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Suspected Of Being A Maoist, This 15 Year Old Was Beaten Up And Forced To Strip

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On 29th July 2011, Magdalene, a 15-year-old girl from Mailpidi village, was walking back home after school. On her way, she was arrested by the police. “Stop pretending to be a student” the police told her as they went through her school bag and roughed her up. Her crime? Bank robbery; armed conflict with the police; and being a Maoist.

These kinds of stories aren’t rare, or even uncommon in Jharkhand. The state tops the list of over-crowded jails in the country; 70 percent of criminals in there are under-trial, and false conviction rate is alarmingly high too. Activists fighting for land rights, and protesting against state’s use of brute force in its attempts to curb the Maoist insurgency, are often put behind bars. People are abducted at the mere suspicion of sympathizing with the Maoists.

Magdalene’s village, Mailpidi, is nestled between the Elephant Corridor and the Saranda-Singhbum range in Jharkhand. No roads or vehicles go there. Magdalene shifted to Murhu in the next district and rented a place to stay with her brother so that she could go to school easily. Little did she know that her plans of getting a better education were going to be put on hold by the Jharkhand police.

After being arrested, Magdalene, baffled and hapless, was taken to the Khunti jail and transferred to the Namkum Women’s Probation Home. She stayed here for 10 months and for the first 9, no one — not her family, not her friends, not her teachers — knew where she was.

“But why did they think she was a Maoist? Did she do something?” I asked Amita, our Community Correspondent who, among other activists, was involved in getting Magdalene out of jail.

“This was not the first time she was arrested” Amita reveals, “She was arrested in 2010 after a tussle at the Murhu State Bank between some people and the police. She wasn’t involved in any of it; she wasn’t even there. She and her friends were visiting her sister who lived nearby.”

Amita continues, “They went to see a cricket match at her sister’s house when that shootout happened. The police came around to do a routine search and found a bunch of kids in school uniforms who weren’t originally from Murhu. They concluded that they must be Maoists and took them all into custody.” Magdalene and her friends spent 3 months in jail.

It took a lot of convincing from her teachers, who clarified to the police that there had been a mistake, for the four students to be released. They put the incident behind them and attempted to move on with their lives. Magdalene went back to her school and continued to live with her brother in Murhu.

July 2011, Magdalene found herself in a women’s probation home again. “There was no evidence against her. It seems that the Superintendent of Police instigated the other officers to arrest her. The charge sheet from the event in 2010 does not even have her name on it,” says Alistair Bodro, an activist who has worked closely with Magdalene and many others like her.

“I am sure if you took a look around jails in Khunti and others in Jharkhand, you’d find a lot of the people who have been falsely accused of being conspirators against the state. They are poor and nobody comes to bother the police if they disappear,” he says. The police have been arresting people on unsubstantiated grounds to mount figures. The jacked-up jail population of Jharkhand touts the efforts of the state police in fighting insurgents, but a closer look reveals that democratic principles are being jeopardized by the state as much as its enemy.

It was a matter of chance that Alistair found Magdalene at the probation home. Once he had the information, he was able to involve enough people to get her out of the jail. Two years later, Magdalene is beginning to put back together her plans that were rudely interrupted.

Her family was convinced that she should just stay at home and forget about completing school. “But she’s not going to give up so easily,” says Amita; who, along with other activists, was able to secure admission for Magdalene at the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya. The District Commissioner and school principal have been very supportive through the entire process.

Even as Magdalene attempts to get on with her studies and make new friends, the court case against her continues to drag on. She is currently supposed to appear at the court in Khunti every month. The ordeal, both Amita and Magdalene’s teachers agree, is detrimental to her emotional well being as well as her studies. “Cases like this one need to be brought forward. More people need to know about the state’s repression otherwise it will never stop,” Alistair said.

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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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