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Why We Still Need Caste Based Reservations Even After 69 Years of Independence

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In August 2015, a student of College of Engineering (Trivandrum) died after she was mowed down in the campus by a jeep driven by other students during Onam celebrations. Sajeev Mohan, an assistant professor in the same college, penned an apology letter to the parents of the victim and posted it on Facebook. Mohan’s post listed out several reasons including campus politics, political interventions and academic system in the college as reasons for the unfortunate developments in the campus. He wrote another post and analysed the problem with more details. He mentioned the caste, rank and the dismal academic record of the prime accused (the man behind the wheels) in the case. He criticised the system of caste-based reservation that facilitated a student with 56,000 plus rank in the entrance exam to get into one of the state’s best colleges. He also listed out how the student had over 30 back papers to clear. The post was flooded with various responses in a few minutes and a significant number of people were in agreement with Mohan.

The comments on his post point to the crossroads at which the nation stands today. Caste-based reservations started out with the eloquent goal of transcending caste at the time of independence. However, the Indian society has now ironically been split into two unequal and implacably opposed compartments due to the same action.

For one section, caste has yielded all that it can and the traditional caste capital has been converted, over decades, into money, power and position. This section is often presumed to be ‘casteless’. The second section represents the majority of the population, which has been suppressed for decades and for them, caste based reservation seem to be the only way out of the vicious cycle. Hence, caste remains hypervisible for the latter, while at times, it seems to be invisible for the former.

Pages of history are replete with many instances of the upper castes being the decision makers and the lower castes acting as the supplicants, even after an age old civilisation woke up to to the calls of modernity. Caste still simmers underneath the surface of our world-class universities, colleges, glitzy malls and workplaces.

In the novel “Nooru Simhasanangal”, Jayamohan describes the caste hierarchy in the modern profession. The novel reiterates that while the number of students from oppressed castes seeking higher education has increased over the decades, what remains the same, however, are the harrowing experiences that these students face.

There’s a joke on the internet which says that after a decision was taken to send 20 people to the moon, feverish negotiations began, finally resulting in the selection of nine OBCs, six SCs, three STs and if any space was left, two astronauts. A deeper look into the joke will reveal that it identifies the astronauts by their qualifications, not by their castes, while the people belonging to the backward castes are identified by their castes. This joke points towards the reality of the present day Indian society. Though the upper caste identities can be overwritten by professional identities of choice, the lower caste identity is so indelibly engraved that it renders all other identities and achievements illegible.

In many parts of India, the prejudice is still so severe and has been alleged to have led to many suicides and drop outs. There have been 11 suicides in different institutes in Hyderabad between 2007 and 2013. Most of the students have been Dalits. The academic expert, Anoop Singh, opined that there was enough and more evidence for the caste elements that played a part in driving these brilliant young men and women to end their lives. He said, “In elite educational institutions, caste prejudice has become so deeply entrenched that it is considered normal.”

Rohith Vemula’s suicide gave rise to a student movement in the country.

The recent student agitations that took place in universities across India and the wide support it received from the young generation are also rays of hope. The protests that followed Rohit Vemula’s suicide heralded the birth of a generation for whom, caste would no longer be a part of their identity. It is the generation of young men and women who promptly reacted to Rohith Vemula’s suicide and raised their voices against the grim shadow of caste discrimination.

As Vemula had penned: “Maybe, a day when no person’s birth is a fatal accident is not so far away. Then, the value of a man will not be reduced to a number, a vote or a thing. A man will not be treated as a mind, but as a glorious thing made of stardust. Every man will then receive the opportunity to emerge from the shadow of his own being and love without getting hurt.”

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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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