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A World That Disowns Its People, And Then Kills Them For Not Belonging

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By Pamela Eapen:

The peculiar tragedy of refugees and immigrants is the fact that because they are devoid of citizenship, they are denied their humanity.

One of the worst humanitarian failures in recent times has been that which is currently plaguing the Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State, Myanmar. Persecuted by Burma and denied refugee status by Bangladesh, thousands have been fleeing to neighbouring countries by boat; but as many as 8000 migrants have been turned away by the authorities at the shores of Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Unwelcome at either side of the journey and stranded for weeks without food or water, the Rohingyas have been perishing at sea.

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The dehumanisation of these stateless people does not end there. People have sold everything they own to earn passage on smugglers’ boats. Many women are raped, and others forced to sell themselves into marriage with men who would then pay for the boat trip. Parents starve so they can feed their young children, who are given no food on the boats. Boat crews leave passengers stranded and unable to fend for themselves in the ocean. The Rohingyas are something worse than homeless – they are imprisoned wherever they go.

A Muslim minority in a Buddhist majoritarian state, they have lived there since British colonial times and consider themselves Burmese – but the authorities have declared them illegal Bengali immigrants according to a 1982 citizenship law (enacted after thousands of Rohingyas migrated back from Bangladesh in 1979) that does not recognise the Rohingyas as one of the 135 national races of Burma. It is desperately sad that even though the largest population of Rohingya Muslims in the world are situated in Rakhine State, they are considered outsiders in their own home. Burmese president Thein Sein, even went so far as to ask the UN to resettle the displaced Rohingyas in refugee camps or abroad – a proposal the UN immediately rejected.

Their plight received international attention after the 2012 Rakhine State Riots where conflict between the Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists escalated fatally, with official counts declaring an estimated 80 dead and around 90 000 people displaced. Since Rohingyas are denied citizenship, they are unable to travel, marry without a permit, or have more than two children. Since then, people have been campaigning to send assistance and resources to the Rohingyas. One of Burma’s own well-known humanitarians, Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi (who has announced her intent to run for presidency in Myanmar’s 2015 elections) has been heavily criticised for her allegedly politically-inclined silence on the issue.

The Rohingyas are not the only ones facing mass displacement right now –Africans have been fleeing to Europe from war-torn and poverty-ravaged countries like Libya and Somalia. They too, have been making perilous journeys across the ocean to find safe haven. In a state ominously parallel to that of the Rohingyas, 1800 of the 60 000 African migrants that attempted to cross the Mediterranean in 2015 alone have died. The survivors have been better received than their Rohingya counterparts – but even that might change soon. America, Britain, Canada and Australia did not respond positively to the UN’s pleas to assist Italy and Greece with taking in refugees; and the EU plans to limit their refugee intake by proposing quotas and “distributing immigrants among member states” in the near future.

The European situation is, in fact, likely to worsen owing to the events of the past week – it has been claimed that ISIS terrorists are masquerading as refugees aboard Mediterranean vessels so they can infiltrate Europe. This will probably only tighten laws surrounding refugees and their acceptance into the continent. Additionally, Australia has put forward the idea that the EU follow their immigration reduction procedure – to stop the boats before they have the chance to carry the immigrants across, and leave them trapped in the country they were trying to escape. And again, similarly to Burmese officials, African leaders are eerily silent about their dying countrymen.

The message we receive from the Rohingya and Europe crises is clear – immigrants have no place in the world. They are driven from their homes by oppressive governments and hopeless living conditions, and then are rejected from potential sanctuary. The middle ground is possibly even crueller – they are left to drift and waste away in the rancid stench of their own terror. The cold calculation with which authorities, who are really the ones at fault, decide the fate of thousands of lives, is terrifying, and it doesn’t feel any better to know that activists close to the cause are seemingly turning a blind eye in order to further their political ambitions.

Why do countries like Burma and Libya feel like they can persecute their people as though they aren’t human, and wait for the UN to fix their problems? What makes countries like Bangladesh and America feel as though they can toss immigrants back and forth between countries like dirty chattel? The great powers of the world – be they the small authorities that head our local municipalities; the larger-than-life humanitarians we look to as role models; the presidents of our nations; or the superpower countries that lead by example – have a fundamental responsibility to do everything in their given power to better humanity. But the atrocities we see before us belie our ideals. We are of a world that disowns its people – and then kills them for not belonging.

You must be to comment.
  1. Batman

    You only have to go through this article to understand the severity of the crises.

  2. Maitri

    This is very well written

    1. Pamela Eapen

      Thank you Maitri 🙂

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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