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It’s Funny How My Constitutional Freedom Of Speech Makes Me Anti-National!

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In democratic countries like India, freedom of speech and expression is shrinking. People are afraid of expressing their opinion. And those who have contrarian views are being hounded and trolled and described as anti-nationals. In the new scheme of things, you are not allowed to question. A question is seen as a threat to the integrity and sovereignty of the country. In fact, in some cases, the Official Secrets Act and other such laws have been invoked to curb the freedom of expression.

At the same time, the speeches and statements that incite people against another community and religion are being ignored. In spite of stringent laws in place to book people responsible for the hate speeches, the law enforcing agencies have not invoked such acts against accused organisations and persons whose speeches and statements have led to lynching and killings.

There is no thin-line that separates hate speeches from the expression of dissent, or asking a question or speaking truth to the power. Hate speech and statements are quite visible. Here you threaten a community of violence and then justify that violence. While in case of freedom of expression you express dissent against the government policies and talk truth to the power.

Whenever people speak about the growing intolerance toward the minority and liberals, they are painted as anti-nationals and are accused of misusing provisions of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Article 19 of the Constitution of India. But at the same time, those who garland criminals accused of lynching Muslims are hailed as proud nationalists.

Pulwama And Its After-Effects

Post Pulwama attack, that shook the nation to the core, things worsened vis a vis freedom of speech and expression. Kashmiris were hounded and targeted. Hate posters were spread across different states. The organisations and people who criticised the targeting of Kashmiris in different parts of the country were ridiculed. The groups and people who came forward to help Kashmiris and evacuated them from the areas of impending danger were targeted and described as anti-nationals. Getting life threats, rape threats and extremely derogatory messages has become the new normal. Some of the selfless serving groups like Khalsa Aid, which did a remarkable job by sending back all students to Kashmir safely, give up hope. And hope is what you need the most in today’s times.

BJP Leader’s Detrimental Statement

“Give me a ministry and I will drop bombs on those who do not feel safe in India.” The statement which kicked up a storm was given by the BJP MLA Vikram Saini. This came as a shocker after actor Naseeruddin Shah expressed fear for the society that has been inflicted by sectarian poison. The actor said, “He fears for his children because they will not have an answer if a mob surrounds them asks them whether they are Muslim or Hindu.” 

Shah was referring to the Bulandshahar violence, expressing his shock on how the death of a cow was given more space and importance by outraged right-wing activists, than the killing of a policeman. Not just right-wing groups and leaders, veteran actor Anupam Kher also jumped into the ring countering Shah’s statements. Anupam Kher said “There is enough freedom in the country. How much more freedom do you want?”

Today freedom of speech has become limited more to praising top leaders or speaking things which do not hurt the sentiments of hard-core Hindu activists. If a person who dares to speak his mind, he is described as anti-Indian or anti-Hindu and can even be asked to leave the country.

Along with Shah, many other Bollywood actors fell prey to trolling for speaking up on the increasing instances of intolerance and fear in the country. Whether Hindu or Muslim, you cannot express your fear publicly, for you will be made to live in fear all your life once you open up about it.

These instances are not new now. Even different media channels are a part of this pool of hate, just to hold the top notch in terms of TRPs, totally playing as puppets of government demonstrating things in the interest of the government. Credibility standards have dipped to bottom.

Indian media has a notorious reputation for sensationalising news or making claims that are far from being accurate. The problematic way of reporting and demonstrating things on national television can trigger serious communal riots and online bullying, especially when covering incidents like the Pulwama attack.

The Corrupt Indian Media!

A report released by The World Economic Forum has labeled the Indian media as the most corrupt and untrusted institution in the world.

The Edelman report showed that the trust of people in the media hit an all-time low and the credibility and motive of these institutions have been under question.

The Big Question 

Now here’s a big question for the country, which is who can be trusted and who cannot? The decision lies in the hand of those people who have that ability to see the truth and can guide others who believe everything that the mass media shows these days.

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  1. Anjali

    Same old rhetoric regurgitated every time. Even a small amount of pragmatic analysis goes a long way to break such mundane viewpoints. ‘Dissent’ ‘Troll’ ‘Support’ are just classifications used by folks based on the comments they un/expected. In a true sense, this is the freest of times expressions & speeches have ever been. It’s just that people get offended when others exercise it to counter their viewpoints. Almost as if people hate being wrong or called out for it.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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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