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We Are Too Crass And Undignified To Deserve The Martyrdom Of Our Soldiers

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Wing Commander Abhinandan.

It is late Friday evening, the 1st of March. Social media is agog. Politicians, Bollywood celebrities, cricketers and the general public are united in welcoming Wing Commander Abhinandan. As I wrIte this, my neighbour is playing “Jai Ho” at an alarming volume. It is heartwarming to see people across the nation come together for an officer who has been through a lot in the last 60 hours. The courage and poise Wng. Cmdr. Abhinandan Varthaman displayed is definitely something that will be spoken about with immense respect in the future.

However, the unsavoury reactions from politicians, certain journalists and war mongering followers of select political parties, begs a larger, pertinent question – ‘Are we worth fighting for?’

While we ponder over that strange question, let’s take a moment and remember how India reacted over the last few days.

The ruling party grandstanded. Fueling a dangerous hyper-nationalist narrative, PM Modi declared that his “blood boiled” after the Pulwama attacks, and that he gave the armed forces “complete freedom” to act. What followed was a clash between two nuclear states. Across social media, supporters hailed Modi as the decisive defender of the nation. The chief priest of Ayodhya said that the incident would save BJP in 2019. Karnataka BJP chief Yeddurappa opined that the strikes would help BJP win 22 out of 28 seats in the upcoming elections.

Instead of halting election campaigning as a mark of respect, the BJP put up posters of the slain martyrs at several party headquarters and on the backdrop of stages during their campaign rallies. Somewhere in the melee, the PM managed to launch the “Khelo India app” to promote fitness. The BJP vociferously accused the opposition of politicising the incident (ironically from stages at election rallies). Amit Shah blamed Jawaharlal Nehru for the Kashmir issue and RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat claimed that the RSS could prepare an army in 3 days.

The opposition parties weren’t far behind. Instead of playing the role of a responsible opposition and asking hard questions about the colossal intelligence failure, and pushing for a more concrete Kashmir policy, they declared their support to the government in a carefully worded statement, out of fear of being viewed as anti-national.

Kashmiri merchants and students were threatened, attacked and forced to “prove” their patriotism on several incidents. The Meghalaya Governor, Tathagata Roy, who calls himself a Right-wing Hindu socio-political thinker, writer, ideologue…” on twitter, supported a call for the boycott of all Kashmiris. He was not removed from his constitutional position despite clearly provoking communal tensions. This is a man who, in the past, has openly said that he is “not secular”.

The media had a field day. From journalists dressing up in the army uniform and holding toy guns in the television studios, to government-friendly anchors openly calling for war with Pakistan, it was an embarrassing time for sections of the Indian media who kept the rhetoric high with no substance or dignity. ‘Peaceniks’, liberals, activists and academics were heckled for suggesting dialogue as a lasting solution and retired army hotheads were allowed to make hateful, warmongering speeches on national television.

It is the season for patriotic movies. Despite the fraternity publicly pledging their support for the forces, Bollywood producers lost no time in rushing to register titles such as “Abhinandan”, “Balkot” “Surgical Strike 2”, “How’s the Josh?”, “Pulwama” etc. I guess solidarity takes a backseat at the box office.

Let’s not even get started on the fake WhatsApp videos, no-holds barred hate against muslims, the covering of “Karachi” in “Karachi Bakery” in Bengaluru and other ridiculous happenings.

The obvious, bitter truth? We are pathetically opportunistic and don’t really care for our soldiers.

If we truly cared for our soldiers, ex-BSF jawan, Tej Bahadur Yadav would not have been dismissed for complaining about poor food quality, the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme would have been given better consideration and our politicians wouldn’t be using our soldiers for selfish, narrow political gain. Today PM Modi who was campaigning in Tamil Nadu said that everyone was “proud that Abhinandan is from Tamil Nadu” (despite the wing commander refusing to reveal his roots to Pakistani interrogators). 

Tej Bahadur speaking about insufficient food given to the paramilitary in a viral video

It is disappointing that despite sending countless space missions, India cannot seem to come together in the face of terror. We seem to want Kashmir but not the Kashmiris, we tar and feather religious communities and browbeat people who disagree with the majoritarian viewpoint. It’s time Indians stopped being swayed by simplistic, shameful political rhetoric because these reactions are exactly what the terrorists want.

Indian armed forces defend the idea of India – the right of a citizen to criticize and express without fear or intimidation, an India where every voice counts and where every life matters. This is the idea of India a soldier should feel proud defending. Our recent reactions don’t do justice to their efforts.

Wing Commander Abhinandan did his duty and conducted himself with dignity. We did not. It’s time for some introspection and change.

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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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