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What Is The Movement For Aazadi All About

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It is quite legitimate for a student to think that the power holders in a nation are saviors of some sort. In a democracy it is right to think that the ruling power will come up with newer and better ideas and interact with the students. But what if the party in power wants its students to think in a particular way and does not allow varying thoughts, ideas and questions to arise?

Universities and college campuses have always been spaces for new ideas, debates and discussions. They are institutions where freedom of thought is encouraged and differing views on a subject matter are necessitated. No country is perfect and has to constantly keep improving and improvising. Hence, contradiction of thoughts become natural and disagreements become the uncontested result. The idea of democracy can thus, be seen sustained through varied opinion, thoughts and solutions based out of dialogue. This is the definition of democracy that I had come to learn.

The recent events that took place at Ramjas College, Delhi University, have shaken me up and forced me to review my definition of democracy. The seminar – Culture Of Protests – was marred by utter violence and hooliganism.

Students, teachers and journalists were beaten by the members of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) while the police watched. The members of ABVP were protesting against the seminar organized by the college. They came out in large numbers and disrupted the seminar, throwing stones in the hall. Later, they beat up the students and teachers who were participating in the event. Their main issue with the seminar was an invitation to Umar Khalid who is doing his Ph.D on Bastar from JNU. He was to speak on “War In The Adivasi Areas”.

To the members of ABVP, Umar Khalid is an “anti-national” booked under charges of sedition last year. He is a “threat” to Indian society. Khalid had to cancel his talk as the events took a wrong turn. Later, Ravish Kumar from NDTV invited him to his Prime Time show to speak on the very same topic.

The members of ABVP threw stones, chairs and laathis (sticks) at students and teachers who were protesting peacefully on February 22, against the events that took place the previous day. This is what disturbs me the most about the protests. There were students not affiliated to any student organization but, people were prompt to bracket them under organisations such as All India Students’ Association, Students’ Federation of India and All India Students’ Federation. The issue was never about these factions or about their political stand.

Umar Khalid at the event organised against capital punishment.

The protests at Ramjas College and at Delhi University are about the Right to think differently. They are about creating spaces for analysis, debate and about raising questions to understand theories and issues better. People claim that Umar Khalid is an “anti-national” because he was accused of sedition. The “Act of Sedition” was introduced by the British Raj against Krantikaris (revolutionaries) and when translated into Hindi, it is called Raj Droh (going against the establishment) not Desh Droh (going against the country).

Small instances are a proof of the lack of intellect of the members of ABVP which then leaves them with the only option of violence. In the protests, girls were openly beaten up in front of police. When these people can’t respect the opposite gender, how can they claim to have respect for the country? RSS, the parent organisation of ABVP, is the most influential pressure group in the country. The government is also RSS backed and hence, ABVP has the leverage to exercise violence in order to shut people up. Universities are a place of differing opinions and debates and it is this culture that the government wants to kill.

The issue is not about the Right or the Left wing. It is about enforcing ideas, hindrance to student struggle and death of democracy. It’s about exacting violence in the name of nationalism and “Bharat Mata” (mother India). Students in the colleges of Delhi University are being forced to say “Bharat Mata ki Jai (All hail mother India)”. It’s not only about Umar Khalid or Shehla Rashid, it’s about supremacy of one thought, one idea and one race.

Students are open to various ideas and thoughts, the issue is about killing those thoughts and ideologies. Delhi University has been turned into a war field and students who are witnessing these events are scared. They are being labeled and people from various parts of the country are showing support to this violence. The idea of violence is scary for a democracy. And yes, it is definitely about Aazadi (freedom). Aazadi from the people who want to attack democracy, debate, discussion and dissent. It’s also about Aazadi from hooliganism and violence. It is about looking for a better future and no power can stop this student movement, the movement for Aazadi.

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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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