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‘Freedom After The Speech Is Really What Freedom Of Speech Is All About’

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“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

These were the words of our then Prime Minister Nehru, 71 years ago. Seventy one years later I, a citizen of India questions this statement. Has India really awoken to freedom? Technically yes, we are a democracy, we have fought for our independence and attained it after a lot of bloodshed. We are free from the clutches of the colonial emperors. Theoretically, we are independent. In the books of political sciences, the Republic Of India is a free state. But the statistics of the murders of the journalists who voiced their opinions and practised their right to freedom of speech, speak a different story.

On May 3, 2018, the world celebrated World Press Day, and on this occasion, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) released the freedom ranking, and the worlds largest democracy was placed at 138th rank out of 180 countries, just above Pakistan. Some of our very own countrymen came forward and commented, “well we are at least in front of Pakistan.” Yes, we are but only by one rank. But seriously, are our standards so low that we are comparing our basic rights of democracy with a country which, at least according to me, knows very well how to hide a dictatorial regime behind the curtains of democracy.

There is no question about the fact that the freedom of the press is under a great threat. People argue that the fact that the press is operating and reporting the data and people like me get to know about what is happening in the country and around the world is proof that freedom of the press exists. But to them I would ask, have you seen the after-effects of exercising the right to freedom of the press? Have you read about the deaths of Shujaat Bukhari, Gauri Lankesh, Santanu Bhowmik and many others whose names may or may not have appeared on the headlines?

India is a diverse country, with a population of around 135 crores; it is obvious that there will be a difference of opinion. Hence, when we voice our opinions, there will be someone who will have a different point of view. I understand that your words will have consequences, but I don’t, rather I can’t, understand that these consequences will be in the form of threats or worse, in deaths.

Noted lawyer Fali Nariman told a gathering at the Press Club of India in New Delhi last June: “Freedom after the speech – that is really what freedom of speech is all about.” He emphasized that “you are allowed to speak, speak as much as you like, but there is a fellow waiting there to nab you and out you, in so you can’t speak again!” Hate for differing views is dangerous for the democracy.

I do not solely blame the current government for the decline in journalism and the state of freedom within the media. The origin of this situation goes deeper to several years earlier. No one can forget that the obstruction of a free press was one of the important highlights during the darkest period of our democracy – the emergency.

Freedom of the press is violated not only by the murders but also by the fact that there has been so much censorship that it takes away the right of audience to decide what to watch, what to read,  etc. Censorship is needed in certain areas which are moral, ethically wrong (for example child porn), hence legal interference is required. But stopping an adult to exercise his/her choice is constitutionally wrong.

Another indirect way in which freedom of the press is violated is by turning the fourth pillar of democracy into an industry of competitive market forces. Well, there is nothing wrong with having a free and fair competition but it should not violate the basic purpose of free media, which is to serve as a link between the government and the people.

Fear is a critical component which obstructs freedom, and if the journalists have fear in them, the government, the industrialists, the “powerful people” will be unstoppable.

138 in 2018 or 132 in 2012 is not the matter of fact, but whether the press will get due freedom, whether the civil society will stand up and make it an important issue is the point.

Hence, as our country enters its 72nd year, let’s strive to work hard in respecting, cherishing and protecting our fourth pillar of democracy because freedom of the press is not just important to democracy it is democracy.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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