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Who Gives Kanwariyas The Power To Vandalise?

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The whole country must have seen the video of Kanwariyas demolishing a car when they got into some kind of scuffle with a car driver in the Moti Nagar area of Delhi. In a similar incident, the Kanwariyas also vandalised a police car and abused policemen in Bulandshar’s Bugrasi area of UP. While one of the main concerns is the reckless display of violence in such magnanimity, the crux of the problem is much worse: who gives them this power?

Firstly,  the “condemnation” that one talks about in this context is hardly any condemnation at all. Most ministers/ politicians as well as common people are silent or ignorant of the issue. Secondly, the Kanwariya’s wardrobe itself gives them this power: anyone wearing saffron in this country could incite any form of violence, while feeling secure that they would be honoured for their acts or that they could walk out trouble-free. India has set examples in recent times where the murderer of Akhlaq was draped in tri-colour flag and honored with martyrdom by the community and the state. It has become a trend to show camaraderie to the rape-accused and lynch those the mob suspects/ perceives as wrong-doers as it happened in the cases of Kathua and  Jayant Sinha respectively.

Thirdly, people tend to get an unflinching courage from the rapidly expanding hate propaganda in the country and selective reactions to such propaganda from the people in power. Many right wing groups and people have condemned these acts and said that these were the misdeeds of a few people that should not affect the image of Shiva Bhakts in particular, and Hindus in general. While I am actually in support of this logic, I fail to understand where this form of reasoning disappears when it comes to the Muslim community or other marginalized groups? The 9/11 aftermath depicts an unending hate propaganda against the Muslim community. In India, the 26/11 attacks amongst others have caused harm and disservice to the Muslim community at large. The wardrobe of a Muslim man is enough for the society to frame them as terrorists. We have seen that the likes of Mohd Aamir Khan are framed as terrorists; and it takes 14 years for them to just prove their innocence in court.

Fourthly, can we actually stop these kinds of pilgrimage walks or any religious activities under the suspicion of inciting violence? The answer most likely seems to be a ”NO”. Delhi is popular for several things – universities and students are one of them. The student community in Delhi since Feb 2015 is under a series of horrendous trials by the state’s machinery. Universities’  administrations and people in general are assuming that students are causing harm to  India’s peace and harmony based on doctored videos alone. The students’ programmes, seminars, and  conferences are cancelled and sabotaged on baseless grounds. If there is a fear, then why shouldn’t it be applied to these religious groups as well?

But the Kanwariyas are really not the Tukde Tukde Gang.  The real onslaught of violence is portrayed by the state, specifically in making the police force completely incompetent and fearful of any action. We are living in times where someone like Gagandeep, who saved a Muslim boy from an angry mob, is really an exception, while the former description of the police is the dominant rule. The next obvious credit for this problem goes to our beautiful majority party which, in the name of development, provides protection to rapists, lynchers, and rioters.

We have already dismantled our Judiciary, while the Legislative is busy implanting their agendas instead of making any progress, and the Executive is trembling for their survival. We can’t miss the fourth pillar of democracy, the Media. They have an incredible and influential role in all the misdeeds, for deliberately pressing on the hate propaganda against students, activists, and civil society; highlighting the issues of Bollywood and the bizarre challenges more, while bombarding us with ‘positive news’ about the government in power. Lastly, the inefficiency and indecisiveness of the general public has become such an accepted fact. The ghastliness that is going on in the society is so normalized that it has become impossible to even discuss anything, let alone the part where taking action is required.

The actions of these Kanwaryis are absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable, but we need to be very precise and distinctive in identifying the roots of such violence. We are in a great danger because all that is going on in our country is clearly pointing to the 12 warning signs of fascism.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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 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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