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Why Are Academic Debates Considered Dangerous But Not Goondaism?

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Editor’s note: On February 21, members of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) locked down the Ramjas College seminar room and pelted stones in protest against an invitation to JNU students to address a seminar saying they are “anti-nationals”. A day after, violent clashes followed on campus. Zoya Bhatt, a student at Ramjas college, writes how her ‘chilled out college’ turned into a political battle zone, why students at Ramjas protested and why it is time to stop following the mob.

College is supposed to be a safe space. A space where you can think, learn and question without fear. A home away from home, a respite from monotony. It is here that you become the person that you are going to be for the rest of your life.

But alas! this peace, this sense of belonging I associated with my college was rendered a severe blow by a bunch of goons who believe themselves to be the sole benefactors of this nation. Thrashing professors, dragging girls by the hair and chasing them down the street while threatening to rape them, vandalizing property and a lot more, they did it all in the name of desh prem, in a bid to ‘protect this country’ from “anti-nationals”.

It all started about four days ago when the English department of Ramjas College, in partnership with the literary society organized a talk titled ‘Cultures of Protest’ on February 21. As a student of the college, there is one thing I’d like to clarify at the very beginning. Contrary to what people think, this was not a talk that was aimed at mocking authority, but one meant to celebrate the power of dissent and freedom of speech. Dignitaries from all walks of life were invited to speak at the event which was scheduled to take place at the conference room of the college. Umar Khalid, was one among the many who were invited. Why was he invited? Well, he was invited because of his expertise in the field of tribal studies. He was to present a paper on the tribal people in Bastar, that doesn’t touch the Kashmir issue even remotely.

But lo and behold! ABVP got to know about this ‘anti-national’ propaganda and in all their pompousness came to disrupt the event. They were successful and Khalid was not allowed to come to college since neither the police nor the organizers could guarantee his safety.

This was not it. Obviously, seeing what was happening, students and teachers of the college also got angry. And in retaliation, students, remaining guest teachers and speakers also began chanting slogans of azaadi or freedom. We chanted slogans demanding freedom from fascist politicos who are hell bent on shutting down voices and curtailing our freedom of speech. Freedom from those who terrorize and vandalize when they do not have anything to say, have nothing to defend their unjust actions.

Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

But unfortunately, most people don’t get this. When they hear about azaadi, they automatically associate it with Kashmir. And this is how the safest and most chilled out college on campus turned into a political battleground in a matter of minutes. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the college anymore. It became a full blown fight of the left vs. the right, ABVP vs. AISA, nationalists vs. anti nationals.

The media began reporting this incident as a political clash that turned ugly. But this is not the case. What happened at Ramjas is none of this crap. And I can say this with certainty as a student of the college, who witnessed all that happened. We didn’t protest because we were defending affiliations. We protested for upholding our right to dissent and freedom of speech. For helping maintain an environment of thinking and healthy discussion. Against violence, vandalism and hooliganism. Against the dominance of political parties in universities across the country.

Do you think that this qualifies as anti-national? Do you think that abusing and attacking qualifies as nationalism? Did Gandhi (a PROVEN patriot and nationalist) ever advocate violence? I don’t believe so. Why is it that potentially fruitful debates are considered to be toxic and dangerous while goondaism is not? There are so many questions that remain. So many questions that only the people of this nation can answer, but only after they put their brains to use. But that will only happen once they cease to be influenced by a mob.

Please remember what we are fighting for and what we are fighting against. The incident at Ramjas is NOTHING like what happened in JNU last year. We love and respect this nation as much as you do and we will fight to uphold the dignity of our university, professors and constitution. Stop following the mob and start following your mind.

Zoya Bhatt is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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