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Nothing’s Grey Anymore: You’re Either A Hindutva Nationalist Or A Secular ‘Anti-National’

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The last two years have shown us but one thing: as a nation, we have the collective mental and emotional maturity of an eight-year-old.

The last few years in our country have been more controversy-laden than the entire run of South Park. And the truly worrisome part is the fact that we are undeniably metamorphosing from a society that believed in open-minded free debates to one that lays down inflexible, unwavering, non-porous, set-in-stone barriers across minds and men.

It’s not the loss of freedom of speech that threatens us. God knows that one legislation is being so blatantly misused that Ambedkar must be turning around in his grave today.  It’s the loss of that indispensable element of individuality, the thing we call the freedom to make a personal choice, that is being eroded away. Free will is being rendered impotent and we are faced with an utter loss and destruction of intellectual and personal ideals in today’s scenario.

We are, in short, being stripped of our power to choose sides or stay neutral – deprived of our right to perceive matters they way we choose to. We are being remolded as pawns in the hands of the powerful few

If this isn’t the destruction of democracy, I don’t know what else is. And it is this that I find frightening – the prospect of existing in a society where free speech is a caveat for the powerful to force words into your mouth and dictate their agenda to the public. The scary aspect is the looming threat of public opinion being hijacked. The predominant portion of the middle class has been reduced to nothing but mere sheep, goaded on to demonstrations and “outrages” by the media and whatever it projects.

One of the most disturbing effects of this process is our growing inclination as a society to view everything in the extremes of black and white alone. You’re either a BJP supporting, Modi-loving, Hindutva nationalist or you’re a secular, ‘anti-national’ Pakistani agent and a terrorist sympathiser. Good luck with that sedition case they’ll file against you. You’re either intolerant or you are non-patriotic. You’re either an all-out feminist or a male chauvinist pig. There is no in-between. And no moderate opinions are welcome. This is the sorry state we are being reduced to. Gray no longer is a reality. There are no moderate, independent opinions that are welcome in a public forum. And that is what we must be alarmed about. This rapid conversion from the pluralistic, diverse mosaic of a nation to a segregated, binary society.

Think about it: the human eye can distinguish up to 50,000 shades of grey, yet just one shade of pure black or pure white. If this isn’t the ultimate tribute to tolerance and diversity and an understanding of differences, then what is?

It’s fast becoming a fashionable trend to bash anything and everything related to the right-wing government, be it well-deserved or otherwise. Similarly, denouncing anyone who doesn’t support or subscribe to the right-wing’s policies and agendas as ‘anti-national’ is an extremely disturbing new development. We seem hell-bent on shutting our minds and ears to the voice of reason or even personal discretion and instead blindly follow the crowd.

Take the recently appointed CM of Uttar Pradesh for example. Yogi Adityanath’s been receiving plenty of flak for the so-called ‘anti-Romeo squads’ – a reasonably well-founded concept, sadly mutilated by over-zealous and frankly terrible execution. On the other hand, the decision to close down illegal abattoirs makes a lot of sense both from an economic as well as a aesthetic and social point of view, even if we take only public sanitation into consideration. True, critics say the decision is more anti-Muslim inspired than hygiene-inspired, but the pros are hard to ignore. Similarly, the developmental agendas and the changeover from a sodden, bumbling government machinery to an evidently more energetic and pro-developmental one is something that demands adulation.

And this again, is a prime example of the problem we’ve been talking about. You cannot both love and hate the new UP CM. You must either worship him or abuse him. There is simply no level-minded, fact-based approach you can adopt. No, neither the media nor the vociferous polity will allow that. Why are we being forced to align our views ? Do not the citizens of a democracy reserve the right to form independent judgement and arrive at their own decisions? What are we, five-year-old playschool kids that we must be held by the hand and told what is right and what is not? We’re slowly being attuned to adopting a passion driven , public opinion determined perspective of the world around us. Mob mentality is slowly but surely overpowering rationale and individual reasoning.

In retrospect one could almost say that we, as a society, are progressing backwards. And that, beyond every possible doubt, is sufficient reason for alarm. Tagore’s classic verses extolling the virtues of his ideal nation have never seemed as indispensable as they do now to serve as the signposts for our society:

“Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit”

It’s almost painful to see these visionary ideals, which almost every high school student has surely read and admired, reduced to mere words -indeed, almost made a mockery out of, by the very institutions responsible for upholding them. Tagore’s narrow walls and dreary desert may have been his metaphors for a dramatic effect, but the stark reality of today is that we may very well be consciously bringing that hell to life.

Decades, if not centuries of intellectual, social and spiritual awakening, the life-work of great reformers, and our own strife towards building a cosmopolitan nation of progressive ideals now stand in danger of annihilation. It’s time we forget about the beef and focus on the sheep we are being forced to become. The binariness of black and white is but a farce in the name of freedom. For true democracy exists in the hues of grey.

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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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