Why Is ‘National Mourning’ Exclusively Majoritarian?

A few hours post the Indian Space Research Organisation’s plan to land Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram on the moon failed, PM Narendra Modi, consoled a mourning ISRO chief K. Sivan, expressing sorrow and solidarity. In his peculiar style, Mr Modi hugged the ISRO chief passing on more than a billion hugs. A historic moment of joy thus sublimed into a moment of “national mourning”. As Modi hugged the wailing ISRO chief, I wondered who qualifies for the PM’s condolences.

Journalists who were reporting live from the lunar surface since the morning made an emergency landing into their explosive solar studios to attend the special condolence meetings. It is quite understandable given the frenzied one-week build-up and excitement that preceded Vikram’s launch. I find it odd that why don’t these journalists get Magsaysays despite such path-breaking on-ground reporting and that, too, from the moon!

One might anticipate that from tonight Maulanas, babas, spokespersons of various political parties, and even Pakistani merry-makers-cum-jingoist panelists, and everyone else but science experts, will be solemnly invited to attend these national mourning congregations on prime time debates only to enhance India’s collective scientific temperament.

Behind the scenes of these mourning assemblies, the next week’s Hindu-Muslim debate pot shall be kept simmering so that it can satisfy our nationalist appetite. At the same time, sensible debate on the tattered state of our economy will be effectively evaded for yet another week. Apart from the predictability of what shall follow, I have a few basic questions. I must begin with a disclaimer that I have no problem with what we mourn as a nation. My concern revolves around what we don’t, but we must mourn, too, as a nation.

What constitutes mourning, and what exactly nationalises it? Who qualifies as a “mourner” and who does not? Who qualifies as the “mourned” and who does not?

Mourning is an expression of great grief. It signifies the loss of a beloved object, identity, animal, land or a person. It is an exclusive act of humanity. Mourning collectively first creates and then communicates a sense of belonging, empathy and most importantly, equality. A loss that shocks a nation’s conscience may be roughly identified as a subject of national mourning. A leader’s assassination, a terror attack, a natural disaster, a train accident or a plane crash are some instances where a nation becomes collectively sad.

In our namesake secular institutions, the idea of celebration is majoritarian and so is the idea of national mourning. Anything that frightens or saddens the minorities fails to moisten India’s eyes cataracted with hate. Happily blinded by hatred, India does not buy Mahatma Gandhi’s argument that “an eye for an eye will turn the whole world blind”. For a common man or a group of people to become a subject of national sorrow, two criteria have to be fulfilled. One: the number of people who died must be shocking. Second: the cruelty by which someone is killed must be unimaginably extreme. Sadly, Muslims never manage to tick either of the two boxes.


At a time when we are mourning the loss of communication with a lifeless space object, seven million people—whom we call our won—have been pushed into an ultimate struggle for life. We are celebrating the severe incommunicado and brute force that has besieged them. Far east in Assam, over 1.9 million people including one of ISRO’s key minds behind the Chandrayaan 2 mission, former military officers, and the family of a former president are fighting a war of identity.

The identity of the victim becomes very important in the case of national mourning that follows an act of violence. The pogrom of 2002 was recently declassified as a communal attack against Muslims. The violence and the impunity of the mobs that perpetrated it are largely justified as a retaliation to the 49 Hindu sages killed in the horrible Godhra express incident. Today, “But look what happened to the Pandits”, is the only excuse to justify the injustice being meted out to Kashmiri Muslims.

Like it or not, the Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta express blasts don’t shock our “national conscience” like Mumbai or Delhi attacks. Earlier this year, we saw how New Zealand mourned the massacre of its Muslims as a nation. In India, Akhlaq, Pehlu, Junaid, Rakhbar, Tabrez, and the scores of Muslims killed in vigilante violence by Hindu nationalist mobs are names that do not fill us with shame and guilt. Instead, their murders are mocked, and the members of the government hail their murderers. Leave aside bear hugs; the PM has not for once mentioned even one of the above-stated names. His own ministers openly spew gut-wrenching venom against Muslims. His silence has emboldened the mobs. His failure suggests his complicity raising a serious question on the sincerity of his “Sabka Vishwas” slogan.

Keeping aside a few honourable exceptions, opinion leaders who can challenge the bigoted public perception, many in the opposition, media, Bollywood and other positions of power do not dare to acknowledge the increasing attacks and hate speech against Muslims. On the contrary, many of them attack and incite mobs against those who oppose this anti-Muslim vitriol. The less radical “neutrals” stay aloof from “too political” things. It is not that they do not show outrage at all. They do outrage for a variety of causes on Twitter. From dogs to elephants, from tigers to trees; Muslims regularly fail to make it to their extensive list.

Sooner or later, ISRO—given its excellence to work on tight budgets—will eventually succeed in its mission. There’s no doubt about that. However, when will India mourn its Muslims and the loss of their sense of belonging? Nothing can be more hazardous to a nation than losing the ability to mourn the loss of its own people. It is worse for India where this indifference has turned into jubilation.

Update: Vikram has been located.

Update 2: The media reacted exactly how it was anticipated.

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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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