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“We stand behind everything in Siddhartha Deb’s piece on Arindam Chaudhuri.”

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Former New Yorker fact-checker Jonathan Shainin has now become a “North Indian Gora”. After his stint at The Review in Abu Dhabi, Mr. Shainin moved to India last year to assume the role of Senior Editor at The Caravan. Mr. Shainin is in Mumbai to attend the Times Literary Carnival. New Delhi may be his turf but the Mumbaikars have turned the tables on him. Earlier in the day he was ‘interviewed’ by an autowallah who had questions related to his age, nationality and even salary. Now it’s the turn of a 19-year-old student journalist, Pushkal Shivam, also the Principle Correspondent of YouthKiAwaaz.com, to question a 33-year-old Senior Editor.

Jonathan Shainin, Senior Editor, The Caravan

What difference the kind of journalism that The Caravan is delivering would make to the current media scene in India?

This is going to be disappointing. I don’t think that that’s the question I am well positioned to answer. I think that’s something for other people to say. You know I am very wary, particularly as a non-Indian, of presuming that the media scene needs a certain thing or that there is a certain thing that The Caravan can provide or I can provide as an editor. The way I think about it is that there is a form which is just long form, and there is a style of magazine, which in our case is a monthly magazine that engages with certain sorts of topics and treats them in a certain way. I came to The Caravan ten months after it was relaunched. So it already existed when I came. I think that we saw an opening in the media landscape. If you look at the media landscape, our publisher Anant Nath, who started The Caravan, said, “I don’t see that there are magazines that are doing this kind of thing right now so perhaps there is an opportunity for a magazine that does this.” And I think that’s a strong point and I think it’s true. The Caravan is a unique magazine and we are very proud of that. I don’t think The Caravan by itself can change the media landscape or that it’s up to The Caravan to tell the media landscape what it needs or doesn’t.

After what has happened, what do you have to say about the controversy surrounding Siddhartha Deb’s piece on Arindam Chaudhuri?

What I find disappointing about the whole thing is that I think that’s a brilliant piece of writing. It’s a good piece of solid journalism, it goes without saying, and I think I can say this even though it is sub judice a matter, I think we stand behind everything in that piece. It’s all true. It’s not defamatory. We stand behind what’s in the piece. I think that what has happened because of the controversy is that the piece has been overlooked. A part of it of course is because the piece is off the website. We are fighting the case and we expect to win but that’s going to take a long time. It’s a portrait of a person, it’s pretty well done. It has been overshadowed. The controversy is now way bigger than the piece. And the controversy brought attention to the piece which is never a bad thing but what ends up happening is that people lose sight of the piece. Pursuing controversy is not an editorial strategy because it means that people lose sight of what it is that you are actually doing as a magazine.

The latest (Dec, 2011) cover of The Caravan

How do you see the social media and the mainstream media? Are they pitted against each other or do they aid each other?

They are definitely not pitted against one another. I am a fairly young person. I don’t have a long career in journalism that predates the internet. They co-exist as part of the same ecosystem. I think that would be the most important thing that I would put out there. It doesn’t do any good to draw a bright line and say this one kind of journalism is legitimate and this other kind of journalism is illegitimate. Each forum has its strengths and its weaknesses. This ecosystem that now contains many different forms of journalism is richer than in old way that only contained one form or one half of that equation. I am a print editor, I work in an office, I get paid a salary, I have money to pay writers do the pieces. I would be a rare editor if I said that editing is not important. It’s very important. But that doesn’t mean that someone’s blog or citizen journalism is bad or illegitimate because they don’t have an editor. Today the coexistence of these different forms of journalism in this ecosystem that I am describing is more or less taken for granted.

You are perceived as someone who belongs to the old school of journalism. Does the shift towards titillating tabloid-journalism that has taken place concern you?

No, that has always existed. I don’t perceive myself as belonging to any particular school. That would be quite pompous. There is a virtue to doing things in a serious, in a deep, and for my own purposes as an editor, in a meticulous and thorough manner. I think that is the thing that has lead people to say that this is an old school kind of thing. There are more than a few examples where my memo has been longer than the piece which they (his writers) have sent me. If I was doing all this stuff for an online magazine that published these kinds of pieces, it’s the same thing. It’s not old school or new school thing. There is a place for tabloid journalism, there is a place for blog, there is a place for television, all these things go together. It would be a great fun to edit a tabloid newspaper. For all I know, I would be terrible at it. This is not like a Darwinian evolution, The Caravan is not a higher stage, it’s not a more evolved form of journalism. I don’t think that other kinds of journalism are crap.

Could you give me a sneak peek into your own development as a writer? How were you when you were 19?

I was never really a reporter. And I don’t have a background in journalism. My university degree is in film theory which essentially consisted of studying cinema and philosophy. My undergraduate thesis is about American avant-garde and experimental film. Nothing could be further than what I do now. When I finished university I moved to New York. I started to get interested in journalism. I also edited a student magazine when I was in college but it didn’t seem to me like it was going to be my career. During the course of my 20s, I was doing junior editorial jobs. I was doing some writing on the side which was mostly essays and criticism. I did some reporting here and there. Jobs that I had were editorial apprenticeships. I worked with Bob Silvers, one of the founders and still the editor of The New York Review of books. My evolution has come from experience. From going to Abu Dhabi, and then it’s just practice. I think I am a better writer now than five years ago. My job is all about working with other people’s writing. I don’t see myself as a writer but I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes a piece work.

What would be your advice to young people entering the profession of journalism?

Most important thing is to read a lot. Read more than one newspaper, read more than one magazine and read blogs. Read fiction, read non-fiction, read history books. Reading is an underestimated and rather important aspect of writing. Journalism in my view is paying attention to things.

That brings me to my last question. Which is your favorite book?

My favourite book is See Under: Love by David Grossman

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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 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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