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Fareed Zakaria’s Views On Intolerance Of Liberals Went Viral. But Here’s What He Missed

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With the current state of politics in the world, debates about intolerance are suddenly in vogue again – and for good reason. Religious freedom, freedom of expression, freedom to love – all kinds of rights and freedoms are under attack. And with the rise of right-wing governments all around the globe, such intolerance is being institutionalised even more openly. Needless to say, the pushback against this has been strong – but arguably not strong enough, given that political power is still wielded by conservative forces. And while there have been mass protests and movements, whether at Standing Rock or Una, a sustained, cohesive, and unified mass political movement against this new, global rise of fascism is yet to be seen.

One of the more widely noted tendencies of these oppressive governments across various nations is an attack on campus freedoms, specifically the right to dissent and the right to organise. Given their lack of political power in more directly influential spaces, Leftists have attempted to hold on to power in campuses and stand against government intervention. One way they have tried to do this is by ‘no-platforming’ or refusing to give discursive space to right-wing politicians or ideologues – in the case of America, figures like Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and infamous media personality Milo Yiannopoulos. In the case of the latter, his scheduled appearance at UC Berkeley earlier this year even led to violence from alleged Antifa forces, who were attempting to prevent him from turning up.

As Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria states in this video, this can be seen as a rising intolerance within liberal spaces themselves – intolerance towards differing opinions, towards contrarian views, and towards honest debate with said views and opinions. Citing examples of students walking out during graduation speeches given by VP Pence and Devos, Zakaria states that while liberals might like to think of themselves as tolerant, this shows that they are as close-minded as they assume conservatives to be. In order to be truly liberal, Zakaria says, space must be given to these speakers and their ideas, and these ideas should be listened to by liberals in order to sharpen their own views.

Zakaria may not be far off the mark in pointing out the fragility of bubbles and echo chambers, and how a complete refusal to engage with contrarian views can backfire immensely. While safe spaces ostensibly exist as spaces for oppressed minorities and marginalised groups outside of the influence of their oppressors, if a safe space extends into a bubble that cuts off its denizens from ground realities, it can contribute to the creation of a dangerous, elite ivory tower. And elitism is, whether we like it or not, a rampant problem among left and liberal spaces. Moreover, if freedom of speech is to be defended as a principle – in particular, freedom of speech and dissent against the ruling class – then we cannot condone the ruling class cracking down on right wing speech, even if we express dissent against it ourselves.

However, it is difficult to agree with the rest of what he says – and one might say it displays the political inanity and blindness that has become inherent in liberal and centrist discourses like Zakaria’s. Zakaria’s statement that “conservative voices and views, already a besieged minority, are being silenced entirely” shows a distinct lack of political insight for such a distinguished journalist. Conservative voices and views happen to hold actual political power in several influential countries across the world – including the most powerful one. Conservative voices and views therefore hold the power to enact real decisions that can affect people’s lives, especially minorities, workers, and the poor. The left, for all its discursive bluster, has for years been politically insignificant, and outside of university spaces, left voices have often been brutally silenced. A symbolic walkout staged by students does not equate to a refusal to engage with contrarian views – it is, rather, an acknowledgement that figures like DeVos and Pence – incidentally, the Secretary of Education and the Vice-President, respectively – hold tremendous power and should not be ceded any more ground. That what they represent should constantly be opposed and actively fought against. Zakaria treats these walkouts as serious, grievous harm being committed against ‘besieged minority’ voices, whereas they are merely symbolic – at best. They do, however, display much keener political acumen on the part of these students over an experienced commentator like Zakaria. For intellectuals and commentators like him, apparently the only correct way to protest against open racists, sexists, and queerphobes who possess the ability to affect people’s lives with their beliefs is to engage them in ‘reasoned’, ‘honest intellectual debate’.

Of course, it is perhaps in the interests of centrists and neoliberals to preserve a skewed world order that keeps actual power in the hands of the elites – because this did not start with the rise of the global right wing. Centrist and liberal democratic governments have, historically, also worked to preserve this imbalance of power, and it is not merely in the interests of fairness that Zakaria speaks of ‘anti-intellectualism’. In dismissing the various forms of protest and rebellion that have been built up across generations of movements, as well as in ignoring the material realities of people that makes it necessary for them to adopt certain means of resistance, what Zakaria displays is, ironically enough, an immense sense of privilege and superiority that can only be called elitism – except the repercussions of such an attitude are far more dangerous than that word implies.

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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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