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When You Refuse To Voice Your Opinion, You Become Part Of The Problem

It is quite often that I encounter questions like, “Why are you so vocal about your opinions?”, “Why do you have to question everything ?”, “Aren’t you afraid of speaking on controversial issues?”, “Aren’t you afraid of that your stand is only echoed by a minority?” I have penned this article to answer these questions once and for all.

Contradiction is the mother of all innovation. When two opposite and contradicting ideas collide, a new idea is born. As we see in scientific approaches, exception is where the innovation is. It is not what fits the pattern but what does not that paves the path for further development.

Rutherford’s model of the atom was an answer to the contradictions in  Thomson’s model of the atom. Similarly, Bohr’s model was an answer to the contradictions in Rutherford model and so on. When things don’t agree, that is when they start their journey forward.

This is equally true for the society. There are two kinds of ideas or opinions in a society, the idea of an individual and collective idea of a community. The idea of an individual is always greatly influenced by the idea of the community they come from, though it also depends on other factors, like the kind of socialisation they get.

For example – an individual from the Jain community can have any opinion on whether a person should eat meat or not but their opinion is bound to be influenced by the ideas of the Jain community on vegetarianism. But what happens when an individual from a community starts questioning the ideas of that community?

Let us suppose our country to be a community. Now, this community has a system of ideas, opinions and beliefs on every matter. When an individual from a community starts questioning the ideas and belief system of the community, that is when progressive ideas are born. As these individuals start voicing their opinions, they come together to form the ideas of a minority. Thes ideas of a minority will come into conflict with the ideas of the majority.

If the idea of the minority is progressive, it will slowly but surely grow in strength as more and more people are convinced of the logic behind the idea. The process of growth and nurture of progressive ideas is a slow but consistent task. Discussion, debate and democratic space to ask questions are the tools which act as fuel to move this process forward. As an idea is discussed, questioned and debated on, it gets more and more refined.

The process is very similar to the formation of a theory from a hypothesis. Once a hypothesis has been proposed, it has to be checked, practically put to use, experimented on and rechecked. Only then, a hypothesis is refined to form a theory. Discussions, questioning and debates serve a similar purpose in refining an idea. So, every time you voice your opinion, ask questions, fearlessly take stands, discuss and debate, you carry this process forward. No individual should feel that their opinion doesn’t matter or that it won’t have any effect.

Using these tools, the ideas of the minority grows in strength, slowly but surely. The progressive ideas are in constant clash with old regressive ideas, rubbing against their edges. The old regressive ideas in clash with progressive ideas are on a constant journey of becoming less and less regressive over a period of time. But the speed of change is very slow. This process continues until one day, the ideas of the minority, having grown from strength to strength, becomes the idea of the majority.

Now, the speed of change increases drastically. The old regressive ideas receive numerous blows each day until they finally perish. For example, sati, which was once the idea of the majority in our community, has now perished. Child marriage is the idea of a very small minority now and is on its journey to oblivion.

So, we see how the birth and growth of progressive ideas is eventually followed by actual social change. We have also seen how when one individual voice their opinion, it strengthens the ideas of a collective, carries the process of growth and nurture of progressive ideas forward and serves a blow to the old regressive ideas.

But there is another set of people who know and are convinced of progressive ideas but still don’t speak up. Let us dive into their perspective by means of a story.

Once, there was a group of sailors. Their ship had been wrecked and they were stuck on an island. The conditions on the island were very harsh. Every few days, they would lose one of their men. There was only one tree on the whole island, which was so high that it felt like its top was in the clouds and its roots deep into the ground. The men held a meeting, so as to discuss what to do.

They had two options – either wait for help, which may or may not come; or to cut down the tree, build a boat and find their way to freedom.

They decided to wait for help as they thought that trying to cut down the big tree without tools in these harsh conditions was another way of inviting death faster to the table. But two men had a different opinion. They kicked the big tree for hours each day with the firm determination that no matter how big the tree, it will have to eventually give away. Other men laughed at them, calling them mad. They things like, “Are you searching for death?”, “The big tree is never going to give away, it has been there for thousands of years.”

After a week of endless kicking, there was a crack on the outer bark of the tree. On seeing it, a few other men were convinced and joined in the kicking. Now the men were taking turns kicking. There were others among the group who were convinced of the idea, but still remained quiet, fearing what the majority would say or simply because they thought what difference could one of them possibly make.

But seeing the impact the blows were having on the tree, more and more men kept joining them until most of the men had joined them. The tree now creaked with each kick and after months of hard work, finally fell to the ground. The sailors built a boat and found their way to freedom.

Make no mistake, the tree is going to fall one day. People who know this and still remain quiet are the biggest culprits of all. Because a thing called no opinion does not exist. When you do not voice your opinion, it serves as a consensus for the old regressive idea and hurts even more if it is an idea of the majority. The only thing it does is it prolongs the sailors from attaining freedom. It serves as a roadblock in the path of development, as an obstacle to the growth of progressive ideas.

I hope I have been able to convey why it is so important to speak up and use tools of debates, discussion and questioning to take the process of growth and nurture of progressive ideas forward, instead of keeping quiet and becoming roadblocks in the path to change and a better world.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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