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13 Unfortunate Moments From 2016 That Shook Our Conscience

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It’s December and the curtains are going to fall as the year is about to come to an end. This year, just like any other, has had a mix of both good and bad. Yet, the devil, unfortunately has made its presence felt in the form of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, honour killings, etc. YKA has chosen 13 incidents that happened this year which should act as reminders that humanity needs to do a lot more introspection into what it means to be a human.

1. Rohith Vemula’s Suicide

A 26-year-old Hyderabad Central University student called Rohith Vemula committed suicide on January 17. The suicide letter he wrote shook the conscience of many in the country. His suspension from the University was allegedly due to the pressure two Central ministers put on the University Vice-Chancellor. This led many to call his suicide an ‘institutional murder’. It was said that he was discriminated agaist for being a Dalit, while others denied that he was one. The Central government felt it was necessary to figure out whether he indeed was a Dalit or not. They set up a one-man commission which came to the conclusion that he was not. His caste had become more important than his suicide. This is what he had meant when he described his birth as a “fatal accident.”

2. Brazil Gangrape

India’s conscience was shaken in 2012 by a brutal gang rape of a physiotherapy student. It was Brazil’s turn in 2016. A 16-year-old Brazilian girl was allegedly gang-raped by seven men in May. Videos of the alleged rapists with the unconscious victim were posted on social media. This sparked outrage in a country where a rape is reported every three hours. Women and men came out on the streets of Brazil in huge numbers to protest.

3. Brock Turner Let Off Easy After Conviction

The clutches of sexism blemished the reputation of Stanford University built over a century. In January 2015, Brock Turner, then 20-year-old swimmer and a student at the University was convicted for sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman who was unconscious. In June 2016, he was sentenced to six months in prison. This received widespread media attention after his sentencing and his father’s insensitive statement in court. His father had said that his son shouldn’t have gone to jail for “20 minutes of action.” Turner didn’t even have to remain in jail for three years as he was released after serving half of the sentence.

4. Orlando Nightclub Shooting

Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old man entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016, and killed 50 people. The LGBTQ community which throughout history has faced the wrath of mainstream society which refuses to accept difference, this time around was targeted by an individual whose act cannot be defined within the realms of the rational. This was the worst attack against people belonging to the LGBTQ community in the history of the United States of America.

5. Murder Of Amjad Sabri

Amjad Sabri, a singer of qawwali was murdered by two gunmen in Karachi, Pakistan in the month of June. Tehrik-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The outfit considers the Sufi tradition of singing qawwals to be blasphemous. Sufi music replenishes the soul of most, but the ones who wish to go back to a time where stoning to death was a public spectacle will perhaps feel a sharp object piercing their bodies every time a stereo is turned on. Thousands of people from Pakistan turned up for Sabri’s funeral and openly mourned his death. A nation which made a tryst with being an Islamic state since its creation is fighting a battle where barbaric forces are fighting against liberal values.

6. Killings And Blindings In Kashmir

A nation is an imagined identity. Yet, the idea of a nation for political, economic and psychological reasons is so strong that people can be killed and blinded for it. The state of Kashmir witnessed a major unrest after the encounter of militant Burhan Wani in July, who belonged to the Hizbul Mujahideen. Protests erupted on the streets against the Indian state with many throwing stones and grenades at the police and paramilitary forces. They responded by firing pellet guns which were at their disposal. Hundreds of Kashmiris were blinded in the process. A 14-year-old girl was hit by pellets in the eye while she was looking out of a window in her house. Over 90 people were killed as well.

7. Murder Of Qandeel Baloch

Qandeel Baloch, a 26-year-old Pakistani social media celebrity was strangled to death in her sleep by her own brother. He felt she was bringing dishonour to the family due to the pictures she had posted on social media. She was considered by some as the Kim Kardashian of Pakistan. Chastity of women is the most cherished object of a feudal society. Any picture which suggests otherwise is blasphemous. Baloch supported her family financially which lived in a three room house. She also supported her relatives. Yet, the lethal combination of patriarchy and feudalism will always find it difficult to accept a modern society where a woman is independent and a master of her own choices.

