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Is Critical Thinking The Worst Anti-Social Activity?

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A couple of days ago, I was watching Prakash Raj, a very well known Indian actor on TV expressing his views at the India Today conclave. He was taking on every question, openly criticising the current political scenario in India, and putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the PM and the President of the political party he belongs to. He is someone who is well entrenched and seasoned in his profession, has contacts wherever it matters and has a prosperous life, so he may have sounded arrogant to many. But then he explained why he is taking such a stand. Gauri Lankesh, the well known journalist and a good friend of his, was murdered in cold blood last year and supporters of the ruling party were bursting crackers and distributing sweets to celebrate her killing which neither the PM nor any other party leader condemned. He just couldn’t take it and is letting out the rage that has been seething inside him.

The scourge of any establishment and what scares establishments the most, is critical thinking. In one of my previous jobs, my team leader used to constantly tell the team that the work we were doing could be done by someone with just high school level knowledge. It used to feel like he was underwhelming us but he was right. We were just following set procedures and we were not required to wrack our brains to solve problems. We were not required to invent anything new. Simply put, no critical thinking was required. If we look at it closely, the entire corporate, political and religious spectrum works on the same principle. In the corporate sector, it’s just about doing the work as one is told to, take your salary and go home. In politics, vote for one of those people who have been put before you and that’s it. In religion, read, listen and follow what’s written in religious texts.

If we look at all the greatest inventors in history, relatively very little is known about them other than about their inventions and their work. This is because the way they think is a complete mismatch to how the society works. Their behaviour and lifestyle has never been considered as normal as per societal standards, and they were always treated as outcasts during their lifetimes. This is because critical thinking has always been the biggest enemy to the norms of society. Gautam Buddha had to renounce his kingdom and regal life because he understood that only critical thinking can make this world better. But he had to live his life outside the walls of the society. Jesus Christ tried to be a critical thinker within the society and we all know what his fate became. This is how society has always treated critical thinkers – either keep them out and limit their sphere of influence, or if that doesn’t work, eliminate them.

Religious and political establishments have realized long ago, that critical thinkers are their mortal enemies. When do people start doing critical thinking? When they are content with their profession, earn enough to live a prosperous life and most importantly, have access to information. Deny all of these to people, and they will struggle to manage their lives and take care of their families which will give them little time to seek out and understand what is happening in the world.

First, the concept of wealth was introduced, then financial institutions came along and introduced the concept of money. The Renaissance gave rise to industries and jobs, and money got linked to jobs as salaries. Thus, began our continuous struggle to eke out a living and seek out the elusive prosperity that always seem to be out of our reach. The establishments are also fearful of education which is why rural people in countries like India continue to have less access to schools and colleges and very little practical know-how, and true knowledge of the world is included in the education curriculum.

The establishments have also ensured that people who can do critical thinking are subjugated to them thereby effectively neutralizing them. A simple example of this is wealthy and distinguished people of the society flocking the establishments of God men. Once they are all brought together under one umbrella, none would dare to go against the establishment. This is also how we find plenty of well educated people being a part of, and supporting political parties.

All of this would explain why the political establishment in India is riled and up in arms against Arvind Kejriwal and his party. He is well educated, had a prominent government job and has a pedigree in social service. That is why when he launched a political party, the entire system went into shock. When the system tried to take him down, he found a way to win elections and become a chief minister. What he talks about and the work he has been doing, has been clearly highlighting and differentiating what elected representatives have been doing for the people for so long and what elected representatives should be doing. Solving existing problems in society is another huge setback for the establishments. If there are no problems, what is there for the leaders to highlight and talk about? I believe that they have no vision for the society and people – they are only concerned about taking care of the needs of the establishments. This problem exists in the corporate world as well.

In his bid to create new and innovative ways of governance, I think that Arvind Kejriwal has been forced to go against the establishments, and that is why all of them have ganged up against him. He has made himself a threat to their survival and existence. Similar is the case with Prakash Raj. These people have risen above all influences of the establishments, and cannot be subjugated. In a Malayalam movie called “Red Wine”, there is a character who was a students’ leader in college and fought against the corporates that were trying to usurp tribal land. The head of the company says he belongs to the firebrand category who will not sway under any influence, and can never be subjugated – so he had to be eliminated.

Critical thinkers continue to be the bane of the establishments. LinkedIn has introduced a concept called “influencers”. These are mostly leaders from the corporate world. Hundreds and even thousands of people follow them. People have to understand that everyone is capable of having their own views and opinions from their experiences in life, and do not necessarily have to follow anyone. Until this enlightenment happens, we will all be under the slavery of establishments and will continue living the miserable lives we have become accustomed to.

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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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