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‘I Realised Why Kashmiris Picked Up Guns To Retaliate Against The Oppressive State’

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By Nandini Mazumder:

“There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing of innocent people.”
– Howard Zinn

You can’t be a kid growing up in India in the ’80s and ’90s without being stung with the intrigue named Kashmir. Kashmir was the mystery paradise that I was introduced to through the stories of my parents’ honeymoon travels and through the shawl-walas who were a part of the landscape of a wintry Calcutta. Kashmir, the name alone held the power to make me sit up, pay attention and listen.

I listened with big eyed wonder when my parents told me of their visit in ’78 where everyone greeted them with, “Accha, aap Indians hai? (Oh, you’re Indians?)” By the time I had heard this story, I was old enough to be introduced to the Indian map and geography and knew my country stretched from the northern Himalayan regions of Kashmir to Kanyakumari on the Indian Ocean. I was bemused that the average Kashmiri in 1978’s India made it a point to differentiate between Kashmir and India, between people and even the products that were being sold in Kashmiri shops.

Then came my own restless childhood, my curiosity and my own little “Kabooliwala” story. I was the ‘Mini’ in this version and my ‘kabooliwala’ was really not from Kabul but he was a shawl-wala from Kashmir. We gave him rasgullas and he gave us (I like to believe to me, in particular) a wooden crocodile that hangs today on the walls of our Delhi home. I was fascinated by the Kashmiri man who was full of empathy, kindness and was obviously disturbed. I called him uncle but his name was Ayyub Khan. My parents too had taken to him. They discussed the situation in Kashmir with him trusting that he will give them the most authentic information possible, not coloured like the opinions of media houses.

Ayyub fell sick and missed a winter or so. When he came back, he was a frail man, mentally and physically unwell. Finally, he stopped coming altogether. Another Kashmiri shawl-wala picked up on the void in our household and started coming over. But he is not Ayyub. Years ago, when Ayyub stopped visiting us and the new shawl-wala started to take his place, he informed us that Ayyub had gone into depression, that he had gone ‘mad’ and wasn’t keeping well so he won’t visit us ever again. Soon after, Ayyub passed away.

During this whole time, we were reminded of Kashmir and insurgency in various ways. In 1992, when “Roja” was released, it was a huge success of an underlying story of patriotism told through a lens of the love of a wife for her husband, the ultimate victory of the wife in securing her husband’s release and of the victory of India over Kashmiri insurgency. I loved the movie and the songs like every other 90s Indian kid. However, I did not pause to think what a Kashmiri kid my age thought of the movie.

I would think about later when in 1996 “Maachis” was released and I went with my parents to watch it in a theatre. I had by then heard of first-hand accounts of state brutality unleashed in the heart of Calcutta in the 1960s against innocent kids they assumed to be Naxalites. Therefore, I was aware of the length that the state could/would go to crush dissent, even if it is only assumed dissent. And that is because, in India, the law might say that one is ‘innocent until proven guilty’, but the state and the majoritarian society interprets it as ‘guilty until proven innocence’. “Maachis” opened my eyes to what constitutes a ‘terrorist’, who becomes a terrorist or is labelled as one and the failure of the state to address dissent that pushes young people towards terrorism, towards the ‘Jimmys’ of the world.

Connecting the dots with Kashmir once again, I realised why the Kashmiris did what they did. The reasons that compelled bright young people to pick up the gun to retaliate against the state operatives that they deemed oppressive. I realised even as a child growing up amidst the news of terrorism and tensions in Kashmir in the ’90s that the answer to the Kashmir issue cannot be resolved through guns, torture, disappearances and prisons, all of which the Indian state uses against Kashmiris with impunity. I condemn the fact that the Indian intellectuals and Left parties failed to use stronger words and actions against the violation of Kashmir and her people. I condemn the double standards of my fellow Calcuttans, my folks and probably an average Bengali who considers Bose, who collaborated with the Nazis to fight the British, a hero, but does not extend that same sympathetic understanding to Kashmiris and views them as terrorists who collaborate with Islamic fundamentalists even though they have the same motivation as Bose, liberation from an oppressive regime.

Today, when millions have suffered and recently, since 22-year-old Burhan Wani was killed, over 30 are dead, over 100 have been injured and some blinded by pellets (are pellet guns even legal?), even hospitals have not been spared, India’s war crimes in an internationally decried conflict zone, are only growing. The need of the hour is for the international community along with Indians who feel for Kashmir and her people to come and stand by her in her hour of crisis. They must remember that solutions are not found in violence and violence only begets violence. That perhaps the time has come for difficult dialogues, hard solutions and a way forward to ensure no more Wanis happen, no more Papa 1, no more disappeared sons, brothers, fathers and husbands, no more Kunan Poshporas, no more unmarked mass graves as admitted by the Indian Army in 2011, no more Jhelums flowing down a Kashmiri’s eyes, no more innocent lives lost.

Let us no longer ignore the simple statement ‘aap India se ho’ and instead listen and prepare ourselves to live as humans, as Indians and as Kashmiris. As the children of the world united in universal grief and in joys, breaking away from the painful past narratives of domination, oppression and colonialists. Let us stand up, help save Kashmir even if it is from us we have to save it from.

Featured and banner image credit: Daniel Berehulak/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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.”

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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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