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What It Means To Be An Identifiable Muslim Woman In Today’s India

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Women who wear hijab become soft targets of the Hindutva forces

Hijab-clad student in Bengal college ‘harassed’ by Jai Shri Ram chanting men,” reads the headline to which my mother responded with a worried face “Let me accompany you to your examination centre. It’s not safe out there.

It’s okay,” I reassured her, “I will be all right.

Even though I comforted her but I knew it wasn’t all right. A part of me was afraid. No matter how much I feigned being strong, the fear of becoming another ‘Hijab-clad student’ was there in me.

I know I shouldn’t be living with this fear. In fact, no one should. But it is the harsh truth. It haunts every Muslim woman who wants to practice her right. It’s the mocking truth of present-day India—the current regime: We are not free to make choices that are solely ours.

Going back to an incident that happened with me in October 2018 when I had gotten an internship as an educator in a prominent school of New Delhi. The headmistress of the school told me that I should not be allowed there because of what I was wearing—Hijab. I was told that “My religion should not come in between my professional life and attire like this must not be allowed in the teaching profession.

She evidently said these things out of her Islamophobic mentality as there was no prescribed dress-code of the school. And the irony was she herself was wearing all sorts of religious ornamentations which—I believe—is her right and a matter of choice, which she can openly practice.

It shattered me when my father asked me to “stop being an identifiable Muslim” because he was worried, I might become a subject of hate that the current regime fuels. However, I will proudly embrace my identity because I’m more than assumptions and hate against Muslim women.

Triple Talaq
Representational image.

This is today’s India where you have to be apologetic for your choices and practising your rights. We have to be fearful of belonging to a particular community. Is this how we have to live now?

Women who wear hijab become soft targets of these Hindutva forces. However, this does not mean that hate crimes have a different meaning for Hijabi women than other Muslims. Veil just marks them as targets for hate crimes.

Such cases of harassment lead to hindering in asses of public spaces for Muslim women, leading to their exclusion, and oppression.

The unnaturally curious looks that people give me never fail to leave me amused. At times, I get hateful glares as there is a ubiquitous fear of Muslims, particularly women in a Hijab or an Abaya. I’m angry about the fact that the politics of hate and polarisation has led to these stereotypes and prejudices against us.

The idea that all Muslim women are oppressed and somehow need to be rescued and liberated was used by Narendra Modi for maintaining his larger than life image whereas, members of his party issued public statements for raping Muslim women after digging their dead bodies out of their graves. In fact, one can see it from the Islamophobic policies that BJP makes. For starters, the triple talaq bill that was introduced to rescue Muslim women was actually intended to criminalize Muslim men. Had they cared so much, it’s IT cells wouldn’t be giving rape threats and making porn clips of Muslim journalists and women.

The amount of hate that the current regime has spread has caused me to go out of my way to show others that we are good people. It makes me angry that I don’t feel safe anymore. I am targeted and discriminated because of my religious orientation and my choice of dress.

If I were to give a message to the government, it is this: Your ‘Muslim sisters’ will not treat you with silence, while you continue to dehumanize us. We will go out there and reclaim our public spaces because we belong here. We will not let you be our messiah while we are being attacked and targeted on a daily basis.

Where were you when Najeeb’s mother was thrashed on roads for getting justice for his son? We will not let you produce more Bilkis Bano. We will seek justice for all the woman like Gauri Lankesh out there who gave up their lives for questioning you. We will take the rights that are ours. We will take the justice that we deserve. Even if you are blind and deaf to our plights, we will make our voices heard.


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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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