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Need A Miracle – Bribe God Today

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By Saurabh Thapa:

Weekends reek of indolence. In the privacy of your apartment, the absence of scrutinizing stares allows your flaws to reveal themselves as your overworked body eases itself: the pot belly you pull in, keeping it together constantly, now assumes its natural position, that is, outside the stomach; the ill-treated hair which always stayed composed in a tight bun or ponytail now sways in its temporary freedom, flaunting its split ends in full glory. The couch is a welcome change to uncomfortable seats everywhere from the office to the bus ride; and the X-rays emitting out of the T.V in front are eerily comforting. And more comforting is the thought of a plethora of channels that awaits the slight twitching of your finger on the remote to bombard you with seamless entertainment. This is the escape, our modern primitive middle class seeks from the hassles of 21st century. The modernity stems from the manner of getaway (T.V, extra-marital affairs, etc); but the cave-man traits find their routes in an entrenched religious phenomenon: Superstition!

And that is precisely the reason why a 9 to 5 working employee doesn’t change the channel when the mother of all advertisements (its stature owing to its never ending length) appears on the 17 inch screen. This mother is quite like our regular mothers: she is assertive; she’ll make you sentimental and will never take “No” for an answer. So, fighting the urge to not reach out to your phone is futile. You reluctantly dial the number flashing below the B-grade actor advertising the product, make the deal and wait patiently for the product to be delivered. The lapse between placing the order and the actual delivery is the time when your intellect is most active. You ponder over your recent action; contemplate whether confiding in all the staged claims is worth it. And then, to put you out of your misery, Sri Yantra is delivered at your door step! It goes straight to the most pious place in the house where, along with the rest of the miniature deities, it creates a synergy so powerful that the new owner ends up also as an owner of (if the claims are true) a posh house, a beautiful wife, a taller daughter, a chest of gold coins etc. Or perhaps, like the other religious mascots, it just catches rust.

The West is always appalled by our ‘over-the-top’ beliefs, sometimes going too far to call AyurvedaBlack Magic”. But this isn’t about them and their multitude of college disciplines among which some incorporate the study of India and its socio-economic problems; it is about how the aspirations of the people from middleclass make them believe in out-of-the ordinary. And everything that is not ordinary isn’t always extra-ordinary; most are surreal. So in the pursuit of a ‘financially’ better life, an Aam Aadmi puts his faith in miracles and unless he appears on Nirmal Baba’s live show, he ends up disappointed. The cry of the wronged is heard by the media who, like classic vigilantes, swear revenge against the self-proclaimed infallibles. Gravity eventually hits and they all fall, although, some fall after others. These cheaters with their expensive parachutes (guess where the money came from?) come across as a rather amusing cult. Atypical of this species, Nirmal Baba has still not reached the ground.

His widely publicised show appears on popular channels like SabTv and is quite hilarious like the sitcoms airing on it (for the aam aadmi, at least). He has all the ingredients that go into the making of a Legend: a financially modest upbringing, a lot of siblings and a series of losses in various business ventures. While some grew more determined and developed the knack of diligence like Abraham Lincoln, our Baba acquired divine powers! He became the missing link between the silent creator and the loud creations. Now, Baba’s ‘Third Eye’ isn’t as cool as the tricks up Satya Sai Baba’s sleeve (the remixed version of the original saint from Shirdi could conjure things out of thin air). Nirmal Baba on the other hand has limits to his power; he reserves it strictly for advising people on which god to invest their money in for maximum benefits. All this wisdom at just 2000 rupees sounds unreal, right? Well let’s not forget that Baba is our latest godman and like every other teacher’s pet, he too avails certain perks from the one he follows. In a recent spate of scams against Nirmal Baba, his personal possessions were exposed which included a hotel worth 30 crores he bought in New Delhi. Turns out his only gift wasn’t divine after all since he received a backlash from his followers, including a diabetic patient who was advised to consume sweets by His Holiness.

But he won’t go down history as a conman who duped people for their money. He’ll forever be despised for tainting the concept of faith. Man’s faith in god has existed since the dawn of humanity; the act of sucking up to the divine being is as old. Rituals and customs that lack scientific verification have been the traditional means of luring god into doing one’s bidding. Though superstition, these acts of faith form a part of our culture. And yes there are non-religious benefits to reap too, like, inculcating discipline and routine in one’s life, optimism and meditation. To sum it all up, god is a make-believe counsellor who is accessible to all for free and like his mortal renditions, he doesn’t speak much either. God is the one, however surreal, in whose presence a human by virtue of his ability to think, openly introspects and retrospects to eventually realize the presence of a conscience within him. And to see natwarlals denigrate this spiritual bond for their selfish motives is disheartening.

However, all the Nirmal Babas are not only meeting their ends. They’ve become the spokespersons of various temples and tele-marketed products that mock in the name of faith. In 2011, the country was taken aback on discovering gold worth 320 billion rupees in Padmanabhaswamy Temple (courtesy of blind followers). When the Kerala High Court ordered the temple to hand over the authority of all the assets to the state, the Travancore Royal family approached the Supreme Court to retain their wealth. Speaking of Televised products like the earlier mentioned Sri Yantra that promises prosperity and success which, if god is just, should only come to the hardworking, traps the people deeper into the morass of superstition. These babas, temples and products convince the middleclass that god has shares in the stock market. Investing in them is investing in a better future. So where the notions of toils and sacrifice are operative, you encounter a fool’s fantasy.

Perhaps it’s this folly in religion that has propagated theism. Why put your faith in something that reeks of corruption? And that’s ironic on the part of middleclass who over-zealously expressed their support against corruption during Anna Hazare’s overrated fast at the Ramlila ground (even though half of them didn’t know what Lok Pal is). These are the same people who exude gargantuan gusto when it comes to bribing god. Was it epiphany of sorts that protected them from Anna Ki Aandhi? That’s unlikely. But for whatever reason though, Anna’s tempest is now just cold air blowing.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Saurabh Thapa is the President of Literary Society, Ramjas College, University of Delhi To read his other posts click here.[/box]

 

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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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