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Deplorable Condition Of Human Rights And Freedom Of Speech In India

The universal declaration of human rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th December 1948, in the wake of the terrors that were unleashed on the world post World War II.  It consists of 30 articles that affirm an individual world citizen’s right.

It directed the countries to establish their respective human rights commissions, and in accordance to this direction, India established the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The world today is in a state of unrest, and in such a scenario, it becomes imperative for us, as scholars of Humanities, to go beyond the paperwork and investigate the ground reality, to dwell into the realities of everyday life and to fathom how Human rights function in our society. This essay will aim at a close reading of the human rights of the Indian citizen and will scrutinise the way they function and the nuances involved. It will try and analyse recent events that have shaped our realities and will be an attempt to trace how they crossroads with the human rights.

JNU student leader Umar Khalid was allegedly shot by an unknown assailant outside the Constitution Club of India in New Delhi on Monday, August 13.

It is no news that today India is in a state of extreme unrest and the atmosphere is that of strife. The wave of Saffronization has hurt the very fabric of the nation and has rendered many without a voice of their own. These days, people have been lynched to death on the basis of rumors of cow slaughter. From Yogi’s Uttar Pradesh to Rajasthan, woke cow vigilantes have killed many innocent people. This is in direct contradiction with the Article 3 of the Universal Human Rights that declares, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

It is indeed deplorable that humans have been killed over animals, but one may ask the role that the Centre plays in the act and whether or not it is in any way privy to these incidents. The BJP government openly proclaims that cow vigilantism is one of their major propaganda and that they shall ensure that it is protected (Even though the beef supply to Pakistan has increased in the past four years). In the Alwar lynching case, the police took a “tea-break” before taking the victim to the hospital. Before taking care of the man, police made sure that the cow was taken to “gaushala”, to ensure its safety. The reason why I am dwelling on this issue in such great details is the fact that if one needs to see how rights are being handled in society, one must see how people in power exercise them and when agents of State show slackness in their behavior, it tells a lot about the condition of rights in the society. Just two days ago, PM Narendra Modi said that the cases of lynching are sad, but we must not “politicise” them. I am sure that this statement is self-evident and portrays the Indian State’s concern for the rights of its citizens. Also, it is important to note that the targets in the mob lynching are mostly Dalits or Muslims. Such planned targetting of the minorities is a direct violation of not just Article 3, but also Article 18 which ensures that people can safely practice the religion of their choice without any fear of repercussions for the same.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration Of Human rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” These days there is a lot of hue and cry for freedom of expression, and sadly one finds that there is no real freedom of expression for the citizen of India even when it is one of our fundamental rights. These days people who voice their ideologies are not just called names on the virtual media but are targeted in the real world. One only needs to see around to realise the deplorable condition in which we live. Journalists that speak against the status quo meet an end by state-sponsored violence. For evidence, one only needs to recollect the gruesome death of Gauri Lankesh.

The student activists who are vocal and raise questions are trolled by the troll media which has sprung up in the past three years. Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students are constantly under a scanner. They have been branded “anti-nationals” because of their ideology and are being witch-hunted by the beloved “sons” of our Mother Nation. The condition is such that, on August 13 JNU PhD scholar Umar Khalid was shot outside the Constitution Club where he had gone to attend a seminar, “Khauf se Aazadi” which ironically had the motive to free the citizens of the fear that the regime has instilled in them. In such a scenario, when activists are being shot and when women activists like Shehla Rashid and Gurmehar Kaur receive death and rape threats on a daily basis, one can understand the current state of the freedom of expression in the country. Not just this, the media has been censored to such an extent that it has become the weapon for the people in power to exercise their propaganda and to instil hate and fear in the minds of the masses.

Article 2 states that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms outlined in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”  Today, to say the least, the marginalised are in a state of a constant threat. Muslims are not only being lynched in the name of cow slaughter, but also a larger narrative is being created in which they are being portrayed as the ‘others’ and the ‘oppressor’. No wonder, Jinnah has suddenly taken centre stage in Indian politics and has become the favourite topic of debate on our paid news channels. Today the Kavariyas get away with molesting a woman in Delhi NCR, and the Lord Ram supporters are allowed to march with swords in their hands on Ram Navami in Bengal while there are debates on the TV channels on whether Muslims should be allowed to offer prayers in the open. The Dalits are also being targeted, and this has become more than evident with the dilution of SC/ST atrocities act. To add to this, the violence committed on them has not reduced, and one only needs to be reminded of the groom who in, Modi’s developed Gujarat, was beaten black and blue for riding a horse on his wedding day.

In one needs to understand the condition of human rights in India, a study of Kashmir is indispensable. Earlier, the people of the state suffered under the inhuman AFSPA where soldiers misused the absolute freedom granted to them. Today in Kashmir, eight-year-old Asifa is raped and murdered, and the ruling party’s MLA joins a rally in support of the alleged rapists. The UN released its first-ever human rights report on Kashmir accusing security forces of gross human rights violations on both sides of the border. The report demanded Pakistan stop using its anti-terror legislation to crack down on activists. On the other hand, it accused India of using excessive force on civilians. In responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries. It is no secret that the Kashmiris have been deprived of the promised right to self-determination and the horrendous way in which they continue to be at the receiving end of the tussle between the two nations.

The right to privacy judgment by the SC and the hearing over Section 377 gives us hope that things aren’t that bad and might change for better someday. However, I feel it is imperative to introspect and scrutinise the way we have gone wrong as a State. Today the secular and democratic fabric of our nation is under threat, and we all must unite in a fight against fascist forces and demand the rights that we deserve under Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.

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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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