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Battle For The Idea Of India : Secular, Democratic Republic Vs Hindu Rasthra

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Since Modi and the BJP’s stupendous victory in 2014, we have all witnessed a constant topic in the media – “National vs anti-national”. This debate was triggered in the JNU, HCU student agitations and intensified there on in every small or big issue. It ranged from film releases like “Padmavati” and “Udta Punjab” and banning Pakistani film actors to the sensationalising of defence operations in Doklam or surgical strikes in Kashmir.

Also, we are additionally seeing a Hindutva project being unleashed by the centre on educational institutions, love jihad, killing and attacks on minorities and dalits in the name of gau raksha and so on.

So all this brings us to the point where we need to ask what the idea of India is? To answer this, we need to take a peek at our history. Let us start the journey.

A Peek At The Indian History

Indian civilization is one of the oldest in history, along with the Greek, Mesopotamian civilizations. We have the earliest remnants of the Indus Valley civilization with excavations and remains at Harappa and Mohenjodaro. These sites show mature city structures, canal system and great baths, which were advanced for their time.

Then we have the Vedic religion or Sanatana Dharma which became the dominant philosophy of the people. This continued unopposed till the advent of Buddha who challenged the existing rigid caste structure and rituals which had become the norm of the day.

Buddhism offered a much more simple and spiritual way of life especially for those sections of society which had been suppressed under the caste system of the Vedic religion. Buddhism spread far and wide, not only in the Indian subcontinent but also into South East Asia. Many prominent kings like Ashoka were Buddhists who helped the spread the word of peace and simplicity.

Eventually, after many years of domination, Buddhism receded from large parts of India and settled in Tibet, China, Japan and South East Asian countries. The remaining Buddhists settled and got amalgamated into Indian culture. Same is the case with Jainism.

India also housed a small section of migrant Jews who came and settled in Kerala, Manipur etc. And similar is the case of Parsis, the Zoroastrians, who fled from Iran, settled in India – notably in and around Mumbai. Then with the advent of Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad on the world stage, the two great monotheistic religions Christianity and Islam emerged. In India, these religions were introduced by the missionaries in the first case and the Sufis in the second case. Contrary to what is claimed by many proponents of Hindutva, Islam was spread by the peace-loving and mystic Sufis in India, and not at the edge of the sword of the Muslim rulers, who came a lot later.

Islam soon spread far and wide in India and became the second largest religion in India after Sanatana Dharma. Christianity too spread in some pockets, and we can find a sizeable percentage of Christians in India, especially in states like Kerala, Goa, Tamil Nadu, etc.

The name “Hindu” came to mean to refer to people living around or beyond the Sindhu river (Indus). This term was used by some Greek and Persian rulers earlier, and also was used by Muslim Dynasties like the Mughals, Delhi Sultanate in some texts. It was only after the British came and colonised India, that the name Hindu and Hinduism became the collective term for people following the Vedic religion, to distinguish from the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.

Also, the idea of India came into existence with the advent of the British Empire and the independence movement. In the time of empires, like Mughals or Vijayanagara dynasty or Mauryas or Guptas etc., there was never a concept of a united India. There were only kingdoms then which very frequently warred against each other for territory and power. This was the reason why the first war of Independence in 1857, though a noble attempt was not successful as the kings were not united.

Hence, in my opinion, the very idea of India developed during the Independence movement led by the Congress party under Mahatma Gandhi. With the advent of British education system and western values of democracy, came the notion of the ‘Indian nation’ and ‘nationhood’. Here emerged three ideas for the future India. The first and most prominent was the concept of a secular, democratic republic by the Congress, by leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad etc. The second was the idea of a communist state led by the communists like Sundarayya, Jyoti Basu, EMS Namboodiripad etc. in the lines of Soviet Union. The third was the idea of a religious identity; this had two twin brothers. One was Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan for the Muslims and other RSS’s concept of the “Hindu Rashtra”.

Unfortunately, with the British divide and rule strategy and Jinnah’s persistence which led to violent riots between Hindus and Muslims, Pakistan was carved out as a separate country. The consequences of creating a religious state like Pakistan are evident to the entire world today as Pakistan has been declared a failed state by many, with the military and jihadis calling the shots instead of power resting with the democratically elected govt.

