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Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Do We Know Enough About The Pakistani Liberals? [Part 6]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

While a reference has been made to the martyrdom of Salman Taseer in the previous article in this series, it must be noted that there is a strong lobby of human rights activists and other liberal Muslim intellectuals in the Pakistani media who are indeed quite popular (for example: Mohammad Hanif, Najam Sethi, Hasan Nisar, Nadeem Paracha and Marvi Sarmad – to name only a few, and those interested can also watch videos of the Pakistani Punjabi music band ‘Beygairat Brigade’ that is strongly wedded to liberal ideas, such as of their popular song ‘Aalu Anday’ ) who are ever-ready to take up the cause of the religious minorities whenever they are wronged or condemn acts of terrorism by their countrymen (have a look at this article written by liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectual Irfan Husain shortly after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, published in the Pakistani newspaper ‘Dawn’ known for its liberal leanings  – unfortunately, the article isn’t opening on the Dawn website but for those doubting the authenticity, you can see it in the archives here ,also the book ‘Pakistan on the Brink‘ by Ahmed Rashid) and even advocate friendship with India, and some of these liberals are making a grass-root difference in transforming radicals (have a look at this article, which was published in the Washington Post and the author of which seems to be a non-Muslim Westerner). Pakistani human rights activists have also come out in the open to strongly condemn the torture of Indian soldiers [for reference, please see this video
(kindly watch it 6:46 onwards)].

pakistan-journalist-media-freedom-of-speech-killing

Their history textbooks indeed have had a lot of bias and distortion since the Zia-ul-Haq regime but not prior to that (even in India, the BJP saffronized the NCERT history textbooks, but that nowhere came close to what was done in Pakistan, and was, in any case, undone by UPA-I — however, I must clarify that I am not an uncritical admirer or ardent basher of any political party), but liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectuals have very strongly condemned the same, emphasizing that they should take pride in their pre-Islamic past as also Indian freedom fighters from what is today Pakistan, like Bhagat Singh), and they have also rebutted the idea that India should be seen as a threat by Pakistan (please see this video of former air force chief of Pakistan— it’s a must-watch!) and even emphasized that they are ethnically and culturally Indians and not Arabs and should accept this fact and still others have even ventured to argue that Muslim leaders who were Indian nationalists like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were better than the likes of Liyaqat Ali Khan, criticize Iqbal or even go to the extent of bashing Jinnah in no uncertain terms (though even some of the previously cited articles/videos sometimes carry soft criticism of that man, here is one that bashes him in no uncertain terms , though many liberal Pakistani Muslims love Jinnah and argue that he wanted Pakistan to be a secular state) and here are two more remarkable articles - 1 and 2 – by a liberal Pakistani Muslim intellectual bashing the Muslim rulers of India and the Muslim League, and hailing the Muslims in the Congress and other such Muslims who opposed the partition of India on the basis of religion.

The attack on the schoolgirl Malala provoked tremendous outrage even among relatively conservative elements in Pakistan (interestingly, even the Lashkar-e-Taiba condemned the Taliban for this attack!), leading some Pakistani commentators to slam the Pakistani regime’s having sponsored terrorism in the first place for it to have boomeranged with such consequences.

Pakistani cinema has also been bold enough to address the issue of religious extremism, as the fairly recent movies ‘Khuda ke Liye‘ and ‘Bol‘ demonstrate (the former is a must-watch), and the movie ‘Ramchand Pakistani‘ showcases how the loyalty of Pakistani Hindus to their country is rather unjustifiably doubted. In fact, I recently saw the 2003 Pakistani movie ‘Shararat’ on an Emirates flight from London to New Delhi (I had the option to watch Bollywood movies too, but decided to try something different), which closely resembled a Bollywood movie of the 1980s or 1990s era, except the use of western slang like ‘cool‘ that perhaps became relatively more popular later. None of the female characters were burqa-clad, one wore a saree (though she was a Muslim in the story, and indeed, there are Pakistani Muslim women who do so, like their prominent public intellectual Marvi Sarmad mentioned earlier in this very article), the heroine was a brave and adventurous girl, women are shown as equals wielding considerable power in the family and being highly respected, religion was of no relevance to the story-line  except the casual references to the Almighty as ‘Allah‘ in the course of conversation as there would be to ‘Bhagwaan‘ in Indian movies, there’s that assertion of loving your own country and not migrating to the West (but no, not the faintest trace of India-bashing), there’s the upholding of forgiveness as the greatest virtue and a whole lot of song and dance.

In fact, Pakistan has an affluent section of its society which is fairly westernized and fairly indifferent to religion in its ways. Pakistanis of this category visited my school for an exchange programme and my college for a competition. Some may argue that these people are not “true Muslims” but one has to take them into cognizance before making sweeping generalizations about Pakistanis or those who identify themselves as Muslims or carry Muslim names.

Having said all this, I would again like to point out to the readers that I am the very same person who has started a Facebook group against the army, intelligence, terrorists and propagandists of Pakistan and who wrote a piece on the hypocrisy in Pakistani propaganda but the focus in this article has been different. In fact, by creating a flawed self-imagined picture of Pakistani Muslims only comprising religious fanatics, we alienate their liberals who need to be strengthened.

The next article in this series on anti-Muslim prejudices will not be Pakistan-specific and will explore in some depth whether it’s fair to associate Muslims with terrorism and vice versa.

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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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