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AMU Student On How It Is A Hub Of ‘Cultural Freedom’, Not ‘Terrorism’

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By Riad Azam:

A recent remark by a Hindu Yuva Vahini leader, calling the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) ‘a nursery of terrorism’, is an instance of the increasing penetration of fundamentalist right-wing politics in India. Although the remark is just another feature of a trend that has started in India over the last one and a half years by various leaders making hate speeches, in this case it needs special analysis, because here the remark has been directed towards a secular educational institution which admits students of all religious, regional and linguistic diversities.

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Image source: WordPress

The BJP’s unprecedented victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was backed by incredible groundwork by the RSS, especially in the rural areas of North India, coupled with religious polarisation which was a consequence of the riots that ripped through the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Ever since the Narendra Modi-led government took over the reins of power, the RSS has been steadily asserting itself in order to push through its agenda. Two major fields where the RSS has given its major attention to, are education and culture.

India’s right-wing politics spearheaded by the unmistakable influence of the RSS and several other offshoots of its kind, such as the Hindu Yuva Vahini, Dharma Jagran Manch and others have sought to bring about their Hindutva project by a homogenization of the multicultural ethos of India. Under that attempt, the diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and regional groups will supposedly be brought under the grand idea of a Hindu nation, where similar historical backgrounds along with the same cultural practice will be imposed upon these diverse groups.

If we look into the various policy level decisions taken in the last one and a half years by the current ruling dispensation, we can trace an agenda being undertaken on the above-mentioned issue. One of the first decisions that the Narendra Modi Government took after assuming power was to appoint Prof. K. Sudarshan Rao, a historian who is known for his proximity to the RSS, as the Chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). This has obviously been done to rewrite history to promote a Hindu supremacist consciousness where all other diverse identities are relegated as the ‘other’. This is also coupled with the appropriation of popular historical figures to suit the needs of the Hindu right. This pretty much explains the BJP and the RSS’s attempts at appropriating a personality like Dr. B. R. Ambedkar who stood firmly against the politics of the Hindu Right, (one only has to have a glance at Ambedkar’s magnum opus ‘The Annihilation of Caste’ in order to understand the kind of politics he believed in) to make massive inroads towards the huge Dalit population in this country.

As a part of this homogenisation project, educational institutions which have always harboured the kind of politics which does not agree with the prevailing narrative are being routinely targeted. If we analyse from this perspective we shall understand why BJP leader Subramanian Swamy called Jawaharlal Nehru University ‘a den of naxalism’, and why people who questioned the moral authority of the protesting students at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), just because they supposedly take narcotics or other addictive substances. The remark on the AMU is also similar on this line. The sole purpose of this kind of remark is to question the very legitimacy of these institutions and negate the kind of politics or the cultural ethos that prevail over there. In the case of AMU, it is more of a cultural project because it is one of those campuses in India where a large number of minority students study and exercise their cultural freedom.

In this entire scheme of things, there exists a two-way methodology. At one hand the BJP, after having assumed the unprecedented majority at the Parliament is making significant policy-level changes, especially in the field of education by implanting people who hold proximity to the Hindu Right (at times incapable people as has happened at the FTII, Pune). They are expected to take important decisions pertaining to matters such as the syllabi, appointment of faculties, etc. in order to ensure that the kind of consciousness that the BJP or most importantly the RSS seeks to create, is generated in these institutions.

On the other hand are the foot soldiers such as those of the Hindu Yuva Vahini who brazenly make communal remarks or undertake forced religious conversion projects such as ‘ghar wapsi’ undertaken by Dharma Jagran Manch at Agra. The purpose of these things is to polarise the already volatile situation especially in North India which bears rich political dividends.

The results of such regressive politics would certainly be ill-bearing for the nation. Leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi are branding their form of aggressive Muslim identity politics as a reactionary approach to what is being promoted by the Hindu Right. Things become worse when even educational institutions are dragged in the dirt as it is being done right now. It has become essential for students, secular citizens and intellectuals to fight back against this and it should be done with a sense of urgency because India has already started to resemble a boiling cauldron.

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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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