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The Idiosyncrasies Of A Revolutionary Firebrand: Bhagat Singh’s Ideologies Are Very Much Relevant Today

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I still remember a particularly cold January night when I was in my tenth grade, encircling both my hands tightly around a mug containing warm water, which I gulped down at once. In no way was it instrumental in calming the sheer rage I had been feeling for a while then, for not having come across Bhagat Singh’s name or mentions of his ideology in the countless books of history that we were taught in our syllabus on India’s freedom struggle.

I chose to vent frustration over this in my essays during exams prior to the board exams, at the palpable risk of being marked zero. Well, I’ll always choose truth over scores, because it will stand out by permeating the minds of academicians, or anyone, and make them realise how important it is to give people their due in history.

In Punjabi households, Bhagat Singh’s name is synonymous with valor and the wave of ushering the pulse of the freedom struggle in a politically monopolised atmosphere. All over the country, he is revered as a revolutionary who caused much torment across the socio-political spectrum, as the methods he and his friends adopted ate into the colonial foundations of the British Raj. A young fiery revolutionary, who placed overcoming economic inequality of the masses over political freedom, was bound to have his ideological roots tracing back to several watershed movements in the world like the French, Russian and American Revolutions. These movements spearheaded the fight for equality to be cemented as a political and legal reality for millions.

On his 112th birthday on September 28, delving into ideas of his remembrance seems futile. Rather, scratching the depth of his core belief is the need of the hour. His writing titled “Why I am an Atheist” unpacks the mechanism of social institutions and structures of power while making it clear that history has been unfair to people who muster the courage to speak their minds. Ironically, his legacy remains unfazed by this, as the passages mentioned in Kuldip Nayar’s book “Without Fear: The Life & Trial Of Bhagat Singh” makes it amply clear that his ultimate dream was to give up his life for the freedom of his nation with his face wreathed with a broad smile so that many mothers can raise children like him, who knock the door of death themselves, with a purpose for others in their heart!

To give one single thematic coherence to his essay written in 1931 is an incredibly daunting task, as it touches upon so many nuances of how the clutches of powers overpowers the human mind for so long. He acknowledges himself as nothing more than a human being, lays bare the human follies forming the basis of many ideals idolised as truth. He investigates the solace that a human seeks in false and empty pride, unfounded on struggle vis-à-vis experience, which is primarily linked to some form of inherent weakness. His refined skepticism of the many values in society he calls as “obsolete” is perhaps rooted in his unbiased evaluative approach of perceiving everything. He draws factually-based parallels of belief in an all-pervading entity—God, and religion as a set of thoughts with the days he spent with people and ideas in the revolutionary party.

The essay is filled with several anecdotes from his life which made him an evolved and absolute unpretentious non-believer in God or any divine force. The remarkable point he endorses is that beliefs give us a form of support mechanism diminishing the defiance streak, yet, if one’s vanity defies “beliefs held in common esteem by people”, it is an incredible strength. By-passing the Karma theory, Bhagat Singh liberated himself from the thought of rewards for his actions in the next life.

This thirst for liberation, per his thinking, shall establish liberty and peace devoid of shackles of slavery and oppression. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the core of revolutionary thinking, the denunciation of the latter in carrying out the former on logic in analysing people or structure of power recedes us all back to Darkness. The hegemony of religion reduces and even stagnates human awakening on so many fronts. The kind of nourishment with which he feeds this essay is that every person shall criticise the tenet of every religion, sailing towards progress. The efficacy of any faith is not absolved from standing the test of time and reason. No wonder unquestioning belief in Bhagat Singh’s ideology was disastrous on two-pronged levels, as it made a human exaggeratedly reactionary and deprived of understanding! This remarkable piece of writing becomes relevant today by leaps and bounds all attributable to the social and political climate we live in.

He puts some really tough questions before believers, as to why the world isn’t a place that is conducive for a person to stay in peace, and what is the basis of belief which does not let the eyes see the impoverishment and labor of human bones being abused by the Rich? He invokes the wisdom of the shrewd people of the past who played with minds by weighing down the power of reason by building mechanisms of fear.

Bhagat Singh extends beyond faith into the realms of law and jurisprudence to further lend credence to his narrative, stating that even the theories of punishment suffered from the vices of class hierarchy and the luxury of privilege. For some mysterious reason, there is no mention of the fact that the most cursed sin is to be poor, yet poverty is considered a sin. With this premise, he exposes the horrendous nature of the caste system in our society, the manifestations of which continue to exist and are amplified even decades after our freedom struggle. This sort of inequality deliberately keeps people in ignorance and inaccessible from forums of knowledge.

The silence of the “mighty force” over the atrocities inflicted on the innocent makes him question the existence of such a belief. The belief that kept people away from nurturing true humanity within us. He is being very ‘unresistant‘ in calling out the controllers of such belief that whittles down the passage of discussion and concerns somewhere along the way. The sabotaging of religion by power leads to the subjugation of several institutions to tyranny, perpetuating inequality.

The reflection which the reader can find it hard to decipher is that Bhagat Singh is not instilling any kind of hatred, but was brave enough to show us a varied outlook which can save us from narrow connotations. The approach in his essay is directed at explaining extensively his lack of belief in God, but the subjects he wrote upon shall go down in history as a savage account of logic and depth driven by the burning desire for change. Someone who did not mince his words when giving constructive criticism and uncomfortable truth occupy a completely distinct form of space in the historical discourse of ideological territories.

Unfortunately, the fears that Bhagat Singh shared in his work years back have now been normalised and this has come heavily crashing down on any form of well-informed dialogue among people and communities. Its time we take a cue from his essay and work towards a public awakening and the unanimity to pursue the same goals of realistic freedom based on equality.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.”

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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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