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Sahai Commission Report: Lessons To Be Learnt From Muzaffarnagar Riots

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By Abhishek Jha:

The result of the 2014 elections was a disappointment for a lot of people. It was not surprising, though, for Uttar Pradesh. Studies have emerged since that election, that show that BJP benefits from communal polarization. And western U.P. had seen some of the worst incidents of violence against Muslims just before the elections. However, believing that such tactics would serve for long would be a mistake on the part of the party. The Samajwadi Party ruling the state may have suffered badly in the elections, but it was not very keen on addressing the issue either. While it remained inactive before and during the mass violence (despite the signs of tension), they showed little resolve in rehabilitating those who were affected by it.

muzaffarnagar riots
Image Source: Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai/YouTube

It is a relief then to see that the Commission of Inquiry on the violence has finally finished its report- after seeking seven extensions- and is said to have named leaders from both the parties. The wheels of justice have started to turn. If those racing for the throne ignore the powers of the Constitution, it would be a good time to wake up. A similar Commission of Inquiry, the powers of which are provided by The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, had managed to get even a person with popular support like Bal Thackeray arrested, albeit seven years late. He might have escaped due to technicalities, but the manner in which he had summarily refused the report and continued to stoke communal passions had one believing that the man somehow could not be contained. The Muzaffarnagar violence accused Sangeet Som has also rejected the report and enjoys Z category security provided for by the Modi government. It would be too imaginative to draw too many parallels here but Som should learn that he is not beyond the Constitution. He definitely should not attempt such bravado again for the sake of winning elections, for himself or for his party.

But the reports of such commissions are not only important for bringing justice to the victims of past riots. The Srikrishna Committee Report on the Bombay riots had important lessons in it that remain relevant even today and the report is often cited to suggest preventive action for riots. That is why the Justice Sahai commission report will be an educative one once it is made public, which should happen after some action is taken on its suggestions. Among the various reasons cited for the riots by the commission, it had also cited unemployment and poor economic condition of the people as a probable cause of people’s lapping up of communal rhetoric. Over the course of two years, activists and journalists have pointed this as a reason in Muzaffarnagar too. Documentary filmmaker Nakul Singh Sawhney’s Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai makes an excellent argument in this regard. But there were some differences too. For instance, ‘love jihad’ was a lie repeated with such vigour that it could have begun to sound like truth if not for a report that cut through the lies. Sawhney’s documentary also exposes the hollowness of this vicious Sangh Parivar campaign.

The conclusions and suggestions on these matters would be something that one might seek in the report then. This is because what happened in Muzaffarnagar also happened in Atali. The model of causation is similar and it has resulted, similarly, in the economic boycott of the Muslims. When a ‘sustainable model of Hindutva’ is being developed, some judicial suggestion might provide a model by which it can be countered. This is because the Jats of western U.P. had already learnt their lesson this summer when they saw no help from the leader that they elected with such unity and passion. Reports claimed that farmers were ‘disillusioned’ and ‘angry’. A Hindu report quoted a Jat leader as saying this: “Modi got an unprecedented number of votes because of the riots. Let there be elections right now and no Jat will vote for him. BJP will have serious trouble in the State polls if this situation continues. The BSP may end up being the unlikely beneficiary.” But a lot of people died, were raped and displaced before this wisdom arrived and, who knows, this might be forgotten in the fever of fighting another bogus enemy. The lessons of the report, however, will endure and are, therefore, eagerly awaited.

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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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