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The Week That Was For Expression In India: No Music, No Dancing, No Nothing

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By Asmita Sarkar:

Last week, the Indian media did good business feeding off the carcasses of the Indian democracy. Aditya Thackerey who called the smearing of ink of Sudheendra Kulkarni as “democratic and historic” in his reply to Rajdeep Sardesai’s open letter, shows us what the dark side of unrestricted freedom could lead to. If the actions and words of Shiv Sena and other agents of the ‘Hindu’ conglomerate (Bajrang Dal, VHP, Shiv Sena) is taken into consideration, one would find an increasing number of cases which leaves a bitter taste of intolerance in our mouths.

theweekthatwas

1. Sahitya Akademi writers return awards: Uday Prakash, a Hindi writer, was the first to return his Sahitya Akademi award followed by Nayantara Sahgal to protest against the Akademi’s silence on M.M. Kalburgi’s murder. Other writers and playwrights like Ashok Vajpayi, Kashmiri writer, Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Kannada writer-translator, Srinath DN, Hindi writers Rajesh Joshi, Mangalesh Dabral, Waryam Sandhu, and GN Ranganatha Rao soon joined the ranks. This gesture of theirs has been a clear learning about what a peaceful protest should be like. This led to the Union Culture Minister, Mahesh Sharma saying, “Let writers stop writing, then we will see.”

If writers stopped writing and critiquing the social fabric and the political bigotry, it wouldn’t be a personal but a political stand as well and the politicians will, perhaps, heave a sigh of relief for being able to silence the ones who show them a mirror to their truth.

2. Banning Ghulam Ali’s performance: Ghulam Ali, a gazal singer, and a Pakistani national has been a part of Bollywood for a long time. He has been a part of our childhoods and an icon in the music industry in India. Shiv Sena which woke up to this reality suddenly protested against the musician’s performance in Mumbai recently. Shiv Sena, very loudly proclaimed that, “We can’t have cultural ties with Pakistan when they kill our soldiers.” Not only was his performance called off in Mumbai but also in Pune.

The logic behind barring a artist from performing music, appreciated even by the Prime Minister, comes off as a misinterpretation of the right to freedom of speech and expression on the part of the Hindu party. What role does a musician play in the theatre of politics? Music, if anything is a way to unite the divided nations.

3. Smearing ink on Sudheendra Kulkarni: The Indian Express Headline on 13th October read Photo Courtesy Shiv Sena, the photograph accompanying the headline was the darkened face of Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was going to host the book launch of former Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri. To stop the book launch, Sena workers attacked the activist, Kulkarni, and smeared his face with ink, and called it a ‘peaceful protest’. Quoting nationalist fervour and a love for the fallen soldiers, Aditya Thackerey defended the incident on social media when Rajdeep Sardesai wrote an open letter which says, “The Shiv Sena we were told was angry with the presence of a Pakistani on Indian soil and wanted to register their protest. So, ink had to be spilled on the streets of Mumbai yet again. Last week Ghulam Ali, this week Kasuri: the Sena is back in the news.”

4. Shiv Sena bans Indo-Pak rock band show: The Shiv Sena seems to be on a roll. The party forced the organisers of a sufi rock band concert to abandon the show that was supposed to be held at C N Vidyalay in Ambawadi area. The Mekaal Hasan Band, whose lead singer is an India, Sharmistha Chatterjee, was supposed to perform at the concert.

5. Banning non-Hindus from Garba: The VHP has done it yet again, in a bid to protect Hindu women from ‘Love Jihad’ has come up with an innovative and terribly isolating incident which bars non-Hindus from entering over 100 commercial venues that will play host to Garba events in Gujarat. The increasing polarisation in cultural events is only a mirror to the communally divisive mentality that thinks up such strategies to alienate one section of the society.

The message that the various self-proclaimed protectors of our culture seems to be giving is that India is a Hindu nation, and it is no longer subliminal. The Shiv Sena and the VHP have gone all out, while the Prime Minister finally broke his silence, which amounted to nothing but empty solace. Saying that it was “unfortunate” and “unwaranted”, he asked that though the incident was sad, how is the center responsible?

Our newspapers which are peppered with such incidents have become a clear picture of what a weakened Indian democracy looks like.

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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 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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