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“Love For My Country Cannot Make Me Accept A Law That Is Against The Spirit Of India”

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The recently passed Citizenship Amendment Bill in India is problematic on many fronts. As commendable as the pursuit of rehabilitating persecuted minorities, on the basis of religion, of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are, the Bill (now an Act) borders on hitting at the idea of India, as envisioned by its founding fathers.

The Reason?

Selective rehabilitation of refugees from only three contiguous countries, which very cleverly keeps Muslims out of the ambit of the law (Rohingyan Muslims and Sri Lankan Tamil Muslims are also persecuted, but will not be covered under the Bill). Some would say it is state persecution based on religion that is being countered. Well, that is one slippery slope one must not tread on.

Yes, there are Islamic countries bordering India, but they have constitutionally mandated the protection of minorities as well! Article 36 of the Pakistani constitution, the initial three articles of the 2004 Afghanistan constitution and various directives in the state of Bangladesh. All these countries have constitutional provisions, stating that non-Muslims have rights and are free to practise their faith.

In London, on 14 December 2019, members of the Indian community in the United Kingdom, particularly the Assamese community, assembled outside the High Commission of India in the UK, to protest the Citizenship Amendment Bill. I was invited to the same and spoke at the event.

Moreover, individual Hindus have risen to prominent positions, in both Bangladesh and Pakistan, notably as Chief Justices in the two countries. Also, when Mr Amit Shah says that the number of non-Muslims has shrunk since independence, it seems he has conveniently forgotten the separation of East and West Pakistan in 1971. Census data for 1998 show that the Hindu population of Pakistan (which was formerly west Pakistan) had not really changed significantly from its 1951 level of around 1.5 to 2%!

In practice, non-Muslim minorities do face discrimination and persecution in the aforementioned countries. Amnesty International particularly highlighted Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which it says

“are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary in a way which amounts to harassment and persecution of religious minorities.”

Pakistani Hindus have been facing immense pressure as well as discrimination, socially and religiously, as per interactions they have had with media outlets such as the BBC. One particular issue of concern has been that of targeting of Hindu girls in Sindh (province). However, Ahmadis are also facing immense pressures due to their beliefs being regarded as heretical by the Muslim majority, but Ahmadis are not covered under the Act.

In fact, most of the blasphemy laws in recent years have been filed against Ahmadis and other minority Muslim groups, rather than Hindus and Christians! In Bangladesh, the number of Hindus has dramatically fallen, from around 22% in 1951 to around 8% in 2011. This is partly due to the targeting of affluent Hindus to leave their land and assets, due to their homes and businesses being targeted, besides the attack by religious militants.

But what makes things very interesting, is that although the number of refugees in India has been going up in recent years, the largest numbers of refugees are not from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan! They are from Tibet and Sri Lanka.

In the case of Tibet, there has been documented oppression and persecution of Buddhists over the years, including in the Cultural Revolution of 1966, while in Sri Lanka, Muslims have been under constant threat, and more recently, demonisation after April’s Easter Sunday bombing. There are the Uighurs, the Rohingyans and so many others who cannot avail this new facility due to selective inclusion under the ambit of the current Bill. The manner of taking these refugees into the country is also problematic since the pressure on resources and the indigenous population is on the border states, such as Assam and Punjab.

In London, on 14 December 2019, members of the Indian community in the United Kingdom, particularly the Assamese community, assembled outside the High Commission of India in the UK, to protest the Citizenship Amendment Bill. I was invited to the same and spoke at the event.

In London, on 14 December 2019, members of the Indian community in the United Kingdom, particularly the Assamese community, assembled outside the High Commission of India in the UK, to protest the Citizenship Amendment Bill. I was invited to the same and spoke at the event.

‘Take A Liberation Walk, Not The CAB’

What was highlighted, was that as commendable as the protection of the persecuted minorities and refugees is, the selective protection given to the minorities of only ‘three contiguous countries’ is problematic. Even though Myanmar and Sri Lanka have had intersectional oppression, based on ethnicity and religion, they are not covered under the current Act.

Moreover, religion cannot be the only basis for integrating people, especially in border states like Assam, where the distinct culture and society have been threatened by a mass influx of migrants, thereby threatening to make the Assamese a minority in their own state! 1971 showed us how socio-cultural and linguistic identities play a major role in the identification of individuals with a community, beyond religion.

This is why, I am launching the campaign ‘Take a liberation walk, not the CAB’ with a few others. ‘Take a liberation walk, not the CAB’ is an initiative launched in the UK. Under this initiative, we would like to encourage you to walk to the nearest administrative office of the government (or the Indian embassy, if in the capital city of a foreign country) and deliver a letter of protest against the CAB, in India.

If unable to do so, please post the letter. Let us get thousands of letters flooding the offices of the government and embassies, showing the public outrage about CAB. If you cannot do this either, we have a minor Change.org petition in support of this: http://chng.it/wtqNc5hFFB.

It is time for action and mobilisation against this.

Also, before self-proclaimed nationalists accuse me of speaking against my country, I would like to highlight that the government is not the country and the country is not the government. I would also like to highlight that it is my love for my country that cannot make me accept a law that is regressive and against the spirit of India.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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