7 Million People Remain Caged And Humiliated In The Valley: Kashmiri Journalist Reports

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As I write this message, I want to share that I have been warmly received by friends and colleagues here in Berlin – above all – by the weather. The weather has been giving me a feeling of my home. It is the beginning of fall in Kashmir too, every green leaf will turn golden and there is a time of harvest and festivity in the fields and orchards of Kashmir valley. But, what will we celebrate in prison?

I miss my home, my friends and my place. As I sleep on a cosy bed in the night here in Berlin, I get nightmares every night. I still hear the sounds of boots, knocks on the door and the wailing of sirens.

I want to share a lot about Kashmir, but can’t as my pen and tongue have been restricted, so I stick to the things which everyone must know. There have been many stories being told about the current Kashmir crisis in the international press, but the news is mostly coming in from Srinagar city, which has a population of more than one million people. We don’t know much about the rest of the Kashmir with a population of almost 7 million.

Let me begin by telling you about an incident that happened in my village in the last week of August. At around 5 pm, one of my neighbours passed away, his lone son who works as a bus driver was not at home. He was taken away with his bus by the Indian army a few days back to ferry soldiers from one place to another; a person with no right to refuse their orders like any other Kashmiri. The dead father had to wait for his son for 20 hours, to be buried.

It is just not just the communication blockade but the basic right of life that has been taken away. With security personnel at each nook and corner of Srinagar city and major towns and villages, the right to free movement has been restrained. Most of the people have no access to hospitals; schools are shut, businesses are shut, and young men are on the run to save themselves from being picked by forces and tortured or lodged in jails. There is chaos all around us. This, I call a collective punishment by using military might.

Barbed-wire placed by security personnel stretches across a Srinagar street in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Aug. 11, 2019. Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan complained bitterly about what he described as repeated rebuffs from India over Kashmir. And he raised the threat of military escalation. (Atul Loke/The New York Times)

I happened to visit a local police station, where I met a young boy of around 20 years. After having a brief chat with him for a few minutes, he told me that while having a chat with his friend on the village road, he used the phrase‘Insha Allah(if Allah wills it) in his conversation. The police while crossing the road, heard them talking, and he was taken away in the police van. Soon after enquiring with the Police, he had been told that he was chanting anti-police slogans and detained.

I, as a journalist, have been mostly focussing on the issues of human rights abuses – but since my right to life is compromised, I can no longer work as a journalist in the current situation, but I want to tell my story myself; the story I live each minute at my home. I feel crushed by the narratives coming from the cosy studios of New Delhi, which spread hatred against Kashmir and portray an image of normalcy. The word normal has become like abuse to us.

In August, I gathered some courage and travelled to the central and southern parts of the Kashmir valley – deep into the villages, to see what is going on. I was stopped by military personnel around 30 times on the deserted ‘national highway’ – the only highway which connects Kashmir with India. I was asked so many questions and was made to wait till their army convoys consisting of hundreds of trucks would pass.

There is not a single village in which young boys and old men have not been arrested and taken either to detention centres or torture cells. The people are unable to figure out the logic behind the idea of the government crackdown, for their own ‘good’. But they surely know, it is a punishment for them being Kashmiri, living under a Hindu fascist regime.

In my village alone, 13 boys have been arrested on the day India abrogated article 370; since then, the families have been desperate to know their whereabouts – there are unending ques outside police stations and military camps, with an unending wait. There is an uneasy calm all around. The hospitals are full of injured men and women, many blinded by the use of pellet guns by Indian forces.

The localities which stage protests against the state remain under constant threat – the ones who show some sort of resistance are crushed to an extreme extent, the entry and exit points are guarded 24*7 by the men with AK 47 rifles, teargas guns, and pellet guns.

Many of my colleagues and friends remain in detention – 7 million people remain caged and humiliated; their streets covered by razor wire, with a complete communication blockade, barricaded roads, and streets patrolled every moment. And on the other side of this mighty democracy, people could be seen dancing and celebrating the fulfilment of an ‘unfinished agenda’ of the nation. All these celebrations are rude and inhuman. All these events remind me of the rise of Nazi Germany, the same land which witnessed the extremes of brutality and bloodshed.

Silence is also seen in graveyards and silence is not a sign of ‘peace’ – and the world can’t be silent about the misery and suffering of Kashmiris, with its manipulative policies, the Government of India has been misleading the global community. We as conscious humans shall stand against such brutalities before it is too late and today we stand.

Many of my friends whose family members were arrested by the army or other agencies have been telling me the stories. These camps have been turned into torture cells where young boys are being brutally beaten, their skin being peeled near their private parts,  forced sleep deprivation is practised and their families are humiliated, their sisters and mothers are harassed and molested by the men in uniform, and every now and then, they try to go and meet them.

India is displaying its power not only in the shape of its military – but last month, there has been a display of artillery weapons and tanks also. The common Kashmiri has been pushed to the wall. It is the season of apple harvesting, a sector on which most of the population rely on, for their income. I saw the orchards being cut down by the military, the crops being damaged and the houses being ransacked.

I am thousands of miles away from home and it has been 12 days already since I heard from my family – I don’t know anything about them, like any other Kashmiri living or working outside that place. I keep on checking my phone every time, with an expectation that I might get a call from someone from the valley but it has become a dream.

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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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