8. Flogging Of Dalits In Una

Many Dalits throughout history have fulfilled the societal function of clearing cow carcasses, a job ascribed to them based on what society sees as their ‘lower caste’ status. While the upper caste Hindus consider the cow to be their mother, the responsibility of clearing it when it is dead falls on the shoulders of the Dalits, along with all sorts of oppression that is heaped on them in the name of caste rules. In a video that went viral, caste atrocities were clearly visible when four Dalits in Una district were tied to an SUV with a chain and beaten up with iron rods by the Gau Rakshaks in July. They were beaten up after they were found to be skinning the carcass of a dead cow, which the Gau Rakshaks alleged was killed by them. An allegation that was later proven to be false by the Gujarat CID, according to this report in the Indian Express. This resulted in a major uprising of Dalits in the state of Gujarat. A huge rally took place on Independence Day where Rohith Vemula’s mother was one of the speakers.

9. 2016 Nice Attack

Grand theft Auto is a video game where everyone fulfils their most sadistic fantasies buried in the subconscious. It includes killing people with chainsaws, shooting at the police and driving over pedestrians. Except, none of it was real. In the 2016 Nice attack in July, Mohamad Bouhlel a Tunisian resident in France drove a 19 ton cargo truck over a crowd of people when they were celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. Eighty six people died. Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, a terrorist organisation which has a limitless appetite for such barbaric violence claimed responsibility for it. They may or may not have had a role in it. Yet, such terror attacks in Europe really took the continent by storm this year.

10. Floods in Bihar

Over 23 lakh people were affected by the floods in Bihar in the months of July, August and September and at least 228 people lost their lives. Unfortunately, this did not make as much news as it should have.Probably because it is much more difficult to point fingers at someone during natural calamities. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the veteran politician of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the party in the Grand Alliance governing Bihar currently along with the JD(U), travelled to the flood affected areas and showed how superstition continues to plague the Indian mindset. He said, “Ganga has reached your doorstep. It has reached your hearth. You are fortunate. Do you get the holy water of Ganga easily? Now, Ganga will save everyone.” This as a justification for 200 people dying and countless lives destroyed.

11. Demonetisation

It has been reported that 90 people have died ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that ₹500 and ₹1000 notes were going to be stripped off their legal tender. The decision to demonetise the Indian currency was taken by the Narendra Modi government apparently to get rid of black money in the economy. Perhaps time will tell whether such a move will benefit people in the long run. Yet, what we do know is that it has caused inconvenience to millions of people in this country. A video went viral in which a farmer was lying on his wife’s lap inside a bank. He had passed away a few minutes after the video was shot. Nobody in the video was seen as coming to help the individual. Another man died of a heart attack while he waited in the ATM queue and it took 30 minutes for him to be taken to the hospital. Nobody was willing to leave the queue to tend to him.

12. Victory Of Donald Trump Despite His Controversial Comments On Women

As soon to be President of USA, Donald Trump is arguably the most powerful man on this planet currently. And though democratically elected, that a man with a record such as his sits in this office, makes for some seriously disheartening news. Not least because of the views he holds about women. In an old video from 2005, which got leaked right before the elections, he said things in a conversation with a radio show host which ideally should shock anyone in the 21st century. He said, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star. They let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Yet, this didn’t prevent even women from not voting for him in the presidential elections. If the exit polls are to be believed, 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. Overall 42% of women voted for Trump. And now he is here to stay.

13. Bombings In Aleppo

More than 4,00,000 people are believed to have been killed in the civil war raging in Syria. Aleppo, the historic city in Syria has been ravaged by a military battle since 2012 between the Syrian government and the opposition forces. As Syrian forces draw closer to capturing the city, they are bombing rebel held enclaves even as the rest of the world passively looks on… When such battles take place, human lives which never wanted to be a part of it don’t really matter. Even if the Syrian government does capture the city, will there be people left in it to be governed?

 

This is not an exhaustive list by any means and a lot of other tragic incidents and disasters didn’t make it to the final list. Hopefully, the upcoming year will have much better news for all of us. We hope to reach a stage one day where it is impossible to make lists like these.

UPDATE: Point 13 was added later to the story and the title was changed to reflect the same.

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Image source: Monika Graff/ Getty Images, Rohith Vemula/ Facebook
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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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