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The Cost Of Dissent In India: Tags Of Anti-Nationalism And Other Hostilities

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The fast-emerging intolerance towards dissenting opinions brings us to the question – where are we heading? Image via Unsplash

The voice of dissent is often clamoured down by whataboutery and the dreaded tag of being an anti-national, which opens one up to a barrage of now socially-sanctioned hostilities and threats. Disagreeing with the present-day jingoism, majoritarianism, and partisan discourse is seen as a threat to the hostile form of predominately right-wing nationalism which had emerged over the course of the last few years.

The word anti-national is thrown around often to digress from discussing subjects of paramount importance or when dated practices or beliefs are challenged. In the media, it is common for anyone who doesn’t agree with right-leaning anchors and their politics to be called anti-nationals, terrorists and to be met with vitriolic diatribe. Recently, members of the Opposition and others asking for proof of the Balakot air-strikes – after the number of reported casualties kept fluctuating – were called terrorist sympathizers and anti-nationals. This was preceded by international media claiming the air-strikes had failed to cause any casualties. In the Indian media and online, the discourse was distorted and made to look like a mockery and question upon the integrity of the IAF, in order to silence anyone demanding proof from the government.

This comes in the wake of the hostile discourse over the situation with Pakistan. On social media, speaking out against a possible war is being seen as a testament to anti-national sentiments. Anyone advocating against it is being called a terrorist and a Pakistani sympathizer. The hashtag #SayYesToWar was trending on social media, which enthusiastic and delusional pleas to declare war.

This aggression isn’t limited to the tensions with Pakistan. Recently, in Muzaffarnagar, BJP party workers brutally trashed a young man who questioned the government’s exaggerated claims about better jobs and education, saying the current government had failed to provide jobs. The Mob of nearly 15-20 workers was heard calling the man a terrorist. All this comes in the wake of the increased violence against Kashmiris after the Pulwama attack. A few days back, members of the Vishwa Hindu Dal beat-up a Kashmiri vendor in Lucknow.

Last year, artist Durga Malathi had stones pelted at her house and was met with rape and death threats after her paintings condemning the Kathua rape emerged online. The mainstream categorization of anyone who expressed dissent as anti-national probably came into being in 2015 with Aamir Khan. Khan mentioned in 2015 that his wife who was alarmed by the increasing instances of intolerance and violence suggested they leave the country. For this statement, Khan was met with threats and was asked to move to Pakistan. A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha said that Khan should either convert or leave India for Pakistan, he also went on to suggest that he should be tried for treason. Taking the seemingly inane issue further, attorney Manoj Kumar Dixit filed a case of sedition against Khan. Ironically, all of this only went on to prove Khan’s wife and her claims of intolerance right.

This trend of emerging hostility towards dissenters is perfectly embodied by Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami.

This trend of emerging hostility towards dissenters is perfectly embodied by Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami. After being condemned for his war-mongering rampage following the Pulwama attack, Arnab Goswami started coming down brutally on panelists on his prime-time debate who disagreed with him.

The past two weeks have seen Goswami call-out everyone who doesn’t agree with his right-leaning politics, yelling at them, berating them, and unsurprisingly, calling them anti-nationals.

The current level of discourse in India is abysmal. Vicious personal attacks, problematic remarks, open hostility, and humiliation are all used as tools to digress from important subjects of discussion. Few days ago, BJP’s National Spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia was called out by journalist Rubika Liyaquat for his sexist remark. When questioned by Congress’ Rohan Gupta during a debate, Bhatia yelled at him to wear a petticoat and chudia, implying they represent weakness because they are associated with women. Liyaquat called him out for his sexism and also for his uncivilized approach towards the Opposition.

The fast-emerging intolerance towards dissenting opinions brings us to the question of where we are heading and how policing thought and speech by shaming, hostility, and threats is setting an extremely dangerous precedent. The stories of Salman Rushdie, Gauri Lankesh, Shujaat Bhukari, and every other voice of dissent that is met with hostility and violence is a cautionary tale. Not a cautionary tale to the dissenters, but a cautionary tale to the nation. Without fostering and empowering every voice of reasonable dissent, we create an atmosphere of fear and hostility, where silence is safe and a voice against popular opinion is met with verbal attacks, aggression, and even violence. The freedom to dissent is essential to accountability and progress when one voice is empowered and the remaining are suppressed and eliminated, we are looking at a draconian dystopia where only one voice is allowed to lead, with absolutely no accountability.

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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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