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Why I Hope Student Politics In India Doesn’t Follow Pakistan’s Example

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By Zaboor Ahmad:

Image Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi.

Hindutva, in its modern political avatar, can be postulated to be an attempt to attain a purely ‘Hindu Rashtra’. It is to be done through political mobilisation, controlling cultural institutions with the full backing of the government and putting in place the right people who can serve the purpose. In fact, India is morphing the same way that Pakistan did.

The demolition of Babri Mosque was preceded by an attempt to saffronise the society in India by right-wing elements while their counterparts in Pakistan did the same to Islamise the society from below. Now, power and authority is in their hands and the state can be effectively constructed from above. Of course, in Pakistan, it tore apart the very fabric of society which is exactly what appears to be happening in India. Hindutva has found a presence in the psyche of the youth, with student politics and politics in general becoming fundamentalist in orientation in India.

Soon after the formation of Pakistan, colleges and universities were overwhelmed by the student wing of the Muslim League known as Muslim Students Federation, which was rooted in a modernist tradition. But the infighting within the MSF led to other groups becoming more dominant like the Democratic Students Federation linked with the Communist Party of Pakistan.

But it was another group, inspired by the ideology of Maulana Maududi, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, or the Islamic students’ federation, which subsequently carved out for itself ideological influence in educational institutions. It came to occupy elected bodies in colleges and universities. It vehemently opposed the secular policies of Ayub Khan. Simultaneously, it checked the growth of the secular and progressive forces. It distributed pro-Islam, but often anti-social, literature and engaged in clashes with leftist groups across the country. Leftists accused IJT of being bankrolled by the CIA to contain the influence of communists given the context of the Cold War.

The battles between Islamic forces and liberal, leftist students’ unions were fought through the elections to the college and university student bodies. These battles often spilled over to the roads and streets. With the rise of Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, an already strong IJT established a foothold across the various universities despite facing a debacle in student elections of 1983. While Zia imposed a ban on students’ unions the following year, the IJT’s influence continued to grow. The supposedly apolitical but puritanical Tablighi Jamat began gathering the masses in privately owned colleges. The fallout of all this was the emergence of an intolerant and conservative generation of young Pakistanis. A similar situation is emerging in India. But, often, direct parallels are hard to draw as Indian society is more resilient.

The right-wing forces believe that atheism is exotic (‘videshi’) culture. Beyond any shade of doubt it is Swadeshi culture. Banaras Hindu University has sought the help of experts to teach the students the ‘ills’ of western civilisation. As if everything else is alright with our civilisation. The project is meant to curb this growing proclivity towards atheism in India. Around three million people in India fall in the category of ‘religion not stated‘, read atheists and agnostics, if the census of 2011 is to be believed. The point to ponder over for the Hindutva brigade is that this category of people has shown exponential expansion from around seven lakhs shown in the census of 2001. More than the growth of any religious community, it is the atheists who have grown the most. In fact, their numbers have grown around four times in over a decade.

Hindutva rhetoric, though, seeks to change the puzzling scenario by attacking the rationalists whose beliefs are now thought to blaspheme Hinduism. The author Perumal Murugan gave up writing under pressure from Hindutva forces. Anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar was killed in Pune. M. M. Kalburgi, a Kannadiga rationalist had a running feud with the Hindutva brigade.

It so happens that religious skepticism and heterodoxy has been the genetic trait of Indian culture. If India makes a claim to the status of civilisation, there are many things it can’t leave out. Atheistic schools like that of Charvaka had emerged in Indian civilisation well before the Christian Era and a lot of their beliefs have been preserved in our ancient literature. Also, Lord Rama is lectured by a great scholar Jabali on the folly of his Dharmic beliefs in Ramayana. The only religion which is fully agonistic in the world is Buddhism, and it emerged in India.

The worrisome thing in the case of India is that India and its society is being polarised. The most prestigious institutes in India have been made into a battleground to score political points. The fallout will be the churning out of a youth which would not only be communal but also parochial in outlook.

Establishing and promoting the scientific educational institutes and then expecting that religious beliefs will not be under fire is a big error of judgement.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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