From Akhlaq To Kathua: The Price We Pay For Ignoring Ambedkar

The continuous persecution of Muslims in India is nothing new. It is just that the nature and frequency of crime against them in the name of love jihad, Ghar wapsi, radicalisation, terrorism, beef ban etc. have turned more inhuman and brutal day after day. There is a strategically crafted attack against Muslims to weaken their will and spirit of living as an equal citizen in this country. Now right-wing parties not only justify hate crime against Muslims, but they also go to the extent of silencing those who try to speak up against such heinous crimes. As a result of this, now a large section of Muslims, as well as Non-Muslims in India prefer to stay silent while those who carry out such hate crimes against Muslims are accorded with celebrity status.

While liberals, leftists as well as right-wing intellectuals raise concerns about social regressiveness among Muslims through distorted and cherry-picked quotes of B.R.Ambedkar, they tend to forget he also said, “If the Muslims in other countries have undertaken the task of reforming their society and the Muslims of India have refused to do so, it is because the former are free from communal and political clashes with rival communities, while the latter are not.” It is really strange that so many years have passed since India got Independence, but there is no constitutional safeguard available for Muslims against communal and political hate crimes and persecution about which Ambedkar wrote.

In the absence of such constitutional rights, we have seen almost all forms of inhuman acts against Muslims from different genders, age groups, and economic or social statuses. We have seen Akhlaq and Pahlu Khan being lynched in broad daylight,  Mohammad Afrazul being butchered and burnt in Rajasthan, kids like 15-year-old Ibrahim hanged to death from a tree, 16-year-old Sibtulla Rashidi beaten to death then burnt in Asansol, a woman fasting during Ramzan being raped in running train by police personal, an 8-year-old in Kathua sedated, gang-raped and then butchered to death by police personnel as well as pandits inside the premises of a mandir. We have also seen people like Dr.Kafeel sent behind bars when they try to stop poor kids from dying, people like Najeeb who disappear from university campuses, and we have also seen people like Amir who jailed for 14 years on false charges and when they come out of jail they are paid pennies without any formal apology from the police or judiciary.

Three things which are common among all the above cases is the identity of the individual as “Muslim”, the inability of police in stopping these crimes and finally, the failure of the judiciary in giving justice to those who suffered these hate crimes. The sad part is that these crimes are rarely accepted as crimes against people from a particular religion, mostly because if society accepts it, they will have to talk about its solution.

But why have we ignored such an important issue which Ambedkar pointed out so many years back and why have Indian academicians, activists, and politicians never taken it seriously? In 2014, a committee headed by Dr Amitabh Kundu to review implementation of the Sachar Committee Report, suggested that a law on the lines of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is needed to safeguard the Muslim community. Suggestions mentioned the fact that, “it has been seen that the members of the Muslim community face similar challenges to that of the SC community, and in certain cases, they are more violent challenges,” and thus need safeguarding.

Sadly, even though the Sachar Committee Report is referred by activists and politicians to study caste and other social issues among Muslims, political discourse upon bringing Special Atrocities Act for safeguarding life and dignity of Muslims is very intentionally ignored by even liberals as well as academicians. In recent times, Abu Azmi is the only politician who took up this issue but even he was not able to build any consensus on it. In fact, Samajwadi Party (the party he belongs to) itself never brought any such bill in the state assembly when it was in power in Uttar Pradesh where so many Muslims were killed and displaced during Muzaffarnagar riots. The introduction of the Communal Violence Bill by Congress during its last days in power was also a half-hearted attempt. In fact, that bill did more harm to the cause of “Muslims (Prevention of Atrocities) Act” by not addressing core issues. It should must be mentioned that when the Communal Violence Bill was introduced in Parliament, apart from BJP, Left too was against it.

While it is very easy to talk about social issues faced by Muslims because it makes a person favourite among liberals as well as right-wingers, no one wants to talk about constitutional empowerment of Muslims in India so that they can live like an equal citizen in this country. Random protests, hashtag trends and Facebook statuses in solidarity with the Kathua rape victim will not get her justice. Unless and until Muslims do not have a provision which ensures their life and dignity, every crime against them will be manipulated as a crime against a particular gender, community, sub-community or tribe.

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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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