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Police Brutality At Hyderabad Hints At A Dangerous Future For Dissent In India

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By Tanvi Berwah:

dc-Cover-60irck44cnk5e1ncmi95qmt3f5-20160323152951.MediUniversities are the beds of burgeoning political views and individual thinking. The attendees are no longer children but adults with a broader worldview and access to wider society. This diversity of minds brings in both dissenting views and collaborative ideas. It is how a “whole” individual is developed – socially, spiritually, morally and civilly. The point of higher education is to integrate knowledge with opinions, to develop a cognitive ability that will not always streamline with the “acceptable”.

Suppressing this powerful development tool and forcing assimilation will only lead to a stunted generation that has no awareness of the self, and may be easily replaced with Artificial Intelligence. It will accelerate the emergence of a dystopian landscape where a lack of self-identity merges with intolerance to present a hollowed-out individual, such as the one professed in the Orwellian nightmare, ‘1984’. In this George Orwell masterpiece, the individual is reduced to merely a productive pair of hands owned and manipulated for the benefit of a totalitarian government; existing, without emotions or thinking capabilities, melded uniformly. Individualism is persecuted as the worst kind of sin. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is found guilty of “thought crime” when he falls in love with a woman named Julia. Instead of death which in our reality is the ultimate capital punishment, the two are subjected to severe torture and interrogation, and “re-educated” until they are ‘fit’ to be assimilated into the crowd once again.

Grotesque and hyperbolic as the novel is, it hits home because what else is a “thought crime” but individual thinking? While the state situation may hopefully never come true, the escalating attack on questions raised because of dissenting ideas and thoughts is troubling.

Police brutality is not a novelty; it takes place under the disguise of law and its cruelty an example of what unchecked authoritarian-complex leads to. In one of the most obvious cases in India, P. Rajan, a student in Kerala was tortured and killed during the Emergency, his body never to be recovered.

What allows the state to randomly use torture that might lead to death? What happens when the person is deemed to be proven innocent? Does any action afterward bring back life and dignity?

In Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, a bank officer named Josef K. finds himself arrested inside his house one morning. Upon asking the reason, he’s told that the police don’t “answer questions like that”. He spends the entire novel in an absurd chase to figure a way out of this unfair, inexplicable arrest. Ultimately, he’s exhausted to the point where during his execution, he gives up and dies “like a dog”.

Taking note of the accusations on the Hyderabad Central University students – they may have ransacked property, barged into the office/VC’s lodge. But does audacious entry or broken furniture justify the disproportional use of force by the police?

Will we one day be dealing with the Kafkaesque reality of ‘The Trial’ when state suppression barges in without explanation, detains, and destroys arbitrarily?

Police brutality cannot be quantified. It is relative, easily disguised under “law”, and therefore, a dangerous precedent with immeasurable repercussions. It feeds alienation, creates disillusionment and ultimately explodes in what is conveniently termed “radicalism”.

There stands no justification of this renewed structural violence on the HCU students, predominantly the historically oppressed, except for persecution for their beliefs. They are protesting an unrepentant authority and seeking accountability for the death of Rohith Vemula. It is the recognition of their own oppression that offends the fixed structure.

The reaction of students – not just in HCU – erupting across the country is an existential crisis. Overnight, entire universities are being termed “anti-national” and its students forced to abide by Roman Empire-like brutality of laws that are used chaotically against thoughts and a vision for a dignified, well-lived life.

Josef K.’s prosecutors in ‘The Trial’ were simply “the enormous organization”. For the dissenting and assertive students, it is Brahmanvad and Hindu supremacy. Rohith Vemula’s death, the apex of this clash, is still being dissected in regards to his identity as a Dalit. According to his suicide note, his identity is what he was constrained to, his birth becoming “a fatal accident”. And now, Telangana Home Minister has already pronounced Rohith a non-Dalit even though the police are still investigating the matter. It’s an absurd reality executed by a shackling structure which uses the political power of language to reduce identities to mere words, but only as long as it suits the mainstream narrative.

The struggle between this organised supremacy and its resistors is exhausting, but it is also increasingly enlightening. After all, the breakout of mutinies in the armed services themselves in 1946, although quickly suppressed by the British Raj, found popular support and led to the acceleration of the Labour government’s actions to free India.

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  1. Sovereign Citizen

    Police abuse has been running rampart in America for decades. Mostly because Americans do not know the law themselves, nor do officers. They are actually breaking the law to enforce policy (police). We have always had inalienable Rights like the Right to Travel, or the Right to Bear Arms; but we consent away those rights under contracts like the drivers license.

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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