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After Campaigning To Dethrone Congress, Why I Am Working For NSUI And Rahul Gandhi Today

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After the Arab Spring in 2011-12, Indian youth went for a pan India anti-corruption drive. Thousands of youth mobilised towards Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi to support a Gandhian, named Anna Hazare. He was leading a movement called India Against Corruption (IAC). The rise of IAC came with new slogans and themes such as the Indian National Congress is synonymous with corruption, and the party is responsible for all the evils in India. People from left to right bought this argument. Anna movement demanded the passage of anti-graft laws such as Lok pal bill, whistleblower bill, and gharwapsi of Black money. To be honest, I was an active participant in the Anna-led movement, and we had pledged to dethrone Congress, but we didn’t have any alternative at that time.

IAC movement and media houses manufactured a virtual vacuum in the minds of the new social media savvy generation.

In 2013, a man was projected as the panacea to fill this vacuum. Then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi, who was accused of being complicit in 2002 Gujarat riots, got sudden limelight of every newspaper and primetime shows of most of the news channels. Modi was projected as an ideal contender of the Prime ministerial position. Within  few weeks, Modi was everywhere. His speeches, promises of instant Achhe Din (good days), his downtrodden background, tea stall (Chai Wala) narrative, vikas (development) propaganda, vow to deposit 15 lakhs in the bank accounts of every citizen, and creating two crore jobs every year suddenly become the talk of the town. Most of my friends and relatives bought the idea of Modi. But, I did not. In 2013, my region became the eyewitness of the heinous and real face of Modi. Muzaffarnagar was burning, and the villages that had never seen riots, even at the time of partition, saw saffron flames rising from the burning fields of Muzaffarnagar. Around 50,000 Muslims had to leave their villages to save their lives. It was JNU that gave me deep insights into how the riots were used for the benefit of the communal forces and British in pre-independent India, and how Muzaffarnagar was a replication of Gujarat model in Uttar Pradesh.

The Muzaffarnagar riots brainwashed the 31% Indian electorate, and Modi, on May 26, 2014, formed a majority government. According to senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Rs 3,000 crore were spent on ‘Brand Modi’, funded by India’s biggest corporates. My experience of activism with All India Student Federation (AISF), the student wing of Communist Party of India, was helpful for me to understand the brand Modi. However, due to some serious differences with Kanhaiya Kumar, I left AISF and joined NSUI in hope to revive the Nehruvian Congress in Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Meanwhile, post-2014, Modi Sarkar reciprocated electoral funding favours to his Masters by promulgating Land Acquisition ordinance thrice. A significant amount of land was sold at low prices to a few businesspeople by tweaking the pro-farmer Land Acquisition act 2013. Be it MNREGA, Right to Food, Right to Education, or Right To Information, every welfare scheme that was established to strengthen the downtrodden was either smashed or weakened by the Modi sarkar. Higher education funds were decreased, and jobs in the public and private sector dried rapidly. October 2015 saw the death of UGC NON-NET Fellowship, but we fought back at #OccupyUGC. In any fascist regime, this onslaught against masses requires a smokescreen, and institutional murder of Rohith Vemula was the beginning. Later, on February 9, 2016, the alleged ‘anti-national’ sloganeering, which was synchronised by RSS and Radical Left, gave BJP another smokescreen to hide their anti-people actions under the carpet of nationalism. Unfortunately, JNU became the new victim of RSS. Thankfully, we were not alone. Rahul Gandhi (then Vice President of Congress) stood with the students and supported #JusticeForRohithVemula and #StandWithJNU. A section of Congress was not happy with the Gandhi’s proactive defence of the institution. RSS-corporate nexus invested millions in branding Rahul Gandhi as ‘Pappu’. However, it was JNU, where we saw Mr Gandhi emerge as the real political scion of Pt. Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.

Given my disillusionment with the fake Gandhian and B-team of RSS, Anna-Kejriwal gang, I see a ray of hope in Mr Gandhi’s Idealism.

Cases such as Akhlaq lynching, Una Dalit atrocities, and the Mandsaur farmers’ protest were a clear indication for the progressive and liberal section of the society that Indian democracy was under deep threat. But, we are not alone, the Congress of Mr Gandhi is promising us that India and constitutional republic is still safe, provided we are united for our Constitution. My first hour-long conversation with Mr Gandhi at the University of Hyderabad, where he was observing a day-long hunger strike to demand #JusticeForRahithVemula, convinced me that he was sincere against caste and class inequalities and the associated atrocities.

Coming back to the JNU narrative, on October 11, 2016, during Vijayadashami, we burnt the effigy of Modi and his gang. Immediately, the corporate-owned media houses coloured this protest as blasphemy against Modi, as if it was the first effigy of Prime Minister to be ever burnt in independent India. On October 14, 2016, the Gujarat model was replicated. The infectious ideas of RSS/ABVP mob lynched Najeeb, and after that night Najeeb disappeared/kidnapped from the campus. The NSUI sat for 11 days indefinite hunger strike to ask JNU’s VC Mamidala #WhereIsNajeeb. But, this was not the last shameful act shielded by VC Mamidala. JNU administration never punished any ABVP lyncher; one alleged mob lyncher even contested for from ABVP for JNUSU.

On the other hand, recently NSUI activists were punished for pakora protest on campus, and for ‘Jai Bhim’ sloganeering. Not just that, the name of NSUI’s JNUSU presidential candidate was withdrawn on a flimsy ground. Later, Delhi High Court ruled in favour of NSUI and noted that JNU order was “unsustainable on innumerable grounds”. The slow death of JNU did not stop here. In 2016, around 1,000 research seats were reduced from country’s premier institute. The UGC notification of 2016 killed the reservation system, and about 50 teachers of campus were punished for participating in the protest against VC.

The above narrative, based on my experience in JNU and India, paints a grim picture of the prevailing situation in the country. All institutions which were erected under the guidance of the Indian constitution are under grave threat. India suffered a loss of Rs. 3 trillion along with millions of jobs, and more than 100 people died due to demonetisation. Not just RBI, even the Supreme Court of India is under attack from the RSS-corporate duo. And every time, the modus operandi is the same, the nexus between RSS fundamentalists and crony capitalists create the smokescreen around communal and caste-based hatred, so that super rich can become more prosperous. In this given context, a united democratic front against the fascist regime is the only solution, and the Congress of Mr Gandhi has the hope. While NSUI or any other wing of Congress have their contradictions, these differences must not stop us from saving our democracy. It is my greatest hope that NSUI will also begin to resemble the Nehruvian Congress, the ideals that I admire the most.

We, NSUI, appeal to the youth of the nation, let us go back to our Indian Constitution and strive for a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic of Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, and thousands of our ancestors who fought for our present and future.

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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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