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Why Is Kashmir Still Relevant And Why Is It Crucial To Understand The Issue Objectively? [Part 1 of #UnderstandingKashmir]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

The recent protests erupting in the valley owing to a Kashmiri boy being run over by an Indian military vehicle, the controversy surrounding the screening of Sanjay Kak’s documentary Jashn-e-Azadi in Symbiosis University, Pune, and the anti-Pakistan remarks made by Mumtaz Khan, hailing from POK, in an international conference in Delhi organized by an Indian think tank, besides not so long ago, Prashant Bhushan being subjected to violence over his remarks supporting a plebiscite in Kashmir as well as the shameful discovery of mass graves in the valley have given us an opportunity to re-examine the Kashmir issue. This issue has been the cause of wars between India and Pakistan that have placed a heavy burden on our financial resources. It has caused the loss of lives of many Indians, both soldiers and civilians, the latter category including Kashmiri Hindus and those who died in say, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. This issue has put our democracy at test with “Go, India” demonstrations in the valley and global condemnation of the deprivation of self-determination for Kashmiris and human rights violations by Indian military and paramilitary personnel in the valley. If we blindly assert what suits us turning a blind eye to other naratives, then we cannot solve the problem. But objectivity cannot be the sole criterion, pragmatism being equally important.

I do agree with Prashant Bhushan, a distinguished lawyer and human rights activist, in a certain sense; however, looking at the larger picture, I do not. Mr. Bhushan is a lawyer and so, he has looked at this issue from a legal perspective. But as the maxim goes, ubi societas ibi jus i.e. where there is society, there is law. So, the law is meant to govern the society and cannot be viewed as divorced from social dynamics. A complex problem like the Kashmir issue cannot be oversimplified.

While I shall be explaining my stand in greater detail in subsequent articles in this series, let me examine the points on which I agree with Mr. Prashant Bhushan. It is true that the first Prime Minister of India, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, promised Kashmiris a plebiscite to determine their political fate based on the UN resolution mandating the same. It is also true that some rogue elements in the Indian military and paramilitary forces have been responsible for gross human rights violations. Running away from facts does not solve problems. Acknowledging them and dealing with them does. To assert that Kashmir is not as integral to India as other parts like Punjab or Assam, which have also seen secessionist movements, but are indeed integral to India, would not be anti-national, since the government of India promised the Kashmiris a plebiscite. Not only that, even the position of international law on the issue is the same, going by the UN resolutions. I won’t agree with British people who would call Allan Octavian Hume or Annie Besant anti-nationals, Pakistanis who call liberals in their society like Irfan Husain and Nadeem Paracha who have boldly stood up and condemned their governments for sponsoring terrorism anti-nationals or Israelis who condemn their fellow citizens standing up against human rights violations in Gaza anti-nationals. Nor would I appreciate Englishmen condoning the Jallianwala Bagh massacre or hailing General Dyer as a hero as great patriots. As Tagore pointed out, nationalist biases make us less of humanists. Nationalist fanaticism can be as dangerous as religious fanaticism, as we have seen when nationalist-fanatic ideologies like Nazism have raised their ugly head, and while we, Indians, will never support ideas like that, as a society, we need to be more mature in evaluating foreign policy and policy in dealing with secessionist movements, without equating India with the Indian politicians and bureaucrats we otherwise despise so much and having the “India is never wrong” attitude.

While I appeal to the Indian readers of the articles in this series to not adopt a nationalist bias, this doesn’t in the least mean that this series of articles shall advance the cause of Pakistan or the Kashmiri separatists. I have already stated that I differ with Mr. Bhushan, looking at the larger picture. I am a patriotic Indian myself (though not a jingoistic nationalist) and have tried to be impartial, but not partial to the other side just to showcase objectivity as many pseudo-intellectuals do. Also, being an Indian, my focus has primarily been on the Indian side of Kashmir because that has become a pressing issue for our nation, but that doesn’t mean I am oblivious of the problems faced by Kashmiris on the other side of the border. The next article in this series will examine the history of the issue.

Image courtesy: http://www.metrolic.com/clash-between-indian-forces-and-kashmiri-protesters-13-killed-128125/

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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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