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Book Review: The Young And The Restless By Gurmehar Kaur

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The author adopts a nuanced politically conscious approach in describing various facets of development and issues in politics of the country like militancy, environment, caste, education and so on.

In an age of playing safe and having political opinions couched in fancy words, there are very few people having the nerve of not mincing their words and churning their thought process, which stands in stark contradiction to the political narrative supposedly now imposed on people. To emphasize on the imposition part, a slight reference to what happened in early 2017 will be sufficient, when a girl of my age from Delhi University made headlines across every media channel. I could not comprehend as to what the media houses and politicians would probably want to achieve, by labelling a young brave girl as an anti-national, who had the courage to speak her mind.

For a while I thought it will all subside, yet it went on, at an unimaginable scale. A girl who chose love over hatred and stood against violence on campus was named and threatened with life to remain silent. This called for some deep-seated introspection of the paradigm of freedom of speech and expression in democratic India. The same girl went on to become an author of two wonderfully penned-down books rooted in the idea of humanity, freedom and hope for a better future of the country.

“The Young and the Restless: Youth and Politics in India” is Gurmehar Kaur’s second book. She symbolizes a beacon of inspiration for the youth to work to speak against the wrong, in face of opposition from those in power, and continue making a difference in their own way. The book examines the lives, thoughts, social and political ambitions of eight young leaders from a diversity of political spectrum across India.

The author adopts a nuanced politically conscious approach in describing various facets of development and issues in politics of the country like militancy, environment, caste, education and so on. The book opens with an alarming message on the lack of political representation of the youth, on political and electoral forums, despite India being the youngest country in the world. In a country which has 65% of the population below the age of 35 only a meagre 12% of the current Lok Sabha members are below the age of forty. The average age of our parliamentarians is 60. This comes across as a strange paradox making us wonder whether fresh or radical ideas will ever coming up in the temple of democracy or not.

The first chapter opens in Kashmir, a place deeply personal and special to the author. She touches upon militancy, and several other problems in Kashmir, and what could be a possible solution to the long lasting issue. The issue is discussed twice in the book. The rest I leave to the curiosity of the readers. Throughout the course of the book, the author delves into student activism and visits the much-debated school of political thought—be it feminism, left-wing politics, socialism or right-wing nationalism. At every point the reader can relate to the book, for these are the conversations we engage in, as the youth of the country with an intent to enlighten ourselves and make a difference. This is what that makes this book so relatable.

The entire book is a collection of a series of interviews with young politicians touching upon the common problems like environment, secularism in this time, caste-based violence and the approach of the youth in tackling the same. The book also covers a slight investigation into the attitude and thinking patterns of the people of India on specific issues. What perhaps is common— between the author and most of the people in the book—is that they derive their activism and sense of service to the nation from compassion. This establishes the fact that it isn’t necessary to come from a political background to make a difference.

As the book unravels, the readers will discover that the book does not advocate political antagonism against any political party, rather it collects the views from diverse political backgrounds within the fold of solving complex issues without over-intellectualizing it. The astute understanding of each of the youngster mentioned in the book, resonates with their personal journeys, which led them to embark upon the paths they are onto currently.

The feisty conversation with Shehla Rashid (whom I could not resist mentioning in this review), the woman who held her ground against all odds, demolishing the other side with her conviction, is an epitome of change and courage. It covers the discourse of left politics and her personal journey of growth and challenges along with it. The crucially contested ideologies of right and left have been given a correct place and perspective in the book.

The thread of nationalism—defined as loving your people—runs through the whole book. The author, having being questioned about her nationalism umpteen times, cements the thought in the book that true nationalism lies in loving the people of your country and forging a bond of unity. Stifling dissent, polarizing masses, advocating religious bigotry in the name of nationalism is not what the ideas of nationalism stand for. The acts of patriotism and nationalism ferment from the beginning of opposition against the unjust State.

Quoting the example of true patriots and leaders– such as Bhagat Singh and Nelson Mandela becomes inevitable— as they stood true to this definition of nationalism which germinated from opposing the unjustness and ruthlessness of the State. The past few years have been considerably difficult for citizens who chose not to align with the dominant political ideology at the centre stage of politics. They are labelled as anti-nationals, corrupt, pseudo-liberals so on and so forth.

Just because one refuses to consume the popular or destructive narrative flowing within the circles of mainstream masses does not mean they love their country any less than the others. The book in totality upholds the autonomy to think, question and process the rationale outlook.

The book reminds us of the paramount role we ought to exercise as citizens. The author aligns with her own stream of thoughts and questions directed at getting views of the youth representatives on burning issues in the country. On reading the book, the reader would realize that there is a dearth of such fresh and liberal ideas in mainstream politics. Holistically the book is a confluence of various political ideologies with a deep-rooted critical analysis, a reference of which the readers will find in an interesting conversation between the author and Aaditya Thackeray.

The biggest take away from the book is that it inspires to push forward the streak of restlessness by infesting in us the drive to enhance our pool of knowledge by analyzing the policies of the government rather than being blindsided by them. Presenting an opinion without an iota of fear, makes it a good read for the ones who relentlessly hope.

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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.

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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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