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Indian People, Media And Govt. Need To Answer Some Hard Questions About Kashmir

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By Badrul Duja:

Kashmiris are demanding azadi which is not a new thing for the people of India. Many Kashmiris have been demanding independence from India for a long time and Indians are denouncing their claim now, as always. And this spilling of blood and rejection of it show has been going on and on.

The Indian reply has always been emotional, full of the drama, with arguments ranging from ‘Kashmir is our integral part’ to ‘Kashmir mangoge to cheer denge’ (to Pakistan) etc. Perhaps slogans and replies don’t work on the ground. If they did, India would never have witnessed such an anti-India atmosphere growing in Kashmir, especially in the past week or so. Instead of pointing fingers at Kashmiri people, Indians, the media and government need to answer hard questions to their own conscience. Why have Kashmiris been demanding independence from India? Why are educated Kashmiris once again picking up guns? Why is Burhan Wani becoming a revolutionary figure in Kashmir? Why are so many Kashmiris pro-Pakistan? Why do so many Kashmiris don’t want to live with India?

These are the questions which the citizens of the largest democracy in the world have to ask themselves. Yes, they are really tough questions. When PM Modi was
campaigning for the assembly elections in Kashmir, his answer to the Kashmir problem was to invoke “the dream which Atal (Bihari Vajpayee) ji had seen for J&K”. But, unfortunately, like his other promises, he never delivered that ‘dream’ of Vajpayee. For the past two years, especially after BJP took power at the Centre, I feel that the dissatisfaction among Kashmiri people has grown. There could be many reasons for it. Maybe it’s because they feel that there is excessive RSS influence over the Central government, especially regarding the Kashmir issue; due to BJPs stand on Article 370; or probably due to PDP’s alliance with BJP and the dissatisfaction with the governance in the state; due to a lack of dialogue with Pakistan; due to a lack of financial support to Kashmiris; due to the attacks on minorities in India, especially against Muslims; due to a lack of engagement with the Kashmir issue; due to hardships that pro-freedom Kashmiris face.

All this seems to have created a political, religious, cultural and social tensions in Kashmir. The result was the emergence of Burhan Wani in the political scenario of Kashmir. His own story of picking up the gun shows why Kashmiris are unhappy with India, why they want azadi and why they are picking up arms.

The Kashmir conflict was for a long time fought with guns. In 2008-2010, we saw a transition in Kashmir from gun culture to a culture of peaceful protest. But in 2016, things appear to be turning backwards again. Gun culture and the glamour and romance of guns seem to be getting revived in Kashmir. What is more, these gun holders are educated and politically aware Kashmiri youths.

Like Burhan Wani, there are a large number of Kashmiri youths who get harassed in Kashmir as well as outside. Sometimes they are labelled as terrorists, sometimes they are labelled as traitors, sometimes they are beaten up for supporting Pakistan in a cricket match. Indians have to understand that the anger of the Kashmiri people is justified.

They are deprived of all things, they are not safe in Kashmir nor outside Kashmir. You cannot win the hearts of Kashmiris by spreading venom against them. The more anti-Kashmir the Indian media, the Indian people and the Indian government gets, the more pro-Pakistan Kashmiris will become. Like Burhan, there are scores of youths willing to pick up guns, and that too without Pakistan’s support. Kashmir is going through a crucial transition where leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik and Omar Farooq are heavily criticised and questioned over their political work.

The whole of India appears to be abusing Kashmiris and labelling them as terrorists, but few seem bothered to know why more than a lakh people joined the funeral procession of Burhan Wani. 42 Kashmiris have lost their lives, more than 100 have suffered major eye injuries and over 2000 have been injured in only a matter of days. But after so much of blood, fear and violence, Kashmiris are continuing to pelt stones, and their demand for azadi appears to be getting stronger and stronger with each killing. Why? I feel it’s because Indians never understood Kashmiris. They seem more interested about Amarnath yatris and not about Kashmiri Muslims. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of India chaired a crucial Cabinet meeting on the Kashmir issue. Good. But after that meeting, he should have held another crucial Kashmir meet with the Kashmiri leadership.

The said Cabinet meet not only angered the people it also angered Kashmiri leadership. For example, Omar Abdullah, who questioned Mehbooba Mufti’s absence from the Kashmir meeting.

Perhaps people of Kashmir share the same opinion as that of Omar Abdullah. They should have initiated a dialogue with the Kashmiri leadership and pro-freedom leadership which has a big say in Kashmiri politics. On Kashmir, you have to accommodate all people, from different political thoughts. Dialogue with the pro-freedom leadership of Kashmir is as important now as it was during the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

I know all Indians are praying that normalcy should return to the Valley. If it does, will the situation get calm and will normalcy return? After two or three years, the uprising might just start again.

The reason why Kashmir is burning again is because of what might actually be, but is, at least, perceived to be the insensitive, ignorant, careless and arrogant approach of Indians towards the Kashmir problem and towards understanding problems of Kashmiris. Unless and until you don’t address the Kashmir issue sincerely, you cannot win the hearts of Kashmiris. And if you don’t win the hearts of Kashmiris, you cannot win Kashmir.

Featured image credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images.
Banner image credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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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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