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Saffronisation Of Land In Meerut

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A bypass separates Meerut Cantonment(and city) from Pallavpuram and the highway leading to Rishikesh. I wait patiently for the bypass to arrive while sipping my all-time favorite Shikanji(lemonade) from Jain Shikhanji, a restaurant made famous by the same drink, that I have left a couple of miles behind. I am quite familiar with this route on the Delhi- Meerut highway, which encompasses various towns on the way like Ghaziabad, Muradnagar, and Modinagar. I frequented the route as a child, to visit my grandmother in Meerut, and it was much before the city became a part of the larger National Capital Region(NCR) .

Picture Credit : Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Meerut has changed a lot over the years, from a small town, now it is on the cusp to becoming a smart city. Meerut is a classic example of the “emerging India story” and there is ample evidence to prove this fact. The city has grown on an exponential scale, especially in the real estate sector, as land has become more expensive over the years.

However, just as Meerut has grown, so has India and the myriad problems associated with an emerging Third World Country (TWC). Interestingly, land (Zameen) along with gold (zar) and women (zan) have been considered as symbols of honor in this country for over millennia. Landed assets have been procured by members of different religious and cultural communities for centuries, and buying and selling of land has been practiced for years.

Acquisition of land has been traditionally viewed as positive or a token of power by people, as it augments the material and tangible wealth associated with an individual or a family. Thus, financial transactions for acquiring the landed property has always been encouraged throughout the course of our history. Though the privileged elite has always had more access to this tangible asset, women in rare cases also got access to it. During the Gupta period, Prabhawati Gupta had access to the landed property and stridhana(jointure) at the same time. Mughal period is also replete with similar examples.

Picture Credit : Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

At no point in history, however, did the exchange of landed property acquire the kind of religious overtones, that it has come to acquire now. Terms like “land jihad” did not even exist and “land” was viewed only as a tangible asset and a symbol of wealth. But today, the situation is grave and only a few  in the country are taking note of the existing realities. Indians have a deep sense of regard for personal property and consider it a valued and substantial asset. Right from the farmers who have fought for their maati(land) to the elite land holding zamindari (land-owners) classes, the ownership of land has been an integral part of the Indian psyche.

As a matter of act, it was Nandigram and Singur agitations that propelled Mamta Banerjee to power in West Bengal in the beginning of this decade. It is deeply distressing to know that contemporary India is living a ‘dual existence’. On the one hand, India is emerging as an economic powerhouse and making its presence felt on the global stage, while on the hand, the people of India are finding it hard to make ends meet. Social reform is divorced from political and economic reform, as the country makes it foray into newer and greener pastures.

India has traditionally maintained a “principled distance between religion and politics” for the longest time and professed and propagated its own variant of secularism. However, the situation is changing every minute in this country, especially in the run up to the general elections, as both the dominant political parties, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) fight for votes . Both the parties have a strong hold on the demographics and are leaving no stone unturned to strengthen their traditional vote base. The INC has lost its support among the urban middle class or the “aspirational India”,  and is now trying to woo the minorities again. The BJP on the contrary, is trying to strengthen its vote base among the Hindus and the Scheduled Catses, by bringing them together against a “perceived other”.

This kind of politics based on complex permutations and combinations is not new to India, where caste based voting has decided the future of political candidates time and again; but it is the infusion of the religious overtones that has the potential to leave a blot on India’s secular credentials.  India has moved away from Nehruvian socialism and Gandhi-an idealism, a  long ago, and now is ready to have its ‘own tryst with destiny again’, and this time the results could be quite different.

The division on the basis of land is just the tip of the iceberg. Acquisition of land for development has become the norm these days. The new bullet train between Ahmadabad and Mumbai is likely to encroach upon territory that includes a flamingo haven and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which happens to be the natural home of the leopards. The proposal for the bullet train involves diversion of 3.2756 ha of forestland from the Thane Creek Flamingo Wildlife Sanctuary and 97.5189 ha of land close to the boundary of the forest’s protected area. Moreover, farmers in Gujarat and Maharashtra are opposing the bullet train project as well.

Incidents like the ones mentioned above in the future might expose the inherent schisms that have always existed beneath the surface in India. The ‘land jihad’ episode in Meerut a while ago may not have caused the necessary stir in the media but it indicates the lull before the storm. Small scale incidents in communally sensitive areas like Meerut must not to be pushed under the carpet, because it is quite evident,  that such small scale incidents have often led to the rise of major communal conflicts by inflaming the passions of many emotionally sensitive people.

While it is urban India that will see the economic progress, rural India might witness the breaking of already fragile societal bonds among different religious communities. The process has already began and the cracks have started surfacing. It is time that we identified the crevices and worked on them before it is too late. The media also needs to take note of this trend and exercise more responsibility, by bringing the true facts out.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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