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On Identity Politics, Nationalism, And India’s Growing Hostility Towards Minorities

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A few days ago, 49 celebrities penned down a letter addressing the Prime Minister, to bring his attention towards the increasing cases of mob lynching against Muslims and Dalits. In a counter move, 61 celebrities penned down a “counter intolerance” letter criticizing the former for their “attempt to foist a false narrative with the intention of denigrating the democratic ethos and norms of collective functioning as a nation.” To the latter group of people, the letter to PM appears as tarnishing India’s international standing and undermining PM’s “efforts to effectuate governance on the foundation of positive nationalism and humanism”. 

India reported 218 hate crimes in the year 2018 alone, against the marginalized section of people.

While the letter addressing the PM talks about actual human beings and their plight, the counter intolerance letter is emphatic about the “image”, “international standing” or “positive nationalism” of the country. When the letter does mention someone’s plight, it’s about the attacked “Temple” in Delhi and the anti-national slogans against the nation. The trivializing of the life of a real individual for an imaginary collective is too conspicuous to be ignored.

Similarly, after the brutal Jharkhand lynching of Tabrez Ansari, Prime Minister Modi was compelled to condemn the incident in the parliament; however, his condemnation came out as an empty shell because of his over-emphasis on the alleged “insult of the state”. He did claim to be pained by the incident, but he reserved his vociferous response to save the honor of the Jharkhand state, which made his condemnation sheepish, and the message dissolved. India reported 218 hate crimes in the year 2018 alone, against the marginalized section of people. It would amount to stating the obvious that while hate is a feeling, its manifestation in the physical world swallows an actual human being.

Ours is a nation obsessed with honor and pride. With the rise of Hindutva nationalism, this fetish for image and honor has surpassed concern for anything real and has become an epidemic. While the death of children in hospitals does not affect the national image, a mere slogan raised by a few people does. The recent case of MLA’s daughter Sakshi Mishra and her husband’s appeal to save their lives from her father and media’s dealing with it is a case in point where the lives of real people were trivialized in comparison to the pride of a metaphorical turban of a humiliated father. It goes without saying that India is a hub of such killings in the name of ‘honor’, and the worst victim of such actions are women, who apart from facing the brunt of physical violence, have to undergo years of structural and psychological violence.

Psychologist Steven Pinker argues that an honor-based society is almost always a violent society. One can see ample examples of such societies in West Asia. Pinker also gives the example of the contrast between the northern part of U.S. and the Southern part where slavery lasted longer and where gun culture is much more prevalent and where people are more on the traditional side of the spectrum. Traditional societies have this peculiar obsession with honor as well as poor regard for actual human lives simultaneously.

Ironically, the entire world is witnessing regress in terms of freedom and liberty, and western countries are not immune to this either. When American President speaks about making America great again, he does that by resorting to the most regressive and petty policies one can imagine that includes an invocation of the worst fears and the lowest faculty of its citizens.

Historian Yuval Noah Harari argues that the key to distinguishing what is real from what is not is to see if that entity can suffer. Suffering is the only key to understanding the reality of a subject. Applying it on a nation and actual human beings clears everything up, while former cannot suffer because it is an imaginary being, latter can, because of their flesh and blood existence. A similar application can be made to religion, caste, community, honor and pride.

Although it sounds basic and simplistic, nevertheless in this growing age of identity politics and nationalism, it has become imperative to remember that we are all human beings and our pain and suffering is absolute. Moreover, caring about our image, honor and pride is similar to putting an Instagram filter on our pictures. It will neither change our actual facial features nor will it alleviate our insecurities but in the long-run has the power to harm 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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