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This Is Why The ‘Senseless’ Display Of ‘Nationalism’ By Some Makes No Sense To Me

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By Shasya Goel:

Lawyers shout slogans outside the Patiala House court in New Delhi, India, February 19, 2016. Dozens of lawyers on Friday held a protest march demanding action against what they call "anti-nationalists" supporting Kanhaiya Kumar, a Jawaharlal Nehru University student union leader accused of sedition. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee - RTX27OMT
Image Credit: Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Watch out for the new catch-phrase doing the rounds in our country. And beware, lest you commit the mortal sin of speaking that which goes against the ‘democratic’ framework of our motherland, and never see the light of day again.

Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh released a statement in retaliation to the ongoing protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University: “If anyone raises anti-India slogans, tries to raise questions on the country’s unity and integrity, they will not be spared.”

I wonder if it ever occurred to him how ridiculous he sounds talking about the country’s unity and integrity in the same breath as this threat of not ‘sparing’ anyone. According to them, true unity is displayed not by standing in solidarity with the Kashmiris struggling with a veritable military occupation, but by suppressing dissent that threatens to break their narrow version of the country.

A Ph.D. scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sandhya Devesan Nambiar shared her opinion over accusations hurled at the university for breeding anti-nationals. “Unfortunately, there’s something people don’t realise about JNU. We love the people of this country, the poor, the Dalit, the marginalised, the voiceless, and we uphold their fundamental liberties at any cost. When the state itself becomes their oppressor, we have courage enough to question such action, and humanity enough to adopt their lives and causes as our own. The state, however, is a big entity with quite a few resources to potentially sell manufactured truths to a gullible few, who are too eager to write off the many faults of the state and forget these poor beaten down lives, in return for comfortable lives of their own. But thankfully they are only a few, and the ones who understand that power can be abused repeatedly and speak out against it, are many. We hold hands with them, and invite the rest for a conversation over chai.”

Let us put it simply. When you arrest people like Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU’s Students’ Union President and charge him with ‘sedition’, it is because you give them a reason for such a ‘violation’. At a time when the demand for free speech has reached a new high, perhaps it is not a very good idea to do its exact opposite and curb dialogue that enables the youth to express and engage in an open forum on issues that directly affect them.

Amidst this uproar, a famous quote by Henry David Thoreau describes the sentiments of JNU students very well. “If injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go. Perchance it will wear smooth – certainly the machine will wear out. But if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

But the sad truth is that the ‘agents of injustice’ are hell bent on breaking those who attempt to fight injustice. After a series of horrific events, another incident that took the country by storm is a video that shows BJP MLA O.P. Sharma beating up a CPI activist outside the gate of the Patiala House Court. On being questioned over this brutal assault, Mr. Sharma responded,

“I would have opened fire if I had a gun. If someone abuses our mother, won’t I beat him up.”

Sure, raising slogans that question a judicial hanging, right to freedom of speech, and better standards of living for the oppressed is nothing but ‘anti-national’ rhetoric! But in no way do acts of physical violence or death threats fall within the boundaries of being a nationalist. In fact, if you call yourself a patriot, such a display of undying ‘devotion’ and ‘loyalty’ towards the nation only goes to show your ‘anti-human’ disposition. It entails no responsibility on one’s part to show the same virtues towards a fellow man, as towards the nation.

Does it not make more sense to worry about how our actions affect the lives of people? Is it not people that comprise the nation? The idea of a nation is nothing but an abstract concept which requires people to work together to build it from scratch so that they can call it a nation. It is our relentless struggle, years of discourse and discussions, and constant battle against elements that threaten freedom, that has led to the rise of this nation.

The real problem arises when the idea of ‘nationality’ becomes a social construct to be safeguarded by a display of senseless jingoism. Or when the need to direct public glare away from incessant goof ups makes it imperative to scuttle around calling oneself a true patriot to curtail debates about governance.

A beautiful analogy comes to mind as one thinks of George Orwell’s masterpiece Animal Farm. In this dystopian novella, animals rise to mutiny and drive away the drunken and irresponsible farmer Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it ‘Animal Farm’. They adopt the ‘Seven Commandments of Animalism’, the most important of which is, “All animals are equal.”

But gradually, de facto power is exercised by a group of pigs who start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” At the end, when the animals looked from pigs to humans, they realised they could no longer distinguish between the two.

And sadly, neither can we.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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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