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Ground Report: In A Show Of Unity, Almost 5000 March For Rohith, Kanhaiya And Others

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By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

23rd rally 1In a historic development, the issues of caste and class came together yesterday at a rally organised to mark the suicide of Rohith Vemula and protest the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNUSU president, apart from sedition charges slapped on five other students.

Around 5000 people attended the rally, according to rough estimates.

Participants in the rally said that although the intent to bring together the two issues was laudable, it was far from merged and needed to be worked out better. Shehla Rashid from JNU and Prakash Ambedkar mentioned in their speeches the need for unity between the two movements.

The rally saw several organisations participating, and raising slogans on their own, thus making it somewhat “chaotic”, according to several protesters I spoke to. Initially, when the protesters reached Jantar Mantar, announcements were made that the blue flags – symbolising Dalit pride and unity – needed to be respected better.

23rd rally 3In terms of speeches too, it was only Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal among the politicians who seemed to hit the right spots. Others like Brinda Karat of the CPM, D. Raja of the CPI and Rahul Gandhi spoke before the Delhi CM but were unable to rouse the students. According to Ajay, one of the protesters, that could have been because the crowd was already well-aware of what was at stake and quite dedicated which made the speeches a matter of “preaching to the converted.”

In his speech, the Delhi CM took clear aim at the central government. “No one’s acche din ( good days) are here but bure din (bad days) for women, minority, Dalits, students, have arrived one by one,” he said to a thunderous applause.

The gathering was also addressed by the mother of Rohith, who demanded that the Rohith Act to stop victimisation of Dalits students should be put in place.

23rd rally 4The rally saw the unique spectacle of a collective of performance artists registering their concerns using their bodies. Chimuk, one of the three artists from the collective told me that the “body was the highest form of politics on which to visualise (the impact) of everyday politics.” Covering his face entirely with a silvery material which heated up quickly before cooling down on its own, he told me that “this was an attempt to understand the pain (of the protesters)”, and that this also represented the highs and lows of a movement. Chimuk also told me that people associated with various struggles and movements needed to communicate better amongst themselves. “Yesterday, my friends went to Chhattisgarh Bhavan to protest (the attack on Soni Sori) but they did not get enough support. This means the communication is not adequate.”

23rd rally 5Nevertheless, a popular opinion among the protesters was that the arrest of Kanhaiya and subsequent developments had united the Left and even created conditions for a possible revival of its past glory.

The Amberdkarite movement also seemed to have received a new impetus and writings of Ambedkar and even t-shirts were on sale at the rally.

Vishal Sherwal from Bahujan Unnati Book Centre, a shop that had been operational in Shahdara for the last three years, had a stall at Jantar Mantar selling Ambedkarite literature. He told me that he had set up a stall at Gwalior also where a JNU professor from the sociology department was shot at. “The RSS people vandalised our shop too. Three- four people from our team were injured,” Sherwal told me. He added that he had a government job and volunteered at the book-shop on weekends. “The response (from the reading public) has been very good, across the country.”

Asked about the impact of Vemula’s suicide, he told me, “he slept off himself but woke up others.” Sherwal added that even all the collected works of Ambedkar had not been put in print yet. “The day that happens, Brahminism would be demolished. Real revolution would take place that day.”

23rd rally 6

 

 

Photographs by: Tanushree Bhasin.

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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.

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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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