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With Raids On Activists, Is 2018 Going To Be A Repeat Of The 1975 Emergency?

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Dissent is the safety valve of a democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst,” said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, of a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India. It was on Wednesday that the bench issued notice to the Maharashtra government and directed that five human right activists and lawyers arrested by the Pune police be placed under house arrest until the matter is heard next on September 6. There have been a series of similar incidents, targeting people who voice their dissent against the government, or who work for the improvement of unprivileged and marginalised sections of society, right from the year 2014 onwards.

Author and historian Ramachandra Guha on Tuesday, speaking to NDTV, lashed out at the government over the countrywide raids and arrest of activists, calling it a “brutal, authoritarian, oppressive, arbitrary, illegal act” by the Pune police. But a question arises: Why is this government so frightened by those human right activists who work for the upliftment of marginalised sections of society? The only possible reason is that these activists are a hurdle for this government which doesn’t want tribal communities to have the right to decide on whether they want to keep their land or not. If these activists did not serve as a helping hand for the unprivileged, the government will easily take up tribal land and give it to the businessman.

The whole Pune incident revolves around the Bhima-Koreagaon issue. In June, five people—Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, and Shoma Sen—were arrested for allegedly making “provocative” speeches at an event in the Bhima-Koregaon village in January, which, the police said, triggered violence. The raids last month were also justified with same reason by the police. The five who have been arrested this time are journalist Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The common thread among all of them is a zeal to work for the marginalised.

Activist Arun Ferreira arrested in Pune. Image source: Getty Images.

The action by the Pune police has brought in massive controversy, with many describing it as “absolutely chilling“, a “virtual declaration of emergency” and an attempt to “muzzle the voice of dissent“, reports NDTV.

Sudha Bharadwaj, who was arrested from Faridabad, is a US-born human rights lawyer and activist. A member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority, she has worked in Chhattisgarh for almost three decades, as an advocate for the civil and human rights of Dalits, farmers, labourers and tribal people. After becoming a lawyer in 2000, she began practising in the Chhattisgarh High Court, and is the general secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

Gautam Navlakha was arrested from his residence in Delhi. Mr. Navlakha has written extensively about alleged human rights violations in the state. In 2011, he was detained at the Srinagar Airport and ordered to return to Delhi as the state government felt his presence could disturb peace and order in the Valley.

Activist, writer, and poet Varavara Rao was arrested from his home in Hyderabad. He was one of the founders of Viplava Rachayitala Sangahm (Revolutionary Writers’ Association) that supports and propagates Naxalite ideology. The 78-year-old was arrested and released in 10 different cases between 1974 and 1986 for his revolutionary writings, including the 1986 Ramnagar conspiracy case in in which he was acquitted in 2003 after 17 years.

A Mumbai-based human rights activist and lawyer, Arun Ferreira was picked up from his home in Thane, near Mumbai. When he was previously arrested in 2007, h alleged that he was tortured in custody and detailed his experience in his book, “Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir”.

Vernon Gonsalves, a civil rights activist, was arrested in Mumbai. . He was convicted in June 2013 under various sections of Unlawful Activities (Preventions) Act and Arms Act. He had already served six years in prison for terror charges, so he was released immediately.

The most striking thing which has happened over the years especially after 2014 is that government is always trying to suppress the voice of dissent. The rising environment of questions, ideology against the ideology of the government and a culture of debate and dissent is what we are lacking over the years. The government is trying to cut the wings of any rising voices against them which is most dangerous for the growth of a progressive society and a democracy.

Two years have passed since a sedition case was lodged against Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students, namely Kanhaiya Kumar (the then JNUSU President), Umar Khalid, and Anirban Bhattacharya (and a few others) over an event in which “anti-national” slogans were allegedly raised. The Delhi Police’s Special Cell is yet to file a charge sheet. This is evidence of the irresponsibility of the police and the administration. They were simply targeted because they questioned the government. Since then, they have been seen as a hurdle in the path of the government’s own propaganda. Likewise, it has been over two years now since JNU student Najeeb Ahmed went missing and we have no information.

The Prime Minister boasts of 65% of the population being youth of 25 to 35 years of age. But this reckless behaviour of the police and government shows their irresponsible attitude towards their own youth!

Last year, one of India’s most prestigious Central universities, Banaras Hindu University, saw the outrage of the student body when a group of women on campus protested against the university administration in the case of an alleged incident of sexual assault. They had also complained against the police officials for mismanagement. Our Prime Minister did not give a statement against this horrific incident. Interestingly, he was in Varanasi at that time.

Do you still feel Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is successful? No, it can never be until we as individuals cannot respect people of all genders of our society, equally. The most alarming thing that has happened over the years is that we have learnt to tolerate whatever odds come in our paths. The one who revolt are termed as ‘Anti-National’, ‘Maoist’, and what not. The media is censored. Unbiased journalists are facing a tough time in the country. Only if you are on the government’s side, you are safe.

If after reading this article, you are still feel we live in a safe democratic nation, and calling it an undeclared Emergency is non-sense, then welcome to a New India, a country ruled by authoritarians, a country of no civil liberties, of a culture of dissent lost, while ideas of Ambedkar, Gandhi, ideas of an Egalitarian India, are now only dreams to cherish.

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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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