Why The Anxiety Over Far-Right Westerners Being Invited To Scan The Dal Lake?

The Hindu‘s cartoon for the 1st of November depicts a rowboat in the Dal lake full of Members of European Parliament (MEPs), with PM Modi as their guide, who tells them that the lake and the surrounding mountains are all that there is to see in Kashmir. That should have been juxtaposed with an image of British ‘centrist’ MEP Bill Newton-Dunn claiming that ” [the] visit has been an eye-opener and we would definitely advocate what we have seen on ground zero” to complete the picture. Any visit to Kashmir might be, in more ways than one, an “eye-opener“, given the breathtaking beauty of the valley, of the people inhabiting it and of their culture. But we will come back to what can be made of a British politician ‘advocating’ measures he claims to have seen ‘on ground zero’. 

For now, let us recap what happened. The well-known thinker and entrepreneur Madi Sharma appointed the even better-known International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS) – which, as you all very well know, is a “think-tank for the Non-Aligned Movement” – to send out invitations to 27 MEPs to visit Kashmir late in October, perhaps to facilitate bohni for the Indian economy (destined to be a $5 trillion employment-free, ‘termite’-free economy by 2024), which had been kept from enjoying the fruits of a Kashmiri autarky till Articles 370 and 35A were given a nationalist kiss of death on August 5. 

Don’t worry about the fact that India has become non-aligned with the Non-Aligned Movement. India will both be a superpower at simultaneously burning hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year on outdated fighter jet technology, exported with scorn by the ‘First World’, and the ‘Second World’, and maintaining child malnutrition at ‘Third World’ levels, while staying ‘non-aligned’ at the same time. There is even less to worry about the fact that a “think-tank for the Non-Aligned Movement” has been roped into organising the visit of a delegation full of MEPs from the First World to the most “internal” of India’s matters – so internal that it is not even allowed to communicate with itself. 

Those murmurs you hear about 22 of the 27 MEPs being representatives of the most rabid Muslim-hating far-right political formations in Europe? Ignore them. What’s that? The embassies of many of the countries from which the MEPs were invited had no prior information of the visit? Gah, who needs ambassadors these days? We all know what India is doing to its Ambassadors. And why were Members of India’s own Parliament from the Opposition not allowed to have a sniff of New India’s New Kashmir before the Europeans? Well, that’s easy – they would not be able to bring Development to the valley. We all know that Development is like Charybdis – it needs to consume everything that comes its way, including people, to keep itself alive. 

If you are Odysseus enough, you can survive Development by ‘hanging in there’. And until and unless you have committed yourself to make Kashmir’s air is as healthy and pure and corruption-free, as Delhi’s post-Diwali air, you have no right to not be called an anti-national. We know that Development will thrive in Delhi-like clean air once the pesky humans (or are they?) have been done away with. Remember that Kashmir is now ‘normal’ and no protest has taken place there since August 5. Of course, the terrorist attack that killed migrant labourers on the same day as the MEP visit, despite the complete shutdown of the valley, proves precisely how efficient the shutdown has been. Otherwise, it would all seem fixed, right?

Now, why would anyone protest the abundance of far-right politicians in the European delegation to India? After all, they only confirmed after their visit, what all of India’s seemingly many issues have been saying, right? Je suis Article 370… oh and terrorism and Pakistan? The world now knows that India is nothing without Kashmir, Pakistan and terrorism. Abrogation of Article 370 has cured Kashmir of terrorism, is going to bring in development and jobs and has made Kashmiris so dangerously happy that they need to be restrained from communicating their happiness to each other or to the outside world for the time being. 

It’s truly the panacea we have all been waiting for. So why the anxiety over far-right Westerners being invited to scan the Dal lake for terrorists? What if the far-right is what appeals to the European people the most at this point in time? They are all democracies, “will of the people” etc., right? Let us check some numbers from the European Parliament in Brussels. Out of a total of 751 MEPs, about 73 belong to a recently cobbled up far-right coalition called ‘Identity and Democracy’, and 62 belong to another coalition of Eurosceptics called ‘European Conservatives and Reformists’. In sum, the far-right and conservatives (the line between gets increasingly blurred) stand for less than 18% of the total of EU representation. So maybe not so representative of the European view. So why were they so grossly overrepresented in the delegation? It certainly cannot be because they are Islamophobes (right?). Could it be because, in wanting to ironically break the EU Parliament they are part of, they have ambitions in common with our current government? 

As if to answer that question, advocates of BJP are urging UK voters against going for the Labour Party in the upcoming UK general elections, with Brexit drama playing in the background. This comes just weeks after PM Modi urged NRIs based in the US to vote for POTUS Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential elections. The reelection campaigns this year of both Modi and Netanyahu, both idolised by the far-right in their respective countries, have tried to feed off images of the other. All this is part of a broader trend where the Right is coming together globally in a support network. 

