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How The Sedition Law Is A “Heinous Onslaught On The Noble Idea Of Freedom Of Speech”

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By Irfan Yousf:

law hammer justice legalA premier institute of India, Jawaharlal Nehru University, is under severe attack by the ‘pseudo-nationalists’ of India. It all started on 9th February when, under the guise of a cultural event, some people allegedly chanted provocative anti-India and pro-Afzal slogans. Since then, it has snowballed into a major controversy, tarnishing the image of the very institute which throughout its existence has stood for the rights of underprivileged, rendered voice to the voiceless. An institution that has been a showcase of equality and a template for a casteless society which is otherwise hard to find in any other part of India.

The whole episode has boiled down to the question of ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘sedition’. Sedition, as a tool to muzzle every voice that speaks against the injustice and tyranny of the men in power, has been in vogue since colonial times. But unfortunately, post-Independence, this potent tool has been constantly used to silence the voice of dissent. It undermines the basic fundamental right of freedom of expression that is guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Sedition itself is anti-national in nature and character. Its unfettered use has time and again violated the noble and cherished fundamental right to freedom of speech. What constitutes sedition is quite vague and ambiguous. It seems that everything which happens to offend the present dispensation could be sedition. One should not worry about being charged under this draconian law while speaking one’s heart out.

Quite obviously, freedom of speech isn’t unbridled. It ought to be limited. But limitations should be based on reason and rationality which still leaves wide space for its use and interpretation. To maintain the sanctity of this noble idea, one must respect this right by regulating one’s own speech and behaviour. But its sacredness can be upheld not by observing silence but by speaking out against inequality, injustice and giving voice to the underprivileged and voiceless. This was the underlying idea of incorporating it as a fundamental right in the Indian constitution.

But sedition is a heinous onslaught on the noble idea of freedom of speech, promoted and cherished by the founding fathers of this nation. It must be resisted in every form. It is high time that we do away with this archaic and draconian colonial invention, meant to silence dissent. A nation is ‘by the people’ and not the other way around. The idea of a nation hardly connotes anything meaningful to a hungry man, a slum dweller, to the underprivileged sections of society, to the ones who can’t afford good health and a dignified life. When in such case, the idea of ‘nation’ is preferred to the needs of the ones who give it its very essence and meaning, it renders the idea shallow.

Much energy is invested by our pseudo-intellectuals and the government to promote this idea of a nation where the people who give it its essence are being treated as trash. Empower the powerless. It could be the best and amicable way to give birth to feelings of nationalism in their hearts rather than forcing it upon them. Sedition would only breed hatred and it would harm the very idea of oneness which is the basic underlying assumption of the idea of ‘nation’.

Now, the media. Freedom of speech is what in reality gives teeth to the ‘fourth estate’ of democracy that is the media. This is what makes this pillar of democracy powerful enough to provide a platform to the masses so that their voice could be heard by those who are at the helm of affairs. Media is supposed to exist as a platform for the formation of public opinion. Impartiality is the principle which they are supposed to abide by. It is not meant to deliver judgments and draw conclusions but to further the idea of deliberation and discourse which forms the basis of public opinion. But the JNU crises presents us with a different reality. The reality that some media outlets have started to pronounce judgment on this whole episode without digging deep enough to find out the truth has left the lives of thousands of students in danger.

These media outlets have come up with such concocted conspiracy theories that the ‘yellow’ colour itself would hesitate to allow its use to label their unethical practice as ‘yellow journalism’. The only thing which seems to makes sense to them is ‘TRP’. Most of the media outlets are owned by big corporate houses so they would tread cautiously and as such would not take a stand which happens to offend the government or their corporate bosses. So, the fourth pillar is virtually on the verge of corrosion. The day is not far when it would be doomed forever if it continues to be hand in glove with those who are hell bent on stifling and suppressing the voice of voiceless.

Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say but I shall defend till the death your right to say it.” The idea of freedom of speech should be nurtured and inculcated as it helps to create an environment where mutual respect would be the basis of dialogue and deliberation. You can win hearts by words not by force. Force would only foster the already prevailing feeling of alienation. There can be no alternative to the idea of discourse and discussion. These are the true ideals of democracy which need to be protected and promoted across the socio-political spectrum in order to promote the healthy idea of nationalism and democracy where people are the core of the nation and not vice versa.

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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, 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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