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Did Colonial Powers Use Christianity As A Mask To Loot Territories?

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The interests of the privileged are always protected by certain institutions. The colonial empire and the Vatican were no different. Many argue that Christianity was used as a self-righteous mask by the European colonizers to disguise their selfish purpose of looting the territories they acquired. The missionaries were the religious army of the Europeans, portrayed as saints coming to liberate the indigenous from their “savagery”.  In Mexico alone, more than 800 missionaries were sent to baptize as many as 1 million people. It was in the 1400s, when the New World was taken over by Spaniards and Portuegese, supported by the Church, with the primary instruction to serve God by spreading Christianity. The state and the Vatican worked hand-in-hand to explore the virgin territory of Latin America, but their missions turned out to be starkly different. With the watchful eye of the Vatican far away, the state often used Christianity as a weapon to gain control so as to acquire resources. The Church gave its support to the state freely in return for assistance in maintaining catholic hegemony.  The Jesuits, a catholic order which traveled extensively for education and evangelization of the masses, served a weapon for the colonizers as it forcefully recruited the indigenous as labor and also converted them to Christianity. As the Jesuits grew more powerful due to their hoarded resources, the crown grew suspicious. The expulsion of the Jesuits was ordered and they were concluded in 1759.

Even though Spain tried to take over the entire institution of the Catholic Church in the early 19th century, the Church came down hard to show that it is a force to reckon with. Revolutions were proclaimed in parishes. Political activism increased; Church even provided military leaderships.  It became clear that the institution was here to stay. And it has stayed till now.

For a continent which was born from the mating of politics and religion, a complete dissociation of the two from each other is impossible.  The politics of Latin America is curtained with religion. The planning of campaigns, counting of polls, political strategies and estimations are often based on religion. But the rise of pluralistic society in the continent and a wide and rapid transition to democracy has led to the Church losing the political power and cultural influence it once had. While it is true that the democratic presidents often use symbols, rites, signs, etc. associated with religion which shows that religion is still very much present, and is used as a persuasive strategy by politicians, and that the influence of Pope Francis is globally obvious; the transformation to multi-religious Latin American society is on the wheels and those wheels are definitely moving fast. Pentecostalism is on the rise, Catholicism is declining, atheism is increasing, other religious groups are gaining populace.

There is no one reason for this unseemly shift towards secularization in a continent which was predominantly catholic. As noted, 92% of the population reported to be catholic in 1970. As democracy becomes stronger, the state policies of many countries, especially Uruguay are becoming more secular in nature. Astonishingly, six countries (excl. Uruguay) do not have Catholic majority anymore; these are, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, Honduras and Nicaragua. Religious freedom, gender equality, sexualities, citizenship, diversity, communication and leadership are becoming contentious issues between the Church and the State. The very fact that the Church is giving new found attention to Latin America and elected a South American Pope to its confrere is evidence enough that the Church feels threatened by its declining social influence in the continent. However, secularization in Latin America is not the disappearance of religion, as the potent moral influence of Catholicism on state laws is apparent from the unceasing ban on abortion, but rather a reordering of it to suit the current pluralist society. There has been a reallocation of catholic privileges as new groups have emerged.

It is difficult to estimate the effect of Pope Francis on these changes. Yes, a pope that is so popular among people is a strong ally for the politicians but who can say whether the decline in Catholicism will stop or decrease due to this? Yes, the Pope’s choice to emphasis on his humility, commitment to interfaith dialogue, etc. is a good ‘strategy’. His simple aesthetics are surely refreshing and appealing to the youth. But, will it work on the increasing “unaffiliated” groups? The rising sex scandals, child abuse cases, etc. in various seminaries have hurt the sentiments of many; the mounting financial scandals have shocked the people. All of this together has worked in weakening the loyalty of people towards Catholicism.

Would Pope Francis be able to handle this crisis? Would he be able to restore the faith on a religion which was once so dominant and influential? Only time can tell.

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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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