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Why Peace Talks Between India And Pakistan Are Likely To Remain Just That, Talks

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By Sumit Jain:

Hypothetically speaking, if there would be a World War, say in the Middle East (with Saudi Arabia and allies on one side and Iran accompanied with China and Russia on the other), I believe there is only and only one country which will be able to act as a credible and stable mediator. Yes, you guessed it right, a country known for its peace-loving image, India.

Ours is a nation which has been widely recognised for propagating peace and giving up the path of violence. Perhaps it is due to Mahatma Gandhi or the foreign policy of Jawaharlal Nehru, but I feel that we have been able to convince the world that the way forward is in pursuing peace. Even after such tremendous credibility, we have failed at one front and that is in dealing with Pakistan. So what is it that makes this situation extraordinary? Have we failed to convey our intentions to our neighbour or is the other side that is hell-bound to pursue violence? Let us track some instances in the recent past to make an honest judgement.

India’s foreign policy has been (more or less) consistent regardless of which political party is in power but for the sake of understanding, the analysis of events pertaining to this article will start from May 2014 when the BJP-led NDA government took charge. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a lot by riding the anti-Pakistan sentiment during the run-up to the elections in 2014, he was the first one to extend an invitation to Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, for his swearing-in-ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Since then, India has approached its neighbour at various levels from the National Security Advisor (NSA) to the External Affairs Ministry (EAM) but to no avail. Our resumption of bilateral talks on the issue of terrorism almost fructified in 2015 but then Pakistan brought the issue of Kashmir once again and called-off the talks. Not to forget, the bold surprise visit of PM Modi to Pakistan to greet PM Sharif on his birthday (a great diplomatic gesture) which was unfortunately followed by the attacks in Pathankot. So what makes this relationship so unique? I would like to probe it further.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets SAARC leaders
Sushma Swaraj with Nawaz Sharif. Source: Yasbant Negi/Getty

India has been a democracy since its independence and it elects a civilian central government every five years. While the role of the elected officials is to take care of civil administration, the role of the Indian Army is limited to India’s borders and to assist the civil administration whenever there is a situation of emergency like the Mumbai attacks or the natural calamities in Uttarakhand and Chennai. The policy making is left for the legislators and the Army Generals really have no say in it unless the issue is of security concern. Unfortunately this is not the case in Pakistan.

Our neighbour has a nascent democracy. The country has survived several coup attempts and was under military rule for decades since the country parted with India in 1947. Though the nation has been able to resist coup attempts since 2008, the Pakistan Army still calls most of the shots behind the screen. Shashi Tharoor’s “Pax Indica” describes how the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) work in resonance and their functioning is above everything in Pakistan. The Army has given clear red lines to the civilian government, crossing which, can have serious implications for the elected representatives (in fact, the US openly deals with the Pakistan Army Chief over security issues in Islamabad even when there is a civilian government). This is our major source of problems as the elected government in Pakistan has limited powers.

We have fought multiple wars and been in multiple conflicts with Pakistan and the result of the same has worsened the situation. Whenever India tries to have cordial relations with its neighbour, what is seen is an increased insurgency at the borders. Nothing can illustrate this better than the Pathankot attacks which followed PM Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan. To quote the number of times the government has shown its intention to maintain peace with Pakistan has become a futile exercise.

The way forward to see is quite difficult from here. The only nearly impossible solution to the problem is to fully engage in talks with Pakistan at the highest level with international media coverage (similar to PM Modi’s latest US visit) and to continue taking being on the defense at the border. Meanwhile, India has to get its diplomats in full-swing at the same time and convince the United Nations that it is Pakistan which supports terrorism. If it is able to do this, Pakistan will either face sanctions from the world-governing body or has to regretfully give-up violence. However it is hard to assume that Pakistan will accept sanctions further crippling its poor economy. Nevertheless it is easier said than done.

If there is one thing in India which constantly garners attention, it is Pakistan. Anything related to our neighbouring country is sure to get more attention because of our seemingly negative views for the same. Any slightest of the attempts made by the Indian government to reconcile things come under the scrutiny of the electorate and make it politically infeasible. Despite all this, I hope that our PM displays further courage and takes the initiative. Another visit to Pakistan with a follow-up from the EAM will not be a bad place to start. I keep my fingers crossed!

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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 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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