Oppression Creates Opposition That The State Won’t See Coming

A ruler needs to recognize who his opponents are. Often, the attempt to gaze at the horizon and beyond to see who it could be goes in vain because the opponents are in your line of sight.

Kanhaiya Kumar was a non-entity from Begusarai in Bihar and did not have a famous surname. His family barely made two ends meet and his mother worked as an anganwadi worker to send her son to school and then to university. All Kanhaiya Kumar wanted was a proper job after his studies but he unwittingly found himself in the eye of a storm for no fault of his. The powers of the day decided to teach the student community a lesson by punishing Kanhaiya Kumar. Instead, they had created a political opponent, which they had not bargained for. Kanhaiya Kumar had transformed from a president of a students’ union to a future law maker, and a potentially powerful and a damaging voice in the Parliament.

Why did BJP do whatever it did? It was sheer arrogance, which came from the wrong premise that their only opposition Congress party is a spent force, with no leader on the horizon, and they are the defacto rulers of Hindustan for as long as they could foresee. The BJP can always counter the argument that if Kanhaiya Kumar wins, it would have lost Begusarai, and that is just one seat out of the 543. But the other side of the argument is that Kanhaiya Kumar has a powerful voice and has a potential to create more damage than the BJP can predict.
Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Kanhaiya Kumar.

People such as Prashant Bhushan and Ram Jethmalani, who may have gotten too old for battle, but whose kind is  never extinguished, never go out of fashion. Nature desires that there should be opposition, and the thought of silencing any opposition is foolhardy to begin with.

Saudi Arabia learnt it the hard way when it decided to silence Jamal Khashoggi who was a critic of the ruling establishment. His columns in Washington Post were widely read. Luring him into the Saudi Consulate to kill him was a bad decision. In hindsight, Jamal Khashoggi alive would have been a better bet, but the Saudi establishment forgot Newton’s third law “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” 

Jamal Khashoggi

What do Prashant Bhushan, Jamal Khashoggi, Kanhaiya Kumar and Ram Jethmalani have in common – they are all critics of their respective governments. A sagacious government would do well to accept their criticism and course correct to deflect their criticism thereby taking the sting out of it. But the powers of the day seem to have advisers who are not well read and want to ignore the fall out and go about trying to crush dissent ruthlessly. This will not rid them of opposition, but rather, an equal and opposite action as stated by Newton is very much at work and no matter what it will continue to exist.

The name Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi is well known in Tunisia. Bouazizi was a street vendor, and was often harassed by police for bribes, but he soldiered on as he had a family to feed. In January 2011, matters became serious when the police confiscated his things and beat him up. In frustration, he immolated himself and died. Bouazizi’s immolation was the catalyst to the simmering anger against the ruling establishment. The anger burst out in the open and the police and the army could do nothing to prevent people’s anger; the President of Tunisia Zine-El Abidine Ben Ali had to flee the country. This event sparked a revolution in the Arab world known as the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ against autocratic regimes. The powers of the day would do well for themselves and for others if they pay heed to the cries of the people and take a step in the right direction and eschew all actions that impact negatively on the population.

Going Back In Time

Often, dissent starts small. It is better to pay heed to popular voice rather than try and discredit it. Kejriwal and his people wanted Lokpal Bill, a sort of ombudsman bill. After many rounds of negotiations with the Centre, it became clear that it would never come through. At one such discussion with stalemate approaching, in answer to a question one of the ministers had remarked “If you want a Lokpal Bill that desperately, then form a political party, fight elections, win, then legislate and get the Lokpal Bill passed in the Parliament.”  It was a very tall order and Kejriwal took up the challenge and formed his political party, fought elections and won it.

The minister and his party who threw the challenge stands discredited, and they lost the elections. Kejriwal, in his own words, had stated that if the government had accepted their request for Lokpal Bill, they would not be running the government today.

Bouazizi and Kejriwal have one thing in common – they were a minority, nobody knew them. One is dead and the other is alive, but both continue to speak, and their voices cannot be silenced.

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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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