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The Fire That”s Burning Tibet

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By Sweety Sinha:

With the visit of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang, speculations are high among the foreign policy analysts that it will be a breakthrough trip amid the recent border standoff. Focus on economic collaborations seems to take the centrestage. In this highly speculative environment what needs to be noticed is the attempt of the Indian state to keep off all Tibetan protesters from the scene of this bilateral diplomacy. On the contrary, what India needs is to exploit this event to voice its concern over the cause of the Tibetans.

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India has been a mute spectator of the Tibetan resistance, continuously appeasing Beijing on one hand and on the other hand providing  Dalai Lama with a secure exile. Since India shares border with this Himalayan kingdom, spillovers of the instability in Tibet is bound to hit the geo-strategic zone of Kashmir. With the invasion of Tibet, India is also a frontline state and has to spend immensely on its border security. Stabilizing conditions will help India divert its meager resources for developmental tasks. Also, India should rally for the cause of human rights of the Tibetans.

Today, Tibet has been closed to independent media, UN monitors and international delegations and the issue seems to survive only among the Tibetan diaspora. Anxious about the fate of Tibet, the new generation has tried to draw the attention of the global community by resorting to Self Immolation as a form of protest to the Chinese rule when the roof of the world is slowly and steadily being incorporated into the Dragon Land.

It was in the early years of the establishment of PRC that Chinese embarked upon an enterprise to establish their undisputed sovereignty over the plateau region of Tibet. Since then, the plight of the hapless Tibetans had ceded to be an active issue in the international community. The world has failed to unite and put multilateral pressure on Beijing. At a larger canvass of global dynamics, China has evolved to be a global power in military, strategic and political domain. Economisation of diplomacy and China’s permanent seating in the UNSC also prevents nations to take harsh steps towards China.

Self-Immolation or Politically Driven Suicides?

The questions arise as to why the youth is adopting such harsh steps of self immolation? There are as many as 120 cases of Self Immolation today. Why are they driven to such state of desperation? What has triggered these politically driven suicides? Why they assert their unflinching loyalty to Dalai Lama whom they have never seen in their lifetime? According to the Chinese propaganda this was the generation that was going to benefit immensely from the Chinese rule in Tibet. But there has been massive policy failure. Tibet has been environmentally strategic region and Tibetans lived in harmony with nature, guided by their Buddhists beliefs. China encroached upon their land guided by its quench for resources and its consumerist, expansionist and materialistic tendencies. The revolution that has unfolded is an immediate response to the political alienation, cultural assimilation, economic marginalization and environmental destruction. Tibet has been treated as a virtual ‘colony’ and Tibetans as second-class citizens. As Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay has stated, “Tibetans have every reason to believe that China wants Tibet but not the Tibetan people, else it would have applied the ‘one country, two system’ model as in Hong Kong and given the Tibetans the power to retain their culture and language.”

China has systematically carried out religious persecutions of the Buddhist monks and nuns. It has consistently tried to equate his holiness Dalai Lama with a demon that has alienated the whole of Tibet and made them the ‘class enemy’ of the Chinese. It is the gravest insult anyone can make towards the Tibetan Buddhism. It has been the height of intolerance depicted towards Tibetan culture and spiritual values. China has undertaken a subtle process of demographic transition through population transfers into the Tibetan land that has left the Tibetans in a minority in Tibet. The political dictatorship, arbitrary detentions, Mass arrests, coercion, torture in prisons, shootings of unarmed protesters are few of the methods adopted by PRC to crack down on the peaceful, quintessentially non violent Tibetan protests. Tibetan nomads were accused to be primitive and unscientific and the ‘western development’ campaign has driven them to the verge of extinction. All this has added to the intolerance of the Tibetan youth who are setting themselves ablaze for the cause of their nation, culture and religion.

The reaction of the Chinese government towards this extreme form of political protest is essentially brutal and aggressive. The official stance towards self immolation is to equate it with criminal and terrorist activities that are sponsored by the exile government. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei accused the Dalai Lama of ‘masterminding’ the series of self immolations and asserted that ‘the Dalai group is sparing no efforts to incite Tibetan independence activities by creating various troubles.

India Needs to See Political Realities

Under Nehru, India recognized the Chinese claims over Tibet. His idealist approach towards China had cost India dearly in the early years. Now India must adopt a Security -centric, pragmatic foreign policy choices towards China. India’s security concerns were not respected by China as it has violated the LOAC (Line of Actual Control) at various occasions. Chinese duality over nuclear arm twisting is not at all hidden. On one hand, it aided India’s arch rival Pakistan to gain nuclear power status and on the other it has opposed India’s Pokhran achievement vociferously at all global platforms and undermining India’s rise as a global power. China has always used Pakistan as a proxy against India.

The Way Ahead

In the wake of these global realities, the visit of the Chinese premier will be looked at with high expectations. Diplomatic adroitness and political agility is required on the part of the Indian policy makers. Mutual negotiations are needed to settle the long standing border disputes. Equally important is to settle the water disputes. China’s developmental goals need to dam the mighty Brahmaputra, but this will actually dry up India’s North-East. So, both nations should strike a balancing cord over the issue.

With all these issues, the real need is to address the Tibetan demands for statehood. Weather Manmohan government will be able to address the Tibetan cause is yet to see. It would be a successful trip if Indian policy makers can actually voice the demands albeit needs of lakhs of Tibetan refugees living within its frontiers. It is not about Tibetans- it is about humans who have lost the hope. It is high time the global community of peace lovers come together in raising an issue which has been ignored. It is the ripe time to ensure a smile on the face of every child who is Tibetan, but has not seen his homeland. It is time to create a better world where humans can co-exist with fellow humans with respect and dignity.

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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.

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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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