Donald Trump has endorsed Boris Johnson for the upcoming elections and has repeatedly urged him to join forces with far-right MEP Nigel Farage. Despite federal budget cuts to education and healthcare in the US, Trump continues to gift a Palestinian-cleansing Zionist Israel nearly $4 billion in military ‘aid’. Trump and Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro have publicly supported each other on quite a few occasions. All these leaders have dedicated support bases in the far-right, are propped up by elaborate media propaganda and drive the fortunes of their respective political parties. This way, they are important for the Right in both a local and global sense. Stephen Bannon, who used to be ‘chief strategist’ to the current POTUS, suggested in a 2014 speech, that the Right’s win in India that year was indicative of a ‘global revolt’ against global capitalism. According to him, capitalism was under threat not because it had been exploitative of labour but because it had moved “away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief”. He blamed secularisation of the West, under liberal principles, for this fall from grace. The latter claims obviously have bupkis to do with facts, but there are a couple of highlights in that speech. 

First, legitimate grievances of the people rooted in both, local and global causes, have been harnessed by the Right in its rise to power, claiming to represent the masses. In India, the Right came to power promising to free India of unemployment, corruption and nepotism. In the US, Trump talked about ‘bringing back jobs’ enough to convince at least some voters who felt he might revive a US economy still suffering the aftershocks of the Great Recession. The real issue is that globalisation has hit a critical mass of people – at least in an electoral sense – belonging to socioeconomically privileged groups in these countries. This is why local constructs like “Hindu victim” and “white working class” are used to legitimise the Right’s support for the status quo or even for regression to violently hierarchical systems, (the far-right’s fantasy), that belongs strictly in the past. 

What is also being done rather adeptly, is the expansion of definitions of identity labels, like “Hindu” and “white”. People who weren’t considered white in the past, like Italian Americans, now are, and Hindutva recruiters have successfully brought many Adivasis and Dalits and OBCs, (by exploiting intra-Dalit and Dalit-OBC inter-caste divisions), into the Hindutva fold, making them ‘Hindus’ purportedly standing for a common cause. This makes such labels grow in numerical and moral strength and thereby weakens the egalitarian’s case against them. The other highlight is how religious piety is pitted against supposedly decadent secularism that has, it is contended, led to the moral degradation of capitalism. The focus on religion is important, as conservative praxis of religion emphasises the ‘necessity’ of hierarchy. While secularism is reviled by the Right, for its supposed negation of religion, constitutions of theoretical democracies suggest otherwise. Constitutional researchers Ron Hirschl and Ayelet Shachar have found that all democratic constitutions are compelled to deliberate upon the matter of religion:

All constitutions—every single one— directly address the issue of religion head-on. Some constitutions despise it, others embrace or even defer to it, and yet others are agnostic but willing to accommodate certain aspects of it. But not a single constitution abstains from, overlooks, or remains otherwise silent with respect to religion.”

The anxiety over religion arises because the supremacy of either is based in abstraction, and their axiomatic values can thus be contested. For better or for worse, religion enjoys ‘prime mover advantage’ over constitutionalism in giving society a legal framework.  Liberal constitutions seek to move religion from the public to the private space, and at least theoretically, reject hierarchy. This leads to conflict between their fundamental values. These constitutions seek legal subordination of religion to themselves. Also, religion-based boundaries, whether real or imagined, are invoked to justify an exclusivist vision of society. Viktor Orbán, the PM of Hungary, has vowed to “defend Christian Europe”; Donald Trump engineered a grotesque Muslim travel ban; Amit Shah has “assured” non-Muslim refugees they wouldn’t be deported. They are all united in Islamophobia. It’s all part of a pattern. Hirschl and Shachar write:

“In virtually all of these settings, the wave of religion-infused political rhetoric has translated into the quest for greater political control of apex courts’ composition and the accompanying appointment of conservative judges that are sympathetic to the religio-nationalist line; nationalist legislation on matters like sovereignty, citizenship, and immigration; and rapidly diminishing respect for pluralism, minority rights, and civil liberties. These tendencies are often complemented, if not fueled, by an “us first” attitude and steadfast positions against global constitutionalist values viewed as an elitist, liberal project” (emphasis mine).

The word “elitist” comes straight out of the glossary of the Left. Has liberalism become out of touch with concerns on the ground, in contradiction to its stated values, so much so that the far-right has now come to represent the masses? Not really, but as stated earlier, globalisation has claimed real victims among members of erstwhile privileged communities. Political scientist Cas Mudde writes in his new book, The Far Right Today, that the populist far-right is now trying to sell a dichotomy where society is neatly divided into two kinds of people – the corrupt elites, the political establishment and liberal intelligentsia, and the “pure people”, the qualified proles (e.g. “white working class”, the operative part being “white”). 

