From Freedom Of Speech To The Choice Of Meat: Is Azaadi Just A Misnomer?

TW: Rape Mention.

We are all equal, some more than others!” -George Orwell.

Articles 19-22 (Right to Freedom) deal with the different aspects of personal liberty and the basic right of a citizen in a democracy. One can’t deny that after the 2014 general elections, there has been a palpable shift in the political, ideological, and social fabric of the country.

Do we really live in an ethos that is true to the tenets of the Constitution? I feel the following points are an adequate answer. 

Kashmir And The Quagmire That Is Article 370

A scene from Srinagar. Civilian life has been dotted with the presence of armed forces for decades in the valley, serving as a pressing reminder that the state is under constant siege. (Photo: Kashmir Global/Flickr)

The Central Government’s revocation of Article 370 spurred a chain of events that are disturbing, to say the least. The complete shutdown of any kind of communication of Kashmir’s citizens with the outside world is an infringement of their fundamental rights which apparently doesn’t matter to chest-thumpers of hyper-nationalism.

Freedom Of Speech

With everything that has transpired in India in the recent past and the reaction of the footsoldiers of the ruling ideology, no one is spared the phenomenon termed ‘trolling’. Journalists, scholars, even bureaucrats, and policymakers, with years of experience in their fields, who do not sing a tune in praise of the government will be subjected to the worst of abuses. Heavens help you if you’re a woman, a Muslim, or Dalit, or queer.

Freedom To Eat Food Of One’s Choice

Image Credit: Getty Images

In May 2017, the Ministry of Environment under the aegis of the BJP-led central government sought to bring a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets across India, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals statutes. This sparked a whole slew of controversies ever since, with vigilante groups beating up and lynching people, who (coincidentally?) belong to historically marginalised castes or Muslims, ‘suspected’ of this ‘crime’.
Sure, animal cruelty is a problem that needs to be addressed at a structural level, but that means closing down slaughterhouses that violate any kind of guidelines. Two years after Pehlu Khan was lynched to death based on ‘accusations’ of him smuggling cows, six of the nine were acquitted by an Alwar Court this week.

Freedom To Choose One’s Partner: On Inter-Caste Marriages

For representation Only

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was of the opinion that inter-caste marriage was the best way to eliminate caste. Inter-caste marriages are still perceived as a threat to the ‘purity’ of the ‘upper-castes’. The violence around inter-caste marriage and the stark silence of the present ruling dispensation (and those before) is very telling. As per an Indian Express report, the Thakor community in Gujarat has ‘banned’ inter-caste marriage and, “If a Thakor girl falls in love with and marries a boy from another community, the family will have to pay a fine of Rs 1.5 lakh. If a Thakor boy marries a girl from another community, the fine is Rs 2 lakh.” Freedom of choice indeed! 

Freedom To Move Freely In Public Spaces

Rape schedule’ is a theory that talks about how women have become conditioned to function within self-imposed curfews, to alter their behavior out of constant fear of sexual assault. Women, femme folx, basically anyone not a cis-gender man, constantly live under the fear of assault of any kind. As a cis-woman coming from a place of privilege, I know I have ways to subvert this ‘conditioned schedule’, but most folx do not have any fallback mechanism, other than panicked texts and calls to friends to check on them. 

For Representation Only. Credit: Hindustan Times

Disability And Mobility

The lack of disability-friendly infrastructure is not something that has been considered ‘important’ enough to be considered by civic planners or by the government. For a person with any kind of physical impairment, getting around, using public transport, becomes something akin to an ordeal. Now club this point with the previous point. Femme folx with disabilities have been advocating for policies that are intersectional in all senses, but who’s really listening?

For Representation Only

Freedom To Live In A House/Locality Of One’s Choice.

Moving to a new city, especially one so larger-than-life like Mumbai, seemed like such an exciting adventure. All dreams of creating a life for myself as a young student vanished right when I started looking for homes. “Single women not allowed” became a refrain I got used to. I came across instances of fellow students being denied housing by landlords because they were Muslims and the housing society comprised of ‘vegetarians’ which was code for Upper-caste Hindus.

Freedom To Form A Family Of One’s Own.

Image Credit: Katy Poenaru

This is a complex debate. On the one hand, the government’s ban on commercial surrogacy will prevent LGBTQIA+ folx from becoming parents in a way they might choose. On the other hand, this ban will address trafficking and forced surrogacies of women, mostly women from historically marginalised groups.

Featured Image For Representation Only
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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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