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‘Make His Death Look Like Suicide, I Don’t Want A Dalit’s Defiled Blood On My Hands’

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By Saunvedan Aparanti:

I have seen it all. The British built me in the 19th century out of stone quarried by condemned convicts. The crush of naked bodies kept me warm in the Kanpur winters. Only the cadavers were more dead than the holocaust museum of horrors that I am. I was stuffed to the gills with fearless fighters for India’s independence. Humans who sang in rhapsody of a free future and chanted slogans that still ring through my ears a century later. How times have changed. India got its independence and I lost the dreaded Union Jack. Up came the tricolour and my walls that were festooned with a monarch that lived thousands of miles away were stripped bare. I was adorned with a framed photo of a well-groomed man who wrote free India’s constitution and gave my possessors powers to police. His name read Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and everyone who entered my precincts as an accused seemed to promptly know his face. I was their home away from home with police captors for parents.

The police ran me like a brothel. They would bring anyone from anywhere as long as they were dark-skinned, Dalit, Muslim and innocent. The prompt salaam at the man in the photo, their hero helped me identify Dalits who formed the bulk of my cursed inhabitants. I knew that I would soon hear defiant screams of “Jaibhim” as the police went to work on their captured Dalit prize. Elsewhere in the world, rape is used a weapon of war but India uses rape as a weapon of caste. We don’t have war but we don’t need one when we have thousands of years of caste genocide under our belt. Everyone knows that wars are tragic but genocides are worse as they can go on slowly, silently, enjoying religious patronage and turning someone’s death into society’s spectacle. If you want to know how the police take this spectacle to the everest of macabre then let me introduce you to Kamal Valmiki, my fleeting guest for a night.

The youth was brought in like the usual suspects that grace my corridors. He was a Dalit as he stared at Ambedkar’s portrait on my wall and was charged with the usual offence he didn’t commit. I saw the usual protestations of his innocence and wish I could tell him the truth. This is not about the crime you didn’t commit. This is not about the law that Ambedkar wrote. This is a different law. This is Manu’s law. Welcome to Vedic justice. The police are Manu’s executors, the Manusmriti the police’s handbook and you are their beast to savage. You are the latest casualty of your caste’s genocide. Why are you so surprised? This land is hungry for your abuse. This society is screaming for your blood. Why are you thwarting their celebrations? You think they painted my walls and floors red? It’s your predecessors’ lifeblood that’s draped me and they will bathe me in yours tonight.

The police go to town on Kamal. His terror-stricken eyes convey his suffering that even I find hard to look past. His caste’s horrors play like a film projected through his eyes on my walls. Casteism, condemnation, humiliation, destitution, all scream in unison as the police chain him, strip him and choose the iron rod for their spectacle. This is not like the freedom fighters. They sang when they were hit. They smirked when they were abused. They revolted when they were smothered. That was the battle for independence from a foreign master ruling for a few hundred years. What do you do when a scheming elite invent a religion thousands of years ago to enslave you for eternity? Ambedkar detonated their monstrosity by ditching the religion of his birth. They hang his photo on my walls but carry Manu in their heart. It is a battle between letter and spirit and as long as their caste-filled spirit stays alive, you don’t stand a chance. It is spirit that enlivens the letter and a social revolution to electrify the Constitution.

Kamal is nearly lifeless as the police take breaks from their exhaustive torture. It’s hardwork breaking someone’s bones all night. Who knew a body could house so many bones but its easy to see which ones you’ve broken and which ones you’ve missed on an emaciated Dalit’s body. “What are we to do with this Dalit?” “Might as well end him, now that we’ve come this far”, they muse. “Make it look like suicide, I don’t want a Dalit’s defiled blood on my hands,” they laugh. They source a good rope from their torture chamber and expertly loop a knot over the railings of an empty cell and hoist the noose. I remember this, this same movement was carried out on India’s independence day. The raising of the tricolour was pulled with the same downwards pull of the ropes to raise the flag. They are now hoisting the noose like they hoisted the flag. Let’s get rid of these Dalits. Let’s remedy the accident of Ambedkar’s rise by hanging one of his own. Let’s do it in front of his portrait, in the same police station meant to uphold the rules of the constitution he wrote. Let us show the world that the law of Manu is the real law of this land. Our religion is our lawmaker and we are executioners in police uniform.

Kamal is pulled by his neck upwards as the noose simultaneously strangles him and lifts him off the floor. Life tries to twitch even when every bone is broken and every breath is spent. The Dalit committed suicide, of course, goes the story the next morning. How did he find the rope to hang himself? How did he die when there were so many police officer present? Start the barrage of probing questions. But before the families, crowds and press start gathering, the police send Kamal’s corpse off for post-mortem. But why lose an opportunity to redress another embarrassment? Cue Raju Mistry, the notorious jailbreak who for the rest of the world is still incarcerated within my walls. Who is now being passed off as dead in Kamal Valmiki’s body but is actually the only one to transcended my walls and his fate. Raju was made of stealth, still Dalit of course but a scrambler. It helped that he wasn’t lynched in his cell by the police. I don’t even know what he was in custody for as they often made it up as they went along. Why dignify Dalits by indicting them with a heroic crime?

I do remember his beatings though. He differed from the rest as he didn’t scream when greeted with the old iron rod. He shouted “Jaibhim” with each strike with eyes transfixed on the Ambedkar portrait and his roar deafening my aged ears. The howl of the caste holocaust was older and deeper than I had heard any mortal utter. They were shocked that they couldn’t break him so they left him, starved him and shunned him. Anyone would’ve crumbled under this tyranny of ostracism but not Raju. He was used to rejection. As a Dalit living on the outskirts of society, he had mastered the art of living under caste’s hateful gaze. His solitude was to be his freedom. Little by little, he examined me in the dark until he knew every nook and crevice in my decaying walls. Gnawing at my mortar with his fingernails and teeth, he found a weakness and attacked it with the ferocity of a tiger. A recluse by day and a rabid digger by night, brought him his reward. My weakness opened him to the chamber that housed the police’s instruments of Dalit torture. His eyes converged on the longest and strongest rope with the noose still intact, fresh from a Dalit execution. He slipped into my labyrinthian corridors past the dozing policemen and into an unlit corner of my perimeter wall. He flung the rope until the noose caught the end of the metal that propped up the razor wire. He scaled my wall like a gecko and sliced himself through the twisted metal. He jumped the 20 feet on the other side and slipped into the
darkness to his freedom.

This dead body is Raju Mistry’s corpse, was the bewildering claim by the police, which was then quickly corrected to the right Dalit, Kamal Valmiki. The plan backfired and the police were now asked to produce Raju Mistry from my depths. All 15 policemen of my outpost have been suspended. One has been accused of murder. A few are on the run. But what difference does it make? The fascists are in government and they have the judiciary in their pocket. Indict with impunity but your caste clout will guarantee your acquittal. Raju Mistry will return but not empty handed. He has thrived as an outlaw after his escape. He has heard about Kamal Valmiki’s murder. He has rounded up the fleeing policemen. Only gangsters can catch the police that the police can’t catch.

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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.

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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.

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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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