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‘5th August Was The Death Knell Ringing For The Indian Democracy’

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To all those who care about the idea of the country and the world we want to build.

“This is the end, hold your breath and count to ten,  feel the earth move and then, hear my heart burst again” – Skyfall” by Adele

Just last week the main headlines in newspapers around the world, referred to some of the most horrifying and heartbreaking events around the planet. In India, the ruling Hindutva government abrogated Article 370 and 35A dismissing Kashmiri voices and threatening the Indian democracy. Bengali Muslims were targeted in Assam under the guise of NRC—an ongoing onslaught on human rights of the most vulnerable and the poorest of people who have to prove generations of citizenship records in a country where the Prime Minister cannot even prove his educational records.

In the U.S., yet again there were mass shootings and related deaths, along with the confining and deporting of immigrants in the most inhumane ways imaginable. In Lebanon, a music band was barred from performing at a concert due to attacks from Christian religious fanatics. These were not even a fraction of the big, bad and ugly that is surrounding us right now and forcing us to drown in the cesspool of hatred. Now is the time to take a stand before it is too late.

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”  – 1984 by George Orwell

On August 5, 2019, India gagged the internationally disputed territory of Indian-administered Kashmir in a blink of an eye, abrogated important legal instruments that supported the disputed Indian claim over Kashmir. The government claimed it as a step for Kashmir’s own good. However, the key speeches post the dictatorial decision described how the decision would benefit mainland India: from the ease of buying lands, to shooting locations for films, to getting fair-skinned Kashmiri girls! Kashmir and its people have been left out of this decision yet again.

What happened in the Indian Parliament on 5th August was the death knell ringing for the fledgling Indian democracy. Image source: Getty

The Indian political landscape hit by the wave of majoritarianism welcomed this blatant attack on the Indian constitution. The majoritarian Indian sitting in his comfy/semi-comfy/un-comfy homes, worshiping the upper/dominant caste Hindu gods and goddesses who forbid him from eating cows, but allows them to assault minority women, in particular (and now women from Kashmir), celebrated while eating their home-cooked vegetarian meals, albeit with some non-veg items sneaked in. Everyone but Kashmir and the people of Kashmir celebrated.

This was their other significant achievement and a step towards that dream of the Hindu Rashtra, which does not tolerate diversity, and instead replaces it with one dominant language, culture and religion of Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan. Another step or achievement towards that monolith of a Hindu nation was the act of redefining Indian citizenship on religious lines and creating the weapon called the National Registry of Citizens or NRC. The NRC was a bad idea, to begin with, and many of us knew what’s coming when we heard the ruling party say that they will go after illegal immigrants who are not Hindus/Buddhists/Sikh.

The catastrophe of catching and punishing illegal immigrants is unfolding in front of our eyes—fathers committing suicide as their daughter’s name did not appear in the NRC, ex-army man being left out of the NRC because he is Muslim, and men, women and children languishing in detention centres that are unfit for animals, leave alone humans. Those who are cheering the government’s moves, which are nothing but massive attacks on our young democracy and the very fabric of our society, are equally culpable. History will remember you, if I may say so, as it remembers the ordinary German citizen who allowed Hitler’s Germany and the nightmare that followed, to take place.

History will remember the U.S. government for failing to stop gun violence or from failing basic humanity when it came to dealing with immigrants. Immigrants from countries that the U.S. meddled with, and created conditions that compelled people to cross borders in the first place. History will remember those in power siding with the religious fundamentalists and silencing music. History will remember all those who support the politics of hate, which will no doubt have repercussions. After all, who could imagine that Hitler would commit suicide and the dream of world domination will come crashing down, breaking Germany into two halves?

Similarly, those who support the abrogation forget that dictatorial attitudes only expand, and the first repercussion of supporting it may put one’s own civil liberties and freedom at stake. What happened in the Indian Parliament on 5th August was the death knell ringing for the fledgling Indian democracy.

I firmly believe all is not lost until it is over, and it is not over yet. However, there is not much time left for us to turn things around. The economy and environment are not going to hold up much longer and to distract from that, the violence unleashed on the ‘other’, mainly, the marginalized, minority and the immigrant will bring doom upon us even faster. Therefore, NOW is the time for every citizen to take a stand that need not be right for the nation or for development, but for human ethics. After all, without human ethics, there isn’t much worth living for—not the empty promise of the nation and not this lifeless world.

“Your imperial sun on our, subject, made wretched and puny, our eyes blinded – our ears, anyway are like a bat’s” – from the poem, At Papa 2 in Kashmir [2] by Ather Zia

Kashmir is suffering. The people are imprisoned in their own land. There are no communication channels open, no internet and no telephones. Indefinite curfew has been imposed, and elected representatives are under arrest. The Indian PM addressed the country on the historical issue of abrogation of Article 370. I hear he was very suave and gave a fantastic speech. I did not hear him in solidarity with the millions in Kashmir who were blindfolded, gagged, ears held tight—not consulted or informed on matters concerning their lives.

Of course, the PM knew how to woo because it is in mainland India’s name and pride that Kashmir has been held under siege. His party’s political ideology is based on the rhetoric of hate: hatred of the beef or cow eater/transporter/seller, or the Muslim boy who wages what they call a ‘love jihad’, or the Muslim who is unable to prove his or her citizenship, or the immigrant, or Kashmiris who are demanding to be heard and the list can go on. Hate, by its very nature, is crude and doesn’t require many nuances or detailing; it is an easy and profitable commodity to sell.

