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Ground Report: When Hundreds Of Journalists Marched In Protest For Their ‘Right To Report’

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By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Protesting the assault on their colleagues covering the trial of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president, yesterday at Patiala House Court by lawyers and a BJP MLA, journalists took out a March in Central Delhi on 16th February.

Around 350 to 400 journalists, including senior ones like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Siddharth Varadarajan, Seema Mustafa, and others attended the protest march and demonstration which started from the Press Club of India and proceeded to the Supreme Court of India. However, the police contingent which arrived soon after the march started did not allow the protestors to march till the SC. The police contingent walked by the protesters as they marched and raised slogans like “Delhi police haye haye”, while also demanding the resignation of the police commissioner B.S.Bassi for his allegedly callous attitude towards the issue.

pci pic 7
Left to right: Rajdeep Sardesai, Nadeem Ahmad Kazmi, Barkha Dutt, Siddharth Varadarajan

A delegation of journalists met Home Minister Rajnath Singh to discuss the events that transpired on 15th February. According to reports, journalists, faculty members from JNU and students who were present at the Court were assaulted by a group of lawyers who claimed that their targets were “anti-nationals.”

Dutt, whose book ‘The Unquiet Land’ has just come out was heard claiming that the recent events and their coverage showed that there was a feud among journalists themselves over issues related to nationalism. When I asked Nadeem Ahmad Kazmi, Secretary of the Press Club of India, how he saw the issue, he told me that while the Press Club of India office bearers did not support the statements that were made at another event organised on its premises where issues related to Afzal Guru’s hanging were discussed, they condemned the attack on journalists, and the academic community at the Court. “Freedom of Speech is guaranteed in the Constitution. What kind of democracy is this where the media is threatened?”

Kazmi also stressed on the need for journalists to “unite” regardless of their differences.

Valay Singh, a freelance journalist who participated in the protest, told me that the logic “anti-Modi is anti-national” was unviable. “This seems to be an attempt to crush dissent in the country,” he told me. He also pointed out that the assault on protestors could not have been without the “tacit approval of the police.”

pci 1Ajoy Ashirwad, a journalist with Frontline, told me that he was among the journalists who had assembled at the Court premises. According to Ashirwad, around 50 to 60 lawyers assaulted the students and journalists. He also told me that female reporters were also beaten up and even sexually harassed. “Television journalists were especially badly beaten up as they were unable to leave their equipment,” said Ashirwad. He also told me that the police did nothing to save those being assaulted. “The police just stood by, watching the violence. I have heard of police standing by and doing nothing at times, but it was the first time I experienced it first hand myself. They were at least 200 in numbers whereas the mob was made up of only 50 to 60 people and they could have done something,” he told me, adding that “many women journalists complained of being touched inappropriately.” A woman journalist from NDTV bore particular brunt of the assault, he said. A faculty member from JNU and ex- JNUSU president Rohit Azad was also beaten up. “(I) was beaten up but that makes our fight even stronger,” he told me in a Facebook chat.

pci 2Akshay Deshmane, a journalist from Economic Times was also physically assaulted. He was present at the venue and narrated his ordeal. “Had we retaliated, we could have found ourselves being accused in the matter,” he told me.

A group of lawyers also marched and demonstrated their solidarity with the journalists. Kabir Dixit, one of the lawyers present, told me that they condemned the action of their colleagues. “This sort of an attack is an attack on the rule of law and the very foundation of the idea of justice,” Dixit said. The lawyers faced some tense moments initially as some of the journalists present did not seem to appreciate their presence but later they raised slogans of solidarity along with journalists chiming in.

Photos by Abhimanyu Singh

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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