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Why Has An “Ignorant, Chauvinist” Culture Minister Been Foisted On Us?

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By Sanjana Chowdhury

Our controversial Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma has again stirred an uproar by his most recent outrageous comment“Girls wanting a night out […] is not part of Indian culture.” Such regressive, misogynistic statements are the last thing we need in India where crime against women is such a sensitive issue. When we must be striving towards women’s empowerment, why has an ignorant, chauvinist been foisted on us as a so-called ‘culture minister’?

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This is the same person who questioned the integrity of all Indian Muslims when he claimed that “despite being a Muslim”, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was “a nationalist and a humanist”. In times that are calling for open-mindedness and common sense, why are our ministers making these irresponsible remarks?

India, as a multicultural nation, thrives on cultural, religious, linguistic diversities. To reduce it to “Hindi. Hindu. Hindustan.” would be a grave mistake which can arrest the development of the country and destroy our conglomerate culture.

Patriotism Or Propaganda?

Not only Mahesh Sharma, but the entire Modi government declares patriotism and adherence to the “Indian culture”. However, in truth, what they seem to follow is the narrow, sexist, bigoted ideology of the RSS. Why else should a minister say: “I respect Bible and Quran but they are not central to the soul of India in same the way as Gita and Ramayana are.” Is that what patriotism entails? Is that how our government intends to uphold India’s composite culture?

Our culture minister has also stated: “My (Indian) values and books should be read before you read novels. Before the youth go to gain wisdom from Thailand, Dubai and Singapore, they must gain wisdom from our own museums and heritage.” The explicit xenophobia apparent in these comments are not only detrimental to the development of the country, but also a dangerous notion to foster.

A man who swears allegiance to RSS – a right-wing communal outfit – may be expected to make such illiberal and injudicious comments, but a Union Minister should know better. Or is this propaganda in the shiny wrapper of patriotism?

If the government remains nonchalant and the people don’t watch out, we shall all be responsible for creating a whole generation of chauvinistic bigots with a jingoistic mindset and a distorted worldview.

A Reactionary Role

The parochial opinions of our ministers merely reflect the deep-seated bigotry still prevalent in the Indian society. Instead of practising caution in what they say, our ministers keep on expressing their blinkered outlooks while our government continues to endorse in such myopic views.

The NDA government is implicitly practising brute majoritarianism and silently reinforcing the reactionary ideology of the RSS. We must realise that these are the people who are deciding what our future generations will learn. And to that effect, Mr. Sharma has already spoken of revamping the institutions under the Cultural Ministry. Whether that is a promise or a threat we have yet to see.

Ignorance and intolerance are a dangerous combination, but more so in a culture minister. A cultural minister should appreciate and respect the various cultures prevalent in this country, rather than impose prejudiced personal opinions in the name of heritage. Our culture is not merely what our past dictates, but also what we can learn and incorporate from the global values of the 21st century. If a cultural minister cannot cultivate liberality and pursuit of knowledge among the citizens of his country, then perhaps it is time for him to step down.

You must be to comment.
  1. KN

    Hindi is not a Hindu language, it is Muslim origin language, BJP and RSS are using Hindu religion for political purpose but they are secret Muslim parties, trying to make India into Muslim country by imposition of the Islamic origin language of Pakistani – Hindi.

    1. Avinesh Saini

      Just when you thought you were done with your quota of the bizarre for today.

    2. Saha

      It may sound bizarre, but unfortunately it is true. Hindi came as a result of Muslim conquests of India. A party claiming Hindi religious affiliation would really need to look at and promote languages which contributed lot more to the Hindu religion, Tamil, would actually come on top of the list, because Bakthi movement actually started in Tamil Nadu. Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya all have their share. BJP is simply using Sanskrit for pushing its ‘Hindu image’. To ignore India’s own languages and being only fixated about the foreign sourced language (which just uses the Sanskrit script) speaks about deception of the so-called ‘Hindu’ party, when it is doing the opposite, it pushing the country towards Islamisation, as the prime minister and BJP Hindi exercise benefit the Islamic terrorists among other who get free passage across India while Indian themselves have no benefit by losing their own languages by being forced to switch to the Islamic origin language Hindi.

  2. Atulya Chandra

    These sexist remarks by people holding such a high office is truly unfortunate. I personally like Narendra Modi, but he should make sure that image of this beautiful country is not sabotaged by his subordinates. Truly unfortunate and shameful. RIP ‘Free India’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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