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Bangladesh Is Burning With Student Protests, And Here Is Why India Should Care

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Last month on July 29, a speeding bus ran over a group of students, killing two students and injuring several other others in Bangladesh’s capital city Dhaka.  The incident sparked a widespread student-led protest.

A nine-day protest ensued in the aftermath of the accident that killed 18-year-old Abdul Karim Rajib and 17-year-old Diya Khanam Mim.  The protest was initially sparked by remonstrating school students who were later joined by students from private universities as well as public institutions. The students took the streets by storm as they boycotted classes at schools and universities, private and public alike.

Bangladesh is no stranger to student demonstrations. On several occasions, students have shown their solidarity by forming human chains, whether it be during the “Language Movement”, or resistance towards the atrocities against the minority of the country that stemmed from the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

A student of Saint Francis Xavier’s Greenherald International School and College told us, “This protest against the government’s ignorance was necessary. Lives lost due to road accidents is extremely common in Bangladesh, and no one seemed to care enough. But limits were crossed when two college students got run over, just because two local buses were racing on the highway! Mind you; the students were standing on the footpath. Students had initially proposed nine changes to prevent accidents which our government didn’t agree with. Two of my seniors have been hospitalised.”

The students were agitated after minister Shahjahan Khan made a callous remark. Physical force was used to crush these protests. School students were beaten mercilessly by police officers and left to bleed; students were raped and barred. The whole country did not have access to the internet for two days, starting from the 29th of July. The national media was also barred from reporting the events.

Last week on Sunday, August 5, after the renowned photojournalist Shahidul Alam’s interview with Al Jazeera, that international attention was garnered towards the situation in Bangladesh that was progressively regressing. Mr.Alam was reportedly taken by force from his home, by a group of around 35 men in plain clothes who claimed to be from the detective branch of the Dhaka police, he was convicted for “provocative comments” under Section 57 of Bangladesh Information communications and Technology act which is an act, vague and infamous for its misuse.

The events in Bangladesh, affect everyone in the subcontinent. If we choose not to retaliate, then we’re all acting as passive perpetrators of these crimes against humanity. Censorship, shrinking democratic spaces in universities, and right-wing nationalism is on the rise everywhere. If tear gas and rubber bullets are meeting cries for justice, it means that we’re facing an actual threat to freedom of speech and expression.

Bangladesh has a history of such intolerance, they’ve showcased it against truth-bearers like Taslima Nasrin and even Bangladeshi Bloggers, who were executed in 2013. Recently, Jibon Ahmed, a photographer in Bangladesh, was thrashed by his colleagues as he had captured a couple kissing in the rain, inside the premises of the University of Dhaka. He was fired because the picture was seen as an attempt to promote vulgarity.

The Bangladesh Chaatro League (BCL), Youth wing of the Awami League tried crushing the voices of the protesting students via force.

“Sheikh Mujibur Rahman taught students how to protest, and it is a shame that today, his daughter Sheikh Hasina’s government is suppressing those very voices he raised.” adds a student.

The Awami League has been a symbol of democracy and freedom, taking part in Bangladesh’s Liberation War. But, Sheikh Hasina handicapping the youth and the intellectuals of her country is an act of cowardice. We’ve faced similar situations in India when the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi had demanded “Azaadi” from a corrupt system but it was termed a ‘sedition row’ instead.

While politicisation of this student movement would mean disgracing a movement that organised itself without any formal political support yet one can’t help but wonder about the ramifications of Sheikh Hasina’s actions and how they would manifest themselves in the Bangladesh general elections which are due this year.

Student demands are still largely unmet. However, on Monday, the government increased the maximum punishment for reckless drivers from three years to five years, Students appeared positive as they told us over the internet, “I know we didn’t lose because now everyone wears a helmet, nobody breaks traffic rules easily. And the traffic police have got to work. They accumulated 1.5 crores by fining those who have an expired license.”

While newspapers say that city returned to normalcy on Wednesday, another student from Viqarunnisa Noon School & College expressed her concerns.

“The current situation of Bangladesh is becoming normal, I don’t know how to put it in words, but it feels like people forget what they felt in the last nine days, it hurts a lot,” she said.

The students in the universities of India stand in solidarity with the students of Bangladesh. Around myself and among my peers I have seen growing concerns about the condition in Bangladesh, and it has restored my faith in humanity. Never before in the subcontinent has there been such widespread awareness about road safety. This is not a lost cause. The youth of Bangladesh have won. Their voices have reached us. Their voices have been heard, not just all over the subcontinent but across the 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, 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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