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A Train To The Red River: Indians Feeling Unsafe In India

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By Saurabh Thapa:

It was quite an eventful day in the country’s third most populous state. In addition to the humdrum throng of hasty IT workers, ambling shoppers and chirpy students, the busy roads that entail the responsibility of directing people to their dreams (Bangalore: the entrepreneurial capital of India) were also filled by some 5000 people whose dreams were shattered. The traffic couldn’t have been more congested and the coolies in the Bangalore City Railway Station would have never experience such ecstasy to find themselves amidst so many customers. Their potential customers however did not reflect the same sentiment. They felt abashed, humiliated and scorned by the condescending acts of some hoodlums that reek of parochial undertones.

Endless assuaging by politicians could not deter these North-East Indians from catching the train to their matrabhumi, as they were only succumbing to their basic human reflex: self-protection. So when our brand new Home Minister calls the situation in the state “peaceful” it falls on deaf ears.“There is nothing to worry. The entire government is with you. We will protect the interests of the north-East people,” mollifies the chief minister of Karnataka, Jagadish Shettar. But around 10 people reportedly have already been at the receiving end of whatever has incited prejudice against the people from the North-East, especially Assam.

If there lays a prospect of a communal fire, the smoke can be seen in other parts of south India as well. Premanand Khondram, a high school student from Manipur, was assaulted twice on 9th August in Pune. Instances of violence aimed towards the North-East Indians are also palpable in Mysore, Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad. While the ambushes have abated of late, the police have pulled their socks up. “We have arrested 11 people in two attack cases. Two of the accused are still in police custody, while nine others were released on bail. We have registered complaints for rioting and voluntarily causing hurt,” commented the senior inspector of Kondhwa police station Prasad Hasabnis. The onus of the recent course of events has been put on an MMS clip which has been allegedly provoking the Muslims of south India to affront the north-eastern community. The MMS is said to contain certain scenes from the communal riots occurring in Assam which are disparaging of the Muslim community.

The claim, that the Kokrajhar conflict has triggered this tension in south India, is quite a plausible one. The issue of Muslim minorities being accused of migrating illicitly from Bangladesh by the Bodos and the carnage of Assamese (both Muslims and Hindus) due to this animosity may be the spine of the communal discord in south-India. Some emphatically point out the misnomer that all migrant Muslims inhabiting the Kokrajhar district of Assam are not illegally situated.

“The migration of Bengali Muslim peasants from erstwhile East Bengal began in the 1800s after the British annexed Assam in 1826, with the Treaty of Yandaboo after defeating the Burmese in the First Anglo Burmese War.” explains Nilim Dutta, executive director of the Strategic Research and Analysis Organisation, Guwahati. So if were to confide in Nilim’s research, why would the Bodo people overlook this part of Assam’s history and label every immigrant ‘Bangladeshi’?

It cannot be simply assumed that the BTAD leadership and the mainstream Assamese society are innocently mistaken in believing that all Muslims inhabiting this area are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Rather it is a conscious “mistake” laced with communal undertones. The rhetoric of “illegal” migrants flooding the region that appears to be fuelling the attacks is backed largely by what seems to be paranoia about the perceived growing numbers of Muslims in the area, all of whom are assumed to be “illegal” migrants.” says Banajit Hussain, former researcher at the Democracy and Social Movement Institute in Seoul. Perhaps these riots aren’t an omen for budding jingoism in the Bodos, but something far more intricate with traces of communal hatred.

But the precise reason behind the assaults in south India is still speculation. Dr Walter Fernandes from Guwahati recently visited Bangalore and revealed a whole new side to the issue. According to his findings
“…we found out who was behind the false rumours. It is the fundamentalist group Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena – the group that was behind the attack on Prashant Bhushan inside the Supreme Court Premises. They have been sending SMS messages and writing on the facebook that the Muslims are planning a massive attack on them after EID and that they should leave Bangalore (sic).”

The veracity of his claim may not be verifiable since the news is fresh, but if we believe him for an instance, the North-East assault cases in Bangalore, Pune etc now seems to have added an entirely differently twist to them. Whether it’s a group of useless hoodlums who by adopting the name of a freedom fighter are not only denigrating his name but his idea of a free and united India, or a group of Muslims who in a spate of prejudice are carrying out acts that bring disgrace to their religion in the holy month of Ramadan, the truth remains the same: 5000 innocent Indians could not feel safe in their own country.

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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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