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Human Rights In South Asia: A ‘Story’ For You Is The Harsh Reality For Those Who Live It

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By Jayanthi A Pushkaran:

To write about human rights in South Asia is not easy. The manner in which human rights issues are discussed and solutions are sought, adds to the problem. The region suffers from what can roughly be called iatrogenesis- expert induced problems. What we get to see and hear in governmental discourses are official text piling on forgotten memories like an epidemic archive.

human rightsThe south Asia, in a sense, is a problem haunted by the memory of problem solving. What is noticeable is the deep sense of victimhood present all over the region. This victimhood is multiple in its manifestation and not easily contained within one category. It is not a lens to read one form of ethnic, religious or political rule but a kaleidoscope which reflects the cross-currents of pain in a society, argues sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. In a recently published piece on the issues related to human rights in India, he notes-‘Victimhood is an unhappy state between personhood and citizenship. A victim needs a voice and voice can be dangerous thing. A victim is a survivor who waits for justice. He or she is haunted by events or the repetition of certain events. A victim is an object of violence seeking to become a subject of peace. A victim is a being who has been denied a true place in the narrative of history. Victimhood is a state of being, a liminal identity for waiting. A victim is a person suspended between an old normalcy from which he is disembeded and waiting for a return to rehabilitation.’

What are stories to everyone else is actually a reality for those who live it. In the recently held south Asian youth leadership meet ‘Young Connectors of the Future’ in Stockholm, young citizens from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India discussed the problem and issue that affect them as youth in the south Asian region that has witnessed a lot of upheaval in the past few decades. Their stories indicate that victimhood is no longer a homogeneous or a narrow category. Victimhood needs a mouthpiece, a biography, expression and history, given its multitude of experience. They call for a cross-border platform that chronicles the narratives of victimhood before they end up being frozen memories in the official discussion. They feel that oppression and violence should not become a captive text repeating itself in various forms. To imagine a common future one has to experiment and allow for the sensitivity of legality and the sensibility of social action, feels women right activists Somaya Rezai from Afghanistan. What facilitates violence is the tendency of alienation and its approval — the unattended grievance. There is a need to bridge the gap between people and legal provisions through existing mechanisms and using innovative means, says Waqqas Mir, a lawyer and human rights expert from Pakistan. A blend of legal practitioners, students and new professionals can counsel individuals and enable them to exercise their rights in a more informed manner within individual space, organizations and communities.

The anatomy of unrest, victimhood and marginality is a multilayered one. To the structured conflict of regions, one has to link the voices and feelings of groups, particularly youth and women, argues Towfique Ahmad Khan, a social activist from Bangladesh. The cost of conflict becomes particularly relevant for these groups. In their accounts, pain of oppression emerges as two separate dramas. One that is plucked out as a part of the political ritual of healing. The other is the scream of dissent, despair, aspirations, little hopes and the loneliness of long distance runners that often pops out as poem, folktale, sigh or a tear.

These voices have its oddities. You may agree or disagree. They seem banal like a lullaby from past. But we require it badly, for these are notes that remind us that we have not lost our music. We have to discover them, capture them and explore them through extending social media technologies, reminds Mark Commerford, Journalist and social media activist. It is difficult being a social activist today. Every act of whistle blowing is frowned upon and scrutinized to its authenticity. However, no one asks why one citizen can not be a mouthpiece for others. Modern regimes have made voicing opinions a difficult task. However modern technologies have made it easier.

Counselling, listening and the act of mapping grievances are important steps before we pave road for peace. A recovery of story building as a mirror for realities becomes a critical need today. Tolstoy’s remarked in Anna Karenina about families which can be applied to communities and region- ‘Happy families are all alike but unhappy families are different, each in their own way.’ It is this difference of grievances one has to list and listen to carefully. Justice and change is not just an act of definitive languages left to courts and governance systems. It is also one of re-inventing, of carving new spaces, combining action and thought which break the old cynical stereotypes. One has to move from grand narratives to tap the everydayness of social life to critically examine the political sentiments of South Asia.

The author is a PhD scholar at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy in Jawaharlal Nehru University and works with the organization Delhi Greens.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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