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From IIT Madras To Greenpeace: Why Is The Govt. Forcefully Muzzling Dissent?

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By Uzma Shamim:

We love to proclaim that we are an independent nation symbolising absolutely democratic ideals. Every Independence Day serves as a reminder to the fact that the Great Indian Democracy provides us with freedom over our actions. From pictures to pledges, commercials to posters- we take pride in the autonomy we get as citizens. There is however another very disquieting side to this picture. On 22 May, the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras was banned following an anonymous complaint to the Ministry of Human Resources for its critical approach towards the policies of the Modi government. After an arduous round of discussion and protests from all over the country, the study circle was reinstated. The question that comes into play is that why the group was unilaterally derecognised after an anonymous complaint and that too directly to the Human Resources Ministry. Is the formation of a study circle by a group of students, a threat to the functioning of a democracy? In June, students and staff from a college in Kunnamkulam in Kerala were arrested for publishing an article that included Narendra Modi among a list of negative faces in the college magazine. The trend of silencing and stifling dissent, has become very pronounced in current times with incidents such as the ones mentioned above happening frequently across the length and breadth of the country.

Teesta Setalvad. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Teesta Setalvad. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

However, the muzzling of dissent is not limited to educational institutions alone; it carries on into the domain of NGOs as well. Activist Teesta Setalvad and husband Javed Anand have been accused of violating the Foreign Control Regulations Act with regard to receiving $2,90,000 from the Ford Foundation between 2004 and 2008 without prior permission from the Centre. CBI has accused Setalvad’s company Sabrang of trying to provoke religious tension in the country by keeping the memory of the 2002 Gujarat riots alive in the minds of the people with the help of the Ford Foundation. This accusation was hurled at Setalvad when she was fighting a legal battle against Modi’s inability to stop the Gujarat riots. The CBI termed their activities as a threat to national security, however, in opposition, the High Court emphasised on the importance of tolerating dissent in a democracy. The fact that the accusation was hurled at Setalvad when she was working on the Gujarat Riots brings a lot of questions into sight such as why are only citizens or organisations, who are working on something not favoured by the government, being targeted?

Running parallel to this is the Greenpeace conflict. Greenpeace India has all its bank accounts frozen and travel restrictions imposed on some of its workers. The restrictions were enforced after it campaigned against the ill effects of coal mining and nuclear power projects on the environment, areas which feature foremost on Modi’s keys to economic growth. To freeze accounts of an organisation working for sustainable growth for furthering developmental goals is akin to portraying a reckless approach towards the environment for the sake of GDP. It is acknowledged that the development projects are an essential feature of the growth process but is neglecting the environment and putting restrictions on apolitical institutions the only way to achieve it?

Restrictions like these by the government on Non-profit organisations go beyond the formation of a negative public opinion and dissenting voices. It has severe repercussions on the lives of the marginal communities and neglected causes that the NGO works for. For instance, freezing the Ford Foundation’s accounts has negatively hit the functioning of the Joint Women’s Programme, which campaigns for the empowerment of women and children, which might have to shut down. Greenpeace India, a champion of environmental protection and conservation, may have to rethink many of its proposed projects.

The government is an institution formed to set into motion the policies for good governance. If the policies include unduly curtailing individual and collective freedom then the government just becomes a pawn for the fulfilment of certain political ideologies. The government should not be allowed to unilaterally decide how to use the tenets of the law for silencing dissent or clamping down independent organisations. There has to be a mechanism in place which looks into whether funding is being utilised properly, without any influence from the government. What is happening right now is a vicious process of stifling the most basic premise of democracy i.e. freedom.

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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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