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‘A Game Of Convenience Is Being Played In The Name Of Nationalism’: NIT Protests

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By Shatakshi Asthana:

nit-srinagar-650_650x400_51460123124With the recent stir at NIT Srinagar, the nationalism debate has crossed all verbal boundaries. The brand new narrative of nationalism is serving the exact purpose that religion did for the educated and the ‘modern’ Indian.

Those preaching culture and traditions select text out of Holy books according to their convenience, interpret it in their way and then pass judgements over people who differ from their ideology. This is the purpose religion helped serve so far. Be it the use of the term ‘Lakshman-Rekha‘ as a moral limit or side-lining the respect shown by Lord Rama towards the lower caste ‘Shabri’, the modern ‘saviours of religion’ have filtered out ancient values and propagated myths to serve their vested interests.The importance of idols and stones prevails while the greatness of love borne by Hanuman in his heart (not requiring any physical manifestation of it) for Lord Rama, is forgotten. After all, love that can’t be seen can’t be sold as lockets or threads.

A similar game of convenience is being played in the name of nationalism now. Sloganeering, flag waving and other symbolic, materialistic masks are being projected as the proof of the ultimate love towards one’s nation. Ironically, this is being done by the same people who turn a blind eye to their role towards the society. Why be loyal to the nation by carrying out small duties like abiding by traffic rules, being eco-friendly, not littering, treating everyone equally? When having the ‘tiranga‘ on the car dashboard or sharing patriotic posts on social media and abusing those who do not fit into this definition of nationalism, is enough to show(off) one’s love towards their motherland, who needs to do things to make a difference?

Not only has nationalism become like religion regarding the way it is perceived and is supposed to be followed but it has now become a ‘brahmastra‘ – the ultimate weapon – for those who want to rule the country. Earlier they used religion to pit the blindfolded, unaware, less informed or ill informed people of India against each other; now they have realized that for educated people religion has taken a back-seat. So, those who feel the need to divide have come up with this brilliant binary of ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’ which has not only influenced the unaware, uneducated masses but has also found support among the well educated. After all who doesn’t love their motherland?

For once, the divide that has been created does not depend on one’s immediate identity as an individual! I do not know whether to be happy about the fact that we are not fighting over religion or panic that this new battle is way more dangerous.

The angst caused amongst the people after the JNU issue due to the sensationalized news reports, could have settled down once the videos were found to have been doctored but before that could happen, chanting ‘Bharat mata ki Jai’ became the sole definition of nationalism.

Everyone jumped into the debate with leaders spewing verbal venom and the public acting out the script on the streets – beating up people for not complying with this ‘ultimate’ idea of being an Indian.While this turned the social media into a virtual battleground, in another scenario the University of Hyderabad became the stage for the war to play out. Brutal police assault against students continued for days, inside and outside the campus. Media blackout in the university and the gradually rising rage over sloganeering as a proof of nationalism kept the public away from the real and grave issues of student suppression.

But the latest disgrace added to this list is the pseudo-nationalism of the NIT Srinagar issue.

With many versions of the story spilling out daily, the most disturbing one was where students, protesting with the national flag, chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, were lathi-charged by the police, leaving many severely injured.

After the questionable role played by the police in JNU and then in HCU, this was another instance of the khaki going out of its way in the name of restoring peace. In all these cases the students were on the losing side. It was the student against the state machinery (used liberally to oppress them).

But the most disappointing and challenging aspect to understand is the NIT incident being pitted against the JNU episode given that in both cases students were the victims of state oppression! Posts and tweets kept circulating over social media questioning this double standard of having made ‘those who chanted anti-India slogans’ heroes, completely ignoring the situation at NIT.

Now, forgetting the authenticity of the sources that claimed that JNU students had raised anti-India slogans, I fail to understand how media had made them heroes! In fact, as far as I remember it had left no stones unturned to profile students as terrorists. It was the doctored videos run by the news channels that got Kanhaiyya arrested and beaten up in the Patiala House Court.

It was the debates on news channels that created the fear of lynching for the accused students. No matter how many articles and news reports were written trying to prove them innocent, the abuses that followed served an entirely different purpose. In fact, they became ‘heroes’ (if they did) because the media’s actions backfired.

Kanhaiyya earned support after getting assaulted. The shattering of the well-fabricated profiling of Umar Khalid won him sympathy. These students became ‘heroes’ because they raised a voice against what was happening; not because of the media. These students were interviewed much later by news channels because they were victims of a media trial, not because they had allegedly spoken against the nation.

JNU was particularly under the media radar, and I doubt if this was because of virtuous reasons. Had it just been for nationalism, HCU should also have been given similar attention. After all, it was also declared a ‘den of anti-national’ activities. And if the media is skewed towards JNU, why don’t I see channels covering the HCU issue that the JNU students continue to fight over? Both, JNU and HCU, along with many campuses across the nation have been raising their voices against this.

On the other hand, public figures, politicians and other enthusiasts who have been fuelling this online by slamming media for covering the ‘anti-nationals’ of JNU extensively, have forgotten that the government in J&K is their favourite one. Why were the ‘evidently patriotic’ students still lathi-charged?

Instead of dividing the student community, propagating the ‘anti-national’ JNU vs. ‘patriotic’ NIT, why don’t they question the government?

It seems the whole idea was to curb the voices of these protests along with other outbursts. JNU has been made into a villain and, thus, everything they talk about is now necessarily ‘anti-national’. The ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ series wanted to give the ‘nationalism’ debate a whole new dimension and intensify the divide on that basis. Minor clashes here and there didn’t serve the purpose the way the violence at NIT has. Everyone has turned towards it and is completely unaware of the turmoil in the HCU.

When all other campuses are burning in the fire of discrimination against students on various grounds, NIT Srinagar – the most suitable place to kindle the fire over questions of desh bhakti – is burning with flames of suspicious colours.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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