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The Hatred Communalism Breeds: Before The Sparks Lead To A Fire

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By Abdul Muheet Chowdhary:  

The previous two articles examined the communal ideology and the implications of its uninterrupted growth. This article will explore some solutions that can be implemented.

Holding The Police Accountable

It is a well-known fact that no communal riot can continue for longer than a day without the consent and even connivance of the police. The police bow down to pressure from communal politicians and remain inactive during the violence as well as in the course of its follow up which involves filing FIRs, making arrests, producing chargesheets and so on.

Therefore the first and most important step in preventing communal violence is holding officials in charge of law and order accountable. Legal reforms must be introduced which severely punish them through firing/dismissal or at the least suspension if they are unable to prevent a communal riot and do not conduct its follow up properly. The choice given to them must be stark: either kowtow before the communal politician and lose your job or do your duty and keep it. Faced with such a choice, it can be fairly surmised that most law and order officials would choose to keep their jobs and would act effectively in dealing with communal violence.

communal violence

This approach of holding officials accountable for lack of service delivery is present in all sectors whether public or private. For example in the case of RTI applications, the law prescribes penalties for information officers who do not answer in time. Protection of life is certainly the most important service delivered by the Government and accordingly the accountability for its effective delivery must be the highest possible.

Encouraging Pluralistic Settlements

Communal riots are only an indicator of a ‘boiling point’ being reached and a multi-pronged strategy is needed to address the factors that contribute to communalisation. Ghettoisation is one of them as religious segregation strengthens communal identities and reinforces negative stereotypes of the ‘other’. Ghettos form because of the prejudices inherent in society and therefore Governmental action is required to correct this.

The Government should have a policy that encourages pluralistic settlements where members of different communities live together. This can be done in two ways. First, existing barriers should be removed. There are regular instances of intolerance where Muslims, Christians, Dalits, non-Brahmins, North-Eastern citizens, meat-eaters etc. are denied housing owing to their identities. This should be cracked down upon and landlords should be penalised. The Sachar Committee report on the status of Indian Muslims recommended the creation of an Equal Opportunities Commission that would deal with such complaints.

Second, pluralistic settlements should be incentivised. The Government can provide rewards to settlements that are diverse whether they are public housing projects, private settlements, gated colonies, etc. These can take the form of tax breaks, rebates, cheaper loans for future projects, cash prizes, etc.

Such a policy of integration has been followed successfully in Singapore which is a highly racially diverse society. The Ethnic Integration Policy provides for mixed-racial housing through quota systems of representation that are proportional to the national average.

De-Communalising History Education

Ultimately communalism is an ideology and can be neutralised through education. Two main areas that need attention in this regard are i) the way history is taught ii) equipping children to deal with diversity.

The present categorisation of Indian history into Ancient, Medieval and Modern has significantly contributed to communal thinking in the country. It has effectively divided history into the Hindu period, Muslim period and Christian period. Medieval India begins in about 1000 CE/AD with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate which is widely seen as the ‘Muslim invasion’. Modern India begins in about 1757 CE with the establishment of the British Raj after their victory in the Battle of Plassey. This is seen as the beginning of the ‘Christian invasion’.

This categorisation is tremendously flawed and is a real source of danger. It has given rise to the now-dominant thinking that India was basically a Hindu country which was ‘invaded’ by Muslims and Christians who subsequently went on a temple-busting and conversion spree and oppressively ruled for a thousand years. This has resulted in the cult of Hindu victimhood which desires vengeance through retribution as exemplified by the case of the Babri Masjid. As the blame is on Muslims and Christians primarily and not on say the Tughlaqs or the Portuguese, the Muslims and Christians of today are the targets of blame for the supposed sins of their ‘fathers’.

Another deeper and more tragic consequence of this categorisation is that it prevents Indians from appreciating the entirety of their composite culture and civilisation. Each religious community glorifies its period as ‘golden’ and ‘others’ the remaining periods. Muslims are not encouraged to see the achievements of Panini and Samudragupta as their own nor are Hindus encouraged to see the achievements of Amir Khusrao and Iltutmish as their own.

At its core, this categorisation is fundamentally flawed as it is rooted in the basic communal assumption that members of one religious community are internally homogenous and have the same interests which are opposed to the interests of other (equally internally homogenous) communities. This is utterly untrue and the Tughlaqs, Sayyids, Mughals and Qutub Shahis were as different from each other as the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, or the Chalukyas, Satavahanas, Cholas and Guptas. To categorise these diverse groups with diverse interests under the vague garb of religion is dangerously misleading and socially harmful.

Therefore it is abundantly clear that the way history is taught needs to be drastically changed. A much better framework is one based on class. An excellent example is the one suggested by the great historian Romila Thapar in her masterly work ‘The Penguin History Of Early India‘ (p 31). It periodises history based on major changes in society such as changes in the economic structure (eg from hunter-gatherer to agrarian), in the political system (eg from tribal oligarchies to monarchies), in technology (eg from stone to iron tools), and so on. It offers a far more realistic view of the development of history. Similar frameworks have been used by D.D. Kosambi, Irfan Habib and Harbans Mukhia. However the re-categorisation of history is a highly complex topic and needs to be explored in more detail.

Teaching Our Children To Deal With Diversity

Finally, children must be taught how to deal with difference and diversity. This must be in the form of practical exercises that instil in them the habits and skills required to do so such that these remain with them throughout their lives. Some examples include role-playing (promotes empathy for different groups), exercises in critical thinking (to guard against prejudice), exposure visits, conflict resolution through dialogue and so on. UNESCO has an excellent series called ‘Tolerance: The Threshold For Peace‘ that contains details on such exercises.

These were some steps that can be taken by the Government in neutralising communalism. However in the long run social reform is essential. In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, ‘Law can punish a single solitary recalcitrant criminal. It can never operate against a whole body of people who are determined to defy it.’

Therefore the main thrust of the effort towards neutralising communalism is in the sphere of social and political reform and in bringing about a change in the values and mindsets of the people at large.

This is the third in a four part series that explores the issue of communalism and communal violence in India. Part I explains the phenomenon of communalism and why it occurs. Part II examines the likely implications if this phenomena is left unchecked. The next and concluding part of this series will lay out strategies of action on this front.

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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.

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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.

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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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