Each time the economy is failing or the environment is deteriorating, they peddle us the drug of hate, and we buy it, forgetting the urgent concerns of unemployment, banking crisis, inflation, etc. Buying into the politics of hate salvages whatever sense of pride that remains despite the uncertainty of our own existence. But remember, once they are done with Kashmir and NRC, they will turn their attention to you. After all, history teaches us that the politics of hate and ‘othering’ is endless.

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” – A law of Nazi propaganda

There had been some excitement on how the PM has stated that the curfew in Kashmir will be lifted before Eid on Sunday, and it is only to maintain calm. I remembered two things: the many other promises (read lies) spoken by the PM and the lull before a storm. The 15 lakh rupees that never made into our bank accounts, the demonetization that never stopped the flow of black money or corruption or terrorism in India, making the Indian GDP grow to an impossible rate, all his foreign trips that culminated to nothing—not even trade benefits from the leader of the U.S., who the right-wing Hindutva groups in India worship. We conveniently forgot those lies and the fact that no amount of bullshit can calm the wronged Kashmiri people.

The last bit is something we should have remembered as a nation that fought against two centuries of colonial rule. The struggle for India’s freedom did not stop because the colonizers said so, then why would the Kashmir conflict resolve itself because the Indian government said so? As was expected, the people of Kashmir are beginning to register their protests and news of deaths, and pellet attacks on protesters by the Indian armed forces are coming forward. The curfew has been reinforced, and communication channels still blocked. International news coverage and organizations are condemning the Indian occupied/administered Kashmir’s situations and the Indian government’s dictatorial steps. The rest of India seems outright jubilant and displaying the worst of humanity—a toxic cocktail of jingoism mixed with misogyny and religious fanaticism.

Today, India is the colonizer, and it is delusional on our part to think the false promises and open threats of the takeover will bring calm. What we have done is provoking a war; now, whether or not it is a civil war, only time will tell. In every war, there are two sides, and at least one of them is on the irredeemably wrong side of history—the grossly guilty ones. Occupiers and colonizers are universally on the wrong side, but as citizens, we are not bound by the government’s chosen stand. In fact, in a democracy or whatever remains of it, citizens must continuously remind the government when it is wrong.

“The duty of a true Patriot is to protect his country from its government.” – Edward Abbey.

We have to take a side that is not bound by the government’s stand on the matter. We must be on the right side of history—the side that rejects this dictatorial measure and the colonization project. This is not impossible, and a great example is that of George Orwell’s. George Orwell was his pen name, and he was a colonial bureaucrat before he became a writer. He was posted in British colonies, and in Burma, he realized the ghastliness of the colonial project. He quit and went in search of his purpose, living in slums and as a vagrant across Europe and later declaring himself to be a Socialist.

An imperial subject, which was meant to take forward the imperial goal rejected it and became one its greatest critiques. Even though born into the wrong side of history, by siding with the right, George Orwell redeemed himself. Of course, there are many others who have rejected the narrow labels of religion/nationalism, etc., and taken the humane stands that went against these labels. Therefore, it is possible and a duty that we take the correct stand, even when it is against the popular discourse because we are in a decisive moment in history and playing an instrumental role in shaping the world.

“They’ll tell you it’s a crime to have a union card. They’ll raid your meetin’, they’ll hit you on the head, They’ll call every one of you a goddam red, Unpatriotic, Japanese spies, sabotaging national defense!” – Talking Union by Pete Seeger

Most importantly ask yourself and those around you questions, such as, why is the unemployment rates at an all-time high, why is the GDP not growing as per the PM’s promises, why is inflation and price rise sky-high, salaries insufficient to live a decent life and for securing your own and your family’s futures? What is happening to the banks and why are your savings being diverted to the coffers of the rich? Why are forest rights being taken away from indigenous communities and forest lands are being allocated instead for roads and industries?

Ask these questions to those in power and see how they try to distract you with NRC or Kashmir. At that moment, decide not to get divided and stand up for the most vulnerable: the Muslims, the Kashmiris, and all other marginalized groups. Together, demand answers for these questions and even better, fight for human rights and ethics and build the world that is worth living in.

Power is addictive, and those in power love being in power more than anything else. They will do everything to make sure their positions are strengthened. Therefore, always doubt those in power and listen to those who are being silenced or held at gun points. The ones who doubt those in power and ask difficult questions get arrested and slapped with sedition charges. Standing up for humane values, doubting the powerful and asking questions to hold them accountable is the right thing to do. The powerful will try to distract you and evoke past traumas that need to be avenged when they do so remind them that the best lesson from any trauma is to gain empathy so that what happened to us, does not happen to anyone ever again. They will convince you that arbitrariness, dictatorship and brute force is what strength is.

Remember that strength is in being kind, especially when the situation demands cruelty. They will try to say you are wrong because you are alone/among few, while everybody else believes in the powerful. Remember that the majority is often on the wrong side of history—popular culture, laws and nations were formed on the backbones and with the blood of indigenous people, the poor and the vulnerable. One can be alone and yet be right. Finally, all this will be daunting, but the worthwhile is always awfully difficult and a better world, is definitely worthwhile.

“And Kashmir will Rise Again, Like a blooming Flower” Kashmir – My Bleeding Paradise by Liah 

Sincerely,

A very concerned fellow human being.

Featured image via Getty
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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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