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Story Of A Peahen In A Post-Truth World

The Fake news, Lügenpresse (the lying press), Donald Trump, impregnation of the female peacock (peahen) is another classic set of syllogism. The ‘Holy Cow’ and the right wing sentiments went far with a recent judgement passed by Justice Sharma of the Rajasthan High Court. In a bizarre judgement, the judge not only decided that the time was apt for the cow being declared as a national animal but his rationale made several doubt the biology lessons they learnt in high school. He invoked the rationale behind the national bird status of the peacock—its abstinence from the ‘worldly pleasures’ (read sex). Claiming the patriarchal piosity that is followed by ‘tears’ of sacrifice which is allegedly the means of insemination and fertilisation of a peahen. The tweeple were kept guessing if all peacocks were divine or if sexual pleasure was a sin. Indeed we are a country that runs high on sentiments rather than facts and merits. But wait, why only India? Isn’t the world going through a similar crisis? The stories may differ in taste, i.e. political, religious, mythological; but the sentiments run high and are blinding.

There are very specific political and sociological reasons one can draw from the post-truth world we live in. A personality cult, when the majoritarian view, regardless of its social correctness, empowers a leader to steer the politics with an iron fist without caring much about the actual numbers and statistics. People start worshiping and cannot withstand any constructive criticism. A mechanism of counter-narrative against already not so heard voices is developed with closely knitted fudged numbers and stats through a canvas that proactively projects the ‘true’ statesmanship of the leader by deliberate intermixing of racial, religious and ideological supremacy appealing to the masses.

The physiological instinct of survival allows the flow of a malicious news and it goes through without a need for fact check amongst the masses. There is an involuntary knee jerk reaction to something foreign, like a prick, helps the unchecked flow of fake news. The political and ideological beliefs act as the nervous reflex for a story to be accepted.

Another aspect of fake news is to discredit the actual news. When the actual news does not confer to the vox populi or the majoritarian view and goes against the leadership that enjoys the confidence of the masses, even an actual news is discredited as fake news. With the social media buzz, our social lives are politically charged and thus the political correctness manages to sway merit over facts. Thus fake news has certain merits over the correct story. Not only does it restrict the factual reporting but also helps in egging the echo chambers to the extent that everything else seems like a conspiracy and an ‘agenda’ against the ‘Leader of the Masses’. Masses find it compelling to engage in counter-narratives through instant messengers like WhatsApp as forwards which makes it conducive for the masses to be bombarded with the same fake news through widely accepted formal mediums such as newsrooms once it goes viral informally, leaving less room for critical evaluation on at individual level. In short, the masses become mules that unknowingly help widespread malicious stories.

With the convergence of print and broadcast on the internet, there is immense pressure on the media houses. Where Print, which is becoming redundant, is faced with the crunch of funds which it generated through advertisements, has now shifted to online news feeds. The ‘Trend Desks’ that are supposedly being set up to increase the viewership substantially can be found running stories without much verification as these are sourced from unverified video libraries such as YouTube. The clickbait strategy drives these online portals which are now the cheapest and fastest grapevine networks.

Popular social networking websites and Apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even the search engines such as Google have algorithms in place that curate the feeds based on the user’s history and preferences to keep them engaged and build up a user-friendly interface. But then it also makes an echo chamber or a bubble in which the user is trapped without even being aware. Many e-commerce websites such as Amazon also use the similar strategy where the customer ends up buying an unnecessary product just because he planned to buy it in the past or even did a search on its platform. So there is a need to recognise these algorithmic patterns and do a robust search before consuming anything from anywhere, be it a product or a news story.

It must be argued that the nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments are also to be blamed for the spreading of fake news. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are testimonies that stand tall in favour of the argument. The newsrooms are engaged in deplorable name-calling exercises that appeal to the masses and discredit the other versions. Recently Delhi High Court told a newly started news channel to bring down the rhetoric for engaging in name callings without relying much on evidential merit.

The propagation of fake news is similar to a majoritarian democracy. Their nature is such that they both are appealing and closely aided by rhetorics. Fake news as a tool is increasingly being employed and has become more organised from a pack of mischiefs to dedicated PR cells under political patronage. Though, it is not a new phenomenon as its traces are well mapped in the world history. The most classic example is Hitler’s Germany. The Nazi minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbles with impeccable oratory skills and a doctorate in philosophy once said ‘’ A lie once told remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.’’ He used radio and films for his propaganda against the Jewish minority and somehow blamed the minorities for all of Germany’s (read Majority’s) problems.

One need to understand that ultra-nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and majoritarianism are all aided by the fake news. The best way to counter the menace of fake news is to strive for liberal values and critical thinking.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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