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Of Kashmir And India: A Visit To The Caged Paradise

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By Syed Essam Rashid:

Just as you cross the Jawahar Tunnel, after a few miles, lies the valley of Kashmir. From the mountain it looks serene, with vast plain of green land surrounded by highlands on all sides. As you spiral down the mountain and enter the plain, it turns all too familiar. A horde of Kashmiris(you instantly recognize them) almost threateningly surround you, eking you to buy cherries, a specialty of theirs.

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Continuing towards Srinagar, several things stand out. Firstly, with no distinctive landscape in sight, it looks strangely similar. The farms divided into small patches, the potholed roads and the polluting traffic. Secondly, the greenery of the plants and trees is uncharacteristically vibrant. ‘Kashmir remains green throughout the year‘, my driver tells me. Then, if it is around the time classes get over in schools  and you see students returning to their homes, the sheer number of more girls than boys amazes you. Lastly, as much as you try not to give importance to the army personnel, their continuously increasing frequency through the journey cannot go unnoticed.

Moving around Kashmir, visiting the customary go-to places and talking to the people there, the indifference to India is starkly visible. The night before, a 20yr old was shot near Srinagar protesting the visit of Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. Yet the indifference is very much confined only till there, to India. It does not extend on to the people, Indians. The Kashmiris treat people very well and I was witness to more than a few instances where their conviviality was at display. Once I lost my way to the hotel, a gentleman in his forties himself lead me all the way to the hotel on his motorcycle.

I was also fortunate enough to be treated to the famed Kashmiri hospitality. My friend’s Mom, principal in a school nearby, made sure I had eaten half of all the food that was put on the table. A lot was put on the table. When I asked her about Kashmir, she said, ‘We love having people from outside here, it is not their mistake. All was well before the militancy. And then the army arrived.’

As I was leaving, ten meters from their house was a soldier gratuitously on high alert, stationed in a bunker made of sandbags. The bunker was surrounded heavily by barbed wires from all sides, so that no local could approach him. It was 10p.m. and the roads were deserted. The whole city had shut itself inside. But it was not asleep.

When all that is required is to make the Kashmiris feel inclusive and equal, the incidences like the bench-warming of Parvez Rusool in Zimbabwe and visa denial for Sufira, are counterproductive.

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  1. Harsh Vasani

    Very articulate article Mr. Syed Essam Rashid. The AFSPA and the atrocities in the name of counter-insurgency in naxal affected areas are a blot on India’s moral fiber. Recent talks and the vist of Mr. Rahul Gandhi with Mr. Ratan Tata have revived some hope for economic development in Kashmir valley, but if the BJP manages to come to power in 2014, I shudder to think what will their stand on Kashmir be.
    Also, post the NATO pull out of Afghanistan, the possibilities of rise in Kashmir insurgency is very high. In this scenario, lifting of AFSPA seems implausible. Heart goes out to the Kashmiris!

    1. Raj

      Why blame the BJP? Hasn’t the Congress also done enough nonsense?

    2. Harsh Vasani

      The communal politics plus the chest beating nationalism of BJP is certainly much worse than Congress’s incompetence

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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