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“Except Poplars, Nothing Is Straight In Kashmir”

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Book Excerpt: Kashmir As I See It From Within And Afar: By Ashok Dhar

There is a phrase in Kashmiri—waguv tsatun. Literally, waguv means a ‘low-grade carpet’ and tsatun means ‘cutting’. It best describes the sinister moves by detractors to pull down anyone whose career is on an ascendance, a trait seen at all levels. What is surprising is that waguv tsatun is so common in most families, bureaucracies and politics, it is all-pervading.

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People believe it has become difficult to take Kashmiris at face value. This has complicated finding ways to resolve our problems. ‘Except poplars, nothing is straight in Kashmir’ is a quote often used to describe us. It was no wonder to hear that General K.V. Krishna Rao, who was the governor of J&K in 1993, while briefing the cabinet led by the Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao asked if there was a Kashmiri sitting in the conference room during the confidential security briefing. He commented that Kashmiris were the most untrustworthy characters he had seen in his life. Little did he know that there was a Kashmiri sitting in the room!

On 21 July 2015, speaking at the release of the book Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years written by A.S. Dulat, Dr Farooq Abdullah mentioned, “As I have always said, don’t mistrust us, don’t push us to the wall, we will die as Indians. I have always said that and I will continue to say that till I go to the grave and face my God.” Some months later, in an interview with The Hindu on 12 November 2015, he was candid. “I did a lot and I did it to the best of my ability, but Delhi did not agree with me. The trust factor was missing right from my father’s time.” They did not trust his father either.

And if one goes by what Farooq Abdullah seems to have confided in A.S. Dulat, Sheikh Abdullah was right in his assessment that his son may have to struggle to navigate his political career. “I am not like father. I am not going to follow my father’s politics. I do not intend to spend twenty-three years in jail. I have figured out that to remain in power here, you have to be on the right side of Delhi and that’s what I am going to do,” Farooq Abdullah told A.S. Dulat.

Is politics so simple and straightforward for Kashmir? I wonder.

Lad Ded reminds us of the benefits of standing united:

Kyahkari paantsan dahan ti kahan

Vwakhshun yath lyejyi keryith gey

Seeryiy samihan yath razyi lamihan

Adi kyaazyi raavihye kahan gaav38

[With five, tens and elevens what shall I do?

All have thrust their hands into the pot;

Oh would all unite and pull the rope,

The cow belonging to eleven would have not gone astray.]’

After Akbar established the rule of Mughals in Kashmir, access to market opportunities in India and Central Asia provided a fillip to economic growth.

The Damaras were the most important class in the ancient history of Kashmir. They were a class of feudal lords who controlled villages and could raise contingents of soldiers when the need arose. They established their stronghold in various parts of Kashmir with several kings at their mercy. Thus, their political power is not hard to guess. Like the barons of medieval England, they often defied the king’s orders, and in times of unrest, royal authority could only be asserted using force.

Today’s political families of Kashmir appear to be the new Damaras, powerful feudal landlords of the ancient and medieval era. Kashmir has always been at the mercy of chieftains who emerged from time to time to exploit the toiling masses. The tragedy of Kashmir and Kashmiris lies in the fact that history has repeated itself only too often, while the masses have remained ignorant of the machinations of the Damaras. The genetic pool from which the Pandits, Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs of Kashmir hail is common, and so are their traits.

It is well established that the history of Kashmir is over 5,000 years old. Hence, looking at what has happened over the past fifty or sixty years may be equivalent to missing the wood for the trees. Kashmir was the centre of military, political and spiritual excellence and, historically, a linking hub for Central Asia, Tibet and the northern plains of India.

The poet Amir Khusrau who wrote about Kashmir did not comprehend or imagine that the paradise would be the envy of many countries later. It is for us to regain our paradise. And to help do that, we need to look within our own hearts and minds to find reasons why we are caught in such a vicious cycle as a society, century after century. Perhaps introspection will help us realize what ‘being Kashmiri’ means.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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