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How Hindutva Is Just Repeating What The British Did To India

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September 25, 2017, marks the 14th death anniversary of Edward W Said, a remarkable public intellectual and the author of compelling works like “Orientalism”, “Culture and Imperialism” and “The Question of Palestine”.

“Orientalism” dealt with the stereotyping of the Orient by European and American writers – regardless of whether it was mystified or historicised, sympathetic or derogatory. To quote from the book itself: “The Orientalist can imitate the Orient without the opposite being true. What he says about the Orient is therefore to be understood as description obtained in a one-way exchange: as they spoke and behaved, he observed and wrote down. His power was to have existed among them as a native speaker, as it were, and also as a secret writer. And what he wrote was intended as useful knowledge, not for them but for Europe and its various disseminative institutions.”

The effect of the colonial gaze is such that even our attempts at creating ‘authentic’ stories of our own past are, in a way, already shaped by existing stereotypes. For example, the empirical, rational and the materialistic side of Indian philosophy (such as Lokāyata and Bṛhaspatya) are relegated to the margins among orientalist writers who focus instead on the metaphysical side. You see a similar focus even among Indian philosophers.

The other aspect is our unwillingness to engage with our own ‘modernity’ for fear that this ‘modernity’ is an inheritance from the West. For example, Ambedkar, Gandhi and Tagore represented three distinct versions of our modernity: the first – rational and reformative; the second – a rural, eco-friendly alternative to exploitative modernity; and the third – a universalism rooted in spirituality, plurality and pacifism. On the other hand, Nehru borrowed heavily from the so-called western secular values and models of development: a focus on big industries, science and technology and big dams along with a bit of socialism. Savarkar fell for the ‘Orientalist version’ of India: a Vedic civilization built around Sanskrit texts by upper-caste north Indian Hindus.

The ‘neo-liberal state’, kick-started in 1991 by Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, is not so much of a rupture as a legacy of the Nehruvian economic model (a planned centrist economy) giving way to the pressures of a world driven by markets. There was nothing that was distinctly ‘Indian’ about our development model or about the state ideology. The ideology, in fact, was fluid and accommodative of both Centre-Left and Centre-Right leanings – accommodative even of the regressive forces in Hinduism and Islam.

That is where Hindutva tries to present itself as an authentic ‘Indian alternative’ – firmly placed in opposition to ‘western secularism’ and the religions of foreign lands like Christianity and Islam. Hindutva, however, remains fundamentally a product of the colonial gaze – an attempt at substantiating and glorifying what was either derisively rubbished or mystified by western writers. It’s an attempt at reinforcing the schism between the East and the West – whereas the schism in itself is not real but a narrative created as part of an exercise in power — first by the colonisers on the colonised, and now by the ‘dominant colonised’ on others.

What we are witnessing in India now is the ‘Orientalisation’ of ourselves. At the heart of this project is an obsession with classification – mainly to capture an essence, name it and restore renewed faith in this ‘newly-christened’ category. Hinduism and Hindus have both been made ‘singular’ objects with very defined meanings. In its firm opposition to Abrahamic religions, it however ends up creating a kind of Hinduism that is pretty much made of the same mould. The question of caste is addressed almost as a ’rounding error’ – and festivals and traditions (primarily those of Dalits and Adivasis) that don’t fit into the ‘narrative’ are written off as aberrations to Vedic norms.

The ‘colonising project’ of Europe, which was primarily built on greed and the will to dominate, entertained a racist worldview that set up the ‘native’ as an ‘inferior other’. Just when we thought that we were finally done with the ghosts of an enslaved past, we now encounter a similar project – one of ‘nationalisation’.

As Edward Said discussed in the context of Arab nationalism, “I think the great problem is the whole issue of national identity, or what I would call the politics of identity – the feeling that everything you do has to be either legitimated by, or has to pass through the filter of, your national identity, which in most instances is a complete fiction, as we all know.”

It is all the more ironic when our economic model continues to be deeply neo-liberal and our leaders travel across the world, hug other national leaders, strike deals and sign agreements. Although this may sound slightly Marxian, it is probably true that the nature of our economy, the forces and relations of production, the way our products are advertised and marketed and the way we consume things also have a direct bearing on our culture, personal relationships and our ideas of what is good and bad. That culture is unashamedly consumerist, selfishly ambitious and happily insensitive to the sufferings of others. Or is this what Hindutva too is all about?

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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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