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Why Do We Even Need Religion In The First Place?

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By Vandana R Jaikumar:

My dad used to light the lamp every morning and evening at home. I used to hardly remember that act in the morning because I had to make sure I woke up, dragged myself out of bed, got dressed and again dragged myself to school. I remember it clearly in the evenings because he used to always ask me to stand and pray when he lit the lamp at 5.30pm sharp, every day.

religion

I have never felt the need to adhere to a religion, and it has been the same since my childhood. While some would call it negligence and ignorance on the part of my parents (few of my relatives are pretty sure that those are the exact terms), I would call it independence and freedom. Freedom to choose, and also the freedom to ‘not choose’, even at that young age. But, I wonder what options I have to choose from? And whether I want to.

Brought up in India, I consider that everyone has at least once in his/her lifetime witnessed a communal riot. You might have been in the same city, in the middle of the violence, or in some other city, but you still felt the tremors. The time when school was closed for a day or two just to ensure that you were safe, the time when your sister told you to come back home early from college because she heard something happened in the city, and also the time when you read about a violent act somewhere in another city, and tried to understand what the hell was happening. It’s a part of our lives. Just like we are used to having so much diversity, we are also used to the occasional violence it brings with it.

I am not saying that we are not secular.

The preamble to our constitution clearly states “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic and to secure to all its citizens……”

Literally, we are!

We even have friends from different religions, we have colleagues whom we respect and we even have family members from other religions whom we love. But where does our secularism disappear when women are raped, men are beheaded, homes are burnt? Do they stop being our friends, neighbors and family members? Do they stop being men and women?

I can’t help but remember this one quote from Lajja, where Taslima Nasreen rightly points out our present situation (Yes, it is still present because even in this 21st century, Muzaffarnagar riots exists)

“Ironically, all religions point towards one goal – peace. Yet it is in the name of religion that there has been so much unrest and lack of peace. So much blood has been shed and so many people have suffered… Flying the flag of religion has always proved the easiest way to crush to nothingness human beings, as well as the spirit of humanity.”

So, on one side we have rituals which are sacred, festivals which we celebrate with such joy and happiness, prayers and worship we offer with honesty, and then we have all the riots which you have either read in history, in books, in magazines, or you have been personally a part of.

Am I still supposed to choose?

After 24 years of existence, and numerous questions asking my religiosity, I still don’t have an answer. And now, I wonder if I want one for myself. I feel at peace with myself – where I am, at the moment. Absorbing like a sponge from everywhere. I still believe that there is a higher energy, but I still haven’t had the courage (or may be inclination) to give it a name or an image or a category! And I still don’t want to choose one of the all.

Does it then distort my identity?

Well, it’s not just religion. When you are brought up in three different cities, it does get a little blurry and no strong religious inclination definitely contributes to the blurriness. But I think I can live with the blurriness.

The ‘Power of Youth‘ has been the song that everyone has been singing in the recent times – be it political, social, or even economical. But I hope for the power of youth, religiously.

We have seen children orphaned.

We have read about mother’s who have lost their sons and daughters.

We have read about women who are raped, because some men think that it’s the best way to settle certain disputes and forget everything else.

I hope for the power of youth where ‘secularism‘ is not just a word we practice when we are happy and stable, but also at the time of crisis, equality is not only for men and women but for people practising different religions, and for those who wish not to choose one and where the faith that binds us supersedes everything — Humanity!

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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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