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Why ‘Digital Nationalists’ Are Destructive For India’s Democracy

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Social media has become an everyday-companion in our lives. It is the first thing we browse after rising up and the last thing we hit before going to sleep, besides the hours we spend throughout the day.  With 166 million monthly active users in India, Facebook is slowly becoming an addiction. The same is true for WhatsApp, which has become a life-line with over 200 million users in India.

Since we Indians excel in making the best of everything, we invariably become parts of groups (on social media) without prior information or consent. In the next stage, we are often bombarded with irrelevant messages that, in no way, relate to the purpose of the group. But that’s excusable, since the puzzle of why we answer anything between ‘B’ to ‘Z’, when asked about ‘A’, is still unsolved. Being a patriotic Indian, I am fine with this puzzle – but what doesn’t make sense to me is the current, overflowing sense of ‘digital nationalism’, for which the internet-accessing urban population is mainly responsible.

Even on professional social media groups, I keep getting videos and messages that openly and proudly advocate war, hatred and killings. One such video, which I viewed recently, was shared by a mother of two toddlers. The video talked of burning Pakistan and featured images of men, with swords and weapons in their hands, chanting Jai Hindu and Jai Sri Ram and abusing Muslims. Similarly, there are numerous doctored and fake videos doing the rounds to brainwash people into believing something which is non-existent. Praises for Modi and Yogi Adityanath often surface in discussions in tones that leave no scope for disagreement.

These chest-thumping ‘digital nationalists’, who can be seen in many parts of the country, are very eager to replace conversations with bombs and bullets. Social media is the god that knows it all. Opinions are unilaterally formed and judgements are pronounced. Facebook decides that the salvation of our country rests on war with Pakistan.

Kashmir is our pride. So, every citizen on FB, Twitter and WhatsApp who has never been to Kashmir, or is faintly acquainted with the painful history behind the partition and legacy of Kashmir, hates and abuses Kahmiris, and brands them as terrorists is damn sure that we should fight for Kashmir.  The messages are sometimes ironical and creating a rift within the country. These messages generally equate Pakistan, Kashmir and Muslims as enemies and call for their killing, rape and burning. We are blinded by hatred, and the inability to see beyond ‘digital patriotism’ is making us emotionally-bankrupt and mentally-malnourished.

Being a communicator by profession, I have no doubts about the power of social media as an impactful influencer. The continuing damage is going to cost us dearly, and will leave people and relationships scarred for life. Our Facebook posts, Twitterati battles and WhatsApp messages would are liked, re-tweeted and shared across social media, in a matter of seconds – thereby, making it seem ‘all-encompassing’, just like reality is.  Wearing patriotism on your sleeves is the new fashion – the louder the better. In fact, there is an aggression, anger and unwillingness to listen to any alternative explanation.

There are organised troll-gangs who have surpassed all levels of nationalism. They are ‘new-age freedom fighters’, here to save mother India by abusing, hurling sexist messages and sending rape threats online. The anonymity given by internet has lifted the moral constrains and social etiquette that would have regulated our behaviour, otherwise. People frustrated by their lack of accomplishments have always used the power they yield over women and weaker sections of society, for their self-gratification. Trolling pumps the adrenaline-rush of such sadist and dysfunctional people, who only feel important by attacking people.

Trolling is now a lucrative career-option, used by politicians for creating a mass following. As Swati Chaturvedi describes in her book, “I am a Troll”, this is the equivalent of a communally-charged mob out to burn down somebody’s home (or village) as part of a pogrom. The fact has been substantiated by the then-defense minister Manohar Parrikar’s comment on the removal of Aamir Khan from the Snapdeal campaign. He had said, “There was a team working on this. They were telling people to order and return. The company should learn a lesson; they had to pull the advertisement.” Without a face, these trolls can be anywhere and everywhere, ‘forcing’ you to see people as Hindus, Christians or Muslims.

The next time you like, re-tweet or forward such a post, you are falling prey to a well-framed and strategically-designed political agenda of a group. In fact, your sharing of one thematically negative or destructive message can easily influence 100 people who may not have the time or energy to go into the depth or the reality of issues.

In case, you are very keen on displaying your patriotism, it can easily be done offline. Just be in office on time, don’t cheat on work, pay your taxes, stop running after your chartered accountant on how to fake and save money, pay your bills honestly, stop bribing, don’t litter, follow traffic rules and respect your fellow countrymen even if they are poor, deprived, from another religion or caste. I am sure this very small list may seem too much for most, so you can just do this one thing – spend less time on social media, and more with people. Then you might learn the compassion that is fast disappearing from our lives.

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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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