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How Mainstream Indian Feminism (Urban, Hindu) Ignores The Plight Of Kashmiri Women

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By Tanvi Berwah:

Mainstream Indian feminism, as prevalent on Twitter and Facebook, is very occupied with the obvious: the daily struggle of the women in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Kolkata. Sometimes Chandigarh, Pune, Chennai or Ahmedabad. It ranges from the freedom to wear what women want to how long families allow women to stay out at night. It debates how daily-use products like shampoo and skin-care are divided into genders. Essentially, it focuses on the experience of middle-class, urban – and predominantly Hindu – women with access to social media to express their annoyances at these limitations.

And that’s where it contorts feminism, the theory of equality, and becomes a vanity charade riding on the crest of a certain level of privilege.

For decades now, Kashmiri women have been ignored in the mainstream. They face a discrimination that is unique to them because they lie at intersecting systems of oppression – gender and politics.

Indian women often conveniently forget about this framework as applied to Kashmir and stick to the rhetoric: Kashmir is an integral part of India, essentially erasing the Kashmiri experience and embracing the faulty idea of nationalism. The idea of Kashmir is narrowed down to a young, masked man throwing a stone, completely quashing away the face of the Kashmiri woman who is a routine sufferer of the violence.

However, the category of gender does not get erased even if personal identities, whether the rhetorical religious or regional, are brought to the fore. The Kashmiri women aren’t women one day, and Kashmiri the next. The recognition of this intersectionality is important as their oppression is simultaneous and helps in not splicing the life of Kashmiri women. It makes visible what the Indian women have in common with the Kashmiri women – and what they never will, which is why the Kashmiri women’s own voices are the ones that deserve to be heard.

There’s a lot of solidarity among urban Indians with white pop-stars who speak against sexual assault in the American music industry, but when it comes to the mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora, a large section of Indian society flat-out denies the entire incident. Imagine an entire brutalisation being termed a ‘hoax’ by the mass opinion and the alleged perpetrators being lauded as ‘heroes’ fighting for the country.

Where, then, are the advocates who fiercely champion women standing up to their perpetrators? Why, when Kashmiri women speak, are they ignored – or worse, silenced by being termed liars? Why are legitimate points raised by Kashmiris against the army invalidated because of their ‘tone’ that makes Indians uncomfortable and unsettles the morale of the soldiers? What kind of self-centred ego shifts the narrative from Kashmiri suffering to the comfort of Indians?

Here are the blunt words: Indian militarily occupies Kashmir. The army is not restricted to borders, or pockets of ‘disturbed’ areas. They are in cities. They are outside homes. They walk through neighbourhoods and stop Kashmiris in their own land and demand proof of identity. Their gazes follow Kashmiri women everywhere. The difference between being in Delhi and having to suffer the perpetual violence of the male gaze and being in Kashmir and having to suffer the same from an army man is that the latter is a hero in the eyes of the country. His male identity suddenly evaporates the moment he dons the army uniform, making sexual violence an infallible tool that is used to control and propagate fear in Kashmiri society. Why, then, will Kashmiris not retaliate? How is it any different than protests against police and military brutalities the world over? Police brutalities and war crimes are not a new phenomenon exclusive only to Kashmir that India can pretend it’s not true. The very language of AFSPA exempts the army from persecution, in full anticipation of the idea that there will be abuses and violations of humans under this act.

As a woman, if you are tired of being treated wrongly and your belief lies in equality, then it shouldn’t be narrowed down to personal experiences or the intangible idea of ‘nationalism’ that makes you proud of drawn lines that can be redrawn at any moment.

If you rage against your own oppression, but go on to ignore another’s and even add to it, what you raged for was not equality but power.

Evaluate if your personal discomfort is higher than a Kashmiri woman’s dignity being attacked in her everyday life. Don’t shift the narrative from Indian perpetration of violence in Kashmir to another problem because it exonerates you, or one that lets you pretend to be the victim of a problem that is far removed from you. Your voice matters. Use it to boost Kashmiri women’s voices, not speak over them and certainly not to police their tone.

Featured image for representation only: 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.

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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