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What Would An ‘Akhand Bharat’ Be Like If The ‘Dream’ Were To Actually Come True?

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By Gurucharan Jaykris:

An Indian border security soldier (R) and Pakistani rangers (L) perform during a parade during a retreat ceremony at the Indo-Pak Joint check post in Wagha, December 30, 2004. Sector commanders of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistani rangers met in the Wagha border town to share intelligence and exchange legal help against drug trafficking. REUTERS/Munish Sharma SD/CN - RTRJ8ZB
Image credit: Reuters/Munish Sharma.

Hearing the very name ‘Akhand Bharat’ or a united subcontinent makes people both joyous, ambitious and sometimes even outraged. Questions arise, like how two famed rival countries–India and Pakistan–would bind together after the bloody history they have shared characterised by brutal exchanges ever since the horrific Partition left the land that they occupy in tatters?

If reunification ever happens again with the goodwill of well-wishers from both sides of the border, how would this Akhand Bharat really look like? What would be its mysterious borders? Would the few Indian bureaucrats who have been busy depicting ‘Pakistan’ as this dreary monster inflicting terror and evil ever be comfortable with the dilution of their authority and power? Wouldn’t Pakistan sense that its autonomy will be taken away by religious extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who might not necessarily be interested in greater peace in South Asia. Maybe they only view this as a mere reclaim of territory in the Indian subcontinent that is said to have once belonged to an ancient ‘India’.

There’s no attempt being made here to level any serious allegations against the RSS. But certain insensitive statements that could incite communal disharmony being periodically uttered by RSS spokespersons is largely sufficient to create adequate apprehensions in Pakistan while considering the possibility of this long-cherished dream of many – the ‘Akhand Bharat’.

To add further fuel to the fire, there has been a lot of reluctance to diplomatically engage with each other on both sides. There are frequent firings across contested areas like Siachen and many Army personnel have sacrificed their lives in these conflicts. It is testament to the decades of bad blood between these two countries. Another important question that needs to be answered is whether Akhand Bharat is confined only to India and Pakistan. How would other countries in this region eventually respond to this mega initiative?

Examining these questions makes one extremely dizzy and leaves one with two desirable routes that an Akhand Bharat can take in the future. That is if it is agreed to and seriously considered with conviction by all players in the region. One, giving up after being pressed with the challenges mentioned above, or two, pursuing this matter after considerably altering the nature of ‘Akhand Bharat’ from what is suggested by extremists from the RSS. The latter would surely be better for addressing the problems faced by the conflict-ridden South Asian region.

However, one needs to examine if territorial integration is possible in the first place. If not, South Asian countries, especially India and Pakistan, should, at least, push for a comprehensive peace agreement recognising cultural similarities and greater cooperation in handling religious extremist groups and armed groups on both sides of the border. Of course, this would be an Akhand Bharat qualitatively very different from the one being propagated by the RSS.

Such an initiative would help these countries tackle the extra-territorial pressures of cold war and intervention of superpowers in regional affairs. Jammu and Kashmir would no longer stand as a stumbling block between these countries’ engagements with each other, economic or otherwise. What is more, the extravagant expenditure on arms and ammunitions could be directed towards tackling widespread poverty in these regions. It would also help countries like India which are facing territorial conflicts with China keep pace with China’s aggressive stand in the region. Most importantly, the dreams of many peace lovers would come true.

Thus, examining the fragile nature of Akhand Bharat, it’s evident that we can’t really ignore this initiative given that a more inclusive version of Akhand Bharat is something mandatory and very relevant. Something on these lines could be considered if South Asian countries have to resolve their conflicts and pursue their economic development without any hindrance given that the future of generations to come depends on the untapped resources and business opportunities in this region.

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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.”

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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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