From Gauri Lankesh To Shujaat Bukhari, Our Journalists Continue To Pay A Heavy Price

In a developing nation like India, it is essential to understand the true essence of journalism. New definitions are being formulated and newer laws are being passed to support journalism. However, those in power who do not associate themselves with this field, thus leading to be disastrous to a greater extent.

The importance of journalism can never be denied as it plays a crucial role in the building of a nation. It makes the masses aware of what is happening in their milieu through ethically reporting the incidents which take place every single day. People not only look up to the media channels or the dailies to keep themselves updated but also trust them. Therefore, media organisations should have a high degree of neutrality.

At this age, journalism holds the authority to influence the masses and manipulate their political leanings. It provides people with information which affects the biggest decisions of their lives. From deciding their future to the nation they live in, every decision depends upon the news that they consume daily. Thus, the purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and the entire nation.

The Plight Of Journalism In Modern India

Gone are the days when authentic news used to be delivered on our screens. Nowadays, authentic news does not even find a column in the newspapers. It may sound disturbing, but reality sometimes is truly bitter. Journalism is not journalism until the journalist doesn’t attain the freedom to pen down their thoughts. India lags far behind in providing its journalists with an independent pen and a space to work fearlessly. Journalists are bound to their media houses, who bow down to these political parties or power-holders.

In recent times, when our Chandrayaan-2 mission failed, a news channel aired a program on how the apparent scenario would be if human existence shall ever commence on the moon with the anchor dressed up in a spacesuit! People who were still holding on to their senses were aghast and did criticise it.

In the recently released 2019 World Press Freedom Index, India scored the 140th position and has dropped two positions down. From death threats and verbal abuse to assassinations, journalists have to confront them all. I feel that the ruling party and power-holders never spare media channels and end up making them their personal exploitative puppets.

At this time, it seems like no media channel has the freedom to run neutrally and is obliged to lean towards a political party. The fact is, even today, probably every party owns a media channel that praises them and takes up their stand even on their wrong decisions. Journalists wash their hands-off if they find their conscience alive and try to convey their audience what the actual world looks like.

How Many Have Vanished Until Now? 

From Gauri Lankesh to Shujaat Bukhari, many names in-between were assassinated because they chose to live for the country and its citizens. Shujaat Bukhari was a Kashmiri journalist and the founding editor of Rising Kashmir, a Srinagar based newspaper. He was also the president of Abdee Markaz Kamraz, a cultural and literary organisation in Kashmir. He was shot dead outside his office in the Press Enclave area of Srinagar on June 14, 2018, after surviving three previous assassination attempts.

(L-R) March in memory of Gauri Lankesh; File photo of Shujaat Bukhari.

Former Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed the killing as an “act of cowardice“.  When the terrorists were being called the driving force behind this assassination, Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba was quoted as having ‘strongly condemned‘ the killing and blaming it on the enmity of Indian agencies towards every individual who is loyal to the freedom movement.

On the other hand, Gauri Lankesh did not witness a ‘dream death‘ with roses by her side. She was an Indian journalist-turned-activist from Bangalore, Karnataka. She worked as an editor in Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada weekly started by her father P. Lankesh, and ran her own weekly magazine called Gauri Lankesh Patrike. She was shot to death outside her residence at Rajarajeshwari Nagar on September 5, 2017. At the time of her death, Gauri was known for being a critic of right-wing Hindu extremism, campaigning for women’s rights and opposing caste-based discrimination.

If you start to jot down the list of journalists who lost their lives just because they were not a part of ‘fake propaganda’ since independence, you would run out of tears. Gauri Lankesh and Shujaat Bukhari were famous and renowned personalities whose killings drew attention but there are many who lose their lives for us and yet, their voices remain unheard.

Who Is Responsible?

Many questions arise but the only one which we demand to be answered is who should be blamed for such happenings? Who should take the onus, when everyone is busy passing the buck? Was it a planned assassination executed by terrorists or just a blame game to divert our attention by the power holders?

Journalists go through intolerable torture and sometimes end up meeting with death. They work hard to deliver breaking news, many times over a hungry stomach and thirsty throat for people relaxing on couches at home. Aren’t they humans like us?

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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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