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What The ‘Ridiculous’ Tussle Over The Kohinoor Actually Means

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Britain’s Queen Elizabeth meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Buckingham Palace, London

The recent cacophony regarding the Koh-I-Noor diamond and its ‘rightful owner’ has become an excellent reflection of the post-colonial bitterness between India and Britain. This diamond which currently sits on the crown of the late matriarch of the British Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth (often confused with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II) has been at the center of the very undiplomatic proceedings between our country and Britain.

A very vocal majority of Indians (most of who believe that it was stolen from their country) supported the decision to ‘bring back’ the diamond to India while the Britons maintained that it was ‘gifted’ to them. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, in a previous interview had added (quite amusingly) that if the Koh-I-Noor were returned to India, the British Government would be forced to return all the other artifacts of the British Museum that were either ‘gifts’ to the empire or were acquired via force from their erstwhile colonial dominions. It is even more interesting to see that the government flipped its stance over the issue after its support of the idea that the Kohinoor was actually ‘gifted’ did not garner support with the Indian masses.

As a dominion of the English Empire, India had very little to say about what would happen to the 105 carat diamond originally mined in Golconda. But, as a sovereign republic today, India has a characteristic voice to lay claim to a gem, which it believes is a reflection of the exploitation, plunder and the perverse rule of the British Raj. But the bitterness against the Raj has not ended even as India is nearing her seventieth year as a sovereign nation.

I was recently rebuked for showing excitement at the birth anniversary of the nonagenarian British monarch, who also happens to be the longest reigning monarch of that country. I was told that it was ‘un-Indian’ of me to be excited about the anniversary of a British monarch, whose predecessors had so gladly plundered India off her wealth. I was confused, and very much so. I began to wonder what a “true-Indian” would do. Tweet obscenities against the Queen of England? Or perhaps even burn her effigy in the streets for refusing to return the Kohinoor that her predecessors ‘stole’ from us? This episode reminded me of the real patriots of this country who dictate how a ‘true-Indian’ should behave.

I believe, firmly and unequivocally, that the colonial rule of the British in India has done more harm than good, but we cannot right those historical wrongs by shouting obscene slogans or by devising bizarre plans. Reconciliation and mediation are always better mediums to begin a discourse. Instead of shouting mindlessly and creating a cacophony, we can negotiate and talk. Our constitution guarantees the right to speech and we have to accept that right to be fundamental, not absolute, even worse- farcical.

Coming back to the unromantic episode of the Koh-I-Noor, there was a recent meme which captured the whole scene, rather humorously. It was about the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in a reception at the Buckingham Palace asked the Queen outright, “Where’s our diamond?” I was surprised that many comments took this seemingly harmless joke to be true and encouraged the government to indeed demand that the diamond be returned to India immediately. Thankfully, our Prime Minister knows better. It is impossible for a visiting Head of Government to ask another Head of State to ‘return’ a colonial acquisition that is not even personally hers to give away! She wears it when the government asks her to and it is then kept locked up in the Tower of London. A true constitutional Monarch!

It is time for Indians to move away from the seemingly senseless rant and to indulge in intellectual discourse. We have to take our fundamental right to the freedom of speech seriously, not lightly. At a time when we are debating about the real ‘freedom’ of speech, with many ready to point out its true meaning, we must grow up as a country and as a citizenry. Just because I follow Barack Obama on Twitter, I am not any less Indian. And for the Kohinoor, whether or not it is returned to us, will long remain a post-colonial vestige and a topic for amusing debate.

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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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