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From Aamir Khan To Sonu Nigam: Our Hypocrisy On The Question Of ‘Tolerance’

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We erect huge facades for celebrities. And maybe that is the reason for us undermining their individuality. This is to say that, we expect them to do a lot of things and say a lot of stuff, or not say particular things. And in this, we undermine their capacity to be just another human and citizen with the same messed up life – and most importantly, the right to an opinion, just as anybody from amongst this multitude of 1.25 billion has. To us, they must do what we expect of them and not what they want.

It’s like back when all the opinion platforms were stormed in reaction to an apprehension expressed by one of the most acclaimed actors, Aamir Khan, which he voiced rather bravely and, notwithstanding the tornado coming his way, stood by.

And as a sequel to this sad state, we again saw an almost similar episode repeated.

Just a few months ago, another person, again an acclaimed celebrity, took the same path and boldly voiced his opinion – or anger to be more precise – against what he called “forced religiousness”. In a series of tweets, starting from his own situation of being awakened by the sound of amplified Azaan to a general comment on temples and gurudwaras. Just as this celeb maintained the bold tradition of speaking up on issues that matter to them, ‘we the people’ also didn’t fail to maintain our’s – that of blowing things out of context and silently condemning the one who dares to speak up.

Though the issues were different, they had a lot of similarities. From being presented as biased against a particular group, implicitly against Hindus in Aamir’s case and Muslims in Sonu’s, to the whataboutery in response, the violent threats and abuses, or, worst of all, the vulgar abuses against the women in their families. All these things boiled down to the same level.

Except for the similar reception, there was one more surprising commonality in these incidents.

Aamir said that he feels worried about the safety of his family on account of rising intolerance. This proved to be well-founded, considering the reactionary storm it led to. Then, Sonu ended his series of tweets with the note, “Gundagardi hai bus.” Which was again proved quite germane by the reaction it bumped into.

Apart from the similar contours of reception, the central ideas were quite similar as well. Unfortunately, though, the elephant in the room went unaddressed both times.

Aamir raised a pertinent question. And what could have led to a serious introspection of the collective conscience of us as a society, was misinterpreted, deliberately enough. The thing to worry about then was that we have come to the point where one of the most loved Bollywood stars has started to feel insecure, just because of the background he comes from. And what this implies about the level of fear among commoners sharing the same background. But thanks to the mess we made, we missed a chance for self-assessment as a society. Demagogues then went so far as to question his patriotism, and many even had the audacity to certify him as an ‘Anti-National’.

Similarly,  Sonu Nigam also had an important point. And what should have been taken up as a question on the legitimacy of putting our prayers – and calls for prayers – on loudspeakers, was mispresented as a bigoted comment on Azaan itself, when all the celeb questioned was the loudspeaker. Maybe he was well aware of the reaction that it would incur, as he also made his stand on all religions clear. But that wasn’t what a few sought. To them, the line had been scratched on the stone, and Sonu Nigam ceased to be a brilliant singer and now was just a ‘Sanghi’, ‘Modi Bhakt’, ‘an Islamophobe’ and what not.

One couldn’t have expected any better from the society we are, but there is something in the latter case which is more worrisome. Identifying as a free thinker, one had faith in a handful of our compatriots, who always held the flag of freedom of speech high. They were the very first to support Aamir when he was targeted. But this time, neither did these people show up, nor did the flag they earlier held high. The articles, editorials, cartoons, debates and discussions in support of Sonu Nigam were all missing.

In fact, the opposite happened. The very people who used to stand for big principles, were singing different notes this time. A few chose to remain silent, and the rest had the hypocrisy of setting an intellectual precedence for the diatribe that was being channelised Sonu’s way.

This has made few things very clear. Primarily, the people who were thought to be very bold in their opinions aren’t bold enough, and secondarily, the ‘neutral’ commentators deemed to be upholding rationality aren’t unbiased enough. In fact, this is what the right-wing often says about these people. It seems their neutrality has lost to their set audience, and this audience holds more importance than intellectual honesty. They appear to be idolaters of preconceived truths, and of course ‘liberal’, and inquiry has become tantamount to blasphemy. This is alarming. This implies that we are genuinely short of rational people and all we have are some right-wingers and some tunnel visioned, though self-proclaimed liberals.

And for free thinkers out there, people, you are in difficult times. You can’t air your opinions boldly now. You have to conform to the opinions of these people, else be ready to be branded as ‘Bigots’ and ‘Bhakts’, or ‘Anti-Nationals’, ‘Pseudo-liberals’ and ‘Sickulars’.

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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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