Democracy, according to them, should reflect the “will of the people”, which is a populist, illiberal and majoritarian vision of a society, by purging the system of the aforementioned corrupt elites (“e.g. Congress-mukt Bharat”). Religious minorities are portrayed as “outsiders” who are responsible for all the woes in society, thus necessitating their immediate and violent expulsion, not just for bettering lives but also for returning society to an imagined glorious past. More disturbingly, globalisation has been pinned on ‘globalists‘ – a code for ‘Jew’ among the white supremacist far-right, even though globalisation was a comprehensively Western project. 

Globalisation didn’t work because monopolisation, aggressive capitalist lobbying, retention of colonial structures of economic exploitation and casualisation of labour are all severe market distortions, which have to be retained through the use of colonial-era violence by supposedly “sovereign” states. But it is a lot more convenient to blame Jews than Christianity-supported colonialism, for today’s neoliberal violence. Antisemitism has, perversely, reached Indian shores too. Historian Audrey Truschke, who is critical of Hindutva, has found herself at the sharp end of Twitter antisemitism – not because she is Jewish, but because she had Jewish doctoral advisers. 

Perhaps even more perversely, despite being Islamophobic, all far-right leaders are in cozy bromances with the barbaric, despotic rulers of Saudi Arabia – a state that provides moral and material support for the global spread of Wahhabist Islamism. Quite clearly, ‘people’ are getting increasingly polarised and religious identity is being used as a tool to bypass governance issues. No wonder that despite high unemployment, and nepotism and corruption continuing apace, Pulwama, NRC and the now – greenlighted Ram Mandir, were the issues that the 2019 Indian general election was won on.  

So, given all this, where do we stand? Pekka Haavisto, the Foreign Minister of Finland, which currently holds EU Council Presidency, has said that the far-right MEPs who sojourned to Kashmir ‘lacked expertise’, and suggested that neutral and knowledgeable UN observers, and not an assortment of pro-colonialist European Islamophobes, should be assessing the situation in Kashmir; even a “centrist” British MEP can’t help but worship the abuse of state power, because he has been taught in his history lessons to glorify British empire. 

But in the new world; competence and expertise have started to matter less, and the ability to provide ‘easy’ solutions that bypass legal, procedural and ethical complexities matter more. People who think critically are now mocked and even demonised – which explains the need to create new labels like “urban Naxals” and the lodging of CISF in the premises of an educational institution. I have been labelled a “Communist”, by people who admit to not have read a word of Communist literature, for talking about social justice. 

Everything from cows to the mephitic miasma that engulfs the NCR to the education of young minds is now a ‘national security’ issue. It is never asked or allowed to be asked, who or what this “security” is meant for. If everyone in a country is made to feel unsafe for one reason or another, how “secure” is such a country? Kashmir was further vassalised and vivisected to supposedly end terrorism and bring “peace” in the valley, but the region has been cut off from the rest of the world and most accounts barring the official ones suggest an uptick in gross human rights violations there. This is happening at a time when it is being suggested that the “Western” concept of human rights is not applicable in India, governmental accountability is being weakened and provisions for civil liberty being diluted

The reason these measures are finding support is that they are being deemed ‘necessary’ to punish the outsider, the impure, the corrupt, in addition to putting the ‘inferior’ in their place. The normalisation of far-right extremist rhetoric globally is aimed at not just cleansing society of the undesirables, but also taking away from traditionally oppressed ‘insiders’ like women, the disabled and LGBTQIA people hard-won rights like abortion, accessibility in public spaces and preferred gendering. 

Once the far-right agenda is normalised in both local and global contexts, the illiberalism it espouses also gets normalised in local contexts, which ends up favouring the privileged group – the cis-gendered heterosexual males belonging to the majority community. The invitation was given to the EU MEPs, therefore, was meant to be a response to questions surrounding the Indian state’s conduct in Kashmir since August 5. While Kashmir is India’s “internal matter”, so internal that even the Pakistan-supporting Opposition is not allowed to take a look, the Indian government has had no qualms in internationalising it by entertaining mostly anti-Muslim far-right MEPs who would broadly agree with India’s stated position on Kashmir, which is a Muslim majority region. The Indian government has treated the Opposition the same way an Indian is treated by an Indian waiter, vis-à-vis his white friend, at an Indian restaurant. In a far-right utopia, which translates to a dystopia for the rest of us, those in power would only be accountable to others in power elsewhere at a superficial level. That way we can go back to an era where we glorify unaccountable power-holders, like Skandagupta, while conveniently ignoring troublesome asides like the origin of an exclusionary, violent and exploitative caste system, while the technology of globalisation aids us in our own downfall.

 

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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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