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How One More Man Was Martyred At The Shrine Of Moral Cowardice: A Nightmare

I had a terrible dream. One of the worst dreams I’ve ever had. This is what happened. I went to take a nap after 11 hours of technical work – the work I had started in the morning at 7:00. I was drained. Very tired. I fell into slumber almost immediately, but I wouldn’t have rest. Instead, I was greeted with a nightmare:

I saw in my dream that for some reason, there were Dalit protests going on. I don’t know the reason but that’s where I began. Some 20-30 people were protesting something. One of my brother’s friend was among them. And because of him, my brother was among them as well. They had all gathered at one of the roads. By the looks of it, it looked like one of the crossroads in my city. There were several sessions of protests as I drifted in and out of the nightmare.

During the second or the third session of the protest, a bus came. A bus full of Hindu priests. They were brought here to calm the Dalits but instead, as expected, their arrival only agitated them more. The authorities were on the scene as well. The authorities and the priests combined were enough to outnumber the protesting Dalits. The priests were greeting each of the Dalits one by one. Greeting them without touching them. However, there was one Dalit, whose head butted against one of the priests. And there was a situation. The authorities gathered around that man and started asking questions about what had happened.

The priest said, “he headbutted me”, but the poor old Dalit was saying it happened by mistake. I don’t really know what happened. It could’ve been either but the priests were clearly making a big deal out of a simple touching of heads. It wasn’t like the priest was injured or anything. However, it was made out into a big deal, and the two groups were head to head. Violence could break out at any moment.

During this heated moment, the person who had touched the priest’s head became excited. He was a man past his prime. Short, kind of round and not the most handsome. He would be around 50. He saw the people behind him in support and found the courage to address the point of contention. Everyone knew what the tension was about. A Dalit had touched a Brahmin. An untouchable had touched the head of a holy man. I know for a fact that none present there were holy, but here, philosophies were at war. Religion, pride, honour and power were at stake. The authorities and the priests were at one side, believing that they had to right the wrong. That they had to address this crossing of boundaries laid down centuries ago. The Dalits were on the other side, ready to overthrow all the oppressive boundaries in one single act of defiance. The act of touching the priests.

And to this tension, the old man gave a voice. He said, “I see you have come here to calm us down. But why haven’t you touched any one of us since you came here?” There was an uproar. The Dalits were on the attack and the authorities and the priests on the back foot. They had no answer that wouldn’t further agitate the Dalits. The old man once again raised his voice and said, “We will touch you today!” as he reached out with his arm to grab one of the priests.

At this moment, something changed inside all the other Dalits. A sudden wave of silence covered the protesters. Someone had uttered the taboo words. Someone, one of their own, had incurred the wrath of not only the upper castes but of Gods. Some of them still half-heartedly believed that their place in the world was decided by their birth. They were still shocked by the unholy faith that they were, in fact, “untouchables”. And to go against that creed was not only to incur the wrath of the community but of Gods themselves. Nobody said a single word. One of the protestors started leaving. Others followed him. As their number started to dwindle, fear crept in the minds of those who were still with the old man. One by one everyone left. Except for the old man. He couldn’t leave. The authorities had grabbed him. He had committed an unpardonable sin. He must be made an example.

And thus the authorities and the priests discussed what should be done with him. This is what they did to him. All of this was done in full view of the public. They stripped him naked. Covered his face with cow dung. They first beat him with their bare hands and legs. They insulted him while they were kicking him on the ground. Then, some demon brought a hammer. They started breaking his bones. First shoulders, then legs, knees. I do not have the stomach to write all the things they did with the hammer. I couldn’t watch it as it was happening before me. It only made it worse that all through his torture, he didn’t scream once. I opened my eyes several times during the dream to stop the dream, but once I closed them after a few seconds, the same scene continued. The torture continued. I didn’t have the stomach for watching the rest of it so I woke up, leaving the poor old man to his murderers. I didn’t see it but I’m sure they blinded him before killing him.

And that is how one more man was martyred at the shrine of moral cowardice. At the shrine of lies. At the shrine of that unholy belief that “all men are not created equal”. His sacrifice was in vain, as the people who he died for, denounced and deserted him. They returned back into the same oppressive fold, out of which they had come out in meagre protest.

I thought it was only a dream. But when I open the newspaper or watch the news on TV I realize that my nightmare has spilt into reality and it’s only getting worse. It’s not only about touching a priest. It’s about putting cows above human lives. It’s about the honour of a long dead fictional queen. It’s about preventing women from entering a place of worship. I’m wide awake and the nightmare continues.

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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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