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How Can We Celebrate Independence Day Without So Many Freedoms?

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By Agomonee B Chetia:

The husband is a public servant, working his back off, pretty much most of his waking time. Engaging in celebratory affairs, other than those belonging to his own tribe, he has left to me. People almost stumble and dash off a pole if they see us together in a social gathering, choking on their drinks or gulping back the air they were about to belch out. Same goes for matters concerning his end of the social business too, you know.

I play truant, to save my layman-liness. Occasionally, of course, we find a neutral ground a.k.a. The Couch of Discussion and Playful Planning. We share ideas and ideologies pertaining to matters beginning from our kitchen sink to religious fanatics spreading bigoted faiths and beliefs. We argue, almost redden our cheeks and grey our hairs; and then sheepishly calm down, when we realise we are not at the News Hour.

Lately, with India’s 69th Independence Day ushered in with the pomp and blasting gaiety of flash floods and apparent fidayeen attacks, and with imminent crackers waiting for the matchstick, Husband and I sat back one rare, lulling afternoon to discuss what India’s Independence Day celebrations should ideally be like.

One thing led to another and we weren’t talking about the celebrations anymore. The topic skillfully shut the door on us and gestured towards what kind of an independence we were actually talking about!

First things, first. Independence means, being ‘not dependent’. Is our freedom dependent on things? Of course, on a lot of things.

It is dependent on whether militants decide to ruin or not ruin a perfectly bright sunny morning with a boom in the midst of traffic.

On trade syndicates (or should I say cartels?) not raising the rates of everyday objects – edible and otherwise.

On atrocious hunters choosing to take a day off and stop bloodletting on the rhinos.

On people in any power to put a pause on the corruption (because stopping it altogether is too utopian, eh?) and assume the job they took their oaths for.

On wannabe protesters of all kind, tribe, caste, colour, social standing, et al to find a better vocation to utilise their grievances than tip the media and hog the limelight, causing primetime news and daily traffic to choke and collapse.

On governments to look into loopholes that jar development and productivity instead of letting loose-tongued racists and misogynists throw up on powerful speaking platforms and turn the entire social networking space into a frenzy.

On women coming back home without getting felt, groped, stalked or lecherously stared at.

On being able to mingle with other people really or virtually, without thinking for once, if they could be broadcasting your thoughts to a think tank.

And on media deciding to report instead of reviewing and remarking, just for once.

Yet, these are things we can afford to sweep under the carpet for at least one day and celebrate the going away of the colonial sahib and having the whole country to ourselves.

But, no. Someone figures out a way to rug-beat the proverbial dust on our faces, by simply closing us down on I-Day. ‘So, where is the freedom in it?’ I ask Husband. He clears his throat and shifts his position, to explain the etymology and anthropology of it all.

Fearing that global academic erudition will swamp me over and leave me no space to breathe, I quickly change the topic, ‘What is it you asked?’ He says, ‘How to celebrate Independence Day in a befitting manner!’ Heaving a sigh, I ask – Aren’t you having a seminar?

Instead of lecturing people off their heads in this sweltering heat, how about letting common people – you know, maybe school/college kids, homemakers, shopkeepers, etc. – talk about what freedom means to them and where it’s lacking, so they could suggest how you could help them? He placidly replies, ‘I need celebration ideas befitting the occasion. These are ideas about discussion that you’re talking about.’

Back to square one.

All my enthusiasm is quickly drowned by the practical sound of my rumbling belly. ‘You know, now that I think of it, I can’t remember celebrating Independence Day really. As kids, we used to have a day off at school. So we’d probably watch the parade on TV, finish homework and study time by dusk, and then wait for the blockbuster movie to be aired in the evening and mum’s snacks coming with it.’

By this time, Husband is rolling his eyes and probably regretting his idea about asking me in the first place. But he concurs. Independence Day in the Northeast, don’t know. But Independence Day in Assam, some outfit will inevitably call for a bandh, ensuring that there is young pulsating blood out in the roads, to pelt stones on your vehicle, should you get smart and drive around. And we will passively watch again, freedom, farting out of the country’s rectum after centuries’ long case of socio-politico-economic-religious dyspepsia and the side effects of the same.

Sometimes, I feel like spraying Colin on my country and wiping it clean. Germ-free and sparkling – befitting a nation!

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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.

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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.

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.”

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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, 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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