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The Problem Is Not With The Decay Of State Machinery, It Is With Our Loss Of Tolerance

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By Salman Faheem:

If revolutionary Mangal Pandey would have been alive today, he would have wept an ocean of tears. The revolt of 1857 happens to be one of the epitomes of Hindu-Muslim unity in our country. But it is the adversity and misfortune of India that the very thing that kept our forefathers united against the British, that very Beef and Pork has now divided us into two halves. Now, there is an India that wants freedom to eat whatever they want without being subjected to questions and suspicions. There also exists an India where pork and beef has become a sacriligious cuisine, and eating beef may amount to harsh criticism or even death. This is evident from the recent lynching of a 50-year-old man in Bisada village of Uttar Pradesh adjoining the national capital.

Image source: Blogspot
Image source: Blogspot

An infuriated mob attacked the peaceful house of late Mohammad Akhlaq on the pretext of him storing and eating beef. He was beaten to death, while his son was beaten with bricks on the face and chest till he turned unconscious. This incident has sparked various debates across the country and on social media too. The murder of a person is a heinous act in itself but what is more disturbing is the murder of tolerance and freedom in the world’s largest democracy. It is ironic that in a country where millions of people sleep on an empty stomach without having even a morsel of food, where people even die of hunger sometimes, a man gets death for filling his stomach. Reports suggest that there were announcements in the nearby temple of beef being stored in Akhlaq’s house and by the onset of the night his house was sabotaged by some 200 men who killed him remorselessly. It is to be noted that one of Akhlaq’s sons is serving in the Indian Air force.

The police force as usual arrived late at the scene, did its moral duty of sending the confiscated meat for lab testing to ascertain whether it was beef or not. Even if the tests are positive, will it justify the killing of a human being, will it justify vigilantism that is slowly creeping into the country in the name of religion? Political parties too have started looking at this incident with their own spectacles. Samajwadi Party cries foul and blames the BJP, the BJP leaders have termed the incident as an accident and some are even considering it as reaction-worthy for killing the holy animal. A BJP leader purportedly has proposed yet another ‘Mahapanchayat‘, because it believes that the victims, Akhlaq and his son were guilty of murder of the holy cow. Amidst such political imbroglio the Muslims of the village have thought of leaving the village to a safer place, they only stopped after the district administration persuaded them not to do so. With his death Mr. Akhlaq has posed a series of questions before us, and the current government. Will his death stop Indians from eating beef? Will his death stop the Union of India from exporting beef? Will India act towards such incidents? Will the Prime Minister of India break his silence towards such horrible murders?

I don’t have any complaints towards the BJP and RSS, they do what they have been doing since time immemorial and their ideology isn’t hidden from anyone. But what is the so-called secular Samajwadi Party doing? Since it assumed office in 2012, there have been communal incidents, riots, lynching, etc. This clearly exposes the failure of the government to protect its citizens and to maintain law and order. The state has turned into a boiling cauldron, where communal incidents occur at the drop of a hat. The government’s ubiquitous claims of other parties such as the BJP and BSP causing these incidents can no longer be entertained. It is a common scenario where after every such incident, the ruling Samajwadi Party and the BJP start pointing fingers at each other while their own politicians further vitiate the atmosphere with their speeches. In the light of this incident, the claims of the Samajwadi Party being secular appears to be a sham. With this incident, the SP government’s secular credentials are at stake and they have to act in an unfazed and unbiased manner so that such incidents aren’t repeated or even envisaged.

The problem isn’t just political provocation and it isn’t about the failure of the executive machinery of a state. Problem is the slow death of tolerance amongst us Indians. It distresses me that our conscience has become so ineffectual that we disregard every human emotion and sentiment in the face of hatred, in the name of religion. If storing and eating beef amounts to death in India, then where exactly are we heading to? Freedom of all sorts is quintessential for a country’s progress, that freedom includes the freedom to eat according to one’s choice.

The thought that what happened to Akhlaq could happen to any of us, scares me to my core. If we shut our eyes to such incidents, we will be equally responsible for any such incident that may re-occur in future. It is time we unequivocally denounce such violence and advocate tolerance. Religion, be it any, promotes peace and tolerance, and sanctity of human life is vociferously professed in all religions. It is completely understandable that bovines are holy to a certain population of India in the same way pork is profane to another, but the problem arises when one forces their opinions, their likes and dislikes over another.

It is no secret to anybody that since the past few months the pluralism of this country has been affected with a series of bans, draconian legislations and acts. This poses a serious threat to our country’s security. There have been attempts to divide this country on communal lines and to some extent such communal forces have succeeded due to our negligence and complacency. The government must know that such bans and schemes have created a vaccum for fringe elements amongst all communities. If such fringe elements and their actions are entertained even in the slightest amount by the government, it would tarnish the image of our country. The country is at a very crucial stage or at crossroads I must say, and from here we can either go towards development and be the role model for other developing nations or we can go back to the times where India would be divided on religious grounds. Our Prime Minister is pitching for a permanent seat in the UN security council and he inexhaustibly speaks of ‘Make In India’ and ‘Digital India’ but his prolonged silence on these untoward incidents and killings is perturbing.

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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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