How The Changed Context Of Violence Has Worsened Public Reaction To It

IJMEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #ViolenceNoMore, a campaign by International Justice Mission and Youth Ki Awaaz to fight against daily violence faced by marginalised communities. Speak out against systemic violence by publishing a story here.

Do we love violence – not the sight of it, but the act of it? I ask this because some people claim to be pacifists, which seems to be a counter-evolutionary view to take. I ask this also because of the increasingly violent path that our public discourse seems to be treading on. Be it the killing of journalists, the murder of minorities, violence against immigrants or the aggression in media discussions – it seems that this is the new normal.

But was it ever the other way round, especially in India? In India, journalists have more or less always been detested by the ruling party with scant support from the public, minorities have either been passively tolerated or their existence neglected, immigrants have been looked at with suspicion and vilified in cities while TV studios have rarely telecast cool-headed discussions (except Doordarshan, maybe). So, what is different today, say from a decade or two ago? Did we ever hate violence?

There is no denying the fact that we love violence – if not the act of it, then the sight of it. It is evident from the kind of movies and stars who have become popular in Bollywood. But this was violence in a context that was limited to cinema halls. While the villains were regularly from the minority community, there was an assurance that this was fiction. While minorities – religious and caste – were never loved or accepted wholeheartedly, they were tolerated because the state betrayed secular inclinations, however shallow or meek. The law enforcement, however inefficient, didn’t always sit around and enjoy the violence. The media at least tried to report the facts without confusing the people with biased opinions. And finally, people didn’t feel enabled to kill freely without repercussions.

I think we hate violence only in the ‘wrong’ context – someone beats another person, it is not good. But if that beating takes place because of a dispute, then the violence may become socially acceptable. Some may want to inquire into the details of the dispute to comment on the morality of that aggression. This is what can be called ‘context’. And it is this context that is sought to be changed and has changed for the worse in this past decade.

It is not that violence against minorities was non-existent before, it just wasn’t accepted to most of the society whatever the perceived context. It repelled us even if we did nothing about it. Or at least, we didn’t overtly support the perpetrators. Now, the narrative of preserving Hinduism, criminal nature of immigrants and minorities etc. has created a context for the violence to be justified. A man is murdered on the suspicion of carrying beef, another is killed on suspicion of killing a cow. A woman is raped and killed because she belongs to a different community. What would have ordinarily disgusted most Indians is now gleefully topical and comically discussed on the nation’s prime time news shows. Overt and implied support for perpetrators pours in from ordinary people to powerful politicians.

What was earlier seen as an act of cold-blooded violence is now being portrayed as hot-blooded aggression. Or worse, aggressive defence! The latter is definitely more palatable to a public that has long enjoyed the sights of violence, especially those that show minorities being the victims. This also feeds into the narrative of fear – of minorities, immigrants, dissenters – who have been cunningly categorized as anti-national. Whatever the similarities or differences between these groups, the dominant mainstream categorical thinking makes them irrelevant.

A concerning implication of this is the resultant ambiguity about the right thing to do. Does a person, who sees a Dalit or a Muslim being killed, call the police? If yes, will the police help the victim or the perpetrator? Does one record the incident for everyone to see? Does one intervene and risk being violated as well? But before all these questions, comes the most important of all – is this person being beaten up really a victim if they belong to some particular caste/religion?

The answer to this last question comes from myriad sources – social learning from family and friends, the presence of a mob, fear of or hatred of a group induced by social media, education etc. Fear can be easily induced by associating people who betray certain group connotations with threats. But this doesn’t normally result in violence – we all have these associative tendencies. Violence is triggered by how emotionally frenzied that association is made. And fear conditioning lowers the threshold for that to happen.

The connection between fear/hatred and violence is likely when aggression evoked is reactive and frenzied. The latent social and political context has been engineered by media and politicians in a way that senseless acts of violence are seen as more palatable, passionate acts of aggression/self-defence by the people. The mob is never blind. It clearly sees who it kills. This will, in time, tear apart our social fabric.

What policy reforms do you think would help eliminate instances of daily violence and improve access to justice in India? Send us your suggestions and we’ll take a manifesto to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Let’s spark the change together!

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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.

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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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