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Of Forced Conversions, Love Jihad, And The Politics Of Communal Polarisation

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By Mayank Jain:

Imagine living in abject poverty and ostracisation from the society. Imagine being marginalized and humiliated. Imagine the trials of a life of penury, and the times when your own community doesn’t stand up for you because you are of a ‘lower caste’. What if someone comes along and bullies you into changing your religion? You try to resist because you are still a believer, but the moment they promise money and respect in the new religion, your mind begins to wander. What do you do? Convert or stand your ground with penury and an added threat to life from strongmen?

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There’s money in conversions. Paid conversions have been here for as long as we can remember. There have been accounts of Portuguese churches in 1800s forcing Hindus to convert to Christianity, and similar accounts exist about conversions of Christians being forced by Hindus. 250 years and counting, but we are still stuck on the similar saga of religious expansion, political polarization of communities and harvesting votes by inventing newer ideas like Love Jihad, which essentially point towards the same problem of people trying to expand the base of their faith and persecute others’.

Tara Sahdev is a gold medallist Indian shooter who could not escape this tug of war and has alleged that her husband hid his Muslim identity before marrying her. He also put her through trauma and forced her to convert to Islam, she alleges. According to reports, she got married in July to Ranjit Kohli and the marriage happened in accordance with Hindu rituals. Come Ramzan, the holy month of Islam, and invitation cards addressed to her husband revealed that his original name was Rakibul Hassan.

The inquiry into the case is on as calls for a CBI probe are being raised. A police raid at her husband’s place unearthed 16 mobile phones and 15 SIM cards among other things. “We have also seized two CPUs, four printers, two air shooting guns and documents related to court from house of Ranjit Kholi alias Rakibul Hassan,” according to the Senior Superintendent of Police Prabhat Kumar.

Her husband as well as mother in law were taken into custody by the police. Following the incident, right wing outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad held massive protests all across Jharkhand.

Converting Church To A Temple

A disturbing case of conversion and subsequent reconversion of 72 people came up in Aligarh. The people belonging to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is a Protestant Christian denomination, were turned into ‘valmikis’ by Hindu groups and the pastors then re converted them into Christians and sealed the church, which also became a target of aggression from the agitated right wing.

The church was turned into a temple by the groups as they hung a Shiva poster on the wall and tried to claim it but the Pastor locked it down without losing much time. According to Advocate Osmond Charles, “The havan took place inside the church. Christians don’t feel safe regarding their properties. Tomorrow, another church may see a ‘shuddhi karan’ exercise. The issue is not about leaving a faith, but about maintaining the sanctity of a place of worship.”

Fake Conversion Allegations In UP

Uttar Pradesh, which is a flashpoint for the most communal violence and polarization in the country, witnesses multiple complaints every week of forced conversions, some of which often turn out to be fake and the police comes under fire for not responding ‘appropriately’.

A similar complaint was filed against 10 pastors in Gautam Budh Nagar, Greater Noida, by BJP leaders in Kulesra village alleging “Forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity.”

Meanwhile, the Dalit valmikis, who were allegedly being forced, have denied the charges and the police has found no evidence of any forced conversion. The case has been wrapped up after an investigation.

Religious Arm Wrestling: Forces at play

The wrapping up of these cases leave much to be desired since there is no concerted effort to contain such conversions in the first place, and only corrective action is initiated. The country ails from religious violence from Jammu & Kashmir to Assam, and in this regard, incitement of hateful sentiments by political forces, dominated by the right wing, is clearly not the right way to make gains in the upcoming elections. But, more often than not, it works.

Another issue to be noted about Love Jihad and cases of forced conversion is the fact that they are highly skewed towards constituencies going to elections. Incitement, conversions and violence, are all steps in the same process to claim more ground. No attention, however, is given to the electorate that feels disenchanted and is continuously worried about it’s own future in this ballgame of religious domination.

The conspiracy theories are all lined up and being pushed through outlets of different faiths as they intermingle with political aspirations, but the police has busted the myth. The full blown conspiracy of Love Jihad has been nullified by the police, clarifying that there is no such concerted effort to convert Hindus into Muslims. “Investigations find different stories in different cases. But we have never found any particular pattern that can establish any such conspiracy being claimed by various organisations,” says IG (Law and Order) AK Sengar, Uttar Pradesh.

Money, muscle, power and politics all intermingle when one goes deeper in the reports of conversions. These are termed as legitimate attempts to prevent extinction of a community in this cosmic battleground of religions. But, if we continuously discredit others and blow our own pipe in their ears until they give in, which God are we trying to please?

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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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