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Background of Kashmir: [Part 1 of ‘A Fresh Wave of Thinking in the Kashmir Valley’ Series]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

The word ‘Kashmir’ first reminded people of natural beauty, then it came to epitomize terrorism and now, it has come to mean controversy with the mainstream narrative of the problems in the valley revolving around the misuse of special anti-terror legislations and more importantly, the question of the legitimacy of Indian rule.

I am neither a jingoistic Indian nationalist wanting to close my eyes to the wrongs subjected to the Kashmiris nor a supporter of the separatist movement. I have a midway position on this issue, one which believes in mutual engagement and understanding recognizing the compulsions of both sides, and one that seeks to be pragmatic and look at the long term consequences. My views on the subject have been articulated in some detail in the five-part series of articles called ‘Understanding Kashmir’, which was published on this very online portal, Youth Ki Awaaz (the five articles in that series can be accessed here - and I have no desire to explore the subject at great length in this piece, though I would recommend readers not well versed with the background of the conflict to read that series or any other impartial material before reading this article or any other article dealing with specific aspects of the contemporary situation in the valley. However, this piece is about some of the latest developments pertaining to the conflict over the narrative in the valley, which took place in May 2012, juxtaposed with my own personal experience of interacting with some Kashmiri Muslims with strong separatist convictions and their narrative about us, Indians, particularly Indian Hindus (though I hate to talk in terms of religion as a basis of social identity and would prefer linguistic clusters and that too in the context of diversity and not divisiveness, such people compel me to adopt this parlance) in the same month.

So, what are the developments on the narrative I am referring to? One is the article Sorry, Kashmir is Happy by a leading Indian journalist, Manu Joseph, in the magazine Open, edited by him, followed by other articles on different forums, either endorsing or repudiating his stand, with those endorsing his stand including Kashmiri Muslims (such as Sualeh Keen) and those repudiating it including Indians who are not Kashmiri Muslims (such as Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal). In this article, Manu Joseph has argued that while the average Kashmiri Muslim wants to move on with his life in spite of bearing his anti-India resentment, and is glad about the boost to the Kashmiri economy by way of an influx of more and more tourists (they numbered more than a million in 2011), there’s this segment of the populace that finds it blasphemous to utter a word in favour of retaining the political status quo and which looks for the slightest provocation to initiate a conflagration in the valley, making peace fragile.

Another major development has been that Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, a prominent moderate Hurriyat leader, has described the UN resolutions affirming the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination as “not practically applicable in the present” and suggested choosing the ballot as the appropriate way ahead, with a similar stand being taken by Kashmiri Muslim writers like Naeem Akhtar. Bhat’s comment has evoked sharp response from the hardliners, including of course, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who, on one hand, invokes modern principles like self-determination and talks of United Nations resolutions, and on the other hand, shouts from his rooftop ideas that go against the very grain of any understanding of modern human rights conceptions that underlie the United Nations system, such as democracy or separating religion from the affairs of the State or even nationalism transcending religious barriers being antithetical to Islam and offering prayers for the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden, calling him a martyr to the cause of fighting US neo-imperialism, and calling the United States an enemy of Islam! Geelani, as usual, continued his lamentation about Kashmiris participating in elections reinforcing the Indian constitutional setup, which they must overthrow, and pointed to that and statements like those of Bhat’s as Kashmiris unwittingly working against themselves.

The following articles shall examine each of these two major developments one by one, extensively quoting from Manu Joseph’s piece and those who agree or disagree with him, as well as from Naeem Akhtar’s piece. The first provides a basic understanding of a different outlook shaping up in the valley; the second gives a concrete solution to the problem. Of course, I am not here to delude anyone into believing that there has been a complete transformation in the valley and Kashmiri Muslims, by and large, have become very patriotic Indians, even though our Bollywood producers and some of our journalists would have liked to paint that picture even when the anti-India resentment in the valley had reached its zenith.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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