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‘To The People Of Pakistan And India, It Is Evident That We Stand And Fall Together’

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By Nandini Mazumder:

Once upon a time, as a lonely little kid, I imagined a best friend for myself. My first crush happened to be a character from my favourite detective series, “Tintin”. This was followed by a cricketer and then, of course, the heart-throb of millions, Shahrukh Khan, who breaks my heart with each film release (and not in a nice way). As different thoughts were coming in and going out of my mind like passengers getting on and off a train, I was particularly caught up with Mohsin Hamid. I had watched a film based on his novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” and fell in love with the main protagonist and his story.

However, when you grow older, you want to go beyond the fictional characters and explore the mind behind the creation of that character and his stories. As I read a collection of essays by Mohsin Hamid, “Discontent and its Civilisations”, I realised I am reading my own thoughts, written in an eloquent style that I would someday like to develop in my own writing. I instantly imagined that Mohsin Hamid is my best friend from across the border.

Like Mohsin, I too, am a citizen of the world deeply in love with it but most of all with this jumbled mess of a mass called South Asia. More specifically with India. Like him, I too dream for a better future for South Asia and my own country, India. I wish for my country to change for the better. To me, India is an idea and I don’t obsess over its boundaries because boundaries are drawn and re-drawn constantly. India, as it presently is shown in government maps, cannot be found in maps before 1947. And even today, depending on where one is, one will see a different India.

Therefore, India, in my mind, is not a land mass or a territory. It is a symbol of where I belong to, my cultural heritage, interacting with several other cultural heritages. At times feuding and at times merging, making a colourful tapestry of thousands of ideas that are contesting and collaborating, striving hard to stay together, building India as their homeland or motherland despite the huge differences with one another.

The idea of India teaches me that our communities speak different languages and all the messages are important. That it is okay to celebrate Durga’s domination over Mahisasur in the feminine good over the masculine evil imagery. Just as much as it is okay to mourn for Mahisasur’s murder as the documented exploitation of tribal and Dalit communities by the upper castes.

That it’s okay to be a Calcuttan and a Delhiite both at the same time, born in a Hindu household and be a beef eater, a fighter in spirit and a poet at heart, a Calcuttan who speaks Punjabi or Gujarati or is a Muslim whose family migrated five generations ago from Uttar Pradesh, to be this and that and so much more.

Like a line from a Walt Whitman poem that my husband is rather fond of, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.” Because history and a nation’s narrative cannot leave out anyone, neither the lion nor the hunter. And we as people, as communities, as nations and our humanity, cannot be confined in narrow labels, watershed compartments and one-dimensional definitions.

The India I love, is a microcosm of a larger idea of our shared humanity, our common community, our global village. And when fluidity is allowed, ideas thrive and grow. With rigidity, ideas fall sick and eventually may even perish. I want the idea of India to thrive and grow, just like Hamid hopes for his beloved Pakistan and its future. In fact, the close resemblance and the similarities between the two countries, Pakistan and India make it macabre that the powers be, promote the notion of enmity between the two nations. Pakistan and India are basically twins, bickering like juveniles, giving the rest of the world little amusement and a lot to worry as both nations have nuclear arsenal at the disposal of power-hungry and trigger-happy leaders.

Recently in response to an insurgent attack in the conflict zone called Kashmir, India’s Prime Minister went onto make a ridiculous statement asking Pakistan to fight a war against poverty. While, he made a $58 million deal with a French weapons company, Rafale. In the meantime, his plans to fight poverty in India remain unknown. And some states in India remain worse-off than that of sub-Saharan Africa and our human development index is poorer than that of our poor neighbour, Bangladesh (despite the reportedly better GDP). His campaign team probably tried to give us a heads-up by coming up with the tag line ‘Make In India’, apparently meant for the MNCs in rich western countries, encouraging them to make their money here in India. His fluff is getting worse by the minute and not sure who is buying that crap anymore. Oh, except for those unreasonable and irrational beings known as ‘bhakts’.

To the people of Pakistan and India, it is evident that we stand together and we fall together. Rich countries remain rich or get even more richer, their MNCs, like Rafale, make profits, our crony governments and leaders take their share, over dividing us, over our dead bodies and our bloodshed. Enough of this divide already. I did not pay taxes to buy fighter jets, but for better schools and hospitals for my people. My government disappoints me time and again, just like I am sure yours disappoint you. They misguide us to believe that we are enemies and that we need to fight each other, to what end no one really knows. Whereas, we have understood by now that wars never brought about peace and war for peace is a classic Orwellian oxymoron. To the powers be, stop this threat of war at once.

Having read Mohsin’s thoughts, I know my best friend lives across the border. And I only want the best for him so he can continue to pen down my thoughts. Let my best friend, myself, our families, our communities and our humanity be. So we can continue to think and write for better ideas of Pakistan, India, South Asia, other countries and even for the powers be in Europe and USA. UK has already Brexited and USA has a ‘trump’ card. Probably they can do with some help for thinking straight, documenting these macabre times and penning thoughts for a better future.

And then, instead of finding short-term profits in the business of war, we can make long-term investments in the process of peace, because: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

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  1. Arshnoor Chawla

    No words can articulate my thoughts better than these. I completely agree with your points . Well written !

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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.

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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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