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Vice President Or Chief Minister, No One Is Allowed To Criticise The Government

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One can hardly deny the fact that our country is suffering from a social crisis today. And I believe the reason behind this can be explained in just four effective words from Plato – “Your silence gives consent.” But the purpose of mentioning this statement is not to make you understand how important it is to speak against the government. It is to let you know how wonderfully our government has understood this philosophy of Plato. Hence, to gain the consent for carrying out any sort of work (no matter how undemocratic it is) all they need to do is to make everyone silent.

The very purpose of having a democracy is to hear many voices presenting different opinions. But today, in the largest democracy in the world, attempts to silence those voices are no longer limited to student activists or common citizens. While celebrating 70 years of our freedom, the fundamental right to freedom of expression was snatched away from the elected Chief Minister of Tripura, when Prasar Bharti refused to air his Independence Day speech on Doordarshan and All India Radio.

On the morning of August 15, Manik Sarkar, the Chief Minister of Tripura, was even directed about what he should not say in his speech. Later, when he delivered his speech in which he talked about unity in diversity and economic equality, he was asked to ‘reshape’ it. And when he declined to do so, the broadcast of his speech got denied.

The only parts of his speech, which authorities might have found offensive were the ones in which he said, “Today, the spirit of secularism is under attack. Conspiracy and attempts are underway to create an undesirable complexity and divisions in our society; to invade our national consciousness in the name of religion, caste and community, by inciting passions to convert India into a particular religion country and in the name of protecting the cow…” But how are his views in any way different from the words coming out of Lal Qila on the very same day, which said, “Aastha ke naam pe hinsa nahi chalegi (Violence won’t be tolerated in the name of faith)”?

One might argue that government has no role in censoring his speech and it is the work of the officials of Prasar Bharti, but what is interesting is that his speech continued with the following words, “…Because of all this, people of minority and Dalit communities are under attack. Their sense of security is being shattered.” Now if his speech had been blacked out for going against the guidelines, like ‘anything obscene or defamatory’ or ‘affecting the integrity of the nation’, it could have been blamed on the officials. But his speech, perhaps, went against the idea of the government’s ‘New India’, where there is no place for dissent and criticism, especially in cases related to minorities and Dalits.

The last time someone shared the exact same views was just a week before this incident, and despite the fact that it came from a man who once held the second highest constitutional post in India, the fate it met was not very different. Former Vice President Hamid Ansari’s views about a sense of insecurity creeping in among the Indian Muslims (which is backed by a large number of facts) triggered tremendous outrage from the ruling party. The current Vice President said it is ‘a political propaganda’. The Prime Minister’s complete incivility during his speech for Hamid Ansari’s Rajya Sabha farewell cannot be forgotten in decades to come.

Now if a Vice President can be labelled a follower of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (by many right-wing leaders) for expressing concern for his fellow citizens, how can one expect ordinary citizens to break their silence on atrocities against any section of our society? The Prime Minister accused him of following the ideology of Congress and Muslims during his career as a diplomat and said he might have felt unease while following the Indian constitution for the last decade. By fiercely insulting anyone who raises questions about minorities and Dalits, they are simply proving Hamid Ansari’s point.

These are definitely not isolated cases. Walter Cronkite had said, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” And hence, the constant attacks on the press – the ban on NDTV India, clampdown on newspapers in Kashmir and other parts of the country, recent raids spurred by baseless allegations, are not attacks on just the freedom of the press, but on democracy itself.

The university is undoubtedly a place of dialogue, discussion, debate and dissent, to ultimately strengthen democracy. But frequent attacks on the freedom of university students are also gaining momentum. Rohith Vemula’s voice was among the first ones to be silenced, and it was silenced so ruthlessly that he chose to remain silent forever. Kanhaiyya, Umar and Anirban were labelled anti-nationals and terrorists on the basis of doctored videos and fictional stories. Their voices were silenced so brutally that an ordinary citizen would think twice before raising questions against any authority. The attempts to attack their freedom of speech have not yet stopped. Last month, Kanhaiyya Kumar’s had a speech scheduled in my city, Aurangabad. At the eleventh hour, the organisers received a notice asking them to cancel the event, from the authorities. After asking for the reason for the cancellation, the authorities simply said that they had received these orders from ‘above’. This was later revoked after a hunger strike by student activists.

Gurmeher Kaur’s incident was not only about a girl receiving rape and death threats for opposing the student organisation of a powerful party. It was about how freedom of expression on the internet can be crushed with the help of trolls and threats. And one can again argue that the government has no role in promoting such things, but the pictures of Prime Minister felicitating some of the worst abusers on twitter at his own residence – who are constantly engaged in threatening girls with rape and murder – and following them through his private account tells an entirely different story. On July 1, 2016, the PM hosted a group of 150 social media influencers at his residence, where he asked them to use ‘positive language even while facing abuse’. But quite a few of those 150 supporters are alleged to be abusive trolls. One of them, Tajinder Bagga, was appointed as BJP spokesperson shortly after. Besides this, calling Najeeb a member of ISIS and Shehla Rashid a prostitute are just some of the many ways in which trolls have tried to curtail freedom of expression.

Sadhvi Khosla, a former member of BJP’s IT cell, shared her experience of working there, in Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll”.  She said, “It was a never-ending drip feed of hate and bigotry against the minorities, the Gandhi family, journalists on the hit list, liberals, anyone perceived as anti-Modi,” and alleged that she herself was forced to send trolls and abusive messages.

The striking connections to the government or the ruling party in all these cases definitely indicate something. The ideological ambition of BJP is an open secret and their communal nature an undeniable truth. The consent required for achieving all these goals can be gained by making everyone silent. Attempts are being made to do the same, but by doing so they are creating a sense of awareness in citizens about their freedom of expression. And for every voice that is silenced, the task of silencing voices is multiplying, because the people of India have understood that their silence gives consent.                                                

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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.

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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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