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Is India Heading Towards The Authoritarian World Described By The Classic ‘Fahrenheit 451’?

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Fahrenheit 451: The Temperature At Which Book Paper Catches Fire And Burns

In case you’re wondering if this is about global warming, it’s not. It’s only about something that could be as worse. I could be asking greater questions like ‘What has our world turned into?’, ‘Why are their wars everywhere?’ ‘When will we eradicate poverty and hunger?’ ‘Is education really the answer to the problems?’

It was only a while ago when I read “Fahrenheit 451”, did it dawn on me that we’re slowly metamorphosising into a fictional piece that one hoped would never come true.

Reading the book was similar to holding a mirror to society. While it is a dystopian novel, the striking similarities with our reality left me shaking. It made me see what we may look like if a drone-shot view of our society was taken.

Written by Ray Bradbury in the 1950s, it serves more as a warning than a lesson. In fact, Ray Bradbury once even said, “People ask me to predict the future when all I want to do is prevent it.”

Fahrenheit 451” is the story of an authoritarian society in which books are banned and ‘firemen’ are appointed for setting books on fire. Only in a parallel universe, would you envision firemen igniting instead of extinguishing a fire. It’d only be ridiculous if the book turned into yet another Simpsons-turned-reality episode, for it will only show the discrepancies in humanity. However, history is replete with the quintessential human tendency to dig a hole for itself.

Ray Bradbury wrote the novel during an onset of the television age, after the world war, as he feared that literature will be devoured by the new invention. In this digital era, one can replace televisions for the internet. Literature survived the claws of TV but we can hardly say the same for social media. “Fahrenheit 451” emphasises on the dulling senses of people and enveloping them in a trance through the electronic medium on all their four walls, which now is being done by the smaller screens in our pockets.

The novel sheds light on the disconnect, lack of empathy and human emotions in people as everyone adopts an individualistic approach to life. People call television sets ‘family’, but on being asked about their husbands at war, they evade the conversation. The nonchalance about wars and people dying or children starving is similar to today’s lifestyle, wherein it’s considered futile to bother about daunting issues as it’s supposed to be the headache of a higher authority.

We sit on our comfortable sofas, pressing buttons and flicking channels, expressing grief to our neighbour the next morning and forgetting about it as we board a bus to work. The inability to empathise depicts the downward march of humanity.

In the book, the dystopian government gives immense power to those in the position of power to the extent of banning books. Alluring the masses into thinking that books are a source of sadness rather than knowledge, they were successful in gathering the human vote. Being exposed to the harsh reality of the world or increasing their emotional spectrum is considered extraneous. And, the only thing keeping the people happy is the pseudo-knowledge passed on by the government to its people through the ‘family’.

It results in people simply taking in what they are given, for the churning of mind has been put to rest. The government has indeed been successful in manufacturing robots that don’t question ‘why’ but simply believe it.

Drawing parallels to the North Korean regime, the government has been triumphant in not only running the state according to their whims and fancies but also inhibiting freedom, curbing the citizens to indulge in global affairs and feeding them fallacies.

As a parched throat is foraging for water, is the mind looking to nibble knowledge to satiate its hunger. Thus, the protagonist, despite being a ‘fireman’ goes through books which finally put his uneasy soul to rest. However, the protagonist isn’t able to grasp it and refers to it as sand slipping through a sieve. This inability is due to the inefficiency of the mind which has been rusting for the past years. The author compares the human race to the phoenix that builds its own funeral pyre and rises from the ashes.

It showcases the story of a world we shouldn’t retire to and although our world isn’t completely the same, it has similarities. From government control to oblivious human nature, it depicts the same world as us. I strongly believe that we should recuperate before our temperature reaches Fahrenheit 451. Everyone must leave something behind when they die. Let’s not leave a world like this.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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