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The Systemic Silencing Of Muslims: The Case Of The Missing JNU Student

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By Asaf Ali:

Advocate Shahid Azmi was silenced in the year 2010 for standing against the lies and for fighting the cases of innocent Muslims who were falsely implicated by the State under false charges. He didn’t succumb to forces who wanted him to remain silent. Thus, the only way to silence such a brave soul was to pull a bullet down his heart to extinguish the hopes of innocents. The atmosphere of terror created by these people is still alive. The recent case of the Bhopal encounter is a fresh example of that. Remember, they were all undertrials. It seems apparently very easy for the ‘forces-in-hand-with-the-oppression’ to quell the voices that resist them.

The way Fatima Nafees, mother of Najeeb (who went missing after being beaten up by students associated with ABVP in his hostel at JNU), was dragged and arrested by the police at India Gate is totally humiliating and unacceptable. What was the crime of Najeeb’s mother except that she was crying for justice for herself and her son? Well, it seems that the biggest crime she has committed has been that she is a Muslim. Rather than grieving with her and assuring her justice, the state is giving a clear message that there is no scope for justice for people like her.

In what times are we living? is our conscience dead? Can’t we see what is happening around us? How can one live in peace in these times? Are we living in a democracy? Is justice selective? After 70 years of gaining independence, how is the state treating its citizens? What are we afraid of? This madness is going to devour us one day if we remain silent now and there will be no time to regret it.

Najeeb’s mother is fighting to get her son back alive and safe. Any sane person can understand the pain of losing a child; not knowing whether he is dead or alive. Even if he is dead, the only thing a mother can do is respectfully lay his body to the eternal abode. Even that is being denied to her. The state of Najeeb’s mother is no different from those mothers and ‘half-widows’ of Kashmir, who are waiting from dawn till dusk in the hope that their sons and husbands will return someday. Talk to any mother or father who have lost their children in the war, you will see only hope in their eyes. A hope that is eternal, like a blazing fire which can’t be put-off. They are putting everything at stake to get justice; for them to know whether they are alive or dead will give their souls a small respite.

In a remarkable 6 minute video, Shahid tells us the way how to keep the struggle going. Even after his death, the struggle for justice he fought continues as nothing has changed yet. Just that the oppression has grown more strong. The biggest enemy of the people ironically turns out to be the State only. The only way to tame the State, as he puts it very succinctly, is to carry on the struggle in an “institutionalised way.” The Muslims of this nation, it is primarily on them since they have become the primary targets of the State to reorganise themselves and give a tough resistance to the goondas of the State. The struggle has to be carried at different levels whether through political, academic, or any other means. The lack of coordination between the people and the institutions that are fighting for justice affects the struggle for justice. As Shahid puts it brilliantly, there has to be documentation and research centres, human rights network at all levels; national, district and unit. Most important is the coordination. The struggle is not easy but if continued forward in a well-coordinated way, I hope we will not see any more missing cases and fake encounters. It needs sacrifices also but those sacrifices will not dim the hope for justice. The brutal killing of Shahid Azmi was not an end to the struggle but his death has given us a hope. The enemies will shriek with fear if all the oppressed unite together. Shahid is a martyr. He lives forever like a hero as he has told us a way how to do it by doing and showing to us how it can be done.

It is a fact, people’s movements never extinguishes no matter how much the oppressor oppresses. In Ahmedabad, the survivors of 2002 violence are still continuing their fight for justice. On October 12, Praveen Togadia, the hate-vomiting orator of Hindutva, in his speech on Vijaya Dashami at Rajkot, compared Juhapura, a Muslim-concentrated area in Ahmedabad where nearly 4-5 lakh Muslims live, to Raavan, Lahore and Kashmir. He had mentioned in his speech, “Our fight is not only with Pakistan but small small villages and cities like Juhapura” that are “breeding terrorism.” The saddest part is that State seems to be comfortable with these figures who are openly vomiting cries of war against the very own citizens of this nation. Apparently, a day before the respected PM of secular India had set a very good tone for the upcoming UP elections by boosting the morale of this nation by his chants of Jai Shri Ram…Jai Shri Ram.” Further, Amit Shah in his speech on November 6, while starting the election campaign in UP, particularly equated Muslim leaders from SP and BSP with goondaism, promised to stop the alleged forced ‘exodus’ of Hindus from Kairana and his concern for Muslim women as if he is a feminist and a hard-core believer of gender equality (not forgetting the widows of 2002 riots in Gujarat who are still fighting for justice).

Nonetheless to say, the State is being hijacked by the haters and powerful. In these extreme situations, spaces that were apparently safe, liberal, secular, accommodative, and progressive are bending to the onslaught of these forces. JNU is one such example. Najeeb’s disappearance is an alarming situation for all who have a foresight to understand the perils and dangers of where this nation is heading to. It is a symbolic gesture to strangle the voices who are fighting against the injustices of the State. It is also our responsibility to protect these spaces and support these voices.

The irony of the times is that how we act now will decide our tomorrow. Though, there will be definitely a future but the question is who we are going to decide the future with. The killers of Shahid or people like Shahid? We have to decide.

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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.”

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.

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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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