I Fear The Govt Will Use UAPA To Brand Every Dissenter As ‘Anti-National’

On the night of 6th August, while updating myself with what’s happening around in the country, debates around the passing of the contentious UAPA Bill seemed to be ubiquitous. As soon as I read the word UAPA, comes to my mind the arrest of five human rights activists: Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varun Gonsalves—who were arrested last year under this act without any stark evidence by the police who could not explain the reason for arresting these activists.

How can the govt justify countering terrorism at the expense of human rights? Image via Getty

These human rights defenders were termed as “Maoists” and “deshdrohis” (anti-national) by the BJP government. These were the civilians who knew the law and got support from opposition parties and a number of civil rights activists. Returning from flashback to present, I, as a woman and Women’s Studies student, felt fear; fear of raising my voice and advocating, amplifying the voices which demand their rights from the state. Why so? Why should “an act which actually aims at curtailing terrorism” frighten me? Well, this act frightens me because:

By approving the UAPA Bill, the parliament has allowed the centre to tag individuals as TERRORIST; without any stark evidence or process. This takes away an individual’s right to life with dignity. It is the state which will decide—What is terrorism?, Who is a terrorist?, What constitutes as terrorism? This particular bill though amended in 2019, was actually in place since 1967. However, tagging individuals as terrorist is a part of the amendment, which is highly undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Earlier, according to the bill, certain organizations could be labelled as terrorist organizations. “Terrorist, Anti-national, Maoists, Naxals”, are examples of the extreme value-tags (largely used post-2014) that have actually been used by the right-wing groups for critics; individuals who have fearlessly voiced their dissent against the BJP government. This is evident from the forceful arrest of student activists and student leaders from JNU, killing of Gauri Lankesh, to arresting human rights activists. All these cases point towards the unquestioned power and the entitlement to act with impunity allotted to police and the government even when the UAPA Bill was not passed. And now when this bill is passed, I am fearful of not only my future but also the future of this supposed to be “Democratic” nation I inhabit.

Cases of state-sponsored violence, exclusion and oppression against the marginalized communities proliferated post 2014 under the fascist, extremely fundamentalist and right-winged government of BJP—as witnessed through the killings of Muslim and Dalit folks on the name of “Jay shri Ram” and “Gauraksha”; killings of Kashmiri youths in the name of “Protection”; violence against “Bangladeshi Muslims” who migrated to India and excluding them, making them not just homeless but ‘nationless’ through the National Register of Citizens; institutionalized murders of Dalit and tribal students; denying farmers’ rights; displacing tribal communities and silencing them through violence if they protest or dissent and many more examples!

In all the above cases, among whom do we see terrorism? Among the unarmed civilians of Kashmiri Youths who have been protesting for their rights against Militarisation?; or among the historically oppressed Dalits, tribals and religious minorities whose voices go unheard?; or is it among the poor farmers who are living their lives in debts? Many of these groups and many more of us are vulnerable, not well versed with the law neither are we well-known names. These struggles and movements for human rights, for self-respect, for livelihood, for a dignified life, is today seen as terrorism by the government. The state has unquestioned power due to which it is acting with entitlement, with impunity, crushing away all the voices of dissent, of criticisms, of voices that will bring discomfort to the extreme comfort of the state. This bill thus is against an individual’s right to Freedom of Speech and Expression—of which dissent is an integral part.

According to The World report 2019, “In April, police in Tamil Nadu state arrested a folk singer for singing a song at a protest meeting that criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In August, state authorities detained an activist for sedition, allegedly for describing police abuses against protesters opposing a copper factory at the UN Human Rights Council. When a magistrate refused to place him in police custody, police arrested him in an older case and added sedition to the charges against him. Police have also added charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the key counter-terrorism law.” This further is evidence of how the UAPA Bill will be actually “misused” rather than used “for the nation”.

I come from Women’s studies—a discipline which was formed after the women’s movement, which was fought for decades, has its foundations in human rights. Unfortunately, the struggle for human rights is seen as terrorism today, and with this bill in place, how will I fight for human rights? How will I do justice to my education? My university is named after Savitribai Phule—the first woman teacher of India—who opened the gateways of education for women in India. She believed, “Education alone can banish ignorance and inhuman behaviour and make us human beings”.

The Constitution of India is grounded in democracy. But the current government has been highly undemocratic and unconstitutional in its functioning. The architect of our constitution, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, passed the message of “Educate, Organize and Agitate” for democracy to survive. But the UAPA Bill will jail me for following the path laid by Ambedkar. How can I live up to the ideas of such revolutionaries when my life is being dominated and ruled by fundamentalists like Amit Shah and Narendra Modi? Since the BJP government has come to power, fundings for feminist organizations and Women’s Studies Centres along with Social Sciences have already declined. With this bill in place, I fear that my discipline itself will be removed from the academic discourse.

This fear in a student’s heart is a shame to the BJP government for it is a product of the nature in which the BJP government is RULING over the nation. The Constitution of India drafted by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar talks of India as a democratic nation; a nation where the government is of the people, by the people and for the people. Any government in India has to serve its civilians and not rule over them. After coming into power, the BJP government seems to have forgotten the Indian constitutional values, which are a part of every government textbook’s initial page. We are facing a Modi-Shah Monarchy in India where anybody criticising these monarchs and their rule, becomes a “terrorist, anti-national who don’t want development.”

Will the BJP ever understand that “Development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy… development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom.”? (Amartya Sen).

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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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