Fortunately for India, the vision of Congress party held sway, and it led to the establishment of the largest democracy in the world, with secularism and socialism as the foundations of the state, as against the Hindu Rashtra version of the RSS.

So what we see clearly in history is that India has always been an amalgamation and home to all the major world religions and hence is by character not a nation only for Hindus, although Hindus do form the majority.

Analysis Of Hindutva Agenda Under The Modi Government

In my opinion, the Modi government has subtly and boldly pursued a Hindutva agenda since 2014. Let us see examples to prove this. The ‘gau raksha squads’ which were earlier inert or submissive, suddenly realized that the RSS backed-BJP govt is in full majority. Immediately, they started attacking Muslims and dalits who rear and maintain cattle in large numbers. Pehlu Khan’s murder sent shock waves across India. The entire cow-belt of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana has ever since become a terror zones for those found travelling with cows or buffaloes. Even without any proof that whether these cows or buffaloes are being taken to slaughterhouses or not, these gau raksha squads go on an attacking rampage and are taking law in their hands. The second instance of Hindutva agenda in action, are the increasing attacks on dalits. Una is just one such example of this brutality. All this remind me of the SS squads of Hitler in Nazi Germany unleashing terror on Jews and other opponents.

Coming to educational institutions, we all saw in display, the brutal attack on students of JNU, HCU, Allahabad University, FTII, Jadavpur University and IIT Madras, where students have been in a battle zone with the University administration which is being remote controlled by the HRD ministry. The HRD ministry, first under Smriti Irani and now under Prakash Javadekar, have been subtly undoing the secular foundations of our syllabus in CBSE as well as universities, to bring in Hindutva agenda like reducing chapters on Akbar and replacing him with Rana Pratap etc. So by pitting our kings against each other or by pitting Sardar Patel against Nehru, BJP is cleverly planting the seeds of soft Hindutva into the future generations of children, in my eyes.

The media too is being majorly influenced into not questioning the government’s functioning – thereby, throttling the basic nature of journalism. Republic TV is just an example of how state-controlled media can totally brainwash its viewers to generate the dangerous seeds of ultra-nationalism.

The instances go on and on. The way the government has not taken a humanitarian stand in case of Rohingya Muslims and instead taken, what to me is a blatantly Hindutva stand, shows clearly what their stand is towards Muslims. Also, an interesting fact is that there is no Muslim MP in the Modi government 283+ MP tally in the Lok Sabha, except the token Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

What we need to understand is that govt has very intelligently tried, and in a way succeeded, to link Hindutva with Nationalism. Anyone who questions the government or takes a secular stand on issues is considered anti-national. Also, all opposition parties are called anti-national – Congress, Left, AAP etc. by BJP’s IT cell and WhatsApp forwards are being engineered to generate hate and make fun of Congress, AAP, Left parties.

Hence the need of the hour is for all opposition parties who believe in a secular, democratic republic to stand up against the fascist tendencies of BJP government and unite to fight the common enemy. If the social democrats and communists had recognized the real traits and danger of fascism, and unitedly fought the Nazis, Hitler and the Nazi party could have been stopped in his initial days and the horror unleashed could have been avoided.

So this finally brings us to the question again, what is the idea of India? Is it going back to a feudal concept of Hindu Rashtra which is inspired by the fascism of Nazi Germany and Mussolini in Italy? Or is it the forward-looking vision of a modern secular, socialist, democratic republic as enshrined in our Preamble and Constitution with respect and equal rights for all religions? I will conclude by quoting Nehru :

“It may sound very nice to some people to hear it said that we will create a Hindu Rashtra etc. I cannot understand what it means. Hindus are in majority in this country and whatever they wish will be done. But the moment you talk of a Hindu Rashtra you speak in a language which no other country except one can comprehend and that country is Pakistan because they are familiar with this concept. They can immediately justify their creation of an Islamic nation by pointing out to the world that we are doing something similar. Hindu Rashtra can mean one thing, and that is to leave the modern way and get into a narrow, old-fashioned way of thinking, and fragment India into pieces. Those who are not Hindus will be reduced in status. You may say patronisingly that you will look after the Muslims or Christians or others, as in Pakistan they say that they will look after the Hindus. Do you think any race or individual will accept for long the claim that they are looked after while we sit above them.”

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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