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From Godhra To Gauri Lankesh: What Religious Violence Has Done To Us

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Starting from the Gujarat riots of 2002, the post-Godhra incident violence to the pellet shower in Kashmir and the revival of the violence against the Rohingya of Myanmar, south Asia has been witnessing an increasing rate of activities associated with religious fundamentalism for the last one-and-a-half decades.

One of the most iconic photographs the youth would recall today would be that of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Uma Bharti, hugging Murli Manohar Joshi while celebrating the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya by kar sevaks.

This was followed by a sequence of events that led one of the alleged ‘curators’ of the 2002 riots, Narendra Damodardas Modi, to become the ‘sole saviour’ of the Indian subcontinent and its decaying economic condition. It’s true that the slow growth in the gross domestic product (GDP) facilitated by the ensuing population explosion, the hopeless fate of the secondary sector and the terrible Human Development Index (HDI) ranking did take a toll on the generation’s psyche. However, the solution manufactured now shares an uncanny resemblance with the rise of fascist rulers (a timeless incident, to be honest) the world over.

The government, led by Prime Minister (PM) Modi, has been making sketchy and doubtful claims of ‘bringing back black money‘, deporting Muslims to other countries (like Bangladesh) and disallowing any Rohingya refugee from seeking shelter in India. They have also been vocally supporting the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA) and the brutality the Indian Army exhibits in Kashmir and some of regions in north-east India.

Interestingly, in some corners of eastern India, the helpless Rohingya are often deported to district jails in suburban pockets. Owing to their inability to speak any of the languages understood by Indians, the lack of policies and activists who would advocate their cause, they often end up spending their entire lives in dark cells, having no clue of how to protect themselves from this kind of treatment.

In the midst of all these confusing incidents, a certain learned atheist, Dr Avijit Roy, who was living in the United States (US) for the most part of the year began talking and writing about the tactics employed by corrupt fundamentalists to retain control. He was brutally hacked to death during his visit to Bangladesh. In all, four Mukto-Mona bloggers (including Avijit) were killed in Bangladesh.

The statements of Aung San Suu Kyi (who reportedly fought dictatorship while being under house arrest for years and had won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991) over the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar is indeed a matter of severe shame. Protests broke out in Indonesia and people even demanded that her Nobel Prize be revoked by the concerned authority.

Is the Myanmar government listening? (Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Last year, Najeeb, a postgraduate student from the Department of Biotechnology, JNU, disappeared on his way back home. Allegedly, RSS thugs had threatened and even physically assaulted him right inside the campus. His mother was repeatedly harassed by the authorities when she demanded justice for her son’s cause.

In the last few years, we have also witnessed the deaths of Ph.D. student Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and JNU research scholar Muthukrishnan, which were widely considered to be ‘institutional murders‘. Simultaneously, there’s been a passive denial or absolute silence of the respective authorities on these issues, which raise serious questions on the authority’s stance on the welfare of Dalits.

Strangely enough, in these lost times, the sudden renewal of a blatant nationalist propaganda infused in the popular culture has managed to cast a brilliant spell on a large section of unemployed youth or people working in the corporate sector. The dreams of a more-comfortable life, super-fast rail networks, slum-free clean metropolitan areas and a certain disapproval towards the appearance of the odd-looking brown and green trees across sultry grey highways seem to indicate that modern advertising has done a good job.

The cold-blooded murders of Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh raises the very crucial question of freedom of expression and thought in this country. During an on-going interview, Kavitha Lankesh also spoke about the atmosphere of fear that is being programmed into the working ambiance of artists, journalists, writers, and scholars.

Gauri Lankesh’s murder was just one in a long series of similar killings. (Photo by Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Historian and senior communist leader, Govind Pansare, used to run an organisation which encouraged inter-caste marriages. He was noted to have opposed the Putra Kameshti yagya, a Hindu ritual that supposed results in a male child. He had also protested against toll taxes.

After the murder of Narendra Dabholkar, the anti-superstition activist, Pansare had asked the members of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti to continue his work.

On the other hand, Lankesh was heard to have repeatedly criticised government actions, and had called the Modi regime highly anti-Muslim, anti-minority, anti-Dalit, regressive and anti-poor. She was also vocal about the links that big businessmen had with top-level BJP leaders. She was silenced before she could contribute any further to the cause of freedom of expression and of the press at this time in this country.

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Featured image sources: Arijit Sen/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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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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