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Sindhu and Rohith – A Contrasting Portrait

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By Nijam Gara:

We all witnessed the glorious feat of Pusarla Venkata Sindhu as she won the Silver medal in badminton at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It was undoubtedly a great personal achievement for an Indian female, given the odds stacked against them in this country right from their conception. The media made sure that she received adequate attention.

However, I could not help but wonder about the grim social realities that play behind the scenes when it comes to appreciation of talent. I was reminded of how different the scene was in the case of Rohith Vemula, the iconic Dalit student who galvanised the students of the country by committing suicide. This might seem like an unfair comparison but both Sindhu and Rohith were young, Telugu and subjects of national discussion. While Sindhu is readily owned by all Telugus, (they even fight over her regions), the other left this same society dejected and depressed. As Sindhu sweated it out in a private badminton academy, Rohith struggled in a central government university barely five kilometers away.

One had the grit and determination to make it to the world stage while the other also gained sympathy and support across the nation for being at the receiving end of gross injustice. He cared deeply for the oppressed, which included Dalits, Muslims, tribals, etc. This sympathy crossed over to oppressed peoples around the world, as evident by his facebook posts. He concluded that human life is reduced to one’s ‘immediate identity’, ‘nearest possibility’, to a vote, a number, ‘a thing’. Not many intellectuals can capture the banality of human life today so succinctly and scathingly in a single sentence.

But how was his intellect received by our society? His passion was countered with rustication, his penchant for science was silenced with ostracisation and he was eventually driven to the doors of death by two members of our parliament. He was hounded even after his death, his origins traced to the minute detail and his family members were subjected to unnecessary scrutiny. Seven months after his death, in the same week that Sindhu won a medal in the Olympics, a probe panel setup by the HRD Ministry has come to the conclusion that Rohith was not a Dalit, according to this report in the Indian Express. It’s obvious that they are more interested in saving the skin of Mr. Appa Rao Podile, the Vice Chancellor of Hyderabad Central University and that of Mr Bandaru Dattatreya, BJP MP to avoid charge under Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

The economic realities of Rohith and Sindhu were vastly different. Rohith came from a poor family and requested in his suicide letter the payment of seven months of his hard-earned money as a PhD scholar, while Sindhu, apart from coming from a much more affluent background received more than Rs. 10 crores from different state governments as a reward for her Olympic medal. We are all happy that Sindhu has risen to the level where our governments feel proud and reward her accomplishments. Yet, we must also question why another young and bright student had to commit suicide and the interference of certain ministers’ from the Central government which resulted in his suspension from the University of Hyderabad prior to his death.

The Delhi government gifted Sindhu Rs. 2 crores and they gave Rohith’s brother (a qualified post-graduate himself) not a very high paying job. The Andhra Pradesh government also gifted Rs. 3 crores and arranged a grand gala reception for Sindhu. Yet, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has not expressed any sympathy towards Rohith’s suicide. It is almost as if Rohith is a blemish to the state’s perceived ‘image’ that Chandrababu Naidu likes to bask in. His counterpart in Telangana, K Chandrashekhar Rao, who brought the city of Hyderabad to a standstill to honour Sindhu also remained equally mum on the Rohith issue as his police failed to pursue the cases filed against the university that swallowed Rohith.

What is even more disheartening is the utter disdain that the country in general and the Telugu states in particular have displayed towards Rohith’s aspirations. While it would too much to expect that Rohith’s hidden intellect and burning passion be recognised by this society, it was disconcerting to see how the mainstream society left it to the Dalits to fight their own battle. The abysmal hierarchies and divisions in our society were evident – a striking contrast to how the country embraced Sindhu. Rohith may not have been a sporting legend, yet he has contributed to the society by shining a bright light on our ugly realities. National pride should not just be about spectacular sporting achievements, but also revolutionary social reforms. The greatest sporting legend of all time, Muhammad Ali, is remembered today for his courage in standing up against the racist and imperial United States back in the day along with his boxing career. Rohith Vemula is not a Sindhu but he surely has shown the traits of a Muhammad Ali for which he has been labeled an ‘anti-national’. If India wants become a mature society, it has to recognize the Rohiths along with the Sindhus.

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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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