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Why Understanding History Is Important Right Now?

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If I don’t care about you and you do not care about me – at least nominally, then what is the point of coexistence? What is the point of bickering on social media? What is the point of this politics of disengaged tolerance? In the last few years, people all over the world have had to come to terms with this question in a dramatic way. The social fabric of countries and democratic morality of people seem to have ebbed away quite enigmatically. In such a scenario, an understanding of history is quintessential- both for our present and our future.

We live at a time when leaders lie shamelessly, without any attempt to conceal. Right from the revered remains of the Red Fort to the virtual vicissitudes of Twitter, lies abound not just about our present but also about the past. I do not claim that understanding of history is either uniform or static. Whatever they may be, these understandings have to be underscored by some facts and truths.

A common assumption of a modern, bourgeois person is the inevitability of progress; that things will eventually turn for the better without disturbance to the status quo. Say that to Nehru or Gandhi or Patel. Say that to JP or Vajpayee. Say that to King or Mandela. If progress was inevitable, then what was the need for their and so many others’ struggle? If we, as people, just assume that some leader will always emerge to save us from doom, we are fooling ourselves.

At the same time, history is not a myth either. Today, in India, there is a tendency to equate myth with history. To fall into that trap is to banish the deliberations of history to the fantasies of supernatural. Not only does it render our social existence baseless, it also leaves our future vulnerable to the whims and fancies of the powerful. Knowledge about what our ancestors did in the past, how they tackled challenges and what we should learn from them- these are essential cultural artefacts of any society. Those who shape these wield an enormous influence on the future paths of our countries and ourselves.

From denying role in Sikh riots of 1984 to asserting that ancestors of Muslims were Hindus, we see today a new kind of contest in politics – how far one side can twist history to suit its narrative. The sad part is citizens have become engaged in the same propaganda that the politicians do. We even lionise those who twist history to suit our narrative. We, as citizens, have forgotten our past while being deceived into believing the false narratives of leaders.

It was a much less educated India that defeated the British and gained independence. A much less educated India brought down the government of Indira Gandhi after the Emergency. It was the citizens who voted out the corrupt Congress regime in 2014. But it would seem that we have also come to accept, even deify, political leaders who pointed fingers at other groups rather than showing us the way forward. Today, we debate not the actions but the words propounded on Twitter. Secularism is fine as long as it remains meaningless while the ‘battle’ is carried out by other means.

The dog-whistle does not terrify us. We participate actively in such activities. We feel indifferent to the plight of the ‘other’. Even laugh about it! Why, if not for the lack of empathy? Why, if not for a lack of understanding? Why, if not for sadistic pleasure? Why, if not for helplessness? Why, if not for lack of knowledge of our history and of those around us?

Our curiosity for things seems to have increased relative to our curiosity about people. The regular, sometimes mindless lifestyle is too dear to let some disruption of thinking into it. We have become more reflexive than reflective, more noisy than thoughtful, more irascible than patient, more critical than introspective. It seems all we lack is a need to understand history.

The question is- Was this inevitable? Can we change it? Also, is what I am saying a myth? Or will this be just a blip in the historical understanding of history?

Note: I am no expert in History, nor do I understand it as much as I would like to. But as I have started to read, I have become more curious. Some books I have read recently are The Other Side of Silence, The Case that Shook India, Night, Purifying the Land of the Pure, Age of Anger, An Era of Darkness, Code 2.0. These are by no means ideal History books, but they have disabused me of many notions I had about historical events.

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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, 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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