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Can You Land In Legal Trouble For Serving Meat On Gandhi Jayanti? At My Hostel, Yes

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By Tania Kar:

My university is in the news. In the last couple of weeks, it has got more attention than ever and for all the wrong reasons. After my admission, EFLU became not only my university but also my home. Everything that happens on the campus both concerns and affects me directly, and no, I cannot just attend classes and concentrate on academics, simply because my Vice Chancellor (VC) thinks that’s what I am here for (‘the students are here to study, not to get into administration’ according to her.)

Image source: Tania Kar
Image source: Tania Kar

Our VC along with her colleagues in the apex body of higher education in India envisages a new kind of University. This new conception of higher education looks at students as beings who are essentially juvenile hence in need of disciplining, with the university as a space where such training can be imparted. To facilitate such training one has to ensure that no voice of dissent, disagreement or acts of resistance emerge out of the body of students. University managements go all the way to ensure that their desired academic climate is maintained and guide students who essentially do not understand their own ‘good’. If any aberration or exception arises in the process, necessary disciplinary steps are taken to set an example and uphold the desired value system.

I am a resident of the Mahalaqua Bai Chanda hostel for women, whose mess secretary was issued a show cause recently for serving chicken on 2nd October, celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti. This was a Friday, usually a non-veg day in the mess. Now as much as we all are aware of Gandhi’s propagation of ahimsa, we are also aware that it is not ‘illegal’ to consume any form of meat on this day. The Indian Constitution too has not imposed any ‘ban’ on the same. If Gandhi talked about ahimsa, he also spoke of tolerance. However, my university administration thought it prudent to quickly react to an imprudent, unresearched news article which mentioned this incident, by asking the mess secretaries why disciplinary action should not be taken against them in twin show cause letters issued to mess secretaries of the women’s and the men’s hostel, who happen to be fellow students. Moreover, the head cook was also made to pay for the entire amount of chicken bought on this day.

EFLU Heritage well poster
Image source: Tania Kar

Both of the students escaped ‘further action’ through apology letters to the competent authority, the general atmosphere of apprehension and threat made prevalent by the administration kept them from coming out in open or even talking to their fellow students about the issue. Our VC has an eye on all of us (literally, as the campus is littered with CCTV cameras that can catch you off guard; though, there are no signboards stating that you are under surveillance; this makes the authorities nothing short of paranoid voyeurs).

The next show cause was served to Arjab Sarkar, a fellow student, for voicing his opinion on the ‘Clean EFLU’ campaign (which is part of the Swachh Bharat campaign) on Facebook. The status update which invited the show cause read as follows:

Obscenities in EFLU! The ugly kitsch of our national government. Note the absence of such strongly highlighted commandments to take up the burden of cleanliness on ourselves, in the corridors and bathrooms of our hostels. Because that space is reserved exclusively for our sweepers. Let them clean up the real filth while we do the simple job of tossing a cup in the bin and feel proud as citizens of this country.”

The protests that naturally followed these unacceptable show causes were dealt with more notices. Twelve students, including bachelors, masters and research scholars were handed out notices for leading the protests.

A very common way to look at young people, be it inside a university/college space or outside, has been that of suspicion as potential troublemakers. Coupled with this is the (often unwelcome) desire to lead us in the right direction, guide us, take care of us, protect us and tell us what is to be done. This comes from a Hobbes-ian presumption about the nature of man- that if left to himself, man cannot manage himself and his life. Thus, intervention is a must. Rules and regulations must be formulated, and strict codes are to be followed. Once the codes are formulated, and conducts are prescribed, a paranoia emerges, a pathological fear of sedition, of breaching of rules grips the authority and as a reaction emerges the intense desire of surveillance which in turn renders life paralytic.

Problematizing the field of freedom of speech and questioning its legitimacy in the modern world, Ronald Dworkin in his essay wrote:

“fair democracy requires what we might call a democratic background… it requires that each citizen have not just a vote but a voice: a majority decision is not fair unless everyone has had a fair opportunity to express his or her attitudes or opinions or fears or tastes or presuppositions or prejudices or ideals, not just in the hope of influencing others, though that hope is crucially important, but also just to confirm his or her standing as a responsible agent in, rather than a passive victim of, collective action.”

When will we be considered grown up? It is essential to never deny an individual his status of individuality and agency, age being a factor that should not matter. To reflect on what my VC has to say, about most of the current student community, not only of EFLU, but nationwide, “they will be leading the nation for the next 20, 30, 40 years” so “we should train them well, teach them…”. This is a ridiculous statement coming from a vice chancellor who refuses to meet her students, grant audience to any of their issues. She arrives on campus under tight security (we are yet to figure out what or whom she is afraid of) and the whole administrative block comes under a lock down when she is in office. Now the question is if they want us to be responsible, why try to tell us what to do at every step? If they want us to be righteous in all circumstances, why threaten us with disciplinary action at every step?

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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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