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I’m A Product Of Secular India, Living In Fear Of Losing It Forever

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This is my journey as a kid from the 90s who grew up as a Hindu Brahmin to become an atheist. I was born in the late 80s and I feel really bad for the kids growing up in today’s hate-filled India. I feel sad for them because they are surrounded by this venom of communalism. Thankfully, I grew up in a liberal household where an atmosphere of religious tolerance existed.

I belong to a Hindu Brahmin family. My mother is a devout Hindu who took me to the temples on Mondays/Tuesdays and peer mazaar for the chadar ritual on Thursdays. My elder sister had a Sikh tutor who loved taking us to the Bangla Sahib along with her and we served food at the langars many times. Every year she invited us to celebrate Lohri and gave us popcorn and peanuts as a ritual. She was Bengali and her husband was Sikh. She didn’t convert and followed both traditions. Their interfaith marriage was accepted by their families in the 60s.

Every December her daughters, my sisters and I baked plum cakes and visited our local church during Christmas. We loved lighting candles and Christmas carols on Christmas eve.

My eldest sister had a Muslim friend named Zareen in college. When I was in school she used to take me to IITF Delhi with her and it was our favourite spot back then. We hung out with each other without any prejudices and also celebrated Eid with sweets a couple of times.

My sister was really fascinated with Christianity more than Hinduism. Every December she used to buy a small Christmas tree, decorate it with ornaments, dress up in Santa outfit. She loved lighting candles in church and cutting cake with friends. She was so crazy about it that she even celebrated her birthday on December 25 every year.

Nobody in my family raised objections. Our Hinduism wasn’t threatened by any of it. We practised Hindu traditions, celebrated Hindu festivals and respected other faiths.

My mom always told me that compassion for every living being is more important, humanity is greater than our religion. If you have empathy for others you are successful as a human. She taught me compassion through her love for animals.

Reading Premchand as a teenager planted this seed of secularism in me when I wasn’t aware of its meaning. His stories about Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian characters made me realise that ‘mera Bharat mahaan’ is about our multi-cultural heritage. I have been secular all my life just because of these experiences and when I practised religion, I was kind of a pantheist. I respected every religion, freedom of religion and different traditions equally. Later on, when I left religion and became an atheist I didn’t let go of my secularism. Even though my beliefs about religion changed, my respect for equality and unity are still intact.

I celebrated Diwali, Lohri, Eid and Christmas with the same excitement. Thought of discriminating or not embracing these festivities never crossed my mind.

I love Hindi, English and Urdu equally. I love Hindi bhajans, English songs and Sufi music. I attend Hindi, English and Urdu literature festivals.

It is not about being a tolerant country. We are not tolerating anyone or giving permission to anyone to practise their faith freely. Hindus are a majority but INDIANS are incomplete without Muslims, Sikhs and Christians and the majority of the peace-loving Indians have always embraced this fact.

It is about mutual respect and peace efforts. It is about love and compassion for each other. It is about protecting their fundamental rights and our freedom. It is about building a progressive society together so that we can fight against social issues as civilians. It is about acknowledging the fact that nobody is an outsider/’other’ on this land. Everyone is important for nation building and we are incomplete without each other. It is also about learning from the scars of our communal past and making sure we don’t repeat history. It is about preventing another partition, blood-soaked walls and floors, cities filled with dead bodies and drawing one more Radcliffe Line with our own hands.

India was founded on the ideas of coexistence, inclusiveness and unity in diversity. India belongs to every single citizen and people from different faiths have contributed to this country’s growth.

This is our motherland whether we are believers or non-believers. Our forefathers dedicated their lives to protect our social fabric so that we can be proud of this great nation. A nation that is too diverse to be claimed by one ideology. It never belonged to just one religion. Our artistic and cultural heritage proves that it is not a property of a single community.

So yes, these planned attacks on minorities, polarisation, communalism, incidents of hatred, acts of cruelty and more importantly, crimes against humanity taking place in today’s India and attempts are being made to make India a Hindu Rashtra. All of this disturbs my soul.

In these dark times, we have to remember that people from all faiths died for this nation. As Rahat Indori said- “Sabhi ka khoon shaamil hai yahaan ki mitti mein, Kisi ke baap ka hindostaan thodi hai.”

Make peace not war because the next generation can’t afford this bloodlust.


Image source: Raj K Raj/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, 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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