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The Dangers That Right Wing Forces Are Posing To Bangladesh

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By Myskin Kabir:

An activist of Hefajat-e-Islam shouts slogans during a rally in Dhaka April 4, 2013. Hefajat-e-Islam, a radical Islamist party, are planning a march on April 6 to demand capital punishment for a group of bloggers, who organised the Shahbagh demonstration, and for the introduction of blasphemy laws, reported local media. The Shahbagh demonstration demanded capital punishment for Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for war crimes committed during the 1971 Independence War. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj (BANGLADESH - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTXY8F5
Image credit: Reuters/Andrew Biraj.

The basis for the liberation struggle of Bangladesh was the creation of a secular nation. The country initially started its journey with the ideology that people of all religions should live inseparably. But then reality collided with the dream of making a secular Bangladesh. The architect of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, was assassinated only three years after clinching liberation from Pakistan. Being a part of Pakistan put a tag of Islamic nation on East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Bengali sentiments clashed with Pakistan and the ill treatment of Bengalis by Pakistan made us chose the path of separation. The dilemma we face, however, was not entirely solved after separating from Pakistan.

The introduction of Islam into politics in Bangladesh took place during the military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, and later under the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) government. After the 2001 election, when the BNP government was in power for the last time, we saw the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups like Harkatul Jihad and Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh. This is evidence of a gradual growth of fundamentalist sentiments in the country.

When the Awami League, which claims to be a secular party in Bangladesh, came to power in 2009, they were adamant about trying the war criminals of the 1971 Liberation War. BNP and its allies, the right-wing extremists of Bangladesh including Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, were in a lot of trouble. Many of the war criminals that have been accused and executed are members of either the BNP or the Jamaat-e-Islami. Previously they had enjoyed ministerial or even higher posts during the BNP- Jamaat government in 2001. People like Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Quader Mollah were executed recently while others are awaiting trial.

Before, during and after the election of 2014, when the BNP government didn’t contest the elections and Awami League won without any challenge from them, the BNP-led alliance wreaked havoc in the country. Earlier there were protests from the opposition but this was the first time that civilians were attacked. Public buses were the targets of petrol bombs, many people suffered burn injuries and many lost their lives. Even later during under the Awami League government, the number of attacks on free thinkers, minorities and on civilians didn’t reduce. A strike of nearly three months adversely affected the economic and social life of the Bangladeshi people.

Every day there is news of murders, abductions, rapes etc. The government is facing challenges one after another and they appear to be struggling to control the situation. Recently, the killing of some foreigners raised the question of IS (Islamic State) presence in the country. But it’s evident that it’s the local thugs who took advantage of IS’s name. It also warns us that the possibility of IS ties with the local extremists is a huge threat to the country. IS would get to achieve its goals in such an alliance and local extremist thugs would get international ‘recognition’.

In a country like ours where there is still a high level of illiteracy and people are growing more and more conservative every day with new propaganda coming to them, the country is in a fix whether to be secular or follow the new restrictions imposed by religious authorities. Where millions of Bangladeshi people work in western Asian countries or the Middle East, sending huge remittances to the country, they not only increase the foreign aid in Bangladesh but also bring in conservative ideologies from those Islamic countries. Many people in those countries which are run by Shariah law are funding mosques and madrassas in the country and they want us to be conservative like them. In many of these countries, they follow a Wahhabi ideology. When brought into ours, the conflict between our culture and orthodox practices leads to internal tensions within the country, which is quite visible now.

The attacks on free thinkers recently have put a question mark on the level of tolerance in the country. You cannot simply kill someone for having a different opinion than yours or being an atheist. It has become a trend in the country that all those who come out publicly saying that they are atheists, are being attacked.

According to some Islamic scholars, people who convert to any other religion or become atheists should be penalised with death. It’s not the law of Islam, it’s the conservative mindset of orthodox people. Previously, scholars like Daud Haider in 1970s and, later, Taslima Nasreen became controversial and were made to live in exile, away from their own country. Humayun Azad, a famous free-thinker of the country was brutally attacked and recently, Avijit Roy and other bloggers were killed.

But it’s the Bengali culture that still makes us secular even though a lot of threats were made by the extremists warning people against celebrating the Bangla new year. Our women came out in large numbers on that day and proved that it’s not possible to stop us from being liberal. Even though we proved our faith in our culture but we have to ensure that we raise our voices against any wrongdoers. It’s obviously wrong to hurt Islamic sentiments, but it’s condemnable and un-Islamic to kill free thinkers also.

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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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