I choose to watch the television re-runs and every time I watch it I shed a tear or two, get goose-bumps, salute the MiG fighters in my mind and when the film ends, I simply exclaim, “What a film!” In a moment’s notice I find myself surfing through other channels and remember Rang De Basanti simply as ‘thought-provoking and beautifully made film which calls the youth of the country to do something’. DO SOMETHING? Well, yes, of course. I do. I do suggest the handful of those who claim not to have seen the film yet to get a copy as soon as they can and watch it.

My readers, I am sure, can identify with this. How many of us actually stir up to action to do something on watching such films? Our patriotic feelings have limited themselves to hoisting national flags and singing the national anthem in the morning twice a year and spend the rest of the day watching the patriotic films on television or on an outing with the family. We are patriotic as long as it is limited to uhhs-ohhs-ouchs at the bloody sights splashed across the newspapers. We are patriotic as long it does not demand too much from us. We are patriotic as long as our profit-making means are not hampered. Sadly, ‘I love my India’ is only a graphic on sides of the trucks or on T-shirts.

Do not get me wrong. I am not here to add onto the number of patriotic writings that are already there. I am happy the way I am. I am one of those urban educated individuals who are aware of the culture and lifestyle on the other side of the globe, and can tell you the local time of Tokyo, Paris, London and New York at an instance. I am global. I am happy when mega-pixels increase on my mobile camera and my laptop becomes lighter with a longer battery life. Why the hell should I bother? I wouldn’t bother until it is me or my dear ones who are affected.

It is not until then that I start screaming at the system. But no one would be there to hear me. Just as there is no one to hear the shrieks of Ismails, Altafs and Abduls who are arrested after the bomb blasts under the ‘suspicion’ that they are terrorists and are forced into narcotic tests and electric shocks until they are unrecognizable. Their fault — they chose to keep beards and wear taqiyahs. Just as there is no one to hear to the pleadings of a Kashmiri pandit rotting in some camp in Kashmir. Just as there is no one to pay heed to the claims of the north-eastern states of India to be considered a part of the country. They specifically pointed it out in Chak de! India but the Adivasi had to be content with a ‘Ho!’.

We can give our cricketers a bike/car to squeeze into their already full palatial garages and a lakh for each ball delivered at the IPL but we can only feel sorry at the sight of naked child sleeping blissfully on the pavement. We would intern at an NGO centre just because it looks good and adds value to our CV. We can devote several days of color newspaper reports on Michael Jackson’s death but Bhimsen Joshi’s death finds a corner in the sidebar of the newspaper and a black-n-white obituary in an inside page. “Big deal dude! My circulation figures matter more. After all, MJ was anyway more ‘happening’ than BJ!”

India Shining, India Rising and India Emerging as a superpower to be counted equal to China and the Far East are like putting your hand on your heart and saying ‘Aal Izz Well!! Aal Izz Well!!’ but reality stares straight into our face. A report on Global Newswire, March 19, 2010 reads

“Atta Mohammad, 68, a gravedigger and caretaker at Chehal Bimyar in Baramulla district, spoke on the record before the State Human Rights Commission in Srinagar, about burying 203 bodies on a hillside adjacent to the Jhelum river from 2002 to 2006. The bodies, he says, were delivered to him by the police, primarily after dark.”

Very few of us are aware that there are numerous unmarked and unnamed graves which dot the Kashmir landscape. Graves which are said to be of ‘Pakistani terrorists’, ‘unidentified militants’, ‘militants from encounters’, ‘tracked down militants’ and permutation-combination of names go on. An internal investigation revealed that how fake encounters aid in the promotion of senior army and police officials including Colonels and Superintendents, how innocents are picked up and killed and labeled as ‘intruding militants’ which help in felicitation and awarding of the officials.

“Very recently Atta Mohammed had to open up a grave of an unidentified militant after court orders. It was found to be the graveyard of Bashir Ahmed Dar from Jalshiri village, 10kilometers away from Tchahal( village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri district). Dar had left home to bring back his wife from his in-laws’ place, but never came back. Many, like Dar, never come back. Some dead bodies are lucky to be identified and later have a plaque announcing their death. Other not-so-fortunate ones lie in unnamed mounds consigned to history.”
— (P. Mukherjee)

This Independence Day we will be celebrating four ‘successful’ years into India’s official retirement (64 years) but still we do not seem to be any close to the Purna of the Purna Swaraj as dreamt by our martyrs. Hope has carried us this far and we ardently hope that Hope alone will see us through as we continue to conveniently keep our eyes shut.

Img: http://www.thedetroiter.com/v3/2009/08/contemporary-india-at-gallery-project/

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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