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Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Do We Exaggerate The Plight Of The Religious Minorities And Women In Pakistan[Part 5]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

Speaking of Pakistan, I am, by no means, a fan of that country and feel very strongly against those who engage in or support terrorism in that country or those who try to cover up their wrongdoings by inventing idiotic conspiracy theories; though the very fact that some people there seek solace in conspiracy theories shows that those elements do not support terrorism (I created this Facebook group called ‘We are Against the Pakistani Army, Intelligence, Terrorists & Propagandists’  and have written a Facebook note titled ‘The Hypocrisy in Pakistani Propaganda’ ). Even more recently, in the light of contemporary developments, I wrote a piece  on how we should surely take the Pakistani state to the International Court of Justice if some of their army men actually beheaded one of our soldiers.

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However, with respect to anti-Muslim prejudices in India, Pakistani Hindus too deserve attention, since by some bizarre logic, the saffron elements argue that Indian Muslims deserve the same treatment as them. In fact, exaggerating the problems of religious minorities on the other side of the border is a part of the majority right wing propaganda in both the countries, and in Pakistan, liberals have been outspoken against this exaggeration of the problems of Indian Muslims and liberal Indian Hindus too need to root out false propaganda against Pakistan for it would be difficult for Indian Muslims to do so, though the very premise of judging fellow citizens of another faith by the actions of their co-religionists in other countries does not make much sense.

I may point out yet again as I did in the second article in this series (……) that though I certainly consider the partition of India to be a great tragedy, Jinnah had arguably envisaged Pakistan as a Muslim-majority secular state and he had indeed promised the religious minorities no discrimination whatsoever. While there indeed has been violence against the Pakistani Hindus (including abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of girls) in rural (not urban) areas by Muslim extremists except in the Thaparkar district of Sindh where they are in majority, Hindus do go to schools, colleges and offices alongside Muslims in Pakistan, making Muslim friends, and I know of a school-going Pakistani Hindu boy in Karachi who tops in academics and is a prefect, and Hindus also pray alongside Muslims in Sufi shrines in that country (William Dalrymple has mentioned this composite Sufi culture in the province of Sindh in Pakistan in his highly acclaimed book Nine Lives, in which he mentions how a Sufi shrine at Sehwan is still being managed by a Hindu).

Many Pakistani Hindus based in urban areas are prosperous businessmen, and people from that community have been civil servants (including diplomats, and there are reservations for Hindus in the Govt. jobs), actors, sportspersons (two have made it in the cricket team, namely Anil Dilpat and more recently, Danish Kaneria), politicians (there are seats reserved for them in the legislatures) including cabinet ministers and even chief justice (Justice Rana Bhagwandas), and a very prominent fashion designer in Pakistan happens to be a Karachi-based Hindu, Deepak Perwani. Diwali was openly celebrated in the Muslim League office in Islamabad with Muslim politicians dressed up as characters from the Ramayan, which would certainly be abhorrent to fanatic Muslims and the deputy attorney general of Pakistan openly visits places of worship of diverse faiths.

It is also noteworthy that Hindu temples have been renovated by the government, often with large amounts being pumped in for the purpose. While some may say that this is just for show, that’s exactly what many Islamists would say about similar things happening in India, be it the appointment of a Muslim president, who they point out is just a rubberstamp. In fact, there are many functioning Hindu temples, including grand ISKCON temples, in that country.

Other religious minorities have produced prominent public figures in that country as well without their non-Muslim names coming in their way — they have had a Christian chief justice, Justice Cornelius, and he remains one of their most respected judges till date, and the tiny Zoroastrian community in Pakistan, like its Indian counterpart, has produced many remarkable personalities, including prominent judges (e.g. Justice Dorab Patel who has also served as chief justice as also Justice Rustam S. Sidhwa who served in the Supreme Court of Pakistan as also the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), businessmen (e.g. the Avari group in Pakistan is well-known), sportspersons (e.g. Goshpi Avari, a woman who won Pakistan a gold medal in sailing in the Asian Games), journalists (e.g. Ardershir Cowasjee, who is affectionately referred to as the old guardian of the city of Karachi), academicians (e.g. Godrej Sidhwa) and diplomats (e.g. Jamsheed Marker, who has been Pakistan’s top envoy to the United States and more than a dozen other countries, more countries than any diplomat in the world, and has earned the distinction of being the world’s longest serving ambassador).

Also, though it is undoubtedly true that many Pakistani Hindus have sought asylum in India in recent years, the liberals in the Pakistani media have explored the reason for the same lying in Muslim extremism and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has made great efforts to document the problems of the religious minorities, and some Indian Muslims too did migrate to Pakistan when the 1993 Mumbai riots were on. In fact, the Sindhi American Political Action Committee (SAPAC), a secular group of Pakistani Sindhi diaspora, mostly Muslims, actually took up the cause of the Pakistani Hindus to pressurize the US senators to take up the matter with the Pakistani authorities and this was before the recent mass migration to India in August 2012, when even the VHP has practically done little about the same, in spite of that group claiming to represent the world’s Hindus, and all that the VHP has done in this particular regard is presenting exaggerated images of the plight of Pakistani Hindus to demonize all Muslims.

The martyrdom of Salman Taseer, a Pakistani Muslim politician, for his raising his voice against the blasphemy law that is unfortunately being heavily misused, especially against the Christian community (and in some cases, Muslims too!), hit newspaper headlines even in India, and reminded me of Gandhiji’s martyrdom for the cause of protecting Indian Muslims, though of course, Taseer cannot be equated with the mahatma. In fact, it may also be noted that even before the introduction of the blasphemy law, the Pakistan Penal Code has a provision prohibiting outraging the religious sentiments of any community, and recently, some Pakistani Muslims have been detained for outraging Hindu sentiments owing to their vandalizing a Hindu temple. To digress a bit, the position in Egyptian law is somewhat similar and a Muslim there has been arrested recently for outraging the religious sentiments of Christians.

Also, those who give statistics of the Pakistani Hindus constituting 10% of the population of that country in 1947 and 2% now simply overlook the mass migration that took place at the time of the partition (I don’t deny the declining trend, which is rather unfortunate, but there’s more to the starkness in the figures). Pakistan has a specific ministry to look after minority affairs and 11th August is observed as Minority Day, and in the light of the same, this piece by a liberal Pakistani Muslim lady criticizing religious extremists in a national daily of that country deserves attention; it’s indeed a must-read!

Now, coming to women. Pakistan has had a woman as prime minister (Benazir Bhutto) and its current foreign minister is a woman (Hina Rabbani Khar) and already has reservations for women in its legislatures, including the parliament and there is talk there of making it as high as 50%, while India still hasn’t achieved the much talked about 33%, though I personally believe that gender-based reservations in legislatures really don’t serve any purpose whatsoever, and I don’t say this because I am sexist or because I don’t accord any importance to gender equality (far from it!), but that would make for a different discussion altogether and has been articulated in this piece of mine. In fact, Pakistan has not only produced several Muslim women who have excelled at sports (Pakistan has a women’s football team, just like many other Muslim-majority countries like Iran and Jordan, and a women’s cricket team too; Maria Toor, a Muslim woman from Pakistan, is ranked among the top 50 globally in women’s squash) but also, the first Pakistani to go to space happens to be a Muslim woman, Namira Salim, and she has also undertaken expeditions to the North Pole and South Pole, and skydived touching Mt. Everest!

The next article will focus on liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectuals.

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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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