I Have Been Made To Feel That If I Am A Muslim, I Am Not Indian Enough

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The partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, into Hindustan and Pakistan, led to one of the most brutal migrations known to the face of the earth. Muslims in India were forced to move to West and East Pakistan, while the Hindus on the other side of the divide came to India. This blatant violation of freedom of choice led to the uprooting of more than fifteen million people, and about one to two million people lost their lives.

The Muslims population makes up approximately 14% of the Indian population. Back in 1947, this population had the option to move to Pakistan and live with their own community. They were the ones who, by choice, did not leave their motherland, they did not accept Jinnah’s invitation; they chose to stay.

Representational image.

Our grandfathers and great grandfathers, honest to the Indian soil, couldn’t move away. People moved due to various reasons, but their one single reason was the love and respect they bore in their hearts for their native land, the land they had been calling their own.

I, Syed Mohammad Tahir Hussain, belong to that 14% of the population. Today, it feels like I belong to this percentage more than I belong to India. Today, I have to constantly advocate for the love and respect I have in my heart for my country, which is no different than the love and respect my great grandfather carried in his heart.

I am made to wear my nationalism on my sleeve, and I am made to feel that if I am a Muslim, I am not Indian enough.

After spending 12 years in the comfortable blanket that is the school life, I shifted from Delhi to Ambala for my graduation. Day one and a professor asked me to go out of the class because she couldn’t tolerate a Muslim student in her class. “You’re a Muslim, get out of my class”, she said in a full classroom.

Though my classmates stood for me, raised their voices against the professor, I could still very safely say that my comfortable blanket was swiftly snatched away from me on the very first day of college.

And the harsh weather hasn’t left my side since, moreover, I’ve gotten used to it. I regularly receive hate messages and death threats. People message me and call me a spy from the other country, or ask me to go back to Pakistan.

Being a Muslim in India has become a struggle in itself, more to say, things have worsened since the elections of 2014. Coming from the minority Muslim population, an uncanny sense of threat has now embedded in my bones.

I am forced to think of the regular activities which a normal person carries out through the day. For instance, eating non-vegetarian food or carrying it in my tiffin. In a matter of seconds, the meat can be assumed to be that of a holy cow, and in a matter of minutes, I may be lynched to death.

I happen to live away from my family. If I get busy and forget to make a call even for a single day, nobody sleeps in peace back at home.

During the time of the Pulwama attacks, everyone wanted me back home.  Juggling between work and home like this, life becomes difficult and unmanageable.

When I think about our Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, a train of events flash before me: Bombers of the Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blast, Ajmer blasts, Malegaon blast, or Samjhauta Express blast; all terrorists getting bails, Gujarat riots, demolition of Babri Masjid, the court ruling in favour of Captain Purohit.

Mr Amit Shah is still free and a sitting MP in Rajya Sabha after all the allegations against him, especially with regards to the Muslim community. All of these combine to evoke hesitation and even fear among Muslims.
We learn by asking questions, we achieve by asking questions.

Today critical questioning is the need of the hour, especially the system which controls and influences us. But for people like me, asking even the most crucial questions or speaking of opinions is like playing with fire or skating on thin ice.

Even before one can realise, they may already be labelled as traitors, anti-nationals, or a Pakistani. The constant fear of being attacked and being vigilant gets extremely exhausting and suffocating.

Till date, there is not a single state that employs Muslims in the proportion to their share in the state’s population. There are efforts by the government to chuck out the Mughal history from school’s syllabus; names of places which sound minutely Islamic are being changed, and ministers of the ruling party openly talk about creating a Hindu state.

Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mr Adityanath Yogi, after renaming Allahabad to Prayagraj, actively reiterates about changing names of Taj Mahal and Azamgarh to Ram Mahal and Aryamgarh respectively.

Our community is treated like we’re a tumour in the body of India. The only question that further rises is, are we malignant or benign? A malignant tumour is treated by its altogether extraction, while a benign tumour is just kept under surveillance.

The choices don’t make sense because it is a wrong question. The right thing to do will be to question our democracy and secularism. The right question is to differentiate between self-defence and terrorism.

Islamophobia affects me and my family, it affects every other Indian because we all live under the same democracy. Such prejudices and hatred affect the health of our democracy, the very foundation of a free society. We live in a society which ridiculously affiliates the colour green, the moon or a goat to Islam and the colour saffron, the sun, or a cow to Hinduism.

I am a proud Indian. There shouldn’t be any need for me to prove my nationalism, for it is the reality. A big reason why I chose to be a social worker was that I always wanted to work for the people of my country. A political party cannot be the nation; people like you and me, we are the nation and always will be.

I wanted to work on ground level for these ordinary people with extraordinary struggles because these are the people who make my nation, the nation I love with every part of my being. Working for their growth and welfare will facilitate the same for the state. And that is the goal I am here with, and always will be.

But there is always a question in my mind that is, why do we Muslims have to prove our nationalism? Are we not Indians? 

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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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