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Is The Right-Wing Trying To Paint The Nation Saffron In The Name Of ‘Nationalism’?

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By Nijam Gara:

cultural nationalism indiaAccording to the eminent historian Benedict Anderson, a ‘nation’ is an imagined community. This community typically shares a common language or, at least, a common culture. Only then does the imagination hold a contextual meaning to it. While that is evident in the case of many modern western nation-states, what about India? Our country has more differences than commonalities. With 22 official languages and cultures that change from state to state, or even within a state, our sense of a nation is virtually an imagined notion.

The geographical concept of India as we see it today has been thrust upon us by ‘white’ colonial rulers. And since then, we have been trying to box ourselves into this idea of one nation. Of course, this has given us a common identity and, perhaps, helped us Indians bond together in spite having such disparate cultures. But can centuries of oppression be remedied under the garb of nationalism?

The idea of the modern nation-state of India, as envisaged by Jawaharlal Nehru and our constitutional architect Ambedkar, was supposed to make us leap past feudalism, casteism, and religious fundamentalism. Certainly, progress has been made but judging by the turmoil today, the right-wing seems hell-bent on reversing this by painting the country with a saffron brush. They want to foist an imagined ‘India’ and prescribe a particular definition of nation and nationalism that ignores the inherent schisms in our society.

A nation consists of people and not just land said Gurazada Apparao, an eminent Telugu poet. So what good is a nation that ignores the sentiments of its people? Can we use the same yardstick to measure the feelings of nationalism in a Dalit sanitation worker and a privileged army general? Is Irom Sharmila less of an Indian for protesting against the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act? Does Killing Mohammad Akhlaq for eating mutton make the angry mob that lynched him more Indian? Why is a tainted MLA in Gujarat out on bail despite being convicted for instigating mob violence in 2002 while a student leader of one of the most prestigious universities is languishing in judicial custody (booked under the draconian sedition law) for making a speech that was unsavory to the ruling elite? Ambani pilfering natural oil reserves in the Krishna-Godavari basin thanks to the largesse of elected governments (both Congress and non-Congress) does not count as an ‘anti-India’ act? Big corporate honchos can default on thousands of crores of public sector bank loans and yet be honoured with Padma Bhushans and Vibhushans but Dalit scholars are not paid their stipends for sharing their views on facebook?

On another level, when a government wishes to curtail the basic freedoms of its citizens in the name of nationalism, it should be equally accountable for its responsibilities towards the citizens. The alacrity with which it has acted to rusticate ‘anti-national’ students from Hyderabad Central University, that ultimately led to Rohith Vemula’s death, is missing when it comes to preventing the massacre of innocent people in Muzaffarnagar. The enthusiasm it showed in arresting Kanhaiya Kumar is clearly lacking when it comes to investigating the cold-blooded murder of more than 20 Dalit labourers by the Andhra Pradesh police in the forests of Tirupathi.

It is thus abundantly clear that the government has little regard for the Dalits and Muslims of this country. This seems to be an extension of the Vedic law whereby a Dalit speaking ‘out of turn’ is to be dealt with severely. Countless examples from the famed Puranas (such as Sambuka, Ekalavya, etc.) are just being replayed in real life by the right-wing power that now have a majority in government thanks to the media-created Modi mania. There is clearly a war on Dalits, Muslims and liberals in the country.

If we compare what is going on today in India with perhaps the most modern nation-state, the USA, ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ supporters were never labeled anti-national or seditious by the government. Since our leaders are all too eager to import American capitalism, why not take a leaf out of their book on how to handle student protests?

But, is there a silver lining in all this despotism that is being perpetuated in our nation? Ironically, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party from its battered Jan Sangh days offers an example. The right-wing has been able to spread its political tentacles in the country thanks to the Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi. Similarly, the strong show of strength by agitating liberal students across universities amidst the repressive tactics of the Modi government today will hopefully pave the way for a much-needed, truly liberal political force in the country.

Perhaps, unwittingly, the Manuvadis’ display of power is only leading to a previously unseen unity among Dalits, Muslims and likeminded liberals in the country. As J.R.R. Tolkien states, “…Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”

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  1. fsd

    Muslims are branded as fundamentalist if there is a fight between muslims and liberals, Dalits become hindutavadis if there is a fight between dalits and muslims and OBC are abused as brahmanical manuvadis if there is a fight betwen dalit and BC’s Is this the coalition you are talking about. Because what Hyderabad and Muzzafarnagar made absoultely clear, is that the coalition you are talking about is more wishful thinking than any solid reality.

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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.

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 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.”

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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
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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