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‘Most UK Papers Reluctant To Accept Articles Critical Of PM Modi’: Writer, Amrit Wilson

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At a rally to ‘Remember Fukushima’ in 2015, held in London, writer and activist Amrit Wilson stood and raised a simple question:

“Do we care about human life? Do we care about the future? Or do we care about profits by the big corporations? Because the Indian experience shows that that’s what it is really about.”

For anyone aware of the situation in India, those questions ring eerily true. And once you start delving deeper into Wilson’s work, the force of her writing on issues of gender and race especially strikes you even harder.

Living in the UK since the early 1960s, Wilson, who visits India often, is the author of “Finding A Voice – Asian Women In Britain” and “Dreams Questions And Struggles –South Asian Women In Britain”. Founder member of the South Asia Solidarity Group (SASG),  and part of Freedom Without Fear – a coalition of organizations and individuals ‘for Black, South Asian and ‘Minority Ethnic’ women to lead discussions on the violence against women and girls’, Wilson’s writings have been published in The Guardian, openDemocracy, Ceasefire magazine and many others.

I reached out to the astute socio-political commentator for a free-wheeling chat, over email, to find about more on what she thinks of multiple issues – this government’s two years in power, the Beef parties we saw last year, to the struggle for women’s rights today. Read on.

Amrit Wilson. Image source: Facebook

Artika Raj (AR): Prior to the 2014 elections, you wrote of how Narendra Modi becoming PM would deal a real blow to women’s rights in India. Two years on with Modi as PM, what is your opinion on the matter today?

Amrit Wilson (AW): I had written that a Modi victory would tighten the powerful grip which the Sangh Parivar organisations already had on India’s institutions and this would affect women’s rights. This is exactly what has happened whether in education where school curricula have been redesigned to introduce the most misogynistic attitudes and patriarchal structures, in universities where Vice Chancellors seek to impose curfews and other ridiculous patriarchal rules, or in the law itself with the retention of the anti-LGBTQ section 377 or AFSPA in Kashmir and the North East.

The last two years have also seen a horrifying increase in violent attacks by emboldened Hindutva gangs on Muslim and Dalit women with atrocities like the digging out and gang rape of a recently-buried Muslim woman’s body. At the same time, the government’s ruthless neoliberal policies have meant, as I had predicted in the Guardian piece, that in the mineral-rich central belt of India, the mainly Adivasi populations are being increasingly displaced with the utmost violence and the land handed over to corporates. An integral part of this process is the torture and rape of Adivasi women.

AR: A call to protest Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK by ‘Freedom Without Fear’, of which you are a founding member, had special mention of beef on the lunch menu – “Plus delicious food (non-vegetarian and vegetarian) including the Beef dishes the Hindu right want to ban!”  Many even in India organised beef parties to express dissent. How important are these little acts of subversion to combat the right-wing agenda, in your opinion? Are their other things common people can do to stem its spread?

AW: As a Marxist and a feminist, I believe that no-one is a ‘common’ person, just as no-one is ‘normal’. But yes, I do think that apparently small acts of subversion have an impact. Of course, when carried out collectively against a background of a mass movement, they have infinitely more impact. I am thinking here of what Essar Batool told me recently about her book “Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?” – that for the survivors of that horrifying gang rape 25 years ago – ‘forgetting was a coping mechanism and remembering is resistance’ – in that case, the very act of remembering and speaking confronts the patriarchy of the state and undermines its weapons of intimidation and fear.

AR: As somebody who has been critical of ‘white feminism’ for its inability to be intersectional, how do you see the growth of the feminist movement in India? Do you think it is inclusive enough of differences unique to India such as caste? What needs to be done to make sure it is?

AW: ‘White feminism’ refers not to the feminism of women who happen to be white but to an ideological approach which does not acknowledge the crucial significance of race. I have belonged over the years to feminists groups for and by women of colour. We have continually challenged ‘white feminism’ but we have always seen ourselves as part of the broader feminist movement. This form of engagement assumes that there is always an underlying possibility of change. As for the feminist movement in India, like the movement in the UK, it appears to be anything but monolithic – some sections within it have a far more intersectional approach to women’s oppression than others; this needs to be far more widespread. It is the only way to create a collective feminist identity which acknowledges the huge differences in women’s experiences and recognises the unique contributions of Dalit feminism. Caste is and must be seen as, central to any analysis of Indian society and it is inextricably bound up with gender. This is so even in the South Asian communities in the UK. Forced marriage cases in the UK too are most likely to be linked to a compulsion to maintain so-called caste purity.

AR: From Grunwick to the women protesting AFSPA in Kashmir, to the powerful Pinjra Tod movement on campuses in India, how do you see the evolution of the Asian women as an activist? Has her perception as a docile, homemaker changed both within the community and outside?

AW: Women have always been activists in a variety of ways but this generation of Indian women has risen up in unprecedented numbers. They are far more vocal and visible than in earlier periods and this is something uniquely inspiring. Even under the harshest of conditions, ruthless neoliberalism, the fascistic rule of the BJP, and the increasing power of the worst elements of feudal patriarchy like the Khap Panchayats, Pinjras are being smashed and with them the stereotypes. However, the paymasters of the media have insisted on a continual reconstruction of stereotypes and a parade of reconfigured constructions of the ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’, so the battle will have to continue. Meanwhile, we must draw sustenance from every victory small and big. Speaking of intersectionality, we must also remember that being stereotyped as ‘docile’ and a ‘homemaker’ is primarily a middle class/upper caste experience and women from marginalised groups are often demonised or stigmatised.

A Pinjra Tod march that was carried out on Women’s Day (March 8) earlier this year.

AR: In India, press freedom is currently under threat (most recent being the attempted day-long ban on NDTV). Do you think this situation is unique to the current government? Would you feel as free to criticise the government if you were living here?

AW: I think there are two issues here, firstly whether an individual writer is willing to criticise the government and secondly whether media outlets would be willing to print what they have written. For example, since Narendra Modi came to power most newspapers in the UK have been reluctant or unwilling to accept articles critical of him. There has been very little reportage of the daily atrocities committed by the Sangh Parivar. In India, as I said before, the media is kept on a tight rein by the government. Would I feel free to criticise the government if I lived in India? This is a hypothetical question but since I have always been quite happy to write what I believe to be true even if that means criticising the powerful, I don’t think I will stop now, no matter where I happen to live.

AR: Lastly, on the role of the journalist in today’s times. Public perception of the media has undergone a major shift, the most recent case being the 2016 US elections. Where do you think the media is going right and going wrong? Is it fulfilling its purpose as a watchdog, if that is its purpose?

AW: Since a lot of the media globally is now owned by powerful corporates, on one level the media can only be a watchdog for corporate interests. Journalists committed to telling the truth and providing facts have to operate against this background and as the US elections have shown this is not easy. Increasingly people have turned to social media for news – now even this is hugely problematic with the fabrication of a huge amount of ‘fake news’.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons
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  1. Lipi Mehta

    Didn’t know so much of this. Great interview.

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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.

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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.”

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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