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Finding Humour In-Between Law And Constitution

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The arrest of Priyanka Sharma by the West Bengal Police for forwarding a meme on the social media again raises the long-standing question- Are the fundamental rights granted to an individual at the mercy of the Government? For now, the West Bengal government’s arbitrary action has affirmed this controversial view that the exercising of fundamental right depends on the whims and fancies of the incumbent Government.

Humour, parody and political satire are an integral part of the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution as well as Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In the case of Laugh It Off Promotions CC vs South African Breweries, international justice Albie Sachs in the Constitutional court of South Africa asked the question- “Does the law have a sense of humour?” In the Indian context, it does not seem empirical. Way back in 2011, a professor Ambikesh Mohapatra has been sent to jail for making a cartoon of Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee. Thus the debate on the humourist approach of an individual and the individual’s right to freedom came into the central picture.

In the historic judgement of Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, Honourable Supreme Court has invalidated section 66A of the IT Act on account that it has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech and expression. Out of three sections on which the accused(Ambikesh Mohapatra) was charged, section 66A is nonexistent. Section 67 A exclusively applies to sexually explicit pictures and there is nothing sexually offensive about the meme. If we start measuring, every creation by this yardstick, then every cartoonist and political satirist should go behind the bars.

The arbitrary action of the West Bengal Government is against the idea of the rule of law and individual liberty. The debate on the humour and freedom of the speech does not end here; in the larger scenario, it raises the concern of fundamental rights of an individual vs Government’s intervention. In the case of screening of the film Bhobishyoter Bhoot, the Supreme court fined Rs 20 lakh on the Government of West Bengal stating that power of the Government is not supplicant in nature. Culture of open dialogue has great societal importance and humour has a great role in facilitating this culture.

The value of liberty is both the means and the end, unfortunately, Mamta Banerjee forgets this idea and the irony is that she is contesting the General election by cashing in on the issue of defending the constitution. This shows the pseudo-liberal approach towards the Constitution. In the name of defending the Constitution, she is impinging upon the soul of the constitution – the fundamental rights.

The state should understand that the Right To Get Entertained is also a facet of the Right To Life, and drawing pleasure and happiness from a meme is not an offence. By curbing this Mamta Banerjee is becoming a democratically elected dictator who aspires to rule by an iron hand. The people, as well as the representative of the people, will have to realise that it would be very unfortunate if we are incapable of laughing at ourselves every now and then. The strength of our country lies in its diversity and it’s imperative that we are able to revel in our differences and laugh at the idiosyncrasies — real, exaggerated or even imagined — of every community.

The fast pace at which the technology is growing, it also leads to an elevated stress level among the people; humour only helps in releasing that stress. It is just a part and parcel of human life. By asking Priyanka Sharma to tender an apology for uploading the meme, the Supreme Court has failed us as an institution of justice and a harbinger of change. Change is inevitable in the society and humour is natural to the people; both cannot be restricted in a dynamic and growing society.

Political satire through any form of expression, either a cartoon or a meme is not a new phenomenon in the Indian political scenario. It traces its origin back to the poet Abdul Halim Sharar (1860- 1926) who quoted “Humour is to speech what salt is to food.” Hari Shankar Parsai also emphasized on the importance of political humour. He sees this as a means of checking the arbitrary state action.  Existence of Awadh punch and the humour in the ancient tradition of India shows the importance of witticism on the Indian soil. Unfortunately, the soil of humour is becoming infertile.

 

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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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