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How Gurmehar Kaur Helped A Right Winger Like Me Become Leftist

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“Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be democracy.” – Michael Moore

Don’t these lines seem to be a contradiction and a paradox today, when all of us – the citizens of India – have started imposing restrictions and defining guidelines as to what makes one anti-national, a terrorist, or a Naxalite?

Every single time I am about to post something on the Internet, I scan through it several times to remove any ‘controversial’ or ‘seditious’ material from it, lest I should be branded an anti-national and a traitor too.

After the whole intolerance debate in India was over, I started reading various articles on the Internet regarding the truth of the whole event, its implications, and the views and consequences of the ideologies of both the factions. However, no matter where I looked, there was one opinion I found-

Everyone who claimed that India had grown intolerant, was an unpatriotic, anti-national, seditious traitor who dared question the sanctity of an ancient country.

Most, if not all, of the social media channels that I was privy to endorsed this particular view about the whole debate. I moulded my opinions in this frame, and started to share every other meme about how Aamir Khan had forgotten his roots and was calling the very country that made him the star that he is, intolerant.

I had already taken Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid to be traitors and assigned to them the badge of unpatriotic citizens who were wasting the taxpayers’ money by shouting seditious slogans. My only source for this was a doctored video.

Anyway, I was a nationalist and I just could not take in the idea of anybody questioning the regime, let alone some movie star who hardly had anything to do with the implications of the death of Mohammed Akhlaq or for that matter, any other lynching.

Slowly and steadily, time passed by and there was coverage of the riots on the Ramjas College campus, allegedly caused by ABVP. This one time, I knew that no matter what, violence was unjustified, and I took to condemning the whole thing. Not that I had scores of people listening to me, but I acted upon my conscience.

Likewise, another girl called Gurmehar Kaur, a student of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, decided to raise her voice against this unwanted and atrocious harassment. She started a social media campaign against the ABVP to condemn the increasing violence, clearly stating that she wasn’t afraid of them. She got threats and trolls but that was not to deter her.

And one fine day, out of the blue, she was taking the Internet by storm. Surprisingly, it wasn’t because of the video for her campaign, but because of a video that she had been in a year back, as a response to the increasing hostilities between the nations of India and Pakistan.

She became the centre of controversy over one still from her entire video, which stated – “Pakistan did not kill my Dad. War did.”

Unsurprisingly, this statement invoked the ire of a lot of Indians, who decided to ‘give it back’ – including former cricketer Virender Sehwag, who mocked the video.

Amidst this entire fiasco, I jumped onto the bandwagon and started criticising her for this insensitive comment without complete knowledge of the same, like everyone else.

And finally one fine day I saw an update from Gurmehar’s official account stating that she was too tired to take in any more of this. She officially withdrew from the campaign, and said that she wanted to be alone.

The Aftermath

Although I never called her an ‘anti-national’, nor issued her rape threats, I somewhere felt guilty.

Guilty of having subdued and silenced a voice that wanted nothing but peace between two nations, and justice for students that were maltreated in the college campus.

I followed Gurmehar Kaur on Facebook, and decided on a new course of action. I followed some people who did not share the same ideas as mine, and I waited patiently. Shockingly, I got some mind-boggling results.

  • I understood a very simple fact – that India is a democratic nation and everyone had the full rights to voice anything they wanted.
  • Slamming a student for her awareness and stirring a hornet’s nest in the country by conducting debates over her patriotism, rather than debating over the campus violence showed how ineffective and misdirected we were growing as a nation.
  • The entire demonetisation fiasco, the shrinking of the GDP, the way the ruling regime vehemently decided to ignore the suggestions of economists of the order of Raghuram Rajan, just to brag in an election manifesto, was ridiculous and reflected the falling levels of politics.
  • The International Reports on the growing intolerance in India over the past three years and the public lynchings of Pehlu Khan, Junaid, and Mohammad Akhlaq shook me and convinced me of the rising level of barbarity in the nation – and a collective need of unity to curb the same.
  • Pro-Hindutva activities and the Government’s silent complicity in same made me realise that the strength of a democracy indeed lies in the active participation of everyone. That not everyone who does not resonate the same thoughts as us needs to be shamed, or for that reason, murdered.

Conclusion

In a country that is as diverse as several different nations, yet as united in character as the colours of a rainbow, we need to open our minds a bit.

We need to be broad-minded in listening to everyone’s opinions. With the human resources we have, the majority of which is comprised of the youth, we can bring about a revolution in the nation towards tolerance and dignity in thoughts and actions.

We need to compose ourselves, our resources, and put our best foot forward in every sphere with proper deliberation.

Active participation of the youth – especially students – in matters of national importance must be emphasised. There should be a collective channelisation of the plethora of thoughts that our country has to offer.

We must aim at creating an India where the youth leads the nation forward with their agility, guided by the experience of the aged. A platform where nobody is threatened for speaking out their views.

At the end of the day, I must attribute my changed outlook to Gurmehar for her ever enduring courage, that she never gave up inspite of all odds. I hope my word, although a bit late (but relevant nonetheless), reaches all those millions of voices out there.

Let there be light!

“I am tired of hearing it said that democracy doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t work. We are supposed to work it.” – Alexander Woollcott

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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