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‘National Security Can’t Be An Excuse For The Govt To Infringe On Individual Privacy’

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By Ankita Ghosh:

One night I stayed up late reading articles about Mark Zuckerberg and Prime Minister Modi. It is amusing how a young internet entrepreneur and the head of a state indulgently ‘Like’ each other’s Facebook posts as old buddies do. That night I dreamt a rather disconcerting dream. Here I am a stand-up comedian making a living out of harmless humor, and one careless status update on Facebook gets me ‘Reported’ by the Prime Minister. Minutes before the Intelligence Bureau lands up at my place I get a ‘Notification’ that the media has been seized, and we have been given 24 hours to voluntarily ‘Deactivate’ our Facebook Profiles, exceeding which period the government will do it for us. I woke up breaking into a sweat.

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The topic of state surveillance over public/private life has been generously broached in literary fiction. Half a century before the British Parliament debated the Emergency Surveillance Law (recently ruled illegal by British High Court) over public privacy, George Orwell in his ‘1984‘ had imagined a Great Britain where the omnipresent big brother kept hovering over individuals. A decade before Edward Snowden leaked well kept US government secrets concerning the National Security Agency’s gross manipulation of electronic communications Dan Brown had prophesized the same in his Digital Fortress.

Recent reports and graphic illustrations anticipating the consequences of the National Encryption Policy, drafted by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, had cooked up a storm among internet users. This policy, if implemented will make deleting personal messages shared over social networking impossible, and will also require us to turn in the encrypted code of the same to the government if asked. It will also leave us with zero user discretion to keep or get rid of personal communication and electronic text messages containing myriad interpersonal correspondence.

Electronic surveillance in domains provided for private and confidential usage like restrooms, hotel suites and trial rooms in apparel stores is considered criminal offence by the law of the land. However, the state is quick to assume an acutely condescending attitude when it finds itself in a position similar to that of the perpetrators. Additionally we’re all pretty well aware of the implications if you try to mess with the state, implicit from the jeopardy that Snowden and Assange’s lives have been thrown into. Even the reigning models of western liberal democracy have time and again demonstrated insensitivity and violation of user privacy. We will all need the best VPN service soon.

The Indian government practices full blown secrecy effectuated by the Official Secrets Act that keeps classified government data in a well- secured safety vault. Considerations for national security prompt governments to act like the paranoid parents of a 15-year-old. Needless to say, national security can’t be an excuse for the government to infringe a citizen’s right to privacy. State-sponsored mass surveillance has several forms like gag orders, data storage, financial tracking, etc. None, however, can be morally or legally acceptable.

The Modi Government launched an ambitious initiative with Digital India in early July with a great deal of media hullabaloo. Market research widely available over the internet will give you landslide figures that the government plans on feeding this project with, a whopping 4.5 lakh crores, a quarter of the country’s budget. On the upside, it endeavors to connect citizens to a single digital plane and promotes the tech savvy but the very upside would mean a rock bottom that the average user can hit. The proposed digital blockers haven’t seen so much as a trial run in the country and might end up putting personal data at risk. The New Media Wing, initially opened in 2013 and consolidated by the year-old government, under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has been churning out reports like a can factory with the objective to help the government preempt strikes on national security. How far will intelligence agencies take the license to surveillance? Does it end at the threshold of the public domain or does it cross over?

In this case, efforts to contain public opinion by installing centrally operable government monitoring systems are nothing but a cowardly government’s sad excuse to curb freedom of speech and expression. Plus, the idea of personally exchanged information being suspended in the endless abyss of cyberspace, for future reference, by a third party, without consent, is preposterous. It is a criminal act and not worthy of public acquittal. Similarly, to hold an individual accountable for opinions expressed through virtual media, more so in personal chat-boxes, can’t be conducive to the democratic spirit of the state. And perhaps the government realizes this or is simply acting to pacify public dissent as it withdrew the National Encryption Policy.

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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.

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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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