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Why I Think It Is The Worst Time To Be A Muslim In The World

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Yesterday, while watching the news coverage of the chemical attacks in Syria; it became almost impossible for me to control my tears. The sight of children lying on the ground, gasping for breath, made realize how compassion is slowly evaporating from this world. Outraged, I felt the urge to share this heartbreaking news on social media platforms and tweet about this brutality, but I couldn’t.

I felt terrified of being judged for my sympathy and with held myself from posting anything online. These days, your apprehension about the ongoing situation can brand you a sympathizer of terrorists or bombard you with abuses and threaten you to leave the country.

It is, indeed the worst time to be a Muslim in the world. Seldom has my religion overpowered my identity, beliefs, nationality, political orientation and social choices. The fear of being judged has made many like us, mute spectators. I’m utterly confused if this silence will resolve issues or increase the suspicion surrounding my religion.

“The country is changing”, they say in the advertorials. I agree it must be changing, after all stagnation is death, and change is inevitable. But it is the direction of change that I fail to comprehend. After the landmark win of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in India, prime minister Modi, who used to be a hardliner, has re-invented his image as a pro-business leader, focusing on development. But his political choices after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, re-affirm that for nationalist parties, ideology is bigger than the leader. The subsequent positioning of a Hindutva firebrand, Yogi Adityanath, who has asked people to exhume the bodies of Muslim women and rape them, gives a clear indication of the government’s current agenda.

Widening Gap

On the night of September 28, 2015, in Bisara, Uttar Pradesh, a 52-year-old man was lynched, his family members beaten brutally and his house vandalized for allegedly storing and eating beef. While we unwillingly made peace, thinking this to be as an isolated incident, more such stories started erupting.

Similar incidents are gathering pace in a defined pattern, where men and women have both become targets of cow vigilantes. The instances of organised hatred, isolation and even violence impinge on the process of social and economic inclusion and development of the Muslim community.

Hundreds gathered near Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque in New York to protest against the murder of Imam Maulama Akonjee and his assistant, Thara Uddin, 64, outside the mosque.

The most affected are the unorganised class, which are a major chunk of the Muslim population in India. The rule of a so called secular party for almost 70 years has also done nothing to give us respite. Indian Muslims have been neglected and used as a vote bank. However, the damage done by the community itself, in overlooking the significance of education, has equally pushed it behind.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE 2014-15), Muslims comprise 14% of India’s population but account for 4.5% of students enrolled in higher education. The education gap shown by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) study of West Bengal, having a sizeable Muslim population, is glaring. For every 1,000 Muslim boys, only 10 opt for post-graduation; and for Muslim girls the figure is comes down to two. Whereas that of Hindu males is 30 and females is 32.

Education and opportunities both complement each other, and if one is obstructed, wholesome growth of an individual is bound to be affected. If the ongoing situation continues, the community may be confined to ghettos, consequently enhancing this gap.

Reinventing Religion

To clarify, Islam is not about killing people over different choices. It’s about peace, equality and an everyday code of conduct for believers. Sadly, the religion has fallen prey to patriarchal influences, misogynistic authorities and hidden political agendas. The fanatic representation of religion and the subsequent failure of Islamic countries has created a biased opinion about the religion.

From Afghanistan, to Iraq to Syria, the brutality of the West, in the guise of a saviour, has created extreme discontent. These countries are living examples of how common people pay the price of devastation. Critics who brand Muslims as terrorists should see how the war has pitted Muslims against Muslims, and destroyed countries.

The correlation and difference between the two kinds of massacre, one by the terrorists and the other by West needs to be dissected with the help of compassion. A discourse on military interventions in countries and the subsequent social, political and economic after effects, is inevitable to be able to dive into the depths of Islamophobia.

I am certain that there is not a single Muslim, who is comfortable with the ongoing demonisation of Islam, neither do they support fundamentalism or extremism of any kind. The community seeks respite from the burden of misrepresentation of the war on terror as being a war on Islam. This is going to be impossible unless more and more Muslims speak up against stereotypes, and bring forward the real image of an inclusive Islam.

This sacrifice, loss of loved ones, death and misery will be a waste unless Muslims, the world over, unite for a better state of awareness and evolution of identity towards the real essence of Islam. Pertinent issues of women and gender rights, bigotry of clergy, education and employment need to be addressed collectively. In the absence of a leadership, we need to rise and become our own leader. The only way to do this is to ask the right questions, move beyond stereotypes and gain control of our identity.

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Photo credits: Spencer Platt/ Getty Images
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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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