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What Does The Iranian Festival Of Nowruz Mean For Kashmiris?

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Meaning “New Day” in its rich and various spellings, Nowruz, the Iranian or Persian new year, is observed globally with great enthusiasm on March 21. It marks the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. Apart from this, Nowruz promotes peace and solidarity within families, and it encourages friendship and love among people of different communities. The celebration is closely associated with the Islamic Republic of Iran. But Nowruz is celebrated in many other parts of the world too, including India, Afghanistan, Central and Southern Asia, among Kurds across the Middle East, even in parts of the Balkans and on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar.

A couple prepares a feast for Nowruz. Image source: Ty Nigh/Flickr.

Nowruz has a great significance in Islam, particularly in the Shia school of thought. In the book of Bihar-al-Anwar, our sixth Light of Guidance Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) talked about the importance of this day because:

  1. The sun attained its brightness after winter
  2. The wind started to blow
  3. The Ark of Prophet Nuh a.s. stopped near Mount Judi (near Najaf in Iraq) and was saved from drowning
  4. Prophet Ibrahim a.s. broke the idols of his community
  5. The Angel Jibrael brought the first revelation to our Holy Prophet s.a.w.w.
  6. The Holy Prophet s.a.w. lifted Imam Ali a.s. on his shoulders for removing the idols from the Kaa’ba
  7. Our twelfth Imam will reappear and hang Dajjal in a place known as Kinasa in Kufa on this day

This day of Nowruz holds traditional and cultural significance for the people in Kashmir, especially for our Shia community. In Kashmir, Nowruz is celebrated with great enthusiasm and in a traditional way to symbolise the rebirth of nature in different parts of the world. On this day, our Shia youth join hands together to plant trees and massive plantation drives are organised across the valley to preserve the rapidly deteriorating environment. Besides planting new tree saplings, people in Kashmir throng to practitioners of leech therapy as it is believed to be much more effective on this day. Many people consider it a better alternative to pharmacological treatments. This traditional method of curing diseases is still thriving in Kashmir.

Children in Kagri have a light moment. Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Similar to different parts of the world, in our valley of Kashmir, Nowruz is celebrated with great enthusiasm; people will wear new clothes and dresses and go to the mosque to pray. Worshippers greet and embrace each other in a spirit of peace and love after the congregational prayer is over. The celebrations also include customary cooking of delicacies before holding family feasts, including Nadru and other Wazwaan dishes. One of the main customs of Nowruz is to exchange house visits during which guests are served tea, pastries, meats and fruits. People also exchange gifts and money to congratulate each other and wish each other “Novroz Mubarak”. Kashmiris are also seen playing kabbadi and other games, especially in rural areas of the Valley. All families celebrating this great day in Kashmir spend weeks preparing for Nowruz by cleaning their homes and doing repair work. One thing I have experienced, though, is that, in spite of having limited resources, people in Kashmir will spend thousands of rupees to celebrate the Nowruz festival. According to me, showing off by spending a huge amount of money on a variety of dishes and wasting food is neither part of Islam nor in the spirit of any festival. In fact, these kinds of acts are highly discouraged.

The UN’s General Assembly recognised the International Day of Nowruz in 2010, describing it as a spring festival of Iranian origin, which has been celebrated for over 3,000 years. Also in 2009, Nowruz was officially registered on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The celebrations have a symbolic meaning and cannot be complete until you give away two-thirds of the food you prepare to poor and needy people. So, the essence of this blessed day of Nowruz is to support and help those in need, remember family, and seek forgiveness and blessings through these acts. Also, the best way to make our Almighty Allah happy is to save a little amount on this day and use it to promote Islam and to educate our children.

Featured image for representation only. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

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.

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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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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.

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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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