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The Small Voices Of History

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What if I were to ask you to name the people associated with national movements? You most probably would come up with names like Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Subash Chandra Bose and many more. But can we limit the national movements to just the leaders who were at the centre stage and were the intellectual harbingers of the revolution? Or should we also include the amorphous masses, who remain unnamed, unrecognized and unrecorded in the historical annals, which is dominated by what Ranajit Guha calls the “elitist” historiography of the national movement?

To assume that the masses feel the same as the leaders, or that the masses represent one coherent ideology is problematic, even though the identification of these masses is based on their social identity. Thus, we need to understand how individual streams of consciousness get moulded or lost in the process of mobilization. What about the people who, standing at the fringes, become a part of a national movement not because they are participants in the campaign, but because they are the victims of the repercussions of such movements?

Whenever such movements are met with violence, it is these unnamed masses who lose their lives or limbs. These people can be participants, followers or mere onlookers, but they become a part of the discourse. And then, the leader of such movements take their voice to become the ‘public’s voice’, or actually, the leader then decided to speak on behalf of these people, who hardly ever get a coherent voice of their own.

Elitist historiography assumes individual leaders as harbingers of revolution and is esteemed with personal references. But the role of the subaltern in the national struggle is often relegated to a secondary position. They represent the unnamed, amorphous masses with no identity of their own. They are not harbingers of the revolution, but rather followers. The group represents their consciousness, unity and a character they all belong to, and thus, their voice as individuals is overpowered by this communitarian view, and more importantly, by the view of the elitist leader who represents or leads them.

In relation to events like Jallianwala Bagh or Chauri Chaura, these movements are important as nationalist movements not because of their independent position as a movement, but rather how these events, which involved the amorphous masses and not the elitist leaders, became a rallying point for these elitist leaders to carry their movement forward. These movements then become the point of genesis for these individual movements to crop up.

Events and people of the Jallianwala Bagh incident are nostalgic memories to strengthen the national movement, but the people of these events are not represented individually. They are phantoms in our nationalist memory. We can’t name them and still remember them. It’s not to say that Jallianwala Bagh or Chauri Chaura are not important events, it is to say that these events are remembered for their consequences more than their nature or content.

We are so enamoured by the cult of personality that the smaller things take a backseat. Masses are silenced so that the leaders could be heard, even though the leaderless mass initiative is even more dangerous than a leader dictating the masses. We don’t even care to give agency to these amorphous masses. We have to accept that our discourses are mediated by relations of power and structures of hierarchy, and even though the Marxist movement consider workers as the vanguard of their movement, in practice this agency is mediated by the elitist intelligentsia.

This is one problem of history – we always learn the historical events from the perspective of the elite. How the natives, local people perceived it, we never get to know. Grander schemes and narratives supersede their emphasis, their priorities, their needs. Let ‘s think over it – how different all these wars would have been from the perspective of the people who were unnecessarily sandwiched between two or multiple antagonist forces? Do these significant events in history bring any change in the life of the people at margins?

So how can we understand their perspective, if we keep taking our historical narratives for granted? It’s high time we broaden our understanding of history and enlarge our methodological tools to include the small voices of history.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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