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Why The Spirit Of Christmas Is Universal Across All Humankind

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Fragmentation is the famine of life as we know it. Somewhere in the soul of every human being, the Wagnerian dome of life lies in smithereens. Our deepest longing is for wholeness, which eludes us like a mirage.

The universal agony in the human predicament is the rupture between the whole and the parts. We know intuitively that we are part of a cosmic whole, the fullness of which we can neither know nor ignore. Yet, we are intimately entwined with it. Even in the best of times we grope through life.

This burdens us. We try to mitigate this existential anguish by taking refuge in the parts, and believe it is practical to be partial. But we know, nonetheless, that it goes against the grain of life. When it comes to life, it is all or nothing.

The Christmas event is universal because it addresses this anguish, intrinsic to the human predicament. It cobbles together disparate fragments into a seamless whole of great symbolic significance. This resonance of the Nativity narrative is as significant as its factual details. As a matter of fact, even facts become symbols in the alchemy of the narrative.

Consider two such symbols: the ‘manger’ and the ‘star’. The new-born babe was laid in a manger in a cattle-shed. His birth was announced to the wise men of the east by a star. Linking the cosmic and the commonplace, is a babe, whose birth rattles a throne – Herod’s- in Jerusalem. (Birth can be very political, you know.) It is worthwhile to ponder over this nexus at a time when Jerusalem has been peremptorily kicked from the frying pan of ethnic hatred into the fire of a potential regional conflagration.

Certainly, one significant insight in this symbolic triad -the manger, the star, the Babe – is that we cannot do anything even in a cattle shed without touching a star! Everything about life – every form of life – has cosmic significance. The Babe links the manger and the star.

A little far away, there is another centre: the centre of political power, riddled with insecurity and big with intrigue. The logic at work there is quite the opposite. It thrives through ruptures. Violence is the womb of ruptures. In contrast, when a woman’s womb ruptures in the fullness of time, a new life comes into being. Man-made wombs of ruptures gestate monstrosities of injustice. Herod provides the contrast between the womb of life and the womb of death. His genius improvises the massacre of the innocents.

The news of the birth reaches Herod, the politician. He feels jittery. Characteristically, he resorts to subterfuge. He feigns religious fervor. He asks the wise men from the east to ‘go and find out where the baby is born’, and to bring back the details, so that he too ‘may go and worship the infant’. Think of that! The distance between worship and murder has always been wafer thin. The outcome of Herod’s religious ardor is the butchery of two thousand male infants below two years of age.

The link between the manger and the star is crucial because it symbolizes the link between the physical and the metaphysical. This good earth is an integral part of the cosmos. Upon this earth, it is impossible to strike a blow on an atman without hurting the Brahmaan (cosmos). That is why compassion is the soul of spirituality.

What, then, are we to make of the orgies of violence and bloodshed history has witnessed, all based on the presumption that men can lord over personal principalities of egotism and hubris? When men play god, they create empires of rupture. Man’s authority is built on subterfuge. It may pay lip-service to compassion, but cruelty is its operating logic. It has never been, and will never be, otherwise.

The hope for our species lies in linkages: even seemingly extravagant linkages like the one between the manger and the star. The foremost of all linkages is the one between ‘the one and the many’, which opens the door to radically new beginnings. But, for linkages of that order to take place, we have to exit our Lilliputian empires of egotism, and believe in the new beginnings that can be made even from cattle-sheds. The cattle-shed symbolizes the possibilities that exist outside the stereotypical patterns and paradigms that reign over us. The funny thing is that we covet new beginnings; but are unwilling to step even a little aside of the stereotypes by which we stay shackled.

The message of Christmas is universal. It is not that some extra-smart tribal god is born. It is that new and radical beginnings are possible, provided we are willing to open our eyes and venture to step out of the groove, to encounter them. This is the ‘tidings of great joy for all humankind’ that the birth of the Holy Babe presages to humankind as a whole. Christmas is not a Christian event; just as Jesus was not, nor will ever be, a Christian.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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