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Who Decides Where Freedom Of Expression Begins Or Ends (The Answer Is Close To You)

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By Ananya Chitransh:

Freedom_FastIn the wake of the debate ensuing on social media and television, a major chunk of the political class and society is asking – what should be the permissible extent of freedom of expression? What degree of opinion must be accepted?

Dissent: Fundamental To Reason And Rationale

All trouble begins when the system and society start looking upon each form of dissent as a violation. While democracy, democratic values, and faith in institutions should be surging, embracing the individual’s public as well as private life; our society acts more like a selective membrane filtering and passing only those changes that re-enforce trivial notions thereby depriving us of a chance to re-define old values. Much like the old saying – “Every change is acceptable unless it involves oneself.”

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality ― Desmond Tutu

Freedom is not just political or social. It delves deeper spilling into our personal lives, dictating the manner in which we look at the world around us. It may sound Utopian but an idealistic approach while making personal decisions could bring about all the difference.

Dissent is an elementary and indispensable part of human civilization, constantly propelling us towards modernity. At the end of the day, one must remember that it was the dissent of Raja Ram Mohan Roy that led to the abolition of the barbaric Sati tradition (widow-burning). It was the dissent of Savitribai Phule that led her to establish educational centers for girls, acting as a torch-bearer for the rest of the nation promoting education rights for women considered to be taboo at the time (19th Century). It was the dissent of Subhash Chandra Bose that led him to fight for freedom against the British instead of taking up a comfortable job.

A Right, Not Mercy

All citizens of India are guaranteed “the right to freedom of speech and expression” according to Article 19(A) of the Constitution of India. This, however, is not an absolute. Restrictions apply to implement necessary checks and balances so as to safeguard the integrity of the nation and to protect other subjects, but such restrictions must not be used as a mean to curb differences of opinion.

Expressing one’s opinions is a ‘right’ as fundamental as the right to life itself. According to me, the question ‘What should be the extent of freedom of expression?’ is itself an indignation to the sanctity of expression. This a right that the Indian Constitution promises us and isn’t a mercy bestowed upon us by any benevolent entity.

It may also be that we who are used to freedom being served on a platter, are taking it for granted. As a society, have we stopped realizing the importance such rights hold in our lives, in our professions, in our existence?

However, violation and dissent are two completely different terms that are often mistaken for the other and thus must be reconsidered. One shouldn’t simply be able to ‘snatch’ freedom according to their flimsy wishes, as this will in time undermine democracy and institutions and give way to unrest and instability.

Freedom of mind is the real freedom. A person whose mind is not free though he may not be in chains is a slave, not a free man. One whose mind is not free, though he may not be in prison, is a prisoner and not a free man. One whose mind is not free though alive, is no better than dead. Freedom of mind is the proof of one’s existence ― DR. B.R. Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches

Fangs Of Freedom

It ultimately depends on the society as a collective that needs to keep introspecting the impacts of various narratives and discourses because ‘we are what we think’. Whether we want to blunt the fangs of expression or in the course of time sharpen its teeth, is a call we need to take ourselves.

We need to have an opinion on every topic that concerns our society. As they are the ones that are going to determine ours as well as our country’s future. One must realise that fallacy in one’s outlook doesn’t prove the other correct; both of them would be equally muddled with fact and propaganda.

We need to respect ‘not agreeing’ and honour differences of thought, ideology and perception instead of suppressing it. We need to decide wisely and ensure that our decisions reinforce the democracy, the rule of law and growth.

You must be to comment.
  1. balayogi venkataraman

    Yes we need freedom not to peddle stories of presumed and exaggeratedly projected victimhood; from playing divisive and anti-national politics because of ideological brain washing by Indian left; freedom from paid media including those on internet which are very cowardly and selective in its condemnation in spheres of religion, politics, caste etc making its own version of freedom very puerile and putrefying ; we need freedom from half baked pseudos occupying the media space as votaries of freedom of expression

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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.

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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 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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