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Why This JNUSU Elections May Decide Whether JNU Will Remain A Progressive Space

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By Sourodipto Sanyal:

Consequences of an event organised by some students from the Jawaharlal Nehru University on February 9 to question the execution of Afzal Guru has changed the entire landscape of the university. Over 50 cameras have been installed within the campus to keep a check on outsiders. Sixteen students have been barred from voting in the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union elections 2016 to be held on September 9, unless they pay the fines imposed on them. They were found to be guilty by the High Level Enquiry Committee setup by JNU to look into the February 9 incident. A High Level Enquiry Committee was setup by the university which awarded strict punishments to all those who were found guilty. Some were fined while others were suspended or rusticated for a fixed period of time. JNUSU took part in a hunger strike for more than ten days but the Vice- Chancellor did not meet the fasting students even once.  Interestingly, the Delhi High Court has stayed the order of the committee taking disciplinary action against the students.

Rama Naga, General Secretary for the JNUSU from 2015-2016 wrote in a facebook post after he found out that he couldn’t vote in the upcoming elections, “The administration has been creating hurdles in our academic activities for the last six months. After the February 9 incident, it suspended us from academic activities without listening to a single word from us.” Students considered guilty by the committee had earlier even claimed that they were being denied their due fellowship. The administration had claimed that it was a technical error.

A campus which throughout its history has been famous for being an an open, liberal and progressive space has been threatened by the actions of the administration, interference of the Central government and the rise of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. ABVP supported the invitation of Ramdev to speak in the campus on December, 2015 by the Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies. Ramdev had earlier said that he could cure both homosexuality and cancer through Yoga. While the protests were going on after Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in JNU continued to criticise the JNUSU and the students. Saurabh Sharma, Joint secretary of JNUSU from ABVP for 2015-2016 did not take part in a single protest organised by the union against Kanhaiya’s arrest. What offended the Hindu right more was a handful of people shouting anti- India slogans, instead of a 28 year old PhD student being arrested on charges of sedition without any visible evidence.

Ever since the February 9 incident took place, the Central government has also taken a keen interest in the affairs of the university. Home Minister Rajnath Singh had issued a statement saying that student protesters in the aftermath of Kanhaiya Kumar’s arrest had the support of Hafiz Saeed, a designated terrorist and leader of Lashkar-E-Taiba. It is believed to be a based on a tweet by the fake Twitter handle of the terrorist.

The JNU movement’s impact didn’t remain restricted to the university. The movement showed that there is an alternative centre of resistance which is talking about basic rights denied to millions of Indians. Perhaps this explains why Dalit women workers in Una have been taped chanting slogans of azadi, popularised by Kanhaiya’s speech. For the Dalit women forced to clean human excreta from dry toilets all their lives, Kanhaiya wasn’t an anti-national. He was someone who was saying things they could relate to. Shunned by brutal hierarchies of the Indian caste system even after so many years of independence, perhaps ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ doesn’t mean much to them. Important leaders from the students’ union went to speak on Independence Day at the Dalit protests in Una and have also spoken in other parts of the country. The impact has indeed spilt over.

The mainstream left in JNU, comprising of the All India Students’ Association, Students’ Federation of India and the All India Students’ Federation for the first time in the university’s history have all come together in an alliance to fight against ABVP as the polling for the JNUSU election takes place on September 9. Yet, the recent charge of rape against an activist from AISA has shocked many within the left. AISA has always been very vocal on issues of gender and this makes it even harder to digest.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association, a Dalit party is also hoping to do well. It’s not just the right which has been accused of being insensitive to the plight of Dalits. Left has regularly been accused of ignoring caste and focusing on class. With the rise of Dalit assertion in the state of Gujarat which has spread to other parts of India, it’ll be interesting to see how Bahujan politics play out in the student elections.

JNU student elections are a microcosm of what we see in the country. Forces of nationalism and a fatigued bureaucracy are clashing with structural inequalities, while even the progressive forces have stains on them after the alleged rape. Will class trump over caste as it has in JNU throughout its history? Will Jai Bhim resonate? Or should we expect Baba Ramdev to speak at JNU very soon?

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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 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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