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How Our Vulnerability Creates Predators Disguised As Godmen

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Being the most diverse country in the world comes with its own riders. I believe India has become the largest producers and suppliers of Godmen and Godwomen in the world. This phenomenon is not restricted to any single religion.

Before comprehending who these Godmen and Godwomen are, we need to understand why they exist. India has the tradition of glorifying heroes as Gods, maybe that’s how we ended up having 33 million Gods. Even people who have done good deeds in their life have temples in their names. Many of them were genuinely good people, like the Sai Baba of Shirdi and Sankaracharya. But this eulogizing trend has reached preposterous levels.

Even movie actors and politicians have temples dedicated to them now. India does not have social benefits, unlike the North American and Western European countries. Religion plays a very significant and intimate role in people’s lives. When lives become difficult due to different circumstances, people become vulnerable and flock to religious places in search of answers. Commonsense often goes south when our minds are confused and clouded. When people do not find answers, they automatically turn to the next possible alternative. These Godmen and Godwomen are feeding on people’s vulnerability and have positioned themselves precisely for people to turn to them.

What do people really get from them that they cannot find on their own? The best they can do is to engage people’s minds with meditation, yoga and reading ancient texts, which people can easily do on their own. Do they have any higher powers or abilities to communicate with God? None of them have displayed any such ability. They can make predictions, but that is based on astrology, palmistry, numerology, face reading and many different methods.

Then, why do people flock to them?

Two reasons. One, humanity has always been enslaved throughout our existence. That is why we look up to Gods, because we have been slaves to higher powers. Two, we are bound by our herd mentality. How people flock to the Godmen and Godwomen is like the Great Migration at Masai Mara every year. Thousands of wild buffaloes converge to the bank of the river. Then one buffalo takes a blind leap of faith and jumps into the water and all other buffaloes follow in a frenzy. This is how people have become.

What makes the situation worse is, these Godmen and Godwomen start vying to become representatives of the religions they belong to. In India, religion and politics are two sides of the same coin. Politicians and political parties use religions to divide people and this is how they maintain their vote banks. Politicians are taking the colonial legacy of divide and rule forward. This naturally created the nexus between politicians and these Godmen and Godwomen. They exist and function for mutual benefits.

All of this has assisted communal disturbances in the society. Political parties incite violence to divert people’s attention from issues plaguing governance and administration. The mobs that incite violence are mostly goons of political parties, who are paid and hired to kill, loot and burn.

This is exactly what happened when high profile Godman, Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of rape. The fact that the rape happened 15 years ago tells a story in itself. The story of how a Godman used his influence to keep himself from getting convicted. How the rioting spread so quickly to different states in north India clearly indicates the complacency of the state governments and their role in the saga. The reaction of the state governments to the situation is a sure shot confirmation of their silent participation. This is not anything new after all. Riots and violence in 1984, 1992 and 2002 are all stark reminders of the malicious games being played out time and again by the politico-religious nexus with the lives of people and destruction of public property.

But, I wonder how many people think through why all these politicians, businessmen and influential people flock to these Godmen and Godwomen. These are places for meeting people and making deals. The Godmen and Godwomen act as intermediaries and make connections and deals happen and thus get to exert and extend their sphere of influence on people. These are also hubs where money laundering happens. Ever wondered why certain cringe worthy movies are made? It’s because they are also outlets for using unaccounted money.

What makes me wonder is, when people can themselves read ancient Indian texts where Kal Yuga is written about in such detail, why do they need to go to Godmen and Godwomen? Because in Kal Yuga ignorance rules and enlightenment is suppressed and ignored. This is why such a system has come into place and anyone who raises questions is ridiculed and marginalized. People have short term memories; they live through the ordeal each time and vote for the same people back to power expecting things to become better. Maybe hope, humanity’s greatest strength is turning out to be our greatest nemesis.

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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.

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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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