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A Cry in The Red: Naxalism in India

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By Neelima Ravindran:

Revolutions have always risen from the ashes of inequality and injustice meted by one strata of society to another. Not for power, not for riches, these are the wars for survival. Not on streets, not in parliament, these are wars fought in the jungles of central and eastern India. Not with hunger strikes, not with the pen, these are wars fought with the body and soul. These are India’s silent wars.

The red flag flies atop the dying, the dead and the decaying.

Maoism is the philosophy coined by Mao Zedong, who mobilised the poorer masses of people to revolt against establishments in political institutions. Mao’s philosophy and his slogan ‘let a hundred flowers blossom’ led to a cultural revolution and political cleansing in China. The Maoist insurgency subsequently spread to many countries and in India it started in 1967 in a village in West Bengal called the Naxalbari from which the term ‘Naxals’ was derived. What started as a peasant uprising which was crushed by the then West Bengal government, have now become a full fledged guerilla war by the tribals and marginalised masses for their land against the multinational companies supported by the state and central governments. The naxal movements, since its inception, have been characterized by splits and fragmentation within the groups. At the same time, none of the successive central or state governments has been able to effectively deal with the problems of and arising from insurgents leading to the growth of the movement over years.

A piece of steel glitters on the grass. A drop of blood trickles down, ushering in a revolution.

Economic opportunity and development are two words that are used by the government of Chattisgarh in collusion with India’s largest private sector steel makers as they amass acres of land rich in mineral resources for their proposed steel plant at the Lohandigunda block of Bastar region. In another part of Chattisgarh, Jindal steel and power are pushing for more land for expansion purposes. In the neighbouring state of Odisha, there is a huge resistance to Posco’s plan to acquire large areas to build what would become world’s third largest steel plant, land rich in cash crops that provide for the livelihood of the people there. On the western side of the state a war is being waged against Vedanta, trying to mine bauxite for aluminium displacing the indigenous tribes of the region as well as the thick forests that are home to them. In the state of West Bengal, the conflict in Nandigram grew to great proportions when people refused to part with their land for a chemical hub. Singur is also an example of failed attempt at procuring land due to protests. The tribal belts of Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh have witnessed similar encroachments and similar resistances. These conflicts between the economic investments and land rights continues to be the back bone of the naxal struggles. And when the way of life habituated for generations comes under threat, many of the tribes or the adivasis become an easy recruit for the naxals to be a part of their movement. These adivasis belong to the poorest strata of the society, untouched by government services. Critics point out how the naxal wars are acts of terrorism under the veil of socialist ideas. But it does betray the fact that the reason naxalism is popular in these parts is directly related to the growing discontent with the government and the abysmal state of life, something that the centre and the states have to acknowledge.

They see gold in our burning sand; we burn too,we burn alone.

In their zealous approach to the underlying problem, the maoists have often strayed towards the paths of gross violence from Dantewada to derailing trains to the latest kidnappings of Italian nationals. There are reports of tribals being tortured and killed for refusing to join the naxal movement or when suspected to be an informant; many of the adivasi victims get caught in the crossfire. This is perhaps the fate of every movement, whether naxal or anti corruption; the leaders eventually turns tyrannical. Every life is indispensable and killing of innocent should not be in any way glorified. But the state/central government acts to quash the struggle is an attempt to cut off the branches without curing the rot at the root. Rather than dismissing it as India’s biggest internal security threat and as a menace, they should understand that common people when deprived of their very existence will rise. The inflexible way of controlling the agitation with an iron fist is deplorable. Police and paramilitary forces continue to torch the tribals, their villages and their way of life in an attempt to crush the war. Many human rights violation by the government forces have been reported in these areas. These will only lead to new waves of conflicts sooner or later.

For as long as sands were there, for as long as lands would be there, we die and rise to fight a battle just.

To dissolve the naxal threat the government will have to address the root causes, and address it must. Government services have to reach the interiors and safe guarding of natural resources should be balanced with economic progress especially in a land with vast social and economic disparities as India. The effectiveness of acts like PESA and FRA which essentially deny the ownership of the natural resources to the tribals but grant them community rights over their lands and forests should be re-evaluated. Foreign investments should not lead to marginalization and suffering of certain sections of the society. The indigenous population should be given the right over the forest produce; health, housing, rehabilitation, financial and education schemes implemented. Sincere dialogue between both parties is the urgent need of the hour. The tribals should be listened to, their plight understood. It isn’t fair to expect the starving to go on a hunger strike. They will fight with arms. The government has the duty to counter it with appropriate impetus and humanitarian considerations.

The red flag painted so by our blood flies atop our land, our life, our soul.

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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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