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For Me, Writing Is Cathartic, But It Is Also Revolutionary

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Editor's note: Youth Ki Awaaz has turned 12, and this post is a part of #WhyIWrite, a campaign to celebrate Youth Ki Awaaz users who have spoken up about issues that matter to them. If you'd like to share what motivates you to write, publish your story here!

“Bol, ye thora waqt bahut hai, Jism o zabaan ki maut se pahle; 

Bol, ke sach zinda hai ab tak –Bol, jo kuchh kahna hai kah-le!

(Time enough is this brief hour, Until body and tongue lie dead

Speak, for truth is living yet – Speak whatever must be said!)”

– Faiz Ahmad Faiz

I am no etymologist, yet I understand the critical significance of words, the bravery in the act of speaking and breaking silences. I write for several reasons, one of the most basic being that certain stories must not go unheard. The importance of telling these stories is the crucial fact that decides the collective fate of our humanity. If these stories are not told, it will accelerate us towards that dystopian future which is mechanized and digitized but stripped of empathy and emotion. On the other hand, telling these stories might be dangerous and difficult, yet life-affirming and sustaining, pushing us towards a better world with other possibilities.

Write For A New World

The revelation that I enjoy words, value them, revel in them, and feel moved by them, came to me gradually. My love for words evolved over the ages through the different books that I was encouraged to read at home and in school, the poems that I had to learn and the songs that I heard. Particularly, reading the fun looking children’s books and later discovering the joy of Enid Blyton, the folktales from around the world, the wonderful fairy tales, the countless Bengali ghost stories, the adventures of Tintin, the amusement of Shukumar Ray’s ‘Abol Tabol’, the poignancy of Tagore and Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, the pathos of Dickens, and the mystery of Sheldon.

Later, some of the classics that shaped my thoughts and inspired me to write the hard-hitting realities of Manto, and the lyrical Gulzaar, Orwell’s works, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ludhianvi’s revolutionary poetry, and several others that challenged the status quo and made me realize the power of words. Writing is cathartic but it is also revolutionary because it holds up a mirror to the problems around us and prods us to think of a solution and bring about change. Writing, just like reading, is, therefore, a political act because it challenges the status quo and sows the seeds of a new world.

Write For Our Rights

Especially in the face of censorship and surveillance, when we are constantly told that there are topics we can’t speak about, we must question these impositions and speak-up against them. It is important because we live in a world that is dominated by machineries that support and promote the injustice and exploitation of the masses for the benefit of a few. These machineries thrive on cultivating a culture of fearing and detesting words and tries to silence any dissent or questions against them. Such exploitative power structures thrive on ignorance and encourage dulling down of the mind (because a dull mind is easier to rule over). We must resist this and despite the threats, we must keep writing and speaking honestly. We must especially speak the words that must not be spoken, because silence is wrong. It makes us complicit with the injustice and emboldens the oppressors. Those of us who have the privilege to document the current situation, present ideas and challenge the status quo must do so. It is not only a matter of seeking comfort in written words, but it is our responsibility towards the legacy that we want to leave behind for our future generations.

Write And Defy Censorship

Words are inanimate yet they have a life of their own. Once they are out there, whether in the written or in the spoken form, they have the power to change the world around us forever.  They could be positive or negative, they could be passionate, moving and significant, or they could be inflammatory and hateful. They could be used as tools to inspire change or weapons to wage a war. They could be several things, except they can never be unnecessary.

They have the right to exist even if they offend, and yet no words should ever be blurred or censored and people should be able to see or hear them and decide for themselves. Censorship only occurs in a society where the authorities do not believe that people are sane or mature enough to decide for themselves. Censorship is mind-control and it is what the authorities don’t want you to read. Therefore, I try to read anything that was censored and highly recommend the same to everyone.

Write To Comfort The Disturbed

The works of literature that get censored seem to echo Manto’s comment, “If you cannot bear these stories, then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don’t even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that’s the job of dressmakers.” A few examples of censored works of literature that were banned simply because they were reflecting the reality include Sadat Hasan Manto’s works, Ismat Chugtai’s “Lihaaf”, Anne Frank’s Diary, George Orwell’s works, Taslima Nasreen’s works, among many others. Nasreen’s words were so powerful and caused such fear to the Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh that she had to leave the country and currently resides in exile in India.

However, Nasreen is not alone and threats and silencing of authors or burning/pulping of their books is rather common around the world. Perumal Murugan, a Tamil author was viciously attacked for his work, “One Part Woman”, that made guardians of morality uncomfortable, and he went into a self-imposed silence. Marxist author Pansare, rationalist Dhabolkar and journalist Gauri Lankesh were killed for their critical writings against the ruling establishment and right-wing Hindu fundamentalism in India. In the west, a state in United States banned the book, “To Kill A Mocking Bird” in schools because it raises issues of racism; and Church-run schools in the United Kingdom have banned Harry Potter for its un-Christian themes of witches, wizards and magic!

The common link between all these banned books and the author’s target for writing them are that they challenge the power structures – they are either seditious or they hurt religious sentiments or break norms around morality. If one is still confused as to what side they should be on, they just have to remember that books have never killed anyone, yet they have shaken those in power and made them fearful. They have put ideas out there, and the ideas have been so potent that they have invoked the wrath of the powerful. The moment a book is powerful enough to stir the primal in us, be it negative or positive (depending on which side of the status quo we are on), it has achieved its goal. Because writing is an art, and as Banksy put it, good art must comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

Writing On YKA

I started writing on YKA in 2015 and my first article was an argument in favour of decriminalizing sex work. Even before that, I won a blog competition, Violence and Women: What Remains Unseen, which was co-organized by CREA and YKA, and my poem, ‘She Breathed Her Last Breath and We Didn’t Even Hear Her Sigh’, was published in September 2013. Initially, it was important for me to write, as at first, it felt natural and organic; gradually it also started feeling like a responsibility (albeit a good one!). It is my way of participating in the world actively, often difficult but always urgent, and YKA provided the perfect platform for it.

I did not have a professional journalistic background and yet I was keen to write about things that I felt were important and post them where they would be read by more people. YKA addressed these for me, and I am sure many others like me, by providing a platform where ordinary people could write and connect with readers. This was important because ordinary voices need to be heard, especially when they become the voices for many others who can’t be on such platforms for various reasons. There is a long way to go, but YKA is a good start at amplifying the voices and shaping public opinion towards a more empathetic understanding of issues, through popularity and vast readership. It is democracy in making and in action!

Write! I will write to have fun, to rage, to dream, to create, to destroy, to challenge, to change, to preserve, to remember, to pay a tribute, to rebuke. I urge you all to write too and hope together we will read and write for all these reasons and more, and take steps towards a better world, a just world, an equal world